Saturday, May 21, 2011

Weekend Headlines: May 21-22, 2011

* Chile: Police fired tear gas on protesters in Santiago yesterday and Valparaiso today after the government lifted a suspension on its use due to possible adverse health effects.

* Uruguay: A deadlocked Senate was unable to pass a measure that would've removed an amnesty for former military leaders under the 1973-1985 dictatorship.

* Venezuela: The price of a barrel of crude oil on Friday closed below $100 for the first time in about eight weeks.

* Peru: Jorge Trelles was fired as spokesman for the presidential campaign of Keiko Fujimori after he claimed that under the rule of her father, ex-president Alberto Fujimori, “we killed less [people] than the two previous governments.”

* Mexico: Police captured Gilberto Barragan Balderas, who is considered as “one of the main leaders of the Gulf Cartel.”

* Cuba: The mother of the late dissident Orlando Zapata said that thirteen of his relatives would leave the island next month to legally travel to the U.S.

Video Source – teleSUR via YouTube (Chilean police fired tear gas and water cannons against protesters opposed to government policies).
Online Sources- La Tercera, The Latin Americanist, CNN, MarketWatch, El Comercio, Living in Peru, MSNBC, LAHT

Friday, May 20, 2011

Daily Headlines: May 20, 2011

* Dominican Republic: Areas of the capital city of Santo Domingo are under high health alert due to a spike in new cholera cases.

* Guatemala: Authorities identified approximately 1300 people who were exploited in secret syphilis experiments conducted by U.S. researchers in the 1940s.

* Argentina: A U.S. appeals court revived a lawsuit accusing Daimler of participating in the tortures and deaths of Argentine Mercedes-Benz workers during the Dirty War dictatorship.

* Ecuador: Electoral officials confirmed that voters approved all ten government-backed measures in a May 7 referendum.

Image – AFP via BBC News (Dominican officials tightened immigration controls partly due to a cholera outbreak that struck neighboring Haiti last year).
Online Sources- Fox News Latino, CBS News, Reuters, MSNBC

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Chronicle of a death foretold

A recently released Amnesty International report claimed that Latin America is one of the most dangerous regions for journalists. Indeed several incidents over the past month appear to strengthen the human rights group’s conclusion:
  • Mexico joined Cuba, Venezuela, and Honduras as the only Latin American nations without a "free press" according to Freedom House.
  • Honduran reporter Francisco Medina became the eleventh journalist killed in that country over the past eighteen months.
  • Venezuelan journalist and opposition political activist Wilfred Ivan Ojeda Peralta was killed and police found his body with signs of torture.
  • A trio of suspected gang members shot and murdered Salvadoran TV cameraman Alfredo Hurtado as he rode a bus to work.
Peru’s run for the presidency is a tight and hard-fought affair between leftist Ollanta Humala and conservative Keiko Fujimori. While political tensions increase so have the risks and threats against the local press. The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas highlighted several examples of aggression against journalists. Perhaps the most hair-raising and worst example can be seen in the video below when funeral wreaths where sent to the offices of the La Primera newspaper:

Both Humala and Fujimori pledged to protect press freedoms if elected to Peru’s highest public office. But if the threats against journalists are any indication those promises will most likely be in vain.

Video Source – La Republica via YouTube
Online Sources- CNN, International Press Institute, Canadian Press, CBS News,, The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, Committee to Protect Journalists

Daily Headlines: May 19, 2011

* Haiti: The Department of Homeland Security announced that not only will it extend the Temporary Protected Status deadline for Haitians who left the country after the January 2010 earthquake but also make it easier to apply for that program.

* Peru: Energy and Mining Minister Pedro Sanchez admitted that Peru would continue its “business-friendly” policies regardless of whether Ollanta Humala or Keiko Fujimori wins the presidency.

* Latin America: Nearly half of children in Latin America live in poverty according to a joint report from two U.N. agencies.

* Cuba: The U.S. Supreme Court could take up a case against a Florida law that severely restricts academic travel to Cuba.

Image – AFP (“Haitians stand in front of the main US Immigration office building as they watch others protest in Miami.”)
Online Sources- New York Daily News, Reuters, People’s Daily Online, Miami Herald

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Daily Headlines: May 18, 2011

* Mexico: Police at a checkpoint in southern Mexico found 513 migrants crammed into two trailers reportedly destined for the U.S.

* Honduras: Rasel Tome, the legal advisor to ex-president Manuel Zelaya, claimed that the former leader would return from exile during the weekend of May 27 to 29.

* Venezuela: Venezuela’s economy appears to be bouncing back and emerging out of a recession.

* Costa Rica: Costa Rica will replace Japan in the Copa America after the Asian country withdrew from the South American soccer tournament.

Image – AP via BBC News (Most of the 513 migrants were from Guatemala though a few were from countries as far away as Japan and India).
Online Sources- Bernama, Al Jazeera English, Bloomberg, Monsters and Critics

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chilean government suspends tear gas use against protests

Law enforcement personnel commonly fire tear gas canisters against protesters. Over the past week tear gas was used in demonstrations in areas like Kosovo, Uganda and Egypt. But the possible health risks in tear gas led Chile’s government to make a major decision on Tuesday.

Chilean interior minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter announced the suspension of the use of tear gas by police against protests. According to Hinzpeter the decision will remain in effect while medical studies are conducted to check on the possible toxicity of the tear gas.

As reported by the AFP news agency, scientists at one of Chile’s top universities believe that the tear gas used by police may be very harmful:
The chemical agents made in Israel and used solely by the Chilean police, contain “CS Gas” that could cause abortions according to a study done by the Universidad de Chile.

“There is a possibility that the chemical substances in the tear gas bombs could affect reproductive functions; thus, harming the fetus in the third trimester of pregnancy and children in the early years of life,” said Universidad de Chile toxicology expert Andrei Tchernitchin.
Chilean police and military have regularly used tear gas in the years during and after the rule of the late dictator Augusto Pinochet. Yet the controversy over its use came last week after police fired it on tens of thousands of protesters opposed to the HidroAysen energy project.

Opposition legislators, who initially called on Hinzpeter to report about the effects of the tear gas, mostly supported the government’s decision.

More protests against the government-backed hydroelectricity plan are set to take place outside of the Congressional building in Valparaiso on Saturday. President Sebastián Piñera will deliver his state of the union address in that building while those demonstrations take place.

Image- Azteca Noticias
Online Sources- Los Angeles Times, Reuters, The Guardian, La Tercera, El Nuevo Herald, The Latin Americanist, El Espectador, MSNBC

Vargas Llosa says “ole” for bullfighting

There has been a push in recent years throughout Latin America to bar the traditional sport of bullfighting. For example, a group of Mexican senators in April introduced an animal rights bill that would also make bullfighting illegal.

Faced with the possibility that bullfighting could soon be a relic of the past, defenders of the sport in Latin America have launched a campaign seeking international recognition. A pro-bullfighting association in Mexico (CONTROMEX) recently submitted to the government a report calling for the sport to be named an “intangible cultural heritage” by UNESCO. Thus, according to CONTROMEX, bullfighting could receive a “special protection” under the U.N. that would normally be afforded to areas such as art, language and music.

Supporters of bullfighting may’ve received a boost from one of Latin America’s foremost authors according to William Cárdenas, the president of the Association Internacional de Tauromaquia (World Bullfighting Association). In remarks made to the EFE news agency, Cárdenas claimed that Peruvian Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa backed the campaign for UNESCO recognition of bullfighting. “His approval undoubtedly signifies a strong support of our campaign…so that bullfighting receives its deserved recognition as part of our universal culture,” said Cárdenas.

Earlier this month in Ecuador, voters in a nationwide referendum approved several government-backed measures on areas like media ownership and judicial reform. Voters backed a ban on bullfighting by a narrow margin though not without detractors:
At a demonstration…Milton Calahorrano, president of Ecuador's Bull-fighters Union, marched in his typical tight torero outfit in Quito's scorching sun.

"The president doesn't like bull-fighting, and that's why he wants to ban it. You can't delete hundreds of years of tradition like this," he said.

"Bulls are meat like any other animal, sooner or later they die anyway."
Online Sources- BBC News, COPE,, Fox News Latino, UNESCO, Humane Society International
Video Source - YouTube

De Musica Ligera: Magical Marta

We've previously talked about Marta Gómez, the Colombian-born chanteuse whose music artfully blends folkloric sounds from her homeland with traditional melodies from other South American countries. She is best known for writing and interpreting "Mirame", the theme to the his Colombian telenovela "La Pola". But she will be performing in concert tonight in New York City as part of the release of her latest album, "El Corazon y El Sombrero" (The Heart and the Hat).

Aside from her marvelous music, Gómez also founded the Agua Dulce Foundation, which she claimed has the goal of creating "a better future for Latin American children and through them, their families and communities".

If you can please go and check her out tonight at Joe's Pub in Manhattan; otherwise, enjoy the following video clip of Gómez singing "Mirame" in Cartagena earlier this year:

Online Sources - The Latin America, Joe's Pub, Official Website of Marta Gomez,
Video Sources - YouTube

Daily Headlines: May 17, 2011

* Bolivia: The Bolivian government is expected to sign several oil and natural gas exploration deals with Russian energy firm Gazprom.

* Argentina: Japan officially withdrew from this summer’s Copa America in Argentina due to several factors including a recent major earthquake and tsunami.

* Brazil: A Brazilian court convicted two U.S. pilots for their role in a 2006 crash though they will not serve any time in prison.

* Canada: Canadian immigration officials are set to deport a gay Nicaraguan man who “made headlines” in 2007 after he was refused refugee status when authorities “doubted his sexual orientation because he hadn’t pursued men.”

Image – AP via BBC News
Online Sources-, Bloomberg, Reuters, ESPN Soccernet

Monday, May 16, 2011

World Watch: Strings attached

* U.S.: Could the arrest of International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn serve as a prime opportunity for “increasingly rich developing countries” to seek greater power in the organization?

* Israel: Israeli officials are preparing for possible civilian uprisings similar to those that took place in nearby countries like Bahrain and Egypt.

* Libya: International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said he was seeking arrest warrants against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and two others.

* Vatican: Catholic Church officials urged bishops to cooperate with police and report possible cases of child and sexual abuse.

Image – Reuters via The Guardian (“Dominique Strauss-Kahn sits behind court officers at Manhattan criminal court, New York.” The IMF head was arrested on Sunday night and was accused of sexually assaulting a hotel maid.)
Online Sources- MSNBC, The Guardian, The Telegraph, AP

Colombian mercenaries in UAE says NYT

As we mentioned back in 2006, private security companies like Xe Services (formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide) hired former soldiers from Latin America. Ex-law enforcement members from countries like Chile, Peru, and Honduras were sought by contractors for combat in areas of conflict including Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last Sunday the New York Times (NYT) published an article detailing how Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi hired Blackwater founder Erik Prince in order to create a private army. The 800-member group of foreign mercenaries who trained at a United Arab Emirates (UAE) military base included Colombians who served as ex-policemen and military personnel.

The NYT article revealed that the leaders of the UAE viewed their own military as “inadequate” and hence went ahead with plans staring last year to create an army for hire. Aside from “conducting special operations missions” both domestically and abroad, the private army could also be “deployed” in case that UAE residents engaged in “pro-democracy protests” similar to those in Egypt, Libya and Bahrain. “Former employees” interviewed by the NYT added that there was “talk” that the hired troops would be used in a military assault of a chain of islands in the Persian Gulf that are the “subject of a dispute” between Iran and the UAE.

A statement from General Juma Ali Khalaf al-Hamiri acknowledged that the UAE hired outside security contractors and that they were was ''compliant with international law and relevant conventions''. Yet he made no mention of the NYT’s allegations of a private army including Colombian mercenaries that was organized by the R2 company.

According to Calixto Rincón, a former Colombian policeman hired by Prince, his countrymen were targeted due to their combat experience. Furthermore, the article claimed that the Colombians were also sought since R2 refused to hire Muslim fighters who would be reluctant to kill others from their same religion.

UAE leaders apparently got less than they had hoped for:
The Emirates wanted the troops to be ready to deploy just weeks after stepping off the plane, but it quickly became clear that the Colombians’ military skills fell far below expectations. “Some of these kids couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn,” said a former employee. Other recruits admitted to never having fired a weapon...

Making matters worse, the recruitment pipeline began drying up. Former employees said that Thor struggled to sign up, and keep, enough men on the ground. Mr. Rincón developed a hernia and was forced to return to Colombia, while others were dismissed from the program for drug use or poor conduct.
U.S. officials are investigating if Prince had the permission required from the State Department in order to operate foreign forces in the UAE.

Image- France24 (“A general view of buildings along the Dubai marina in the Gulf emirate.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Taipei Times, El Tiempo, Colombia Reports, New York Times, Sydney Morning Herald, The Independent

Zetas blamed for Guatemalan massacre

Guatemala has seen its share of mass killings during the country’s civil war that ended in 1996 yet one cannot help but shudder at the latest massacre that occurred over the weekend.

In an incident described by a Guatemalan police spokesman as “the worst massacre we have seen in modern times," at least twenty-seven people were killed on Saturday at a ranch in the northern part of the country. Forensic doctors identified fifteen of the victims and among those killed were three minors and two women. All of those killed in the gruesome incident were bound with rope before being decapitated by the cold-blooded assassins.

Guatemalan authorities have accused the Zetas drug gang from neighboring Mexico as being responsible for the massacre in the hamlet of Caserio La Bomba. “It’s been proven that the victims were farmers and laborers without any links to narcotrafficking or organized crime,” said Guatemalan interior minister Carlos Menocal. Menocal also believed that the killers were targeting Otto Salguero, the owner of the “Los Cocos” ranch, even though “there’s no concrete case against him.”

As part of the investigation into Saturday’s massacre, police are also examining if that incident has any link to the 2008 murder of Haroldo Leon, the brother of alleged Guatemalan drug trafficker Juan Jose "Juancho" Leon, allegedly by the Zetas.

The mass killing highlights the intrusion of Mexican drug gangs across the border into Guatemala. Despite a two-month "military state of siege" in one province last year it appears as if the gangs have a foothold areas of northern Guatemala:
According to the 2010 U.N. World Drug Report, the northern province of Peten has long been a strategic drug-trafficking zone with jungle landing strips used by several cartels. It has one of the highest murder rates in Guatemala, which is one of the most violent countries in the world. Both the Zetas and Mexico's Sinaloa cartel have interests in Peten and may be competing for territory, the report says.
A statement from the U.N’s High Commission on Human Rights in Guatemala condemned the massacre but also urged President Alvaro Colom to help provide greater protection for residents of communities near the Guatemala-Mexico border.

On a related note, a U.S. immigration judge last week ordered the deportation of Pedro Pimental Rios, an ex-member of an elite Guatemalan military force that participated in the infamous Dos Erres massacre nineteen years ago.

Image- AP via MSNBC (“Police agents look at a message written in blood at the site of a massacre at a local ranch in the hamlet Caserio La Bomba, in La Libertad, northern Guatemala, Sunday May 15, 2011.”)
Online Sources- MSNBC, Terra Colombia, Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, El Universal, Reuters, El Diario de Yucatan, Europa Press

Daily Headlines: May 16, 2011

* Panama: Is the infrastructure in the U.S. unprepared for the “major trade boost” that could come with the expansion of the Panama Canal?

* Mexico: As part of an overhaul of Mexico’s immigration agency seven top officials were fired while forty agents are reportedly under investigation for possible human rights abuses.

* Cuba: A cruise ship heading towards Florida rescued nine Cuban migrants on a raft on Saturday.

* Argentina: In the latest edition of one of the world’s most exciting soccer derbies, Boca Juniors beat River Plate by a score of 2-0.

Image – LAHT (The expansion of the Panama Canal is expected to be completed by 2014).
Online Sources- Reuters, MSNBC,, Sacramento Bee, AFP