Thursday, March 21, 2013

Today’s Video: Gracias Cachao

We will be off on Friday but we'll hopefully return over the weekend to examine news and notes from around the Americas.

On Thursday the U.S. Library of Congress (LOC) added twenty-five audio recordings to its National Recording Registry including music from Chubby Checker, Van Cliburn and Janis Joplin.  The LOC also recognized influential Cuban musician and composer Israel "Cachao" López by including his 1957 album “Descargas: Cuban Jam Session in Miniature” to the registry.

Already a pioneer of mambo, López gathered a dozen fellow musicians fresh off their respective nightclub gigs to participate in early morning jam sessions at a recording studio.  Their short, improvised jams different aspects of Afro-Cuban music with songs from the island and the rhythms of jazz.

According to the LOC, the resulting album “has had a lasting impact on Latin music, especially on the Salsa style that emerged in the 1960s, and Cachao organized many similar sessions for further albums both in Cuba and in the United States, where he settled after the Cuban revolution”.

Below is “Trombon Criollo”, which is one of the tracks from “Descargas”:

López died in March 2008 due to complications resulting from kidney failure.  He was 89-years-old. 

Video Source – YouTube via user puchie82766

Online Sources - Library of Congress

Guatemala: Witnesses Recall Horror and Heartache at Rios Montt Trial

Indigenous survivors of Guatemala’s civil war spoke at the genocide trial against former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt and spoke about abuses committed by the military three decades ago.

57-year-old Miguel C. Sánchez told the court on Thursday that troops in 1982 marched into the town of Trapichitos, murdered villagers including children, and burned down their houses.

“They tied him by his hands and fight and then dragged him away,” said Jacinto Brito who recalled the killing of his father.  “They also took away another four people.  The soldiers came in all directions.  Surely the government ordered them to do this,” added Brito who spoke this morning.

“They came and they massacred my mother, my brother and my brother-in-law. They burned homes," said 45-year-old Tomas Chavez who took the witness stand on Wednesday.

At least 150 members of the indigenous Ixil will testify over the next ten days against Rios Montt and ex-military intelligence chief José Rodríguez who are accused of crimes against humanity and genocide.  These eyewitnesses were determined to speak at the Guatemala City court even though some of them couldn’t speak Spanish and required translators.  In Brito’s case, a translator was provided due to his illiteracy and special headphones were used since he’s partially deaf.

Human rights prosecutors at the trial that started on Tuesday will attempt to prove that Rios Montt and Rodríguez masterminded the murders of 1771 Ixil people during the ex-strongman’s seventeen-month period as de facto president.  The pair is believed to have planned a “scorched earth” offensive aimed at eliminating suspected Marxist insurgents and their alleged collaborators. 

The defense team, who had filed numerous appeals in order to stall proceedings, alleged that Rios Montt was not in charge of battlefield operations. 

The trial has divided Guatemalans with supporters of the former dictator such as former general-turned-President Otto Perez Molina arguing that no genocide occurred in the country.  Yet for some victims of Guatemala’s civil war, the trial is a necessary end to years of impunity enjoyed by Rios Montt:

Daily Headlines: March 21, 2013

* Venezuela: The odds of a possible improvement in diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Venezuela have apparently gone from slim to practically none.

* Argentina: Pope Francis was publicly opposed to same-sex marriage while he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires but was he privately in favor of gay civil unions?

* South America: Bolivia will replace Peru as one of the three South American host countries of the next edition of the Dakar Rally.

* Haiti: The U.N. Security Council called on Haiti’s political leaders to break as soon as possible a sixteen-month impasse and organize local elections.

Video Source – YouTube via euronews

Online Sources- UN News Centre, euronews, New York Times, MercoPress

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dominicans Win World Baseball Classic

The Dominican Republic are the new champions of the World Baseball Classic (WBC) after they beat Puerto Rico 3-0 in the title game.

The offense provided by the likes of Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnación and Erick Aybar were enough for Los Quisqueyanos to become the first team to finish the WBC undefeated.

Starter Samuel Deduno and closer Fernando Rodney were two of the Dominican pitchers who gave up three hits as they shutout a tenacious Boricua squad.

"You always remember the first time for everything," said Dominican outfielder Robinson Cano who was named WBC Most Valuable Player. "This is always going to be in our hearts for the rest of our lives," added Cano who hit .469 and two home runs in eight games.

Puerto Rico could not overcome their traditional Caribbean foes in the three times they faced each other at this year's WBC. Nevertheless, the team can hold their heads up high as worthy runners-up who upset previous titleholders Japan in the semifinals.

"We are a bit disappointed, but my guys are leaving with their heads up," Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said after Tuesday night's game. "This has been a good championship. They should be very proud, each of the members of this team.

Aside from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, the WBC was also a success for Brazil. The South American country best known for being a global soccer powerhouse surprisingly won their qualifying round series last November.

Several Latin American sides suffered from early exits in the tournament though none was more disappointing than the Cuban side that fell twice against the Netherlands in pool play.

Online Sources - ESPN, Chicago Tribune,, The New York Times

Daily Headlines: March 20, 2013

* Brazil: At least 24 people are dead after heavy rainfall led to several landslides in the mountains above Rio de Janeiro.

* Cuba: Dissident blogger Yoaní Sanchez called for the end of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba that she said was used by the Castro administration as a scapegoat for the island’s economic woes.

* Colombia: Representatives for the FARC guerillas urged the Colombian government to “demilitarize” rural areas and pay reparations to the poor.

* Haiti: A recent report from Doctors Without Borders found that a “lack of funds and supplies” have caused "unnecessary deaths" from cholera.

Video Source – YouTube via ITN

Online Sources- GlobalPost, Foreign Policy Passport, Reuters, Doctors Without Borders

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Britain to Pope: Stay Out of Falklands Debate

Several British government officials urged the newly elected Argentine-born Pope Francis to refrain from making any political statements regarding the disputed Falklands Islands.

"The Holy See is clear that it considers the question of the Falkland Islands as a bilateral one between sovereign nations, and that it does not have a role to play. We do not expect that position to change," the Foreign Office said in a statement issued on Monday.

The communiqué came hours after the pontiff met and had lunch with Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on Monday. After they talked, Fernández said at a press conference that she “asked him to intercede in opening a dialogue between the U.K. and Argentina”.

Baroness Warsi, the Brtish Faith and Communities Minister, claimed that Francis will be neutral concerning the diplomatic tug-of-war between her country and Argentina over the archipelago.

“The Holy See have always taken the view that this is a bilateral matter.  I don’t anticipate that that will change, said the minister who attended this morning’s inauguration Mass.

British Prime Minister David Cameron criticized the pontiff’s remarks less than two days after Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the new Pope.

“The white smoke over the Falklands was pretty clear,” said Cameron.  He also mentioned that the results of a recent non-binding referendum held on the disputed islands “is a message to everyone in the world that the people of these islands have chosen very clearly the future they want and that choice should be respected by everyone.”

Warsi denied rumors that Cameron “snubbed” the Pope by skipping out on the inauguration Mass and noted how when “Benedict was inaugurated eight years ago, neither the prime minister or deputy prime minister attended.”  Fernández, meanwhile, attended the Mass and was among the dozens of foreign dignitaries who subsequently greeted Francis at St. Peter’s Basilica.

Daily Headlines: March 19, 2013

* Mexico: A new academic study concluded that at least 253,000 guns are smuggled into Mexico from the U.S. every year as part of a multimillion dollar industry.

* Caribbean: Two long-time baseball rivals, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, will face off tonight in the World Baseball Classic championship game.

* Venezuela: Interim President Nicolás Maduro has a fourteen-point lead ahead of opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles according to poll conducted after the death of President Hugo Chavez.

* Argentina: Authorities in Argentina filed criminal charges including tax evasion and money laundering against banking giant HSBC.

Online Sources - BBC News, ESPN, Reuters, Christian Science Monitor

Pope Calls on Catholics to "Welcome All Humanity"

Pope Francis urged Catholics to "welcome all humanity with affection and tenderness" as part of his message during the pontiff's inauguration mass on Tuesday.

In his homily Francis called on followers to "take care of others", especially children, the elderly and those who live in poverty. His message of unselfishness was demonstrated before the mass when he stepped out of the "Popemobile" to greet a physically disabled man.

"We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness," declared the Argentine-born pontiff in front of an estimated 150,000 people at St. Peter's Square.

The newly elected Pope addressed the dozens of foreign dignitaries and asked "all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment."

Jose Maria Bergoglio, who was elected as supreme leader of the Roman Catholic Church six days ago, declared that the his "real power is service and at the end of his address he asked Catholics to pray for him.

Flags from Ecuador, Peru, Mexico and other countries were waved by several of those attending the mass of the the first Latin American and Jesuit Pope.

The inauguration mass was followed on a large outdoor screen by an estimated 40,000 people at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Online Sources - La Nacion,, Vatican Radio

Video Source - YouTube via euronews

Monday, March 18, 2013

Daily Headlines: March 18, 2013 (UPDATED)

* Argentina: Despite their disagreements over issues like gay marriage and birth control, newly elected Pope Francis met and had lunch with Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner today.

Update: Fernández told the press after her meeting that she urged the new Pontiff to intervene and "facilitate dialogue" between Argentina and Britain regarding their dispute over the Falkland Islands.  (This might be a topic of shared views between both figures though Pope Francis has yet to issue an official response).     

* Puerto Rico: Alex Rios’ two-run home run helped guide Puerto Rico to a 3-1 upset victory in the World Baseball Classic semifinals over two-time defending champion Japan. 

* Chile: Former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet resigned from her post as the head of the U.N.’s women’s rights agency and will be named as a presidential candidate for the 2014 elections.

* Peru: Exit polls showed that Susana Villaran, the progressive mayor of the Peruvian capital city of Lima, narrowly won a recall election held on Sunday.

Video Source – YouTube via casarosada

Online Sources including Update- CNN, USA TODAY, GlobalPost, Reuters, ABC News, The Latin Americanist