Friday, May 9, 2014

Daily Headlines: May 9, 2014

* Costa Rica: Luis Guillermo Solis pledged to “resolve the deficit within the next two years, maximum, as it is perhaps the biggest challenge we face” during his presidential inauguration speech on Thursday.

* Brazil: In the latest troubles affecting preparations for the World Cup, Rio de Janeiro public bus employees went on strike while a worker at the construction site of a soccer stadium died in an accident

* Mexico: No reports of major damage or serious injuries were reported following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake in southern Mexico yesterday.

* Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico’s government revealed details of an economic recovery plan aimed at improving the massive public debt of the commonwealth.

Video Source – teleSUR via YouTube

Online Sources – The Huffington Post; CNN; The Guardian; Miami Herald; Bloomberg

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Daily Headlines: May 8, 2014

* Venezuela: 243 anti-government protesters were arrested on Thursday morning as part of a crackdown on tent camps in Caracas while the U.S. Congress is considering several proposals to raise sanctions against President Nicolás Maduro’s regime.

* Brazil: Federal police have threatened with going on a 24-hour strike in the middle of the World Cup unless the government raises their pay and improves their working conditions.

* Latin America: A new World Health Organization report found that areas of Brazil, Paraguay and Costa Rica have some of the world’s cleanest air.

* Mexico: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will reportedly go ahead with a planned visit to Mexico later this month despite being subpoenaed by Congress over the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Video Source – CNN en Español via YouTube

Online Sources – Latin Times; ABC News; Al Jazeera; Xinhua; NBC News

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Crooked Colombian Campaign Contractor Caught

For the second time this year, Colombian authorities uncovered an illicit spying operation that may have included surveillance of government peace talks with the FARC rebels.

Agents representing the Colombian prosecutors office raided an office used by the social media team of Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, the presidential candidate representing the political party loyal to former President Alvaro Uribe.  Andrés Sepulveda was arrested during the raid, and suspected with spying over the peace negotiations held in Cuba and also trying to hack the e-mail account of President Juan Manuel Santos.

"The aim of the people who are connected to that criminal enterprise, was to sabotage and interfere with the peace process in Havana," Eduardo Montealegre said at a press conference yesterday.

In a radio interview this morning, Montealegre added that Sepulveda attempted to infiltrate the e-mail accounts of one of the top negotiators for the FARC, foreign journalists and ex-congresswoman Piedad Córdoba.

Sepulveda also claimed that the campaign activist sold his information for at least $100 million pesos (over $51,000) to unknown parties as part of a “black market of information.”

Zuluaga, who could force a runoff against Santos in the May 25th election, condemned Sepulveda’s actions and claimed that he was “surprised” over the allegations.  Nevertheless, he acknowledged that his campaign did hire the services of the firm Sepulveda belonged to that was run by the hacker’s sister-in-law.

According to the Colombian press, Sepulveda presents him in social media networks as a “senior developer and ethical hacker.”  Among the messages he wrote on his Twitter account in recent weeks includes “the worst thing a strategist can do is to be without principles and sell himself to the highest bidder.  That double morality is shameful.”

Daily Headlines: May 7, 2014

* U.S.: A Pew Research Center report released today found that number of Catholic Latinos in the U.S. has decreased in contrast to the increase in Latinos identifying themselves as evangelical or nonreligious.

* Latin America: Haitian health officials confirmed the spread of the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus to that country while cases of malaria in Venezuela have skyrocketed this year.

* Cuba: Cuban officials claimed that four Cuban exiles from Florida were arrested last month and suspected with “planning attacks on military installations” on the island.

* Chile: Chile could become the next Latin American country to allow the partial decriminalization of abortion according to remarks made by the head of the National Service for Women.

Video Source – Catholic News Service via YouTube (Most U.S. Latinos are Catholic though the percentage has gone down from 67% in 2010 to 55% this year according to the Pew Research Center).

Online Sources – The Guardian; LAHT; ABC News; Reuters; El Universal

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Veep Varela Victorious in Panama’s Presidential Election

Voters in Panama gave Vice President Juan Carlos Varela a promotion and elected him as the Central American country’s next president.

Panama’s electoral tribunal declared Varela the winner on Sunday night after deciding that he held an “insurmountable” lead over his main rivals, ruling party candidate Jose Domingo Arias and former Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro.  At the time Varela was declared president-elect, he had 39% of the vote compared to Arias’ 32% and Navarro’s 28%.

Varela won even though the last polls taken in the weeks prior to the election placed him behind Arias and Navarro in the three-way dogfight for the presidency.  Yet much like Costa Rica’s presidential race, enough voters were apparently swayed by Varela’s strong anti-corruption platform.  In addition, there may have been discontent that if Arias were to win then he would be a puppet controlled by current President Ricardo Martinelli.  (Indeed, Arias’ vice presidential pick was First Lady Marta Linares while Martinelli crisscrossed the country over the last few weeks actively campaigning for Arias).

“This government is going to fight against inequality and is not going to tolerate corruption,” Varela told supporters shortly after he won the election.  “Better days will come to Panama, with a government that is human, decent and visionary,” he added.

Sunday’s election, which was marked by a peaceful and high turnout, was the latest chapter in the ugly rivalry between Varela and Martinelli.  Both were partners when Martinelli was elected to the high office in 2009 but that relationship quickly unraveled:

Daily Headlines: May 6, 2014

* Cuba: A delegation of four U.S. legislators visited Cuba and called on the Castro regime and U.S. President Barack Obama to “make a serious commitment to engage in negotiations” for the liberation of imprisoned contractor Alan Gross.

* Mexico: In his latest full-page advertisement in Mexican newspapers, acclaimed film director Alfonso Cuarón called for public debates in order to discuss a major energy reform proposal supported by President Enrique Peña Nieto.

* Latin America: Former U.S Secretary of State George Schultz, British deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and five Nobel-prize winning economists became the latest prominent voices to speak out against the “war on drugs.”

* Brazil: Brazil’s main stock index rose to its highest point in nearly five months yesterday after polls showed that President Dilma Rousseff’s odds of winning reelection in the first round have decreased.

Video Source – YouTube user JewishNewsOne (Alan Gross, a U.S. contractor serving a fifteen-year prison sentence in Cuba following a 2011 conviction, went one a seven-day hunger strike last month).

Online Sources – GlobalPost; NBC News; Reuters; Bloomberg

Monday, May 5, 2014

Uruguay: 5400 Legal Abortions in the Past Year Says Catholic Church

An estimated 5400 legal abortions have taken place in Uruguay over the past year according to information from the local Catholic Church.

As mentioned in the Uruguayan press, the data was based on pamphlets that were distributed in churches nationwide over the weekend.  The statistics were reportedly based on a study that analyzed the number of abortions done since first trimester abortions were legalized in 2012.

The pamphlets allegedly mentioned that parishioners should use the information to “reflect” on the issue of abortion.  In addition, the text in the booklets also advised readers to keep them until October’s presidential election.

The information in the pamphlets contradicts Uruguayan officials that mentioned last February that 6676 abortions took place between December 2012 and November 2013.

The issue of abortion has become an important topic ahead of the presidential election in approximately five months time.  Adding fuel to the fire was the decision by doctors in the city of Salto who refused to oversee the abortion requested in the name of mentally disabled woman who became pregnant when she was raped.  (Uruguayan law permits abortions in the first fourteen weeks when the mother's health is at risk, a fetus has malformations or the pregnancy was due to rape).  As a result, the woman was taken to a hospital in the capital city of Montevideo though it hasn’t been mentioned in the press if she underwent an abortion or not.

Daily Headlines: May 5, 2014

* Dominican Republic: Dominican health officials have documented some 3500 suspected cases of the chikungunya virus, which is a mosquito-borne virus that causes intense joint and muscle pain and has spread throughout the Caribbean over the past five months.

* Venezuela: A Human Rights Watch report published today blasted “Venezuelan security forces” for being behind “an alarming pattern of abuse” against opposition protesters and civilians since early February.   

* U.S.: Did the judges rob Argentine boxer Marcos Maidana from what would have been the first defeat in welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s career?

* Uruguay: Uruguayan officials set guidelines for the legal selling and production of marijuana including limiting individuals to purchases of 40 grams of the drug per week and set the price at less than $1 per gram.

Video Source – YouTube user ExcélsiorTV (The chikungunya virus, which is commonly found in Asia and Africa, has spread throughout several Caribbean countries and, as seen in this video, reached the Mexican state of Jalisco). 

Online Sources – The Huffington Post; Human Rights Watch; The Latin Americanist; USA TODAY; The Independent