Friday, May 3, 2013

Latin American Press Under Fire

Today is World Press Freedom Day and, as we mentioned briefly yesterday, Freedom House report found that there is a decline in media freedom throughout Latin America.  Several recent incidents in the region appear to prove Freedom House’s assertion.
  • Mexico
Radio and TV announcer Jose Gerardo Padilla Blanquet has gone missing since Tuesday in Saltillo, the capital of Coahuila state.  Padilla Blanquet works for Radio Grande de Coahuila, a radio station whose director was assaulted months ago after receiving numerous threats.

The disappearances come days after photographer Daniel Martinez Bazaldua was murdered and dismembered in Saltillo.  An editorial in Vanguardia, the newspaper Martinez Bazaldua worked for, subsequently blasted local authorities for implying that the victims worked for one of Mexico’s drug gangs.
  • Colombia
Semana reporter Ricardo Calderón was attacked by gunfire while driving on a Colombian highway yesterday.  The veteran investigative journalist, who helped uncover an illegal and massive wiretapping operation in 2007, may have been targeted in a possible assassination attempt.

The Colombian International Press Association condemned the attack on Calderón and expressed their worry over “the security of all journalists nationwide, especially those in high conflict zones.”
  • Argentina
The Argentine Journalism Forum (FOPEA, in Spanish) denounced the firing of tear gas and rubber bullets by police on media members covering a protest one week ago.  FOPEA alleged that at least seven journalists were injured while covering the demonstration and authorities prevented some of them from receiving medical attention.

Meanwhile, an editorial in Diario Los Andes yesterday blasted the suggestion of Chaco province governor Jorge Capitanich to enact a “press ethics law” on the same day several newspapers reported money-laundering allegations against him.
  • Guatemala
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) yesterday highlighted a series of cyberattacks against the website of major news outlet elPeriódico.  According to the CPJ, the hacking had been occurring for the past several months but had intensified after elPeriódico published an April 8th article that “alleged corruption, embezzlement, and abuse of authority by President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti”.
  • Latin America
Reporters Without Borders (RWB) issued today its list of thirty-nine “predators of freedom of information” and it includes four figures from Latin America and the Caribbean.  The heads of Colombia’s rightwing paramilitaries, Mexico’s Zetas drug gang and Cuban President Raul Castro are among those criticized by RWB.

RWB said the following on Honduran businessman and political figure M. Facussé Barcum as if he were the one mentioning it:

Daily Headlines: May 3, 2013

* Venezuela: Henrique Capriles said that he will not “throw in the towel” as he filed a lawsuit protesting the results of last month’s presidential election.

* South America: Peru and Ecuador temporarily recalled their main diplomatic envoys after the Ecuadorian ambassador to Peru got into a fight with customers at a Lima supermarket.

* Chile: Renowned poet Pablo Neruda may have died of cancer and was not poisoned according to preliminary results conducted on his exhumed remains.

* Cuba: The FBI added Joanne Chesimard, a fugitive living in Cuba who was convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper, to its list of “most wanted terrorists.”

Video Source – Al Jazeera English

Online Sources- GlobalPost; Reuters; PhysOrg; Huffington Post

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Mexico: Activists Urge Obama to Speak Out on Human Rights Abuses

U.S. President Barack Obama and his Mexican colleague, Enrique Peña Nieto, are expected to discuss topics including immigration, security and bilateral trade when they meet later today.  Human rights activists hope that both leaders will also focus on human rights abuses that have increasingly taking place in Mexico. 

 “We urge Obama and Peña Nieto to use all their available executive powers to stem the tide of smuggled weapons and to support legislative and electoral efforts to overcome political inertia and roll back the power of the light arms industry and their political front groups like the National Rifle Assn.,” wrote Javier Sicilia in an opinion piece published in today’s Los Angeles Times.

Sicilia, a poet turned peace activist after his son was brutally murdered in March 2011, added that both leaders “need to work together in prioritizing public health and regulation over a strategy that makes suspected drug offenders into military objectives”.  Yet he also called on “an engaged citizenry” from both sides of the border to pressure political leaders into “making good decisions.”

Sicilia and other human rights activists delivered a petition to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City this week calling for an end to the flow of weapons from the U.S. to Mexico. 

For Daniel Zapico, head of Amnesty International in Mexico, Obama and Peña Nieto should reexamine the security cooperation pact known as the Mérida Initiative.

“The U.S. government has closed its eyes to the allegations of human rights abuses they have identified (in Mexico) including supposed torture, forced disappearances and the misapplication of military jurisdiction to ensure impunity,” said Zapico.

According to a letter sent to Obama by José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch, the number of reported cases of alleged human rights increased fivefold under the presidency of Peña Nieto predecessor, Felipe Calderón.  Vivanco also claimed that under Calderon’s six-year term over 70,000 people died in drug-related violence while some 26,100 people “disappeared.”

Human rights violations in Mexico are also closely linked to the country’s immigration debate, which was pointed out in a communiqué published by a coalition of human rights groups:

Daily Headlines: May 2, 2013

* Latin America: A Freedom House report concluded that there a rise in media controls is partly to blame for a decrease in press freedom throughout Latin America.

* Puerto Rico: Health problems, high unemployment and undetonated explosives are some of the obstacles hurting residents of Vieques ten years since the U.S. military left the island.

* Cuba: Senior U.N. officials urged the U.S. to halt the forced feeding of approximately twenty-one inmates who are on a hunger trike at the Guantanamo detention center.

* Mexico: Legislators passed a government-backed telecommunications reform bill aimed at increasing foreign investment and curbing media monopolies.

Video Source – YouTube via Al Jazeera English

Online Sources- Washington Post; ABC News; BBC News; The Guardian

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Venezuela: Government, Opposition Trade Blame Over Legislative Brawl (Updated)

A group of Venezuelan legislators brawled on Tuesday night as political tensions remain high over April’s presidential election.

Amateur video of the incident taken by an opposition legislators showed lawmakers punching, kicking and shoving each other during a session of the National Assembly.

The video, which can be viewed above, occurred after the unicameral chamber passed a resolution stripping opposition congressmen of most legislative powers unless they recognize the April 14 election victory of current President Nicolás Maduro.

 “Without a word, like cowards, they came at us from behind," said opposition lawmaker Ismael García who accused members of the ruling coalition of starting the fight.

One of García’s colleagues, Julio Borges, appeared on local TV after the brawl with bruises and blood covering part of his face.

"They can beat us, jail us, kill us, but we will not sell out our principles," said a defiant Borges. "These blows give us more strength."

Opposition congresswoman María Corina Machado alleged that National Assembly chief Diosdado Cabello “smiled” while witnessing a legislator being “savagely beaten.”

Henrique Capriles, the opposition figure who lost last month’s election to Maduro by less than two percent, blasted the government for promoting violence in Venezuela.

“The disaster of this government and those who run it try to cover it up with violence,” tweeted Capriles.  “Maduro wants to convert his country into a circus and (I don’t mean) Du soleil!” mentioned Capriles in reference to Maduro recently attending a performance by Cirque du Soleil.

Pro-government politicos rejected the opposition’s accusations and blamed them for starting the clash.

“Today again I had to defend (the late president Hugo Chávez') legacy," said lawmaker Odalis Monzon.  Meanwhile, Cabello accused Borges and García of “staging” the brawl and added, “just because (Borges) was assaulted does not mean that he was not an aggressor.”

At an event this morning, Maduro condemned the fistfight and claimed that he “disagrees with violence.”  He also instructed Cabello to “take whatever measures of authority and discipline necessary” in order to prevent future brawls.

Daily Headlines: May 1, 2013

* Cuba: President Barack Obama renewed his push to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay amidst a hunger strike by over half of the inmates.

* Vatican: Argentine-born Pope Francis condemned the “slave labor” conditions at a Bangladesh factory that collapsed last week killing over 400 people.

* Bolivia: President Evo Morales announced that he’s expelling the U.S. Agency for International Development for "conspiring" against the Bolivian government.

* U.S.: Gabriel Gomez, a Colombian-American and former Navy SEAL, won the Republican Party’s primary for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by current Secretary of State John Kerry.

Video Source – YouTube via AFP

Online Sources- CBS News; The Guardian; Businessweek; ABC News

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Daily Headlines: April 30, 2013

* Peru: President Ollanta Humala indicated that he might pardon Alberto Fujimori, a disgraced former leader who is serving prison sentences for corruption and human rights abuses.

* Venezuela: A political ally of opposition leader Henrique Capriles was charged with promoting post-electoral violence days after U.S. filmmaker Timothy Tracy with conspiracy, falsifying public documents and other crimes.

* Bolivia: The Bolivian constitutional court gave the green light for President Evo Morales to run for a third term in elections scheduled for December 2014.

* Puerto Rico: Several Puerto Rican politicians backed presenting a resolution to the Congress aimed at “achieving the admission of Puerto Rico as a (U.S.) state”.

Video Source – YouTube via Associated Press (In 2009, “a special tribunal convicted former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori of murder and kidnapping on Tuesday and sentenced him to 25 years in prison for death squad activities during his autocratic 10-year rule”.)

Online Sources- Businessweek; Huffington Post; Al Jazeera English; The Latin Americanist; AFP

Monday, April 29, 2013

Venezuela Charges U.S. Filmmaker with Conspiracy

Is Timothy Tracy a U.S. spy who tried to promote violence Venezuela’s recent presidential election or does the government unfairly target him a scapegoat?  This is the question in the middle of the latest diplomatic disagreement between Venezuela and the U.S.

On Saturday night, a judge in Caracas charged Tracy with conspiracy, falsifying public documents
and other crimes.   

The 35-year-old has remained behind bars since Wednesday when he was arrested at the Simon Bolivar International Airport.  The next day, newly inaugurated President Nicolás Maduro accused Tracy of “creating violence in the cities of this country.”  Furthermore, interior minister Miguel Rodríguez Torres alleged to have over 500 videos demonstrating Tracy’s guilt including his meeting with members of the Venezuelan student protest movement.

“We have no doubt that he is an intelligence operative based on his training.  He knows how to infiltrate, recruit others and manage security information,” declared Rodriguez at a press conference.

“The documentaries he makes have nothing to do with national security.  They’re individual histories that try to understand the polarizing political climate of this country,” declared Gloria Stifano, Timothy Tracy’s attorney in Venezuela.  “He met with the Women With Chávez group, received authorization from several mayors and was approved by the national electoral council to act as an observer,” added Stifano.

Student protest activist Gaby Arellano denied the charges by the state against her cohorts and claimed that the Tracy affair is “like a big farce on the part of the government to distract attention.”  Tuki Jencquel, a Venezuelan filmmaker who reportedly became friends with Tracy, said that Tracy “seemed to be very evenhanded in his work and neutral in relation to what was happening in Venezuela”.

According to, Tracy worked as a producer on several documentaries and television shows such as “Angry White Man,” “Madhouse” and “American Harmony.” 

U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell neglected to comment on whether Tracy had any connection with any U.S. government agency and he also rejected allegations that the U.S. is involved in any efforts to destabilize Venezuela. 

Diplomatic relations between Venezuela and the U.S. has been uneasy over the past fifteen years.  Last month, for instance, Venezuelan officials expelled a pair of U.S. diplomats charged with plotting against the government of then-President Hugo Chávez.

Daily Headlines: April 29, 2013

* South America: Chilean President Sebastián Piñera urged the International Court of Justice to dismiss a lawsuit filed last week by landlocked Bolivia regarding access to the Pacific Ocean.

* Guatemala: Archbishop Oscar Julio Vian praised the late Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi as a “martyr for peace” at a mass held on the fifteenth anniversary of the brutal murder of the humanitarian cleric.

* Argentine: The mother of Argentine rock singer Gustavo Cerati said that there are “small signs of hope” that her son will soon emerge from his near-three year coma.

* Panama: Paleontologists identified what they believe to be fossil remains of the “oldest monkey in the Americas” at the site of the Panama Canal expansion.

Video Source – YouTube via user telesurenglish

Online Sources- ABC News; GlobalPost; Los Angeles Times; Newsroom Panama

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sobredosis de TV: Tony and Tejo

Grantland’s Andy Greenwald described Anthony Bourdain’s job as a judge on the televised cooking competition The Taste as someone “defanged like an aging circus lion” though he also expressed his hope that Bourdain’s latest series, Parts Unknown,  “will be excellent”.  Greenwald’s optimism was not off the mark as Parts Unknown debuted this month and provided a much-needed boost to CNN’s weekend ratings.

On the next episode of Parts Unknown Bourdain visits Colombia, a country he first visited for his previous travel series, No Reservations. “It’s inspiring, when you’ve gotten used to the notion that some problems probably won’t ever be fixed in your lifetime, to see some of the very worst kind of seemingly insurmountable problems so quickly and effectively improve,” he said about Colombia in 2008.

Bourdain’s latest visit to Colombia was somewhat controversial when he claimed to have been “misunderstood” when he tweeted a photo of him posing with two young soldiers.  Nevertheless, Bourdain recently praised the country as an emerging “vacation wonderland” and urged viewers to “put aside the stereotypes” related to drugs and violence.

The following video clip from Parts Unknown is a look at Colombia’s national sport: tejo.  Tejo is a hybrid of shot put and horseshoes where competitors toss rock-like pucks roughly twenty yards to a target embedded in a raised board filled with clay. As seen below, tejo is a traditional pastime often enjoyed by Colombians as a popular recreation:
The Colombia episode of Parts Unknown debuts tonight on CNN at 9 p.m. ET.  An upcoming episode on Peru is scheduled to air on June 2nd.