Friday, September 25, 2015

Pope Francis Urges Youth, Migrants to “Dream”

During his speech at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, Pope Francis urged political leaders to view migrants in a more benevolent manner and help youth "not to turn their back on our neighbors." Francis continued to speak favorably on immigrants during a visit to a catholic school in New York City earlier today.

The pontiff acknowledged the difficulties recently arrived migrants may have to be in a different country including learning "a new language...a new culture." Yet he praised those who open their arms to migrants and help accommodate them amid new surroundings.

"We find new friends...who open doors for us and show us their care and understanding," he said to an of some 150 refugees helped by Catholic Charities in New York.

"(They) help us not feel like strangers, like foreigners. They make us feel at home though our imagination may sometimes lead us to recall our homeland."

The Pope cited the late Rev. Martin Luther King's iconic "I Have a Dream" speech  and urged the audience at the Lady Queen of Angels in Harlem  to strive for their goals.

"All of you here, big and small, have a right to dream. I’m pleased that you find in your fellow students and teachers the ability to do so".

Francis, who was no stranger to celebrating with children when he served as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, was overjoyed as he encouraged a student chorus to sing louder for him. he viewed with an apparent wide-eyed curiosity at other pupils who showed him various school projects. The Pope even joked that he was sorry to take away time from teachers and gave students "homework": "pray for me so I can help spread the joy of Jesus' love."

Daily Headlines: September 25, 2015

* Venezuela: Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said that he would meet with his Guyanese counterpart, David Granger, at the U.N. in order to discuss a bilateral border dispute related to offshore oil fields.

* Colombian: Human rights group Amnesty International expressed guarded optimism over a transitional justice deal signed on Wednesday by the Colombian government and FARC rebels.

* Costa Rica: Costa Rica is typically referred to as the “Switzerland of Central America” but the country is facing a spike in crime that could include over 500 homicides by the end of 2015.

* Latin America: Gallup's Law and Order Index for the sixth straight year showed, “residents of Latin America and the Caribbean in 2014 were the least likely in the world to feel secure in their communities.”

YouTube Source – AFP (“Venezuelan Army officials (last July) held a military parade 90 kilometers away from the border with Guyana, amid an escalating border dispute between the two nations after a significant offshore oil find.”)

Online Sources – NBC News, Amnesty International, The Latin Americanist, Gallup, InSight Crime

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pope Francis: Migrants Are “People”, Not “Numbers”

Pope Francis strongly advocated for immigrants while speaking at a historic speech during a joint session of the U.S. Congress earlier today.

Reiterating the reference to himself as the “son of an immigrant family”, the Argentine-born pontiff reminded attendees that most of them also “descended from immigrants. He urged the audience of legislators, officials and guests to let go of their “fear” against foreigners, and to view migrants including those from Latin America as “persons” rather than “numbers”.

“We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our ‘neighbors’ and everything around us,” said Francis in English. “Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best”.

The Pope invoked the Golden Rule as a “yardstick” in which people should measure their treatment of others including immigrants and refugees.

“Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves,” he observed.

For Andrea Cristina Mercado, co-director of the “We Belong Together” group of 100 female pilgrims who traveled to Washington, the pontiff’s comments were meaningful and very significant.

Daily Headlines: September 24, 2015

* Mexico: Parents of some of the 43 missing (and possibly killed) Ayotzinapa college students who disappeared nearly one year ago went on a hunger strike.

* Central America: The expanded Panama Canal is still scheduled to reopen next April despite multiple setbacks, while the start of construction on a Nicaraguan interoceanic waterway has been delayed to early 2016.

* Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico’s debt-ridden economy may explain why the number of residents who left the island for the U.S. mainland in 2014 spiked by 31% to a record 64,000 people.

* Argentina: Canadian mining firm Barrick’s operations in Argentina were partially suspended following the spill of some 35,000 cubic feet of cyanide.

YouTube Source – EFE

Online Sources – ABC News, Fox News Latino, Latin American Herald Tribune, HIS Maritime,
Yahoo News

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Colombian Government, FARC Agree to Deadline for Peace Deal

The bloody and brutal decades-long armed conflict in Colombia could soon come to an end after the country’s government and FARC rebels set the date for a final peace agreement.

“The head of the FARC secretariat and I have agree that negotiations must end and a final accord must be signed in six months at the latest,” declared Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos from Havana at a press conference where he appeared with his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, and FARC top commander Rodrigo Londoño, alias Timochenko.

On top of the March 23, 2016 deadline Santos announced that Colombia’s oldest guerilla army has until May 23rd of next year to lay down their arms.

“It will not be a simple task because there are still points that need to be agreed upon,” noted Santos though he optimistically emphasized, “the hour peace is at hand.”

The representatives from the guarantor countries of the peace talks, Dag Nylander of Norway and Rodolfo Benitez of Cuba, also noted that the government and FARC agreed to a partial accord on a transitional justice scheme if a peace deal becomes a reality.

A special court will be created where FARC members as well as Colombian state security agents, military and civilian collaborators can be put on trial for war-related crimes.  Among the charges to be considered by the tribunal are crimes against humanity, genocide, rape, extrajudicial killings, forced displacement and recruitment of child soldiers. Those accused who accept their charges can receive punishments of between five to eight years in prison under special conditions and arrange for reparations to the victims of their crimes.

For those who reject the charges against them, however, the deal established a prosecution phase where they could be imprisoned for up to twenty years without any judicial concessions.

Daily Headlines: September 23, 2015

* Brazil: Twelve former Volkswagen workers in Brazil claimed that they were detained and tortured at one of the automaker’s factories during military rule from 1964 to 1985.

* South America: Venezuela may have reached a preliminary deal to try to quell a migratory crisis with western neighbor Colombia, yet the president of fellow bordering country Guyana blasted the “persistence of aggressive behavior” from the Maduro regime.

* Guatemala: Authorities detained three judges and seized the property of former President Otto Perez Molina as part of an investigation into widespread corruption and bribery.

* Puerto Rico: The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority reached a tentative agreement that could ease repayment of the company’s $700 million debt.

YouTube Source – AFP (A Brazilian Truth Commission last December found that 434 either died or went missing during the twenty-one year military dictatorship).

Online Sources – ABC News, The Latin Americanist, BBC News, Time, Bloomberg

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Remembering an Ex-Pope's Anger in Nicaragua

Pope Francis today ended his latest to a Latin American country earlier today when he left Cuba following a four-day visit. During his time on the island, the Argentine pontiff emphasized messages of reconciliation and brotherhood among residents regardless of their ideological or political beliefs. His choice to steer away from commenting on the persecution of political dissidents and jailing of political prisoners was criticized by some members of the Cuban-American and Cuban exile community. (Though it remains to be seen if Francis during his first-ever visit to the U.S. will be more vocal on issues relating to human rights abuses in Cuba.)

Francis exercised caution in not blatantly speaking out against the Cuban government while on the island, but that stood in contrast to Pope John Paul II’s visit to Nicaragua in 1983. The Central American country was in the early years of a bloody armed conflict between the ruling Sandinista government and the rebel Contras. The war took its toll on the Nicaraguan Catholic Church that split between the hierarchy opposed to the Sandinista rulers and factions in favor of the government’s social and economic reforms.

Tensions between the sides was high in the days prior to the Pope’s visit but it was expected, as was written by one article at the time, that “the Pope will talk in relatively vague terms that both sides will try to use to best advantage.” As seen in the brief video clip below, that notion was put to rest upon his arrival when he publicly admonished Catholic priest and Minister of Culture Ernesto Cardenal:

Daily Headlines: September 22, 2015

* Mexico: Police and protesters in Mexico’s Guerrero state clashed days prior to the one-year anniversary of the disappearances of 43 college students.

* Cuba: Pope Francis ended his visit to Cuba with a call for family unity and reconciliation among the island’s residents.

* Brazil: Brazil’s currency sunk to a record low today amid an economy hampered by recession and rising inflation.

* Argentina: Daniel Scioli, the presidential candidate for the ruling coalition, said that he would continue the current regime’s legal battle against “vulture” debt holders.

YouTube Source – teleSUR English (“In an expression of mounting frustration with the lack of results in the official investigation into the enforced disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students, protests escalated in the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero where the tragic events occurred.")

Online Sources – Bloomberg, The Latin Americanist, BBC News, GlobalPost, CNBC

Monday, September 21, 2015

Daily Headlines: September 21, 2015

* Cuba: On the last full day of his visit to Cuba, Pope Francis is scheduled to preside over a mass in the city of Holguin and visit the shrine of the island’s patron saint.

* Brazil: The Brazilian Supreme Court barred corporate donations to candidates and political parties as part of a ruling made amid major corruption scandals that have rocked the country’s political establishment.

* Venezuela: Hundreds of protesters in Venezuelan and international cities marched on Saturday against the thirteen year prison sentence recently handed down against opposition activist Leopoldo Lopez.

* Argentina: Argentina lifted a ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men and, thus followed the lead Chile and Mexico by basing donors on “individual risk”.

YouTube Source – No Comment TV (“Pope Francis celebrated Mass with tens of thousands of Cubans in Havana's Revolution Square.”)

Online Sources – CNN, Reuters, The Huffington Post, The Guardian