Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Your headlines of 2008

Over two weeks this month you voted for the top headlines of the year based on a variety of topics. Fifty-two votes were made as dozens of our readers let their voices be heard. Thanks to those who participated in our poll and many thanks to you, our readers, for making this blog worth the effort.

Here are the final results:

1st - 25%
  • Violence is out-of-control in Mexico
2nd - 21.15%
  • Ingrid Betancourt and fourteen other hostages are rescued
3rd - 9.62%
  • Regional economic growth slowed by the global financial crisis
4th – 5.77%
  • Fernando Lugo is elected to the Paraguayan presidency
5th (tied) – 3.85%
  • Argentine farmers strike against the government.
  • Authorities turn the screw on Puerto Rican "macheteros”
  • China strengthens ties to Latin America.
  • Honduras, Bolivia, Venezuela, and the U.S. are in a diplomatic spat
  • Junot Diaz wins the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
10th (tied) – 1.92%
  • Broadway audiences love “In the Heights”
  • Electoral fraud alleged in Nicaragua.
  • Haiti’s poverty (somehow) worsens.
  • Immigration is an ignored topic during presidential campaigns.
  • Latino voters pivotal during U.S. elections
  • Leaders debate pros and cons of free trade
  • No significant changes in Cuba under Raul Castro.
  • Raul Reyes killed across the border in Ecuador
  • Russia’s president tours several Latin American countries
  • Unrest does not stop in Bolivia.
May you all have a happy new year; see you tomorrow!

Image- Time (Mexico’s rampant and seemingly never-ending violence was cited by blog readers as the top news story of 2008)

De Musica Ligera: Tunes of ‘08

2008 is about to come to an end but before that why not enjoy some primo songs from the past year? Juanes, Sergio Mendes, and Julieta Venegas were a few of the great artists who released new and exciting music over the past year. The wide range of tunes released this year by Latin American/Latino musicians can satisfy just about every musical taste as evidenced by some of the exceptional songs below:
Image- (Colombian rockeros Aterciopelados were one of several great musical groups with new albums and music in 2008)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist,

Daily Headlines: December 31, 2008

* Brazil: As Israel continues a fourth day of air strikes on Gaza, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is trying to coordinate an international diplomatic effort to stop the attacks.

* U.S.: Less than a month after Bernard Madoff’s fraud was publicized officials uncovered anther pyramid scheme that bilked thousands of investors from Florida's Haitian-American community.

* Colombia: A U.S. federal appeals court upheld a verdict absolving Drummond coal company from the murders of three Colombian labor leaders.

* Mexico: Mexican officials lifted the suspensions on meat imports from twenty U.S.-based processors.

Image- AP (“A Palestinian woman checks the damage to her house following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City, Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008”).
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Bloomberg, WTVM, Xinhua, Reuters

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Today’s Video: “Por favor señor fondle my butt”

Of all the personal joys I feel writing for this blog one of the most satisfying is the “Daily Video” series. Numerous types of videos have been featured over this past year on diverse subjects like at guerilla warfare, music with political messages, or racist TV shows of yore. Whether it be on purpose or merely accidental it is truly amazing to watch these videos.

For me the most memorable video of the year was one I stumbled upon while goofing off one evening on YouTube. It is from the brilliant, much-missed “Mystery Science 3000” where Tom Crow and company poke fun at a so-bad-its-good documentary. The 1960s era film shows the tribulations of a gringo who travels to Maracaibo and is contracted to work on a Venezuelan offshore oil field.

(Video link):

Ah satire!

Sources- The Latin Americanist, YouTube

Homicide rate skyrockets on Puerto Rico

2008 has not been a banner year for law enforcement on Puerto Rico:
Puerto Rico's homicide rates so far this year have surpassed 800 victims, 80 more homicides than reported in 2007 and the highest homicide rate in over a decade.

This weekend alone police reported that two homicide victims were found on Saturday and three others on Sunday.

So far, this year police have reported 802 homicides or Type 1 Crimes. According to police authorities Puerto Rico's highest homicide rates were reached in 1996 when some 868 violent deaths were reported.
Last year the Justice Department dispatched additional officers to fight crime on the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan yet that has been ineffective.

Police superintendent Pedro Toledo has called for a "serious" analysis to be done to examine the social roots of crime, while an increasing number of Boricuas are advocating changes to “the traditional, exclusively punitive system of dealing with criminals.”

Image- MSNBC (“Men carry the casket of Puerto Rican nationalist Filiberto Ojeda Rios (in 2005) as a crowd of supporters look on in eastern Puerto Rico.”)
Online Sources- MSNBC, LAHT, Caribbean Net News

Archives: Brits covered up Falklands incursion

Four years before the Falklands War British leaders attempted to cover up an Argentine invasion onto the disputed islands.

Top secret British documents from 1978 were declassified this week and painted a picture of a weak British defense. "Heaven help us if there is a war!" exclaimed then-prime minister James Callaghan whose government worried over possible Soviet attacks and dropped the ball on building Iranian unrest.

In early 1978, British authorities found out that Argentina established a secret military base on a “barren, uninhabited dependency” near the Falklands. British officials worried that word of the fake “scientific” base would leak out, upset residents on the Falklands, and derail sovereignty negotiations between Britain and Argentina.

As The Telegraph noted:
David Owen, James Callaghan's Foreign Secretary, feared that revelations about what he accepted was a "violation of British sovereignty" on Southern Thule would derail talks between the two countries about the future control of the Falklands themselves…

"We were concerned that the Argentine base on Southern Thule would become public knowledge," Lord Owen told the embassy in Buenos Aires on February 17, following the three-day talks…

"In the event of a leak … the British Government would need to make it clear publicly that they had protested to Argentina about a violation of British sovereignty.
The fake scientific base would remain in Argentine control until the British took over as part of the Falklands War in 1982. Argentine relations with Britain have gradually improved though diplomatic problems have continued over renewed calls of argentine sovereignty to the Falklands.

Image- BBC News (One of the recently declassified British National Archive documents)
Online Sources- Bloomberg, Guardian UK, The Telegraph, Voice of America

Hiroshi Nohara finally leaves Mexican airport

Do you remember the curious case of Hiroshi Nohara?

The Japanese traveler had stayed in Mexico City’s Benito Juarez airport since September sleeping on the ground and spent his days lingering in the food court. Yet unlike Merhan Karimi Nasseri (an Iranian who was “stuck” at Paris’ De Gaulle Airport for eighteen years) Nohara voluntarily stayed at the Juarez airport and could leave whenever he wished. (Would that make Nohara an attention whore?)

On Sunday Nohara finally left though under seemingly odd circumstances:
“Another Japanese person came for him yesterday, and they left in a taxi after spending 117 days in the airport,” said Victor Manuel Mejia, head of the airport’s press office. “We can’t remember any similar cases in the past, it was totally atypical”…

Nohara may have gone home with a woman who visited him often and invited him to stay at a house in the city’s Colonia del Valle neighborhood, newspaper Reforma reported today. The paper published a photo of Nohara walking to a cab with an unidentified woman.
Image- (“Hiroshi Nohara, 40, from Tokyo, is seen at the international airport in Mexico City November 27, 2008.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist,, AFP, Bloomberg

ESPN: Cuban baseball stars defected

According to ESPN a pair of highly touted Cuban baseball players has defected from the island.

Based on this article on ESPN’s website, Cuban pitcher Yadel Marti and outfielder Yasser Gomez fled the island and are in hiding on the Dominican Republic. The pair had already been booted from Cuba’s domestic baseball league after they tried to escape Cuba by boat.

Both players will reportedly be able to skip the Major League Baseball draft and can be contracted by the highest bidding team. (In other words, at least one of them will likely sign an overpaid contract with the Yankees).

Marti and Gomez will surely be sought after, especially when noting Marti’s stellar performance in the last World Baseball Classic (image):
Marti, 29, was the star pitcher in Cuba's runner-up showing at the 2006 World Baseball Classic, the first global event with Major League Baseball talent featuring players competing for their homelands.

Marti went 1-0 in the 2006 tournament with two saves and a 0.00 earned-run average while not allowing a run in 12 2.3 innings. The Cubans lost to Japan in the championship game while the US hosts could not even reach the semi-finals.
Image- BBC Mundo
Online Sources- AFP, ESPN, Deadspin,

Chile to sue over false disappeared

The Chilean government plans to sue the families of three people who claimed to have disappeared during the Pinochet dictatorship but were later found out to be lying.

Investigations by victims rights groups revealed that three of those listed among the 1800 officially disappeared had either lived years after Pinochet ceded power or had died in 1955. Some of the families of the false disappeared had received government funds for victims of the regime; thus, the government has taken to the courts to see if there are any more fake claims.

President Michelle Bachelet- who was tortured herself during the military regime and whose father was killed for dissent- vowed that she will not “permit that this historic truth is thrown into doubt.”

It remains to be seen what the Chilean judicial system plans to do about the false disappeared scandal, especially after a pair of controversial Supreme Court rulings on Friday:
The Chilean Supreme Court has reduced sentences handed down to five agents of the country's 1973-1990 military regime for the disappearance of two leftists, judiciary officials said…

On Jan. 21, an appeals court in Santiago had upheld a 15-year sentence given to ex-DINA chief retired Gen. Manuel Contreras and two erstwhile colonels, Marcelo Moren Brito and Rolf Wenderoth.

But the Supreme Court, in a 3-2 ruling, reduced Contreras' sentence to seven years; the judges also reduced the sentences for Moren and Wenderoth to four years each…

In another 3-2 decision Friday, the Supreme Court ruled against victims' family members who had sued the state for reparations for the dictatorship-era crimes.
Image- BBC News (2001 image of Chileans calling for justice for Pinochet-era disappeared)
Online Sources- BBC News, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, AFP, LAHT

Daily Headlines: December 30, 2008

* Argentina: Memorial services are expected to take place to commemorate the fourth anniversary of a deadly Buenos Aires nightclub fire that killed 194 people.

* Spain: Hundreds of Cubans lined up outside the Spanish embassy in Havana in order to apply for a special program granting Spanish citizenship.

* Venezuela: The country’s economy grew by its lowest rate in five years according to central bank figures.

* Mexico: Billionaire telecom tycoon Carlos Slim denied reports alleging that he will buy the Honda Formula One team.

Image- BBC News (Ambulances transported over 700 injured from the Republica Cromagnon nightclub fire on December 30, 2004).
Online Sources- Guardian UK, Voice of America, Bloomberg, AFP, The Latin Americanist

Monday, December 29, 2008

Today's Video: Predicting the obvious

The following video from MSNBC looks at predictions made by Peruvian shamans for the upcoming year including further economic troubles for the U.S. and that incoming president Barack Obama's "conciliatory" government will help bring world peace:

In other predictions made by the shamans* conflict will continue in the Middle East, clouds are fluffy, and the sun settles in the east.

* (Okay, so I made that up for comic effect).


Mexico suspends U.S. meat imports

Three months ago the U.S. suspended the meat imports from seven Mexican processing plants. According to U.S. authorities, the move was done so that Mexican factories could improve their sanitary conditions.

Last week, Mexican officials suspended imports from thirty U.S. processors. They too cited issues of unsanitary factory conditions and the move led to a sharp drop in U.S. cattle and hog prices on Friday.

Though it may appear that the Mexican’s step was retaliatory, officials on both sides of the border deny it:
The U.S. Agriculture Department has been working with Mexican authorities and U.S. meat shippers to resolve concerns about shipments from certain U.S. meat plants, a spokeswoman said on Friday.

But Mexico's suspension of purchases from 30 U.S. meat plants was not done to retaliate against the U.S. country-of-origin labeling law, known as COOL, said Amanda Eamich of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Mexico recently joined Canada in filing a World Trade Organization complaint against U.S. meat regulations.

Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Reuters,

Justice for Dorothy Stang

Last week was the 20th anniversary of the death Brazilian environmental activist Chico Mendes. One unfortunate part of his legacy was the slap on the wrist given to his convicted murderers; a trend which sadly continued with the killers of Dorothy Stang.

Stang was a U.S.-born Brazilian missionary who- much like Mendes- was outspoken in defending the Amazon rainforest. Her activism against landowners would lead to her demise in 2005. Though a Brazilian court convicted the two gunmen hired to kill Stang another tribunal freed one of them last May.

Despite the impunity, the case may be reopened against the alleged masterminded of Stang’s murder. Ironically, the arrest of Regivaldo Galvao was over the land that Stang tried to defend before her death:
Brazilian farmer Regivaldo Pereira Galvao, who was accused of masterminding the murder of U.S.-born Brazilian missionary Dorothy Stang in 2005, was re-arrested Friday for swindle.

He was arrested at his home in Altamira, Para state, for trying once more to claim possession of public land in Anapu, also in Para, according to the state's Federal Prosecutor's Office…

"Galvao's attitude of returning to the crime scene and once more declaring himself the owner of public lands demands the immediate intervention of the state," said Federal Prosecutor Alan Mansur Silva.
Image- MSNBC
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, CBS News, Xinhua, AP, Global Voices Online, BBC News

Citizenship for Spanish exiles

Spain may be about to start an immigration crackdown affecting thousands of legal migrants from the Americas, yet a new law will help others in Latin America.

Under the country’s Law of Historical Memory, Spanish citizenship will be granted to the thousands of families who fled the country during the Spanish civil war and the Franco dictatorship. An estimated 300,000 in Argentina alone will be eligible for the program along with the decedents of thousands who escaped political persecution and resettled in countries like Uruguay, Chile, and Venezuela.

The application process begins today though some Cubans have lined up early:
In Havana, hundreds of people have been standing in line since Thursday outside the Spanish Embassy to obtain the necessary application forms.

Estimates indicate that some 200,000 Cubans on the island could be eligible for Spanish citizenship.

In South Florida, where about 1.3 million naturalized U.S. citizens of Hispanic origin reside, Santiago Cabañas, Spanish Consul General in Miami, said he believes that thousands may petition for citizenship, especially among the Cuban and Venezuelan communities.
Image- Guardian UK (“Refugees from Spain's civil war: their descendants can now apply for Spanish citizenship. Photograph: Getty Images.”)
Online Sources- BBC News, The Telegraph, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, The Latin Americanist

Republican National Hispanic Assembly splinters

About 20 members of the Nevada Republican National Hispanic Assembly have left the group after the firing of the Las Vegas chapter president.

One former member calls the firing a "power move" by the local business owner who replaced the president.

Lima said Cuban businessman Otto Merida was fired because he did not provide information requested by the group.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, Photo:

LatAm leaders speak out on Israeli air strikes

For the third consecutive day Israeli air strikes have been launched against purported Hamas targets in Gaza, killing approximately 300 people. Reactions worldwide to the actions have included the conciliatory by Pope Benedict XVI, the indignant from several Arab states, and the overtly political by the Bush administration.

Several Latin American governments have also spoken out on the events in Gaza, mainly to condemn Israeli actions:
  • A Cuban government communiqué termed the air strikes as "the bloodiest attack Israel has ever launched against the Palestinian people".
  • Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez condemned what he called “criminal” attacks and criticized the U.S.’ staunch defense of Israel.
  • A Brazilian government statement called on both the Palestinian and Israeli governments to cease the violence and regretted that attacks by both sides have “affected mainly the civilian population.”
  • Argentina's Foreign Ministry lamented the violence and called on Israel to allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza.
The U.N. General Assembly president also gave his two cents on the Gaza actions. Nicaraguan Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann- who has been in the middle of a diplomatic spat with Israel- reportedly had this to say:
A statement, issued here early Sunday by his spokesperson, said:" The Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip represent severe and massive violations of international humanitarian law as defined in the Geneva Conventions, both in regard to the obligations of an occupying power and in the requirements of the laws of war."

"The behavior by Israel in bombarding Gaza is simply the commission of wanton aggression by a very powerful state against a territory that illegally occupies," the statement said.
Image- BBC News
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, BBC News, AP, Xinhua, Prensa Latina, CNN, AFP,

Daily Headlines: December 29, 2008

* Haiti: The above photograph of a child walking through a Haitian slum was named as UNICEF’s 2008 “Photo of the Year”.

* Mexico: Organizers of the Queen of Hispanic America pageant stripped the title from Laura Zuniga days after she was arrested in the company of suspected drug traffickers.

* El Salvador: According to government figures 19,701 Salvadorans have been deported this year from the U.S., an increase of almost 5,000 people compared to 2007.

* Venezuela: “We’re preparing a series of measures and initiatives to keep the crisis from whipping us,” said president Hugo Chavez who will continue social spending despite plummeting oil prices.

Image- Spiegel Online
Online Sources- AFP, LAHT, Bloomberg, Global Voices Online, The Latin Americanist

Friday, December 26, 2008

Please vote in our poll!

We’re off for the weekend but first we would like to remind you to please vote in our top stories of 2008 poll.

So far we’ve received only a fraction of the almost one hundred votes that were made in last December’s year-end poll. Thus, we’re extending the poll deadline from Sunday to this Monday at 5:00pm.

If you haven’t done so please make your voice be heard and participate in our poll. You can only vote once but you can choose as many options as you want and even write in your choice. We’ll reveal our results in a series of posts on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Don’t be shy! Vote today!

Sources- The Latin Americanist

Editorial praises Venezuelan elections

A recent op/ed piece in the Seattle Times claimed that Venezuelan elections are more free and fair than those in the U.S.

The article- penned by a pair of electoral observers- noted that the U.S electoral process is improving but could learn a lot from Venezuela. “Believe it or not, we found a system far more transparent, inclusive and accountable than what we observed in the past as monitors in the U.S.” claimed Larry Hildes and Karen Weill who served as observers in Florida four years ago and November’s local elections in Venezuela. The pair praised a public education campaign in the weeks before the election, the lengthening of electoral hours to accommodate long lines of prospective voters, and the use of a “paper trail” to backup electric voting machines.

The article concluded with the following:
The truth is hard to find, unless you can go search it out on the ground, as we did in Venezuela. From every attempt we made to assess the conduct of the government, we found a process that was trusted and reflective of the will of the people. We in the U.S. can still stand to learn some lessons about how to run a fraud-free and protected election, if only we are willing.
What do you think? Is the opinion piece fair and accurate or are the authors off the mark in their observations?

Image- Xinhua (“People line up to cast votes at a polling station in Caracas November 23, 2008.)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Seattle Times

News Briefs: Immigration

* Attención Salvadoreños: You have until this Tuesday to complete applications for temporary protected status in the U.S.!

* According to a university study published last month recently arrived immigrants to the U.S. tend to learn English quickly.

* What can regional unemployment rates tell us about immigration trends in the U.S.? Professor Greg Weeks explains.

* Earlier this month, IFCO Systems North America agreed to pay the largest settlement for a workplace immigration bust: $20.7 million.

* On the one hand, this New York Times editorial hopes that the incoming Obama administration will significantly change the “moral… (and) strategic failure” of current immigration policy.

* On the other hand, controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio claims that he “plans to continue crime sweeps and raids aimed at illegal immigrants and businesses that employ them” regardless of the presidential change.

Image- New York Times (“Jose Rosa, left, an immigrant from El Salvador living in Manassas, Va., (at the 2007) National Capital Immigrant Coalition Rally.”)
Online Sources- New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Standing FIRM, CNN,

Pedro Almodóvar caught in Madoff fraud

As we mentioned several days ago, numerous financial firms in Latin America and Europe have suffered embarrassing losses after being caught up in Bernard Madoff’s pyramid scheme. For instance, Chilean brokerage house Celfin Capital SA will have its slim 2008 profits cut in half after its clients invested millions of dollars with Madoff (image).

As the outstanding Guanabee blog noted today, several celebs who did business with the Wall Street huckster have also felt the pinch:
Pedro Almodóvar and his brother Agustin had invested their production company, El Deseo, in Oyster Investments, which was itself invested in one of the funds affected by the Madoff fraud, Lux Invest. So luckily for Almodóvar, his company was only affected tangentially, although significantly. Other casualties from the fallout include Steven Spielberg (who reportedly lost “millions”) and Uma Thurman’s fiancé, businessman Arpad Busson, who lost around 160 million in the fraud.
Image- AFP
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Guanabee

Today’s Video: Ciao Eartha

This isn’t Latin America-related per se, but we want to observe that Eartha Kitt passed away yesterday after a long battle with cancer.

Kitt was best-known for her very distinctive singing voice and in pop culture for her being one of the actresses to play Catwoman during the campy 1960s TV series “Batman.” Yet she was never shy in her political views which cause her some controversy such as speaking out against the Vietnam War during a 1968 White House luncheon hosted by “Lady Bird” Johnson.

At this time of year perhaps it would be best to remember her fabulous rendition of “Santa Baby”, yet for my money her top tune would be her French accent in “C’est Si Bon”:

Sources- YouTube, Time, Reuters, CNN

Daily Headlines: December 26, 2008

* Brazil: The New York Times and BBC News (among other media) examined the legacy of environmental activist Chico Mendes on the 20th anniversary of his murder.

* U.S.: Is Florida’s elderly Cuban-American community being exploited as tools for Medicare fraud?

* Peru: U.S. diplomatic officials are facing a confusing situation over a recently issued travel warning on Peru.

* Dominican Republic: Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez is peeved over the pre-Christmas pardons of five convicted embezzlers.

Image- AP (“In this Feb. 1988 file photo is seen Francisco "Chico" Mendes, an internationally acclaimed ecologist and advocate of the preservation of the Amazon Jungle in an unknown location in Brazil. Mendes was shot and killed at his home in the remote Amazon jungle twenty years ago on Dec. 22, 1988.”)
Online Sources- IHT, AP, Living in Peru, New York Times, BBC News

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Today’s Video: Feliz Navidad!

One of my most heartfelt memories of childhood is gathering with my family on Christmas morning around the dining room table. Our yearly tradition was to get together- my parents, brothers, and me- and eat homemade Colombian-style tamales and drink hot chocolate for breakfast. It was a moving occasion when we got together as a family, enjoyed one anothers company, and forget about our troubles. As we listened to scratched vinyls of Christmas carols and villancicos, we were united and grateful for being together.

This morning the tradition continued in my household. My father may be with us in spirit and the years may have changed our attitudes somewhat. Yet we came together in peace and harmony to break bread and enjoy the Christmas tamales. At the breakfast table I couldn't help but ponder on the cliche - the more things change the more they stay the same. In this case, the feeling of togetherness with loved ones is a quality I wouldn't change for anything in the world.

May you and yours have a very Merry Christmas, and a festive and wonderful holiday season.

See you tomorrow.

Daily Headlines: December 25, 2008

* Vatican City: Good thing - Pope Benedict XVI’s Christmas Midnight Mass highlighted the abuses faced by children around the world.

Bad thing – The Pope gave a speech on Monday blasting gays and compared the defense of heterosexuality to “saving rain forests from destruction.”

* Costa Rica: President Oscar Arias suggested that business execs should give up their salaries in order to improve the nation's economy.

* Ecuador: Foreign Minister Fander Falconi said that Colombia must satisfy “minimum demands requested by Ecuador” in order for bilateral diplomatic ties to be reestablished.

* Argentina: Former president and current presidential hubby Nestor Kirchner is being investigated on alleged corruption charges.

Image- CNN (Pope Benedict XVI blessed several children during Christmas Midnight Mass.)
Online Sources- Xinhua, BBC News, AHN, AP

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Today's Video: The Christmas donkey

Posting will be light tomorrow, Christmas Day.

In the meantime, why don't we have a sing-a-long?

Online Source- YouTube

Cuba: Yay buyers; boo bloggers

There is a clear case of mistaken Internet priorities by the Cuban government.

Authorities on the island have allowed a Spanish-based firm to run an online shopping site on the island during the holidays. "It's a good business but it's also a way for Cubans (overseas) to help their family members here," said one of the executives of to the AP. Though the site has been around since 2006, Cuban officials have been heavily promoting it during the holiday season. certainly helps with the flow of goods on the island for those Cubans with the luxury of shopping online. But what about the flow of information through websites such as personal blogs? Unfortunately, the island’s authorities haven’t looked as kindly on bloggers as they have on shopping sites:
Police have prohibited Cuba's most prominent blogger from attending an independent cyber-workshop and warned that her activities ran afoul of the law, her husband said.

Yoani Sanchez and husband and fellow blogger Reynaldo Escobar were summoned separately (on December 3rd) to a police station near their apartment in Havana's Vedado district and reprimanded, Escobar said in a telephone interview.

Authorities told the couple they could not travel to the western province of Pinar del Rio for a two-day blogger's workshop…

Another Havana blogger, Claudia Cadelo, was also called into a meeting with police, but failed to appear because she is in the hospital, Escobar said.
Cubans can ostensibly purchase a computer via (with the government’s complicity) yet cannot express themselves freely once they go online.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Image- Mother Jones
Online Sources- Toronto Sun, AP

Report: Staten Island assaulters sought minorities

What is it with this rash of Latinos being targeted by young bigots in the New York City area?

First there was the anti-Latino attack and murder of Ecuadorian migrant Marcelo Lucero by a group of Long Island youths. Then there was the heinous assault and killing of Jose Sucuzhanay a few weeks later.

Now there’s this disturbing piece of news:
Two white Staten Island teens already facing hate crime charges for attacking a Muslim teen the night Barack Obama was elected have been linked to another bias attack that left another victim in a coma…

Ronald Forte, 38, the father of five children, was wearing a hooded sweatshirt because it was raining on the morning of Nov. 5 when he was spotted by Nicolleti and Garaventa, according to sources.

The pair was allegedly trolling a predominately black and Hispanic Staten Island neighborhood looking for victims, sources said.

They targeted Forte because with his head covered with the hood, they thought he was a black man. Forte was run down and left in the gutter on Blackfort Ave. around 2:30 a.m. – [ed. emphasis added]
To slightly paraphrase the words of Shakespeare “what fools these mortals be.”

(Hat tip: Gothamist).

Image- Daily Intel (The ubiquitous Staten Island Ferry).
Sources- The Latin Americanist, Gothamist, New York Daily News, Quotations Page

Madoff scheme costly for LatAm banks

The recently uncovered pyramid scheme run by Wall Street huckster Bernard Madoff has led to massive losses by clients worldwide. Those fooled by his elaborate ruse has included several major European banks, one of the world’s richest women and charities who will be forced to shut down. Despite warnings made as far back as 1999, Madoff’s fraud grew to an estimated worth of over $50 billion.

Among those customers fooled by Madoff and liable to lose a boatload of money is Chilean brokerage house Celfin Capital SA. The investment firm may have its 2008 profits slashed in half and will try to pay back approximately $10 billion to clients tied into the Madoff scheme.

Celfin isn’t the only Latin American firm feeling the pinch over Madoff’s ruse:
Among Latin American companies, Peru’s Credicorp Ltd. said Dec. 16 that it had $1 million invested with Madoff. Peru’s largest financial-services company also had $3.5 million at risk in transactions secured by investments with his Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC firm.

For Celfin, the losses come after the firm fired as much as a 10th of its workforce this quarter amid an economic slowdown stemming from the global credit crunch.
Image- AP
Online Sources- Fox News, The Telegraph, Bloomberg, BBC News

U.S. diplomat warns about Russian presence

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon warned of a potential arms race and security threat because of Russia's increased presence in Latin America.

Shannon, who is in charge of Western Hemisphere relations in the State Department, linked the Russian Navy's visits to Cuba and Venezuela with the August war in Georgia.

The diplomat traveled to Moscow to discuss how the U.S. and Russia can cooperate in Latin America.

"The two countries are too important not to be talking to each other and not to be finding ways to work together on important issues in the region," Shannon told the AP.

He said Washington would wait to form conclusions until future actions from Russia.

Cuban president Raul Castro met with Russian Vice Admiral Vladimir I. Koraliev Dec. 23 in Havana.

Sources: Reuters, AP, escambray

Photo: Escambray, Cuban and Russian officials meeting

Daily Headlines: December 24, 2008

* Mexico: Mexican officials vowed that there “will not be the least concession” to drug gangs after the recent discovery of eight decapitated soldiers.

* Venezuela: Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro rejected reports alleging that Iran has shipped missile parts to Syria via Venezuelan flights.

* Bolivia: "If I were (Barack) Obama, the first day of my presidency I'd lift the economic blockade on Cuba," said Bolivian President Evo Morales who added his hope that U.S. relations with the Americas could soon improve.

* Dominican Republic: Free rides will be offered over the next two weeks on the country’s new costly subway system.

Image- Times Online (“The bodies of 13 men were found with their hands tied this month” (in Mexico).)
Online Sources- Reuters, Canadian Press, AFP

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Today’s Video: Feliz Chanukah!

Wednesday may be Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) but we would be remiss in not observing other holidays taking place around this time of the year.

To best celebrate Chanukah (which enters its fourth night on Wednesday) what better option is there than the music of the Hip Hop Hoodios:

Sources- YouTube

Mexico: Beauty queen is a gun runner?

Some stories speak for themselves:
A Mexican beauty queen and international pageant winner has been detained by police along with suspected drug traffickers who had assault rifles and cash.

Laura Zuniga, the 23-year-old Miss Sinaloa from the marijuana-producing Mexican state, was held with seven men at a military checkpoint in Guadalajara, police said on Tuesday…

Zuniga won the Miss Sinaloa title in July and was to compete in
the Miss International 2009 pageant next year in Asia. She was named "Queen of Hispanic America 2008" in a contest in Bolivia.
For better or worse, young girls throughout the Americas look up to beauty queens as role models. Let’s hope that’s not the case with Miss Zuniga.

Then again, there have been other beauty queens outside Latin America that have done worse.

Image- BBC News (Controversial dress celebrating the violent “cristero” period that was nearly worn by Miss Mexico at the 2007 Miss Universe pageant.)
Sources- Javno, Reuters

El Salvador to withdraw from Iraq

The last Latin American contingent to have troops in Iraq will leave the country by the end of this month.

According to remarks made today by Salvadoran President Tony Saca, troops will withdraw from the country on December 31st. "Considering the lack of a United Nations resolution, the government of El Salvador decided to end our presence in Iraq," Saca said.

Saca’s announcement came hours after the Iraqi parliament approved the continued presence of non-U.S. troops.

Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic were the Latin American nations who used to have troops as part of the coalition force and then withdrew in 2004.

The current (and final) Salvadoran contingent contains 200 troops. Five Salvadoran soldiers have been killed in the over five years they’ve been stationed in Iraq.

Image- BBC News
Online Sources-, CNN, Wikipedia, MSNBC, Jerusalem Post

Venezuela could join possible gas cartel

Venezuela is currently one of the members of the OPEC oil cartel and could be part of a planned natural gas alliance.

The new group could expand on the already existing Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) and include countries that are also part of OPEC. During the GECF meeting hosted in Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin suggested that the groups be headquartered in St. Petersburg and would receive diplomatic status.

Several dignitaries denied that a gas cartel would be created and instead emphasized the need to formalize the GECF. Other representatives differed:
"A very important thing is to have the cooperation, to agree some policies in matter of the price, in matter of development," Venezuelan oil minister Rafael Ramirez told reporters. "And in the beginning these will be the objectives of this organization."
Image- BBC News
Online Sources- Voice of America, CNN, Reuters, Al Jazeera English

Report: Immigrants benefit New Jersey

The following should come as no surprise to anyone even remotely familiar with the state of New Jersey:
An analysis by the Eagleton Institute Program on Immigration and Democracy says that New Jersey's 1.7 million foreign-born population has no negative impact on the Garden State's economy overall.

Immigrants account for 20 percent of the state's population, but make up a higher percentage of the work force because more of them are of working age…

The study finds immigrants contributing at both the highest and lowest ends of the economic spectrum. The foreign-born account for 40 percent of all advanced degree holders in New Jersey, and immigrants also occupy some of the lowest-earning jobs in the state.
One of the reports co-authors observed that “it's impossible to imagine our economy functioning without them” though warned that the report’s results shouldn’t be extrapolated to represent national immigration figures. Yet one advocate observed that the report overturns false myths on immigrants like “they get a free ride, free education, they don’t pay taxes, they don't do anything except take out of our economy.”

The report comes on the heels of a statewide immigration crackdown which, according to this New York Times editorial, has led to numerous abuses.

Image- (“Alexander Alaca holds an U.S. flag and a sign calling for immigration reform as he marches with others to an immigration rally in Jersey City, N.J., Tuesday, May 1, 2007.”)
Online Sources-,, New York Times

Brazil deserves permanent U.N. seat says Sarkozy

As we mentioned this morning, France and Brazil will sign several key agreements today during Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to Rio de Janeiro. One of them is a defense agreement that will make Brazil the first South American country to own a nuclear-powered submarine.

In addition, Sarkozy advocated an increased role for Brazil in global affairs. Sarkozy said that he will help bring more attention to Brazilian proposals at the next G20 summit in April. The French president also discussed about the U.N.:
Sarkozy…earlier backed Brazil's claim to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, saying the country had a vital role to play in global decision-making during the financial crisis.

"I'm being honest when I say we need Brazil in world governance," he said.

“I think we need Brazil as a permanent member of the Security Council."

(Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva) has made obtaining a permanent council seat for Brazil one his major foreign policy goals.
Image- BBC News
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, TVNZ, CNN, Reuters

Daily Headlines: December 23, 2008

* Argentina: First it was the “emos” in Mexico. Now it’s the “flogger” youth in Argentina who are being harassed and abused for their lifestyle.

* Peru: Good news - President Alan Garcia’s approval rating has hit a six-month high. Bad news – It’s at a paltry 25%.

* Honduras: According to a U.N.-backed report drug violence has spiked in Honduras most likely due to spillover from Mexico.

* Brazil: France and Brazil will sign several agreements including one that would make Brazil the first Latin American country to have a nuclear-powered sub.

Image- DERF
Online Sources- Bloomberg, MSNBC, CNN, The Latin Americanist, LAHT

Monday, December 22, 2008

Today’s Video: Spain’s lucky numbers

If you thought that shopping on “Black Friday” was wild then that’s nothing compared to Spain’s “El Gordo” (“The Fat One”) holiday lottery:
Economic woes eased for thousands in Spain on Monday as the Christmas lottery — billed among the world's richest — dished out some €2.32 billion ($3.23 billion) in prizes.

The top prize of the lottery...went to holders of tickets bearing the number 32365 — which appears on 1,950 tickets, each winning €300,000 ($418,000)…

In the central town of Soria, Ricardo Jimenez's bar sold all 1,950 of the third prize tickets, spreading some 97 million euros ($135 million) among customers, family and friends…

"I'm still shaking," said Jimenez, who bought 15 tickets worth €750,000 ($1 million) for himself. "But I'll keep on working. I'll share this with my three children."
Here is the moment when the lucky numbers where selected; notice the chanting children as part of the lottery protocol:

Online Sources- IHT, YouTube

Mexico: Eyebrow plucking = future lesbians?!

Some stories speak for themselves:
The Tamaulipan Youth Institute (Itjuve) is demanding action against a high school principal in Matamoros, Mexico, who suspended fifteen female students for plucking their eyebrows arguing that the practice was "unique to women or youth with a homosexual tendency."

Efraín Hernández
, director of Itjuve, told La Jornada...that the sanctions taken against the students on December 15th by principal Rubén Reyes Urbina were discriminatory ("Matamoros: High school principal suspends fifteen alumna who had plucked eyebrows").
“No one can be denied the right to enter an institution simply because they look different to the rest of the alumnus or because they decided to make a change in their person," Hérnandez said, "we clearly see a discrimination that is worrisome since it is a center that shapes individuals which is not in the best of hands."
It’s stunning to read that such blatant sexism and homophobia exists in this world, especially among educators like Reyes Urbina.

Then again, such backwards thought shouldn't be surprising when the Catholic archdiocese publicly condemns women for wearing skimpy clothing.

(Hat Tip: Vivirlatino).

Image- (“A man, dressed in the traditional costume of a Zapotec woman, plucks his eyebrows at the town of Juchitan in southern Mexico, November 22, 2008. Anthropologists say the tradition of blurring genders among Mexico's indigenous population is centuries old but has been revived in recent decades due to the gay pride movement.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Vivirlatino, Blabbeando, La Jornada

Argentine court reverses controversial order

Last week we briefly mentioned the outrage in Argentina over a judge’s order to free fourteen men convicted of “Dirty War” atrocities. Though the leader of the human rights group Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo deemed the decision as a “slap in the face," the court decided that the men were held for several years without facing trial.

Only hours after the court’s asinine decision, another Argentine court prevented the travesty of justice:
An Argentine high court Friday suspended a controversial decision to grant bail to high-profile defendants accused of torturing and killing dissidents during the 1976-1983 dictatorship.

The court instead sent the cases to the Supreme Court after prosecutor Raul Plee appealed the ruling. The decision will keep the suspects behind bars until the Supreme Court ruling, at a date still to be determined.
One of those originally to be freed on bail was Alfredo Astiz, known as the "Blond Angel of Death" (image). Astiz had been held over the disappearance of two French nuns, a Swedish adolescent and the founder of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.

Image- BBC News
Sources- The Latin Americanist, BBC News, AP, Reuters, AFP

The consequences of not being legal enough

Today’s New York Times highlighted the plight of Bronx resident Olga Berroa who came legally to the U.S. with her two daughters in 2002. Despite her background as a teacher in the Dominican Republic, she labored in several menial jobs in New York for the next four years. In July 2006 she slipped and fell down a flight of stairs and received multiple injuries. Though Berroa received disability leave she was unable to incur more aid during her time of most need:
She applied for welfare for herself and her daughters…

But when she applied for disability assistance, Ms. Berroa found out that as a legal immigrant who was not yet a citizen, she had not paid federal taxes long enough to qualify

She covered most of her rent with a federal housing subsidy. But when the rent went up and her share increased, she realized that she could not pay the rent anymore. – [ed. emphasis added]
Let’s summarize:
  • Immigrates to the U.S. legally, not undocumented.
  • Works for four years apparently without resorting to public aid.
  • Has an accident that costs her her job.
  • Is not a legal enough immigrant to receive welfare when she needs it most.
  • Is about to be evicted with the rest of her family.
There are those who will grandstand and declare that the current immigration system is doing well. (I’m looking at you Mikey Chertoff). Yet Berroa’s case is indicative of a broken system that needs to be fixed ASAP.

How can it be that someone who has proved her worth to her family and community be treated so flippantly? How can one believe that immigration reform is unnecessary or that the solution involves either mass deportations or a general amnesty? How fair is it for legal immigrants to have to jump through so many hoops like a circus act in order to reach citizenship? How much longer must we wait for politicos to get their heads out of the sand and enact just, well-meaning changes to a rubbish immigration status quo?

Despite the obstacles, Berroa was able to receive help mostly from the Catholic Charities along with a little public aid. Yet for her to have to face the burden of not being a sufficiently legal immigrant speaks volumes of a system in dire need of repair.

Image- New York Times (“Olga Berroa with her daughter Eliana Lozada, 18. They came to the Bronx from the Dominican Republic in 2002.”)
Online Sources- New York Times, Washington Times

Bolivia’s Morales target of assassination plot

Bolivian president Evo Morales was the target of an assassination plot according to one of the country’s top officials.

In a press conference this morning, Government Minister Alfredo Rada, Bolivian intelligence was told that members of the “extreme right” masterminded the plot. Rada added that a “peasant or common person” was paid to be the hitman during one of Morales’ trips to Bolivia’s rural regions.

The supposed plot was publicly unveiled on Sunday by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez:
Chavez said the Bolivian president called and told him that authorities in the Andean country had uncovered the plot.

The Venezuelan leader said during a radio broadcast that he wouldn't go into details — leaving that to Bolivian officials — but he said he told Morales to "be careful."
Despite voters choosing to keep Morales in a recall vote in August, deep political divisions in Bolivia have led to several violent uprisings.

Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, Bloomberg, AP

Colombia’s Uribe rejects int’l help in rescue

Yesterday we mentioned of alleged plans by Colombia’s FARC guerillas to free six hostages including several politicos and policemen. As part of the exercise to be supposedly done next month, leftist legislator/close Hugo Chavez ally Piedad Cordoba will serve as the liaison.

Colombian president Alvaro Uribe publicly rejected any foreign help (except for the Red Cross) in the possible hostage release. "The government will not permit our foreign relations to be put at risk by involving personalities from the international community," Uribe said in what can be inferred as a veiled threat against his Venezuelan counterpart.

Chavez’ previous gestures helped free several hostages yet relations with Uribe soured months ago over the Raul Reyes diplomatic snafu. Uribe’s comments could also jeopardize gestures made by other world leaders such as French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The families of the presumably soon-to-be-freed hostages reacted to Uribe’s remarks:
“The president is on call to provide all the guarantees to ensure that there are no errors and our loved ones can safely return home” said Patricia Nieto, wife of hostage Sigifredo Lopez.

“The president has a responsibility to fulfill this humanitarian act and this is what we plead for”…
Image- AFP (“Alan Jara's son Alan Felipe shows to the press letters and pictures of the kidnapped ex-governor.”)
Online Sources- The Latin Americanist, El Tiempo, El Espectador, Reuters, AP

Daily Headlines: December 22, 2008

* Ecuador: Amidst much grief and sadness, the body of hate crime victim Jose Sucuzhanay was buried in his hometown of was buried in his native Cuenca, Ecuador.

* Latin America: What is the world's most southernmost city - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina or Puerto Williams, Chile?

* Mexico: A gruesome discovery was made in the city of Chilpancingo when the decapitated heads of nine men were found in a plastic bag.

* Latin America: "The expansion of ties with Latin America is a priority of Iran’s foreign policy," reportedly declared Iranian First Vice-President Parviz Davoudi.

Image- AP (“Relatives of Jose Oswaldo Sucuzhanay carry his coffin draped with Ecuador's flag during his funeral in Cuenca, Ecuador, Saturday, Dec. 20, 2008.”)
Online Sources- New York Daily News, Times Online, Xinhua, Monsters & Critics

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Today’s Video: “Please be patient”

For the next few days we’ll highlight videos with a Christmas theme.

Tonight’s clip is not Latin America per se, but it’s too damned hard to resist a cherubic Feist:

Sources- YouTube

Spain to undergo immigration crackdown

The Spanish government proposed harsher immigration laws reputedly designed to counter a faltering economy. "In our difficult current situation, decisions have been taken to adapt immigration levels to the labor market," mentioned labor minister Celestino Corbacho on Friday.

Pending approval by the Parliament, the measures are wide-ranging and will especially affect families:
The Spanish government on Friday approved plans to tighten the conditions for immigration, lengthening the maximum detention of undocumented migrants from 40 to 70 days. The planned law will also make it more difficult for immigrants to bring family members to Spain, allowing them to bring parents only if they have lived in Spain for at least five years and if the parents are more than 65 years old.
Over four million legal immigrants (including hundreds of thousands from the Americas) live in Spain along with an unknown number of undocumented immigrants. Spain’s immigration policy has been generally liberal though the new proposal would certainly change that.

Image- (“An anti-immigration protest by an ultraright Spanish political party.”)
Online Sources- Guardian UK, Reuters,, New York Times