Friday, March 9, 2012

Today’s Video: Fasting in Bolivia

We'll be back over the weekend to examine several news stories from the past few days in the Americas.

Earlier this week we looked at a group of disabled protesters in Bolivia who ended their demonstration after the government agreed to some of their key demands. Among those who stopped demonstrating where at least five people who went on a hunger strike for over a week.

Another hunger strike in Bolivia also ended several days ago. Jesús Vélez Loor of Ecuador stopped his fifty-one day hunger strike that was held outside of the Panamanian embassy in La Paz after the government of that Central American state agreed to his request to be indemnified.

Vélez Loor's actions will hopefully bring to an end to a ten-year saga he endured for nearly a decade. As described by the website for Ecuadorian newspaper La Hora:
(Vélez Loor) was detained by Panama immigration officials...and was accused of being linked to Colombia's FARC (guerillas). He was later deemed to be dangerous and a public security risk.

He was freed ten months later after suffering from an ulcer, losing a testicle and injuries in his feet, arms and head. According to him this came about after he was tortured in a Panamanian prison.

In August 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights heard his testimony and four months later ruled in his favor condemning Panama for cruel and inhumane treatment.

Panama had one year to compensate Vélez but failed to do so. Thus, the Ecuadorian started his hunger strike last January at the doors of the embassy in La Paz.
Over two months after undergoing extreme starvation for his cause the Panamanian government relented and agreed to pay $27,500 to Vélez Loor as well as $24,000 to the local legal group that assisted him.

The following Spanish-language video comes from a June 2011 interview with Vélez Loor. He explained his ordeal in the overcrowded Panamanian prisons as well as the heavy-handed actions taken by prison guards to try to maintain control over the facilities:

Hunger strikes are a familiar form of protest in Bolivia with perhaps the most famous example being when President Evo Morales fasted for five days in 2009.

Video Source - YouTube via wm642

Online Sources - La Hora, The Latin Americanist, Al Jazeera English

Daily Headlines: March 9, 2012

* Cuba: Scientists in Cuba outlined their plans to create a vaccine against dengue fever that has so far showed promising results in animal trials.

* Mexico: While Texan authorities issued a warning against traveling to Mexico during the upcoming college spring break season, Mexican tourism officials believe that the number of visitors from Canada will continue to significantly grow.

* Ecuador: Several hundred indigenous protesters began yesterday a two-week march to protest against government-backed “large-scale mining projects.”

* Latin America: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden rejected the notion that Iran’s influence in Latin America poses a “hemispheric threat” to the U.S.

Video Source – YouTube via teleSUR (Paraguayan health officials have been on high alert since February after at least two people died this year due to a dengue fever outbreak).

Online Sources- Fox News Latino, BBC News, Reuters, CBC News, CNN

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Today’s Video: Vallejo

Today is the 101st anniversary of International Women's Day, a date to celebrate the achievements of women around the world. Yet it’s also an occasion to keep in mind that challenges still remain for women to overcome in areas like gender equality and socioeconomic opportunities.

Recently Newsweek selected its list of “150 Fearless Women” that included numerous figures from Latin America including the presidents of Argentina (Cristina Fernandez) and Brazil (Dilma Rousseff). Others chosen for the list may not be heads of state but their activism has not gone unnoticed. One of these women is Camila Vallejo.

The 23-year-old undergraduate student became the face of last year’s protests for educational reform in demonstrations. “The head of the student revolution shook up a nation and a continent,” according to Newsweek’s description of Vallejo though she does not lead the main student protest group anymore, Vallejo has continued to campaign for the rights of students to a fair and worthwhile education.

Vallejo’s selection to the Newsweek list, along with ex-president Michelle Bachelet, has not been viewed favorably by some of Chile’s politicos. Yet in a year of protests ranging from the Occupied movement in the U.S. to the civilian revolts in the Middle East, Vallejo represented to her supporters a symbol of the strength and activism of women:

Online Sources- Newsweek, La Tercera, UPI

Video Source – YouTube via AFP

Daily Headlines: March 8, 2012

* Argentina: Lionel Messi became the first player to score five goals in a UEFA Champions League match after his club team, Barcelona, hammered Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen 7-1.

* Cuba: Citing the inability “to find a consensus” Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said that Cuba will not be invited to the Americas Summit in Cartagena next month.

* Mexico: For the third consecutive year Carlos Slim has topped the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest individuals with an estimated worth of $69 billion.

* Venezuela: Chevron will reportedly inject a $2 billion credit line into a joint project run by the company and Venezuelan state-owned firm PDVSA.

Video Source – YouTube via TVPublicaArgentina

Online Sources- CNN, Reuters, The Telegraph, El Universal

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Drug Legalization Debate Heats Up in Central America

Bullet Riddled car
Should certain types of narcotics be legalized in order to lessen violence by drug gangs or should the “war on drugs” continue as is? This is the question being considered by numerous Central American presidents in a region hurt by crime and violence related to the illegal drug trade.

During his visit to Mexico earlier this week, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden strongly opposed the possibility of drug legalization. “It's totally legitimate for this to be raised, and the reason it warrants a discussion is, that on examination, you realize that there are more problems with legalization than non-legalization," mentioned Biden to the Mexican press.

Biden also observed that illegal drugs have “unquestioned negative health effects” and that their consumption would certainly rise if they were made legal. “You can go out and decapitate an organization and it's like the hydra-headed monster, it'll grow another head. But you go and follow the money and the monster withers,” he added.

Biden’s remarks in Mexico echoes comments made last month by that country’s Exterior Minister. Patricia Espinosa warned that only focusing on one section of the “diverse” business of organized crime in the narcotics trade will “not permit us to solve the problem (of illegal drugs)”.

Biden refrained from discussing legalization yesterday during his visit to Honduras, the country with the highest per capita homicide rate in the world according to the U.N. “We understand the threat of narcotrafficking and gangs against the region…My country is committed to continue working with Honduras in order to win the battle against drug traffickers,” said Biden at a news conference yesterday where he appeared with Honduran President Porfirio Lobo.

The vow to help Central America combat the narcotics trade came as several leaders have urged increased aid from the U.S. "We've not found that the concern of the international community is enough to translate into a commitment to ensure that Central America, which is a victim of drug production and consumption, can confront this scourge," said Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

In recent weeks the push for discussion on drug legalization has come from two of Central America’s conservative presidents: Otto Perez of Guatemala and Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica. In an interview last month Chinchilla claimed that “if we keep doing what we have been when the results today are worse than 10 years ago, we’ll never get anywhere and could wind up like Mexico or Colombia.” Meanwhile, Perez said yesterday that he would soon present to Biden “our plan seeking alternatives” to combat the narcotics trade.

The leaders of other Central American states such as El Salvador and Panama do not agree with the notion of decriminalizing narcotics though they have expressed their willingness to discuss the issue. That chance may occur on the 24th of this month at a meeting of Central American heads of state in Guatemala. Furthermore, the issue will likely be discussed at next month’s Summit of the Americas in Colombia.

Image Source – Flickr via Knight Foundation (“A police investigator looks for evidence following a drug-related hit in Hermosillo, Mexico.”) (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Online Sources – U.S. State Department, La Tribuna, La Prensa, Vanguardia, Bloomberg, UPI, BBC News, AFP

Daily Headlines: March 7, 2012

Gabriel Garcia Marquez plaque, Paris
* Latin America: The 85th birthday of famed Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez was celebrated yesterday throughout the Americas including the launching of “100 Years of Solitude” as an e-book.

* Brazil: Environmental group Greenpeace warned that “deficiencies” in a Brazilian nuclear power plant currently undergoing construction could cause “a new Fukushima” to occur.

* Cuba: Researchers in Cuba will soon start clinical trials of an HIV vaccine on a group of thirty patents.

* Colombia: A criminal complaint was filed in a Swiss court against Nestle alleging that the food giant “failed to take preventative measures” in the 2005 murder of a Colombian employee.

Image Source – Flickr via J’Roo (Plaque honoring Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Paris, France). (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Online Sources- LAHT, CNN, Sky News,

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

World Watch: Say Hi to the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

* Russia: Prime Minister Vladimir Putin may’ve won a landslide victory in presidential elections Sunday but he still faces strong opposition in the form of street protests.

* Congo: According to the local media at least 246 people died as a result of a series of explosions in arms depots at the capital city of Brazzaville.

* Syria: The U.N.’s Human Rights Office claimed to have video showing patients being tortured at a military hospital in the besieged city of Homs.

* U.S.: A Texas court convicted financier Allen Stanford for running a multibillion-dollar pyramid scheme.

Video Source– YouTube via Reuters

Online Sources – Voice of America, Associated Press, Reuters, ABC News

Daily Headlines: March 6, 2012

São Paulo - Skyline by night
* Brazil: Official figures released today showed that the Brazilian economic boom continued last year though the 2.7% growth rate was slightly less than originally predicted.

* Peru: Approximately 5000 people in Amazon province of Madre de Dios protested against government plans to crack down on illegal mining operations.

* Dominican Republic: Famous television producer, presenter and philanthropist Rafael Corporán died on Monday at the age of 71.

* U.S.: According to a new poll a majority of Latino voters would support President Barack Obama in a head-to-head matchup with any of the Republican presidential hopefuls.

Image Source – Flickr via Andre Deak (The nighttime skyline of Sao Paulo, Brazil.) (CC BY 2.0).

Online Sources- BBC News, AFP, Dominican Today, Fox News Latino

Monday, March 5, 2012

Report: Latin America and Caribbean Tops Femicide List

Pink Crosses
Latin America and the Caribbean is the world’s most dangerous region for femicides according to data gathered by the Small Arms Survey (SAS).

The SAS report found that a whopping fourteen of the twenty-five countries with the highest femicide rates come from Latin America and the Caribbean. El Salvador, with twelve femicides per 100,000 people, is the worst of the worst and is followed by Jamaica (10.9 per 100,000) and Guatemala (9.7 per 100,000). Honduras, Colombia and Bolivia where also among the top ten on the SAS list with at least seven femicides per 100,000 individuals.

The SAS report concluded that the countries with the highest rates of femicides, or homicides where the victims is girl or woman, also generally have high rates of “lethal violence”. Therefore, in countries with very high femicide rates women are reportedly more likely to be “attacked in the public sphere, including by gangs and other criminal groups.” As a result, “femicides often take place in a general climate of indifference and impunity.”

The study also found that the femicide rates could vary within countries such as Mexico where the national rate was 2.5 per 100,000 in a four-year span while the rate was an astronomical 19.1 per 100,000 in Ciudad Juarez in 2009. In addition, countries like Brazil and Venezuela interestingly have high femicide rates though “men are up to ten times more likely to become victims of homicide.”

Femicides and violence against women made headlines in several nations in the Americas over the past few days:
  • Argentina
The trial of Eduardo Vásquez, a former musician accused of killing his wife by setting her on fire, continued with prosecution witnesses claiming that the defendant was a “horrible person and a monster.”
  • Chile
According to a local study the number of femicides in the first two months of this year grew by 60% compared to the same period in 2011.
  • Guatemala
Citing the need to ensure equal rights for women, the country’s Constitutional Court upheld a legal challenge against an anti-femicide law that was approved last year.
  • Mexico
Officials in the state of Mexico have come under fire after a bus driver accused of murdering at least eight women escaped from custody and was on the lam for six days before being recaptured.
  • Puerto Rico
The commonwealth’s special prosecutor for women gave her approval to a measure that would legally recognize the crime of femicide.

Image Source – Flickr via Miami Workers Center (Pink crosses that serve as memorials to women murdered in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico). (CC BY 2.0)

Online Sources - Small Arms Survey, La Nacion (Argentina and Chile), LAHT, Prensa Libre, El Nuevo Dia

Bolivian President Bows to Pressure from Disabled Activists

A group of disabled demonstrators agreed to end weeks of protests after Bolivian president Evo Morales agreed to some of their main demands.

The breakthrough came after Morales said on Friday that he would support a proposal granting increased rights to disabled individuals. The General Law for Persons with Disabilities would grant equal rights to the disabled as well as the “social inclusion of disabled people in public institutions of the state.” Furthermore, the proposal would reportedly drop the tariffs on imports of wheelchairs and other assistive devices as well as free medical access in public hospitals.

Additionally, Morales also agreed to the protesters’ request for an annual state subsidy for the disabled. However the $143 per person agreed to was less than the original $431 per individual sought by the protesters.

Disabled protest leaders subsequently said that the group of approximately fifty people would leave from the tent camp that they resided in for nine days in La Paz’ Murillo Square. “We will return to our points of origin with three key victories: the approval of the law (for the disabled), the granting of a subsidy for disabled people and bringing citizen awareness to our cause,” claimed protest leader Carlos Mariaca.

The protesters’ actions began last November when dozens of people with disabilities and their supporters marched along the highways from the province of Beni to the capital city. Their 1000-mile gained little global attention until last month when some of the protesters clashed with La Paz riot police:

The government backed the actions of the officers and minister Carlos Romero alleged that opposition activists infiltrated the group of disabled demonstrators. Yet the police were accused of unnecessarily repressing the protesters including the reported use of pepper spray and “tazing” to control the crowd.

“Any allegations of abuse should be thoroughly and impartially investigated,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Deputy Americas Program Director at Amnesty International.

Video Source – YouTube via Al Jazeera English

Online Sources – Diario El Siglo, Amnesty International USA, The Guardian, AFP, The Latin Americanist

Daily Headlines: March 5, 2012

* Mexico: Mexico City’s government decided that the cab licenses of the metropolis’ unique Volkswagen Beetle taxis, known locally by the nickname of “vochos”, would expire at the end of this year.

* Venezuela: Both the government and opposition have accused each other of being responsible of being behind an attack during a rally for presidential challenger Henrique Capriles.

* Peru: Authorities captured the suspected head of the Shining Path guerillas that succeeded the recently captured Comrade Artemio.

* Haiti: According to a new study there has been a dramatic spike in major crimes in Haiti’s major cities but “there is no single factor to explain the rise in violent crime.”

Image Source – Flickr via Fredo in (((Stereo))) (CC BY 2.0)

Online Sources- The Telegraph, LAHT, BBC News, ABC News