Saturday, October 1, 2011

Weekend World Watch: Dam debate

* Asia: The Chinese Foreign Ministry proposed discussions with Burma after Burmese president Thein Sein suspended the controversial Myitsone dam project.

* Bulgaria: Approximately 2000 people in Sofia participated in a protest organized by nationalists against the Roma gypsy ethnic minority.

* Egypt: The country’s ruling military leaders proposed a timetable that would allow for a transition to civilian rule via presidential elections next year.

* U.S.: In the wake of the elimination of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays and lesbians in the military, defense officials will permit military chaplains to perform at some same-sex marriages.

Image – Reuters via The Guardian (“Burmese campaigners demonstrate in Malaysia against the Myitsone dam project.”)

Online Sources- Voice of America, BBC News, ABC News, USA TODAY

Weekend Headlines: October 1-2, 2011

* Haiti: The U.N.’s top humanitarian official said that "much more needs to be done" in order to help Haitians still suffering after several disasters including last year’s major earthquake.

* Ecuador: Several thousand people marched in Quito yesterday as a show of solidarity for President Rafael Correa on the one-year anniversary of an attempted coup against him.

* Argentina: A report by retired British generals warned that the Falklands Islands are a "plum ripe for the picking" should Argentina contest their sovereignty.

* Mexico: A pact to combat violence was signed at the end of this year's conference of U.S. and Mexican border state governors despite New Mexico’s Susana Martinez serving as the only U.S. governor attending the meeting.

Image – Flickr via user newbeatphoto (CC BY 2.0)

Online Sources- News24, The Latin Americanist, AFP, The Guardian, Reuters

Friday, September 30, 2011

Mexican top court upholds anti-abortion laws

In a ruling emitted this week the Mexican Supreme Court did not reach the supermajority needed in order to overturn an anti-abortion law in Baja California state.

As we first mentioned on Monday, the top tribunal debated the legality of a Baja California “right-to-life” law similar to those on the books in eighteen of thirty-two individual states. In their 7-4 ruling on Wednesday, the judges emphasized that they based their decision "strictly on constitutional issues” and not on the moral questions raised by methods of birth control. Nonetheless, as judge Fernando Franco argued “criminalizing the interruption of a pregnancy in all cases … is disproportionate and unreasonable.”

Conservative groups hailed the ruling while Catholic Archbishop Rafael Romo of Tijuana, Baja California called the verdict "a positive decision." Women’s rights activists and health care advocates, on the other hand, worry that the ruling could lead to a divide between those who can afford a safe and legal abortion in Mexico City and poor women who would choose dangerous, back-alley procedures. (Abortions in the first trimester are legal only in Mexico City).

President Felipe Calderon did not specifically opine on the Supreme Court’s decision though earlier this week his office emitted a statement mentioning that his government backs the “commitment to the right to life”. Yet one Mexico City government entity begged to differ with Calderon:
Mexico City's governmental Human Rights Commission said it "regrets that this decision by the supreme court will worsen the serious public health problem of clandestine abortions in unhealthy conditions."

"It is also very grave that a supposedly constitutional and democratic government like Mexico's establishes different levels of human rights protection for women, depending in which state they live in," it added.
Coincidentally, the verdict was emitted on the day that women’s groups in the Latin America commemorated a “Day for the Depenalization of Abortion” in the region. Numerous protests were held throughout the region including in Nicaragua, which is one of three Latin American countries (along with El Salvador and Chile) where abortion is illegal without exception.

Mexico wasn’t the only Latin American country where abortion was debated this month. In Colombia, the Conservative Party introduced a constitutional amendment that would criminalize all forms of abortion. (Currently abortion in Colombia is permitted only under three cases: risk to the mother’s life, malformed fetuses, and if the mother was raped).

Legislators opposed to the plan pointed out that the proposed amendment would go beyond the abortion issue to penalize use of “morning-after” pills and possibly ban assisted suicide.

A report released weeks ago by several entities including the Guttmacher Institute found that a minuscule 0.08% of an estimated 400,000 abortions done this year in Colombia were done legally.

Image- Notimex via Radio Formula

Online Sources- El Espectador,, El Tiempo, The Latin Americanist, BBC News, Los Angeles Times, EFE, MSNBC, Conexiones

Daily Headlines: September 30, 2011

* Chile: Student protest leaders and government officials met yesterday in order to find a peaceful solution to nearly five months of demonstrations in support of meaningful educational reform.

* Venezuela: President Hugo Chavez appeared on live television yesterday and blasted media reports alleging that the ailing leader was hospitalized and may’ve suffered kidney failure.

* U.S.: Activists opposed to the death penalty decried the execution via lethal injection of Cuban-born Manuel Valle in Florida.

* Guatemala: President Alvaro Colom will reportedly apologize to the family of Jacobo Arbenz, a former president who was controversially deposed in a 1954 coup.

Video Source – Al Jazeera English via YouTube (This video focuses on Giorgio Jackson, one of the leaders of Chile’s student protest movement who met with government officials at a negotiating table on Thursday).

Online Sources - Bloomberg, MSNBC, The Latin Americanist, The Guardian, Reuters AlertNet

Thursday, September 29, 2011

World Watch: Smoke screen

Smoke 'em if You Got 'em
* World: A recently released study found that tobacco companies knew for decades that cigarette smoke contains radioactive and possible carcinogenic particles.

* Saudi Arabia: King Abdullah reportedly overturned a sentence against a woman who was convicted of breaking the country’s law banning female drivers.

* U.S.: According to new government data unemployment claims hit its lowest point in five months and second quarter growth was larger than initially anticipated.

* Kenya: Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta rejected charges of crimes against humanity at a preliminary hearing at the International Criminal Court.

Image – Flickr via user eschipul (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Online Sources- USA TODAY, CBS News, CBC News, BBC News

Daily Headlines: September 29, 2011

* Bolivia: The backlash against a police crackdown on protesters continued yesterday when tens of thousands of demonstrators marched down the streets of La Paz.

* Haiti: President Michel Martelly is running into stiff opposition against alleged plans to rebuild the military that was dismantled in 1995.

* Cuba: A government decree issued yesterday will permit Cubans to buy and sell their cars "without any prior authorization from any entity."

* Brazil: A judge ordered the suspension to construction of a major dam project in the Amazon rainforest.

Video Source – Al Jazeera English via YouTube

Online Sources- BBC News, NPR, Reuters, The Guardian

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

World Watch: Hope against HIV

* Spain: Researchers deemed the results of a prospective HIV vaccine as “promising” after a test of twenty-four healthy subjects found that all but two of them developed an “immune response” to HIV.

* U.S.: The Department of Justice urged the Supreme Court to review the healthcare changes passed under the Affordable Care Act.

* Philippines: Recovery efforts have begun after Typhoon Nesat killed at least 21 people and left numerous villages flooded.

* Afghanistan: According to a U.N. report there have been over 7000 attacks in Afghanistan over the past three months, a spike of 39% compared to the same period in 2010.

Image – India Talkies (“HIV vaccine design program launched in India.”)

Online Sources- BBC News, The Telegraph, MSNBC, Reuters

Today’s Video: Seven years later

Today is the seventh anniversary of one of the darkest days in recent Argentine history: the shooting at the Malvinas Argentinas School.

Three children were killed and five were wounded as a result of the Carmen de Patagones massacre that took place on September 28, 2004. The perpetrator was a fifteen-year-old high school student identified as “Junior” who fired on students with a 9-millimeter handgun owned by his father.

Several teachers told the local press at the time that “Junior”, whose real identity remains secret under the law, was a very reserved and quiet student who rarely participated in any activities. (His personality seems to be similar to that of a twenty-four-year-old man behind the massacre of twelve children in a Brazilian school earlier this year.)

Some parents of the victims wondered if the shooting could’ve prevented by teachers though the judge that presided over his trial observed that the gunman’s family “cannot comprehend how this happened.” (“Junior” served time in juvenile detention for his crime; his current whereabouts, however, are reportedly unknown).

Students and teachers where able to return to the school roughly three weeks after the shooting and the classroom where the incident took place served as “a room for reflection.”

Reflection is the operative word in the following video where former students of the Malvinas Argentinas School, their families, and others remember the infamous incident. Seven years after the massacre some have been able to move on though the mental and psychological wounds still lingers:

Video Source - La Nacion via YouTube

Online Sources- CBS News, La Nacion,, CBS News

Daily Headlines: September 28, 2011

* Latin America: A study of major river basins worldwide including some in Latin America concluded that “inefficient use and unfair distribution” of water are affecting global food production.

* Bolivia: The country’s interior minister and his deputy resigned yesterday as a result of alleged police brutality during protests over the weekend against a controversial highway project.

* Costa Rica: A report found that Costa Rica is the top Central American country for money laundering with over $4 billion laundered between 2000 and 2009.

* U.S.: Baltimore Orioles slugger Vladimir Guerrero became the all-time hits leader for a player born in the Dominican Republic.

Image – Via Flickr user Bird Brian (“Indigenous nomad family on the Tambopata River.”) (CC BY 2.0)

Online Sources-, InSight, Huffington Post, The Latin Americanist, Bloomberg

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Today’s Video: Road to nowhere

Bolivian president Evo Morales ordered the suspension of a controversial highway project that would have run through the Amazon rainforest.

Morales claimed that the road, which would have linked Brazil to Pacific ports in Chile and Peru, would be vital for Bolivia's economic development. Yet he backed away from the project after a weekend of intense protests that included the use of tear gas (and allegations of excessive force) against hundreds of protesters.

The project may still get the green light though Morales said that will have to come from local governments rather than federal authorities.

(Video link):

Daily Headlines: September 27, 2011

* Cuba: Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez called for normalizing relations with the U.S. but he did not rule out the possibility of some concessions.

* Argentina: The Group of 77 bloc of developing countries backed Argentine President Cristina Kirchner’s call for renewed talks with Britain over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.

* Puerto Rico: Could Puerto Rico’s economic woes lead to a “brain drain” of talented young people from the island?

* Paraguay: Brazilian health officials claimed that cattle are crossing the border from neighboring Paraguay despite a ban due to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

Image –Via Flickr user twicepix. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Online Sources- Bloomberg, NPR, The Latin Americanist, CBS News, Sydney Morning Herald

Monday, September 26, 2011

Today’s Video: Ricas pupusas!

Perhaps the best-known street food vendors in New York City are the hot dog carts that dot hundreds of locations in Manhattan. Yet New York street food purveyors can be found throughout the five boroughs selling all types of wonderful delicacies including dishes from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Brooklyn-based Solber Pupusas won top honors at the latest edition of the Vendy Awards held last weekend. "Representing anyone who has tried hard and started from, I guess, the very bottom, literally with an old van, with a table with second, third-hand wares," said Cesar Fuentes of Solber Pupusas to NY1.

So what are pupusas? They are the national dish of El Salvador and they appear similar to the stuffed arepas one might find in Colombian/Venezuelan cuisine. In the right hands and with the right cooking, however, pupusas are an absolute delight as one can see in this video of Solber Pupusas:

Video Source – Vendy Awards via YouTube

Online Sources- NY1, The Latin Americanist

World Watch: Good night Wangari

* Kenya: Rest in peace Wangari Maathai; the environmental activist and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize recipient died at the age of 71 on Monday.

* Middle East: The U.N. Security Council will start holding meetings on Wednesday to decide on the recognition of Palestinian statehood to the global body.

* Italy: A senior member of the Catholic Church blasted the Italian political class for numerous scandals that have implicated top officials.

* China: A pair of Tibetan monks set themselves on fire in protest against the Chinese government's policies.

Image – The Guardian

Online Sources- CNN, BBC News, New York Times, CBC News

Mexico: Top court debates anti-abortion laws

The debate over abortion in Mexico has heated up in recent years, especially since the legalization of first trimester abortions in Mexico City in 2007. Women’s rights groups and health advocates cite cases like that of a raped 10-year-old girl last year to press for expanding reproductive rights such as abortions. Conservative groups and the Catholic Church, meanwhile, have led a push to pass anti-abortion laws in individual states.

The diverging opinions on abortion are being heard today by the Mexican Supreme Court which will decided the constitutionality of “right-to-life” laws found in San Luis Potosí and Baja California. The court itself is also divided on the abortion issue; for example, judge Fernando Franco argued that such laws are not only against the constitution but also contrary to international conventions ratified by Mexico. In contrast, judge Sergio Aguirre Anguiano claimed that the laws are valid and that Mexico has not signed to any global conventions that legalize abortion.

While the top court held discussions today, dozens of protesters against abortion peacefully picketed outside of the high court’s building in Mexico City. Meanwhile, according to a reproductive rights group over 1100 women in eleven states over the past thirteen months have placed legal complaints against the anti-abortion laws.

Over half of Mexico’s states (eighteen of thirty-two) have laws that explicitly ban abortion though all of them could be overturned by a verdict from at least eight of the eleven high court judges. That verdict could come as soon as this week.

Image- Notimex via Terra Mexico (Mexican Supreme Court chambers).

Online Sources- Reuters, CNN, Vanguardia, Noticiero Televisa, CNN Mexico, Milenio

Chile: Tensions continue between government and student protesters

A la guillotina!
Did the hardline actions of a local mayor in Santiago, Chile worsen tensions between the government and student protesters?

Last week Cristian Labbe, mayor of Providencia, ordered the suspension of the school year and permitted police to remove student protesters who have been residing on local campuses. Labbe also ordered that protesters from the area’s secondary schools sign up to a “government program” that would make up for missed days of school.

At least sixteen people were arrested this morning after clashes between police and individuals upset at Labbe’s edict. In the meantime, Education Minister Felipe Bulnes will meet later today with Labbe though he told the press that he was “definitely displeased and in disagreement” with the mayor’s actions.

Labbe’s orders may have been illegal and overstepping of his authority but they wouldn’t be the first time has tried to put the hammer down on protesters. In 2006 he forced schools to expel students who were involved in demonstrations.

Over the past four months demonstrations have taken place around Chile urging the reform of the country’s educational system. Increased funding for universities and full government control of education are two of the key demands made by the protesters. “The people understand that the crisis in education is in fact a crisis of the model installed under the dictatorship,” student leader Camila Vallejo reportedly said over an educational system virtually unchanged since being established decades ago under the rule of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

At an event last week at the Council on Foreign Relations, President Sebastian Pinera reiterated his rejection of the protesters’ chief demands. Despite the country’s strong economic growth, he said that the state couldn’t afford to provide free education to all. Pinera also tried to downplay the movement as one that is heavily influenced by elements of the Chilean political left and also criticized coverage of the protests by the media.

Image – Student protesters marching in Santiago, Chile on July 14, 2011. (Via Flickr user b1mbo). (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Online Sources- BBC News, La Tercera, La Nacion, Council on Foreign Relations, BBC News, CNN

Daily Headlines: September 26, 2011

* Cuba: Hundreds of “government supporters” harassed members of the Ladies in White dissident group before a planned march on Saturday.

* Latin America: Nicaraguan newspaper reporter Silvia Gonzalez allegedly fled to the U.S. while Nuevo Laredo, Mexico newspaper editor Maria Elizabeth Macias may’ve been killed due to her social networking messages.

* Bolivia: The country’s Foreign Minister was reportedly briefly detained by indigenous demonstrators protesting government plans to construct a highway through a nature preserve.

* Venezuela: Opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez officially launched his campaign to challenge President Hugo Chavez in elections next year.

Video Source – euronews via YouTube

Online Sources- euronews, AP,, The Telegraph, BBC News