Latin America News Dispatch http://latindispatch.com News from the Western Hemisphere Wed, 22 Oct 2014 11:00:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Mexican Troops Executed Victims in June Slayings, Rights Body Finds http://latindispatch.com/2014/10/22/mexican-troops-executed-victims-in-june-slayings-rights-body-finds/ http://latindispatch.com/2014/10/22/mexican-troops-executed-victims-in-june-slayings-rights-body-finds/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 11:00:18 +0000 http://latindispatch.com/?p=18045 Top Story — Mexican troops executed up to 15 of the 22 suspected gang members killed in June in the small town of San Pedro Limón, according to an investigation by the government’s human rights agency.

The account by Raúl Plascencia, president of the commission, contradicted several prior versions of a murky story offered at various stages by the military, the Attorney General’s office and an eyewitness.

Plascencia called for prosecutors to investigate a potential cover-up by military officials. At least eight soldiers, including an officer, are currently facing prosecution by the military for dereliction of duty.

After 22 suspected gang members were killed on June 30 in San Pedro Limón, Mexico state, the military first said all of them died in a shootout with troops. That account raised questions, as only one soldier sustained injuries.

In September, the Associated Press interviewed an eyewitness, who said she saw military troops execute the survivors of a brief gunfight, after they had been convinced to surrender.

The shootout started when the soldiers arrived at a warehouse where the suspected gang members had holed up with several kidnap victims. Some of the men who claimed to be victims, the eyewitness said, were also executed.

The eyewitness, whose daughter was among the suspects shot and killed, was detained along with two other apparent kidnap victims.

The government’s story evolved over time, along with that of the AP’s eyewitness.

On Oct. 8, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam said most of the suspects had been killed in two shootouts and that three of the soldiers involved later executed the survivors. Those three soldiers face homicide charges in civilian courts.

The AP’s eyewitness confirmed that version of events, Murillo Karam said. The eyewitness reportedly said she had first lied about the incident out of anger over her daughter’s death.

Prosecutors began investigating the incident in September, more than two months after the killings. A separate investigation by the human rights commission also began in September.

While the government is not required to abide by the commission’s demand for an investigation into a potential cover-up, officials must, if they decline to do so, explain why.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

  • U.S. authorities on Tuesday announced the arrest on Oct. 9 of accused Gulf Cartel chief Juan-Francisco Sáenz-Tames. The leader of the cartel since its previous boss’s arrest in 2013 was arrested while shopping in Texas.
  • Many law enforcement officials working in southern Texas have been accepting bribes by Mexican drug traffickers, according to an investigation by Mexican newspaper El Universal, an excerpt of which which was translated by InSight Crime.

Caribbean

  • The Dominican Republic is the latest country in the Americas to enact a travel ban covering Ebola-affected countries, a measure criticized as counterproductive by public health experts.
  • Another 91 Cuban doctors set off Tuesday to join their 165 colleagues currently treating Ebola patients in West Africa, more than any other country has sent.
  • Violence against LGBT people iswidespread in Jamaica, according to a report released Tuesday by Human Rights Watch, which called for the repeal of anti-sodomy laws and more support for victims in the country.

Central America

  • Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City, defended a “Call of Duty” video game in California’s Supreme Court against former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who sued the game’s publisher from jail for neglecting to ask his permission to include his likeness in the video game.
  • A coalition of U.S. Latino and labor organizations visited Honduras earlier this month and concluded that the CAFTA-DR trade agreement, intended to improve economic opportunities in Honduras, has actually hurt the country.
  • A legal dispute in El Salvador between the Australian mining company Oceana Goldcopr and the communities that oppose its operations will be decided not in El Salvador, but in the World Bank headquarters in Washington D.C.

Andes

  • Colombian legislator Carlos Omar Angarita Navarro was kidnapped on Monday by alleged ELN guerrillas, following an announcement by the group that it is making progress on setting up peace talks with the government.
  • Several members of the European Union have commited to help fund Colombia’s “Marshall Plan for Peace,” a redevelopment program focused on the regions worst hit by the country’s 50-year civil war.

Southern Cone

  • The Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, birthplace of presidential contender Aécio Neves, has become the most important battleground in a nearly deadlocked race.
  • Argentina’s ambassador to the U.K. has apologized to the BBC for violent protests that targeted crew members from the television program “Top Gear,” motivated by accusations that the crew members were driving cars with license plates mocking the 1982 Falklands War.
  • Chilean President Michelle Bachelet’s watershed education reform bill has passed through the country’s lower house and moved on to the Senate, where it faces intense debate.

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As World Series Begins, So Does ‘Latin American Pipeline’ to MLB http://latindispatch.com/2014/10/21/as-world-series-begins-latin-american-baseball-players-continue-to-face-hardship/ http://latindispatch.com/2014/10/21/as-world-series-begins-latin-american-baseball-players-continue-to-face-hardship/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 20:30:46 +0000 http://latindispatch.com/?p=17828 When the opening pitch is thrown Tuesday night in game one of the World Series, a number of Latin American players will be front and center under the bright stadium floodlights.

What won’t be on display, however, are some of the darker stories behind how many Latin Americans make it to play in Major League Baseball in the first place.

This season, Latin American players made up close to a quarter of all MLB players — a staggering 86 percent of all foreign-born players in the league, the vast majority of whom are from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Cuba.

In the MLB-operated minor leagues, Latin Americans comprise almost half of all players. This steady flow of players is often referred to as the “Latin American pipeline,” and critics say a pattern of exploitation characterizes the entire system.

Mother Jones magazine refers to the academies where future ballplayers train as the “Dominican sweatshop system.” Latin America provides the MLB with a lucrative investment opportunity because they have historically been able to sign players from the region on the cheap.

“It’s the typical neoliberal kind of response: let’s go abroad, find cheap labor and operate like Walmart,” Dr. Alan Klein, an academic who studies baseball and globalization, said in an interview.

The MLB did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this article.

In the Dominican Republic, where over 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to World Bank data, kids are scouted at as young as 14. These players and their families see baseball as their only way of escaping poverty and, as a result, they often do whatever it takes to make it to the big leagues.

That includes playing in sweatshop-like conditions in MLB-operated baseball academies, which are almost all located in the Dominican Republic.

Examples abound. Yewri Guillén, an 18-year-old Dominican player died of bacterial meningitis in 2011 because there was no doctor or certified athletic trainer at the Washington Nationals’ academy where he lived and played.

At another Dominican academy operated by the Chicago Cubs, 19 teenage players were provided with only one bathroom that lacked running water, according to Arturo J. Marcano Guevara and David P. Filder’s book Stealing Lives. A drunken coach allegedly lorded over the boys, at times threatening them with a gun.

“It’s gone from just a handful of teams that had academies in the Dominican Republic or scouting departments in the Dominican Republic, to every single team,” The Nation magazine’s sports editor Dave Zirin, who has written extensively about the Latin American pipeline, said in an interview. “What these academies are, they’re cauldrons of exploitation.”

The MLB maintains its closest relationship with the Dominican Republic, where most of the academies are located.

Tensions emerged with Venezuela, the country that sends the second-most players to the MLB after the Dominican Republican, after the election of leftwing President Hugo Chávez in 1999. Chávez attempted to reform the academy system, prompting the MLB to largely withdraw from the country.

“He made a series of demands on major league teams about having more of an educational component, hiring more local coaches and basically trying to make them less exploitative,” Zirin said. “The response by Major League Baseball was to take the players from Venezuela and make them come to the Dominican Republic.”

While all 30 MLB teams currently have academies in the Dominican Republic, only five continue to operate in Venezuela, down from 21 teams in 2002.

In the Dominican Republic, the financial incentives of a MLB contract create a cutthroat atmosphere where young players will go to great lengths to increase their chances of making it to the major leagues. “These are highly vulnerable young young men,” Klein says. “If they’re slightly injured, they don’t want to reveal that to anybody, for fear of getting thrown back into the D.R. like chopped liver.”

Players often hide their injuries, Klein says, by using performance-enhancing substances, including in some cases animal steroids and dietary supplements that are cheaper than products made for humans.

Some of these substances might actually be legal in the Dominican Republic, but are against the rules for MLB players. As a result, a large portion of players who fail tests for performance-enhancing drugs are from the Dominican Republic. When the league busted a group of 13 players last fall for using banned substances, 11 of them were from the Dominican Republic.

Although the Dominican Republic and Venezuela are the two countries that provide the most foreign-born players to the MLB, they aren’t the only two Latin American countries where players experience exploitation in their quest to play professional baseball in the United States.

This year, the story of Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig made headlines when the young star from Cuba admitted to having been trafficked to the U.S. in order to play baseball. Because of byzantine league regulations and the U.S. embargo on Cuba, many prospective talents from the island are forced to play in another country before being signed by a U.S. team.

As a result, many Cuban players resort to using human traffickers to reach a third country like Mexico. The smugglers, in turn, often extort players for a percentage of their future earning.

In the case of Puig, he was kidnapped and extorted, and some of the traffickers involved even killed one another to get their hands on a cut of his salary.

Other Latin American players starring in the World Series tonight faced more mundane hardships on their way to the MLB. Many of them, like Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar and catcher Salvador Pérez, were signed as a free agents and left their families when they were only teenagers.

In a desperate but ultimately successful attempt to attract scouts’ attention, San Francisco Giants pitcher Santiago Casilla played first in the Dominican Republic and later in the United States under the alias Jairo García, using false documents that listed him as three years older than he actually was. Giants infielder Pablo Sandoval, like many young Venezuelan players, traveled to the Dominican Republic and to play in MLB academies in order to be recognized.

As millions of baseball fans look forward to watching Tuesday night’s game, the MLB’s Winter Leagues have already begun in Latin America, with academies across the region busy searching for the “next big thing.”

Image: Ron Reiring, CC BY 2.0

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Pinochet Bodyguard and Ex-Mayor Arrested in Santiago http://latindispatch.com/2014/10/21/pinochet-bodyguard-and-ex-mayor-arrested-in-santiago/ http://latindispatch.com/2014/10/21/pinochet-bodyguard-and-ex-mayor-arrested-in-santiago/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 11:00:16 +0000 http://latindispatch.com/?p=18026 Top Story — Chilean authorities have arrested a former aide to Gen. Augusto Pinochet, accusing him of committing various atrocities under the 1973-1990 military dictatorship.

A judge on Monday ordered the arrest of retired military colonel Cristian Labbe on charges of “unlawful association” with a group that ultimately became the DINA secret police force. Labbe was allegedly involved in the murder of 13 people under Pinochet’s dictatorship.

Those 13 people, investigators found, were tortured and executed at the notorious Tejas Verde military base 60 miles to the west of Santiago. Some of the victims were thrown in the nearby river.

Lawyers for the human rights department of Chile’s Interior Ministry said they would appeal the judge to charge Labbe with torture, homicide and kidnapping. The lawyers also said they will ask Brazilian authorities for information on any training Labbe may have received in the country.

The arrest comes about a month after President Michele Bachelet announced her intention to overturn the Amnesty Decree Law, which protects former officials from prosecution for crimes committed during the first five years of the dictatorship. Bachelet, who was herself tortured and then exiled by the dictatorship, has long promised to repeal the law, passed in 1978.

After democracy returned to Chile in 1990, Labbe was elected mayor in 1994 of the upscale Providencia neighborhood of Santiago, an office he held until 2012. In 2011, he organized a controversial event to honor a former military officer imprisoned for dictatorship-era crimes.

Nine other people were arrested along with Labbe, who also previously served as a
bodyguard to Pinochet. He is a member of the conservative UDI party, whose leader has criticized Bachelet’s efforts to overturn the amnesty law, warning they may “reopen old wounds.”

Two former army officers and an ex-army prosecutor were charged in September for participating in the 1973 killing of folk singer Victor Jara.

Some 700 military officials are facing trials for crimes committed during the dictatorship, while around 250 have served sentences. An estimated 3,000 people were killed by the regime and another 28,000 tortured.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

  • Photojournalist David Bacon wrote a profile of former student leader and activist Raul Alvarez, who died last Sept. 27. Alvarez was one of the survivors of the Tlatelolco massacre of 1968, when hundreds of students were gunned down by the Mexican government. He was marching with Mexican students last Oct. 2, when the tragic attacks against students happened in Iguala, Mexico.
  • Mexico’s federal forces will take over security in 13 central and southern towns where police are suspected of ties to crime groups. Among the towns are the popular tourist destination of Taxco and the spa town of Ixtapan de la Sal.

Caribbean

  • As climate change pushes temperatures higher across the Caribbean, Haitian coffee growers are being forced to grow their crop at increasingly higher elevations.
  • As their population in the U.S. state of Florida swells, a new wave of educated, middle-class Puerto Rican immigrants have the potential to profoundly impact the Florida vote.
  • The Associated Press has a photo essay chronicling repairs made to Cuba’s classic American cars — a major tourism draw on the island and a crucial source of revenue for those lucky enough to own one.
  • Legendary Dominican fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, who acted as an unofficial ambassador to his home country and was known for dressing first ladies like longtime friend Hillary Clinton, died on Monday from complications from cancer.

Central America

  • A Panamanian supreme court judge has been placed under house arrest and suspended from his post in the midst of an investigation into allegations of money laundering and illicit enrichment.
  • Families in Honduras protested against the government’s failure to provide them with aid in light of a crippling drought that has caused tens of thousands of Hondurans to suffer from hunger.

Andes

  • The approval rating of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has dropped to 30.2 percent in September, according to a survey conducted by pollster Datanalisis. This continues a decline in the president’s popularity largely due to the country’s continuing economic crisis and high levels of inflation.
  • A top human rights official in the UN called for the release of political prisoners in Venezuela, such as opposition leader Leopoldo López, who led political protests that rocked the country this spring.
  • A report released by the Colombian government found that over 120,000 hectares of land was deforested in the country in 2013. Even though the rate of deforestation is decreasing, illegal logging and mining continue to plague Colombia.

Southern Cone

  • Brazilian presidential candidate Aécio Neves has used the arrest of Paulo Roberto Costa — an executive in Brazil’s national oil company Petrobas accused of orchestrating a bribery scheme to benefit the ruling Workers Party and himself — to his benefit before the impending election next Sunday against incumbent Dilma Rousseff.
  • An in-depth analysis of the impending Brazilian presidential race by Foreign Policy reveals there are many similarities in the political platforms of Rousseff and her opponent Neves
  • President Rousseff, if re-elected, will have a hard time governing, according to an in-depth analysis published by NACLA. Her coalition in congress lost 23 seats, so she will have to mobilize her base if she wants to continue implementing her program.
  • The Stockholm Environment Institute published a concerning report on the rise of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.
  • The Homeless World Cup — a tournament of 63 teams from 49 nations whose players are all either homeless or living in extreme poverty — began on Sunday in Santiago, Chile.
  • Argentina has granted asylum to a young Russian gay man who fled his country due to constant discrimination.

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Latin American Ministers Will Meet in Havana to Discuss Ebola Fight http://latindispatch.com/2014/10/20/latin-american-ministers-will-meet-in-havana-to-discuss-ebola-fight/ http://latindispatch.com/2014/10/20/latin-american-ministers-will-meet-in-havana-to-discuss-ebola-fight/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 11:00:34 +0000 http://latindispatch.com/?p=18004 Top Story — Top health officials from several Latin American countries are meeting today in Havana, Cuba, to discuss joint efforts to combat Ebola, as fears grow over the virus’ potential to spread to the region.

Leaders from the socialist ALBA bloc, which includes Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and several Caribbean countries, will meet to coordinate efforts following unilateral travel bans by several countries in the region.

On Saturday, retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro penned a column in the Communist Party newspaper Granma touting Cuba’s anti-Ebola work in Africa. Cuba has already sent 165 doctors to Sierra Leone and plans to send nearly twice that number to Liberia and Guinea.

The head of Cuba’s leading tropical medicine institute said he expected the participating countries to pledge more aid to anti-Ebola efforts. It remains unclear whether ALBA’s ministers will also discuss other measures, like bans on air travel from affected countries, at the Monday conference.

Colombia, which is not a member of ALBA, enacted a ban last week denying entry to anyone who has recently travelled to several West African countries. Jamaica, Haiti and several other countries have made similar rules.

Public health experts worry that travel bans will hinder efforts to fight the disease’s spread, because they limit the flow of people and resources into the places where they are needed most. The rules could also encourage travellers to lie to immigration authorities, making it difficult to effectively screen for potential carriers of the virus.

Widespread adoption of travel bans would be unprecedented. The U.S. has not enforced such a measure in recent history and President Barack Obama has expressed skepticism about the proposed policy, despite demands by many in the U.S. for more restrictive measures.

In addition to calls by members of congress for bans on air travel from Ebola-affected countries, several, including a top U.S. general, have expressed worries about the virus crossing over the border with Mexico.

In his column, Castro wrote that Cuba would happily work with the U.S. against Ebola. This cooperation would not be motivated by aims to improve relations with the U.S., but instead to foster “World Peace,” Castro wrote.

The column concludes, “The hour of duty has arrived.”

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

  • In the past nine months, local jails in 42 U.S. states released almost 9,000 illegal immigrants without first turning them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, bucking a long tradition of local cooperation with federal authorities.
  • VICE News takes a look at the ongoing hunt by community police in Iguala, Mexico, for the gravesites of 43 missing students, a search impeded by threats from organized crime groups.
  • Mexican authorities on Friday announced the arrest of Sidronio Casarrubias Salgado, the leader of the Guerreros Unidos gang which allegedly colluded with local police and the Iguala mayor in abducting the students.

Caribbean

  • Some of the 100,000 Haitians seeking legal status in the U.S. will soon be able to await their green cards in the U.S. rather than in Haiti, under a new Department of Homeland Security program.
  • New York governor Andrew Cuomo vowed to strengthen his state’s economic ties with Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic during campaign stops Friday.

Central America

  • A Honduran military general on Friday announced the acquisition of several planes and helicopters from Taiwan and Brazil, which will be used to crack down on rampant drug smuggling through the country.
  • After Colombia officially designated Panama a tax haven, eliciting protests and threats of retaliation, the two countries have scheduled talks to resolve the feud.
  • Heavy rains, flooding and mudslides in Nicaragua have left 22 dead and affected at least 30,000 more, many of whom have been forced to relocate to crowded temporary shelters.
  • Costa Rica has confirmed the first case of the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus that originated within its own borders.

Andes

  • Oil giant Chevron should not be able to back out of its pending trial in Canada’s highest court over a $9.5 billion environmental judgment issued by Ecuador, argued a coalition of human rights groups in a Friday filing, despite Chevron’s pleas that its Canadian subsidiary was uninvolved.
  • Colombia’s ELN guerrillas have recently met with government negotiators as part of efforts to set up peace talks similar to those ongoing with the larger FARC, according to a video statement by the group’s leader.
  • In Caracas on Saturday, President Nicolás Maduro led a march to condemn the murder of legislator Robert Serra while the beleaguered opposition held a counter-rally, its first major protest in months, a few miles away.

Southern Cone

  • Argentina on Friday announced it will sell up to $1 billion in domestic bonds, a possible effort to quiet rumors about a further devaluation of its peso, which many analysts consider inevitable.
  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff faced off Sunday against contender Aécio Neves in their third debate, sparing viewers the scathing personal attacks that marked the candidates’ earlier meetings, according to Globo’s analysis (in Portuguese).

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Brazilian Man Confesses to Killing 39 People, Attempts Suicide in Jail http://latindispatch.com/2014/10/17/brazilian-man-confesses-to-killing-39-people-attempts-suicide-in-jail/ http://latindispatch.com/2014/10/17/brazilian-man-confesses-to-killing-39-people-attempts-suicide-in-jail/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 11:00:28 +0000 http://latindispatch.com/?p=17995 Top Story — A Brazilian man confessed to committing at least 39 murders after police arrested him in the city of Goiânia on Thursday after a 70-day investigation.

Thiago Henrique Gomes de Rocha, a 26-year-old security guard, seems to have targeted women, homeless people and homosexuals. De Rocha, who committed the murders over three years, approached his victims on a motorcycle before demanding their belongings and then shooting them.

Police noted de Rocha’s “coldness” and extreme rage when recounting his crimes. After committing each murder, de Rocha allegedly felt depression and remorse, which he said he could only alleviate by killing more people.

After de Rocha was arrested on Thursday, he attempted suicide in his jail cell, using the base of a broken lightbulb to slit his wrists. A guard managed to prevent de Rocha from completing the act.

De Rocha’s crimes draw attention to the larger phenomenon of violence against gays in Brazil. In recent years, even as overall violent crime rates in the country have decreased, violence against homosexuals has been on the rise. Grupo Gay da Bahia, a gay activist group, reported that 312 LGBT people were murdered in the country in 2013, one every 28 hours.

De Rocha’s arrest also comes after 13 prison guards were taken hostage at a prison riot in Guarapuava, Paraná state on Monday. Such riots are relatively common in Brazil, which has the fourth largest prison population in the world and is often criticized for overcrowding and violence in its prisons.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

  • The BBC World Service on Thursday published a gripping eyewitness account by a survivor of the Iguala student massacre on Sept. 26.
  • Mexican authorities arrested a Guerreros Unidos gang leader, who is accused of paying some $44,000 a month to the Iguala police chief, who remains at large for his alleged role in the killings and disappearances of student activists, an act in which the police and Guerreros Unidos allegedly colluded.
  • Police arrested five men with cocaine, marijuana, military-grade guns and grenades in the Mexican state of Michoacán, where local vigilante groups continue to clash with the Knights Templar drug cartel.
  • Cid Wilson, of the Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino, is advocating for the U.S. Congress to pass a bill to establish a national museum of Latino culture and history in the unused Arts and Industries Building in Washington, D.C.’s National Mall.
  • Vigilantes in Guerrero state discovered six new clandestine graves after joining the authorities in the search for the 43 students who went missing in Iguala, Mexico.

Caribbean

  • Jamaican immigration authorities denied entry to Yasin Abu Bakr, leader of a radical Islamic group based in Trinidad, designating him a public safety threat.
  • Haiti’s health ministry announced it will enact border controls and set up an isolation units staffed by UN peacekeepers as part of its efforts to prevent the entry of Ebola into a country already ravaged by an ongoing cholera epidemic.
  • Two Cuban editors, who previously transformed a Catholic church magazine into a rare space for criticism and debate have been quietly rolling out an new indepedent journal and planning a series of public forums.

Central America

  • The U.S. government is too quickly deporting undocumented migrants arriving at the Mexican border back to serious risks in their home countries, denying them a serious chance to make asylum claims, according to a report released Thursday by Human Rights Watch.
  • The Americas society investigated Panama’s future economic growth with the expansion of the Panama Canal, noting that corruption and politics may hinder its potential.

Andes

  • Venezuela on Thursday secured a seat on the U.N. Security Council for the next two years, despite U.S. objections.
  • A top FARC commander and a government negotiator have, for reasons that remain unclear, left the peace talks currently taking place between the two groups in Havana.

Southern Cone

  • Brazilian federal police on Thursday announced the arrest of 55 people, the result of a year-long investigation into a “dark net” child pornography ring.
  • Argentina on Thursday launched its first satellite, built by a state-owned firm, aboard a European Space Agency rocket.
  • In Paraguay, camouflage-wearing gunmen shot and killed a newspaper reporter who had allegedly been threatened by marijuana growers for his coverage, the third journalist killed this year in the country.

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Falling Oil Prices Raise Worries of Venezuela Default, Crisis http://latindispatch.com/2014/10/16/falling-oil-prices-raise-worries-of-venezuela-default-crisis/ http://latindispatch.com/2014/10/16/falling-oil-prices-raise-worries-of-venezuela-default-crisis/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 11:00:26 +0000 http://latindispatch.com/?p=17988 Top Story — Analysts are worried about a new phase of economic chaos in Venezuela as falling oil prices continue to take their toll.

Insurance rates on the country’s debt shot up Wednesday to a new high, more than three times the size of the rate in late June, after a drop in oil prices raised worries the country may fail to pay off its obligations to foreign bondholders.

The spike in Venezuela’s bond insurance rates means it costs investors more to insure a bond purchase against the possibility of default. The increase came two days after the publication of a column by Harvard economists Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart arguing that Venezuela is likely to default on its foreign debt.

The column, written in defense of a recent piece by two Venezuelan economists, notes that defaulting (which Venezuela has not done since 2004) might be a good thing for the country, because it would force the government to make painful but necessary economic reforms. The government has already consistently failed to make payments domestically, contributing to widespread shortages of basic necessities.

The head of Venezuela’s state-owned PDVSA oil producer on Wednesday said the 25 percent drop in oil prices since June to $85 a barrel was part of a “price war,” adding that Venezuela is preparing to appeal OPEC for action on falling prices. Lower prices are particularly damaging for Venezuela’s economy, which depends heavily on oil exports. If prices fall low enough, analysts worry Venezuela may be unable to pay off its foreign debt.

Those concerns contributed to the downgrade of Venezuela’s debt in September by rating agency Standard & Poor’s to a level signaling that the country had a fifty-fifty chance of defaulting in two years. That decision was partially influenced by the Venezuelan economists’ article arguing that default was likely.

PDVSA’s efforts to stave off a drop in prices may be futile; Reuters notes that oil powerhouse Saudi Arabia is signaling it will tolerate lower prices for the foreseeable future and that Venezuela’s ability to influence the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has declined in recent years.

The economic hardship faced by Venezuela in recent years – low growth, inflation, shortages – has, along with spiraling crime and social unrest, prompted the country’s middle class to seek refuge elsewhere. The rate of departure to countries like the U.S., Mexico and Colombia has swelled in recent years, especially under President Nicolás Maduro, who took office in April 2013.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

  • Mexican university students have called a two-day strike in solidarity with the 43 missing students in Guerrero state.
  • An Arizona appeals court struck down a 2006 law preventing illegal immigrants from posting bail if charged with a felony, arguing the law denies them the right to due process.
  • U.S. authorities issued a humanitarian visa to Dario Guerrero to return to the United States, after the Associated Press reported on the Harvard student’s immigration quagmire. Granted a reprieve from deportation by the Obama administration two years ago, Guerrero, 21, crossed the border into Mexico with his dying mother without permission from the U.S. government and was consequentially barred from returning to the United States for months.

Caribbean

  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will visit Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic on Friday in a move some interpret as an attempt to court the Latino vote ahead of the November 4 gubernational election.
  • In an blog post for The Nation, academic Greg Grandin critiques the U.S. response to Cuba’s “medical diplomacy,” questioning how the Obama administration will respond to Cuban doctors fighting Ebola in West Africa.

Central America

  • The Guatemalan government reached an agreement with 33 indigenous communities to pay $155 million in restitution for the massacre and forced evictions resulting from the construction of a dam in 1978.
  • The foreign minister of Guatemala and his Indian counterpart signed a partial trade agreement during a meeting in the Indian capital of New Delhi.
  • Citigroup’s announcement that it will remove its global banking operations from 11 countries, including Costa Rica, incited a flurry of speculation and uncertainty in the Central American country’s financial markets.

Andes

  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has insisted that Colombian paramilitary groups played a part in the murder of leftist congressman Robert Serra, though The Economist has questioned this assertion.
  • Panama on Wednesday issued a seven-day deadline for the Colombian government to remove it from a list of tax havens. Colombia recently made that designation in order to cut down on tax evasion.
  • Peru’s glaciers have shrunk 40 percent in the last four decades as a result of climate change, according to the Peruvian government.

Southern Cone

  • Polls continue to show Brazilian presidential hopeful Aecio Neves in a
    statistical tie
    with incumbent Dilma Rousseff ahead of October 26 elections.
  • Inmates at a prison in Brazil’s Paraná state on Wednesday released ten guards taken hostage during a riot two days before, the latest example of an often-deadly phenomenon blamed on overcrowding and brutal conditions.
  • In an effort to prevent deforestation in the Amazon, activists in Brazil are using GPS to track illegal loggers.

Image: Youtube

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U.N. Extends Controversial Peacekeeping Mission in Haiti http://latindispatch.com/2014/10/15/u-n-extending-controversial-peacekeeping-mission-in-haiti/ http://latindispatch.com/2014/10/15/u-n-extending-controversial-peacekeeping-mission-in-haiti/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 11:00:41 +0000 http://latindispatch.com/?p=17977 Top Story — The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) will be renewed for another year, the U.N. Security Council announced on Tuesday.

The council, composed of 15 nations, unanimously decided to renew the MINUSTAH mandate, though the number of military personnel in Haiti will be reduced from 5,000 to 2,370. The number of police personnel will remain unchanged.

MINUSTAH was initially created in 2004 after former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in a coup, leading to violence and unrest throughout the nation. The goals of the mission were to ensure stability and safety in the country, strengthen Haitian institutions and promote democracy and human rights, according to the mission’s original mandate.

The mission’s force levels were increased following Haiti’s earthquake in 2010 in order to facilitate recovery and reconstruction.

Despite the goals stated in its mandate, however, the U.N. mission’s past is marred by controversy. For one, MINUSTAH troops from Nepal have been accused of causing “one of the largest cholera epidemics in modern history,” according to a Yale University report. Haiti’s cholera outbreak killed over 7,500 people and infected 578,409 others.

Members of the MINUSTAH have also frequently been accused of sexual assault. In 2012, two members of the U.N. peacekeeping task force were found guilty of raping a 14-year-old Haitian boy. They were sentenced to one year in prison.

Given MINUSTAH’s track record in the country, the Centre for Research on Globalization argues extension of the mission’s mandate is a mistake, and U.N. presence in Haiti does more harm than good.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

  • Initial tests show that 28 bodies found in mass graves in Mexico’s Guerrero state do not belong to the 43 students who have been missing since late September.
  • The leader of the Guerreros Unidos gang, accused of conspiring with police in the disappearance of the college students, has commited suicide after a gunbattle with police.
  • Meanwhile, protesters have set fire to a government building in Guerrero’s capital, Chilpancingo, demanding the resignation of the state’s governor, Ángel Aguirre.
  • A series of scandals involving multimillion-dollar employee kickbacks and fraud have recently plagued Citigroup’s operations in Mexico, and the banking group may be in the process of ousting its president in the country as a result.

Caribbean

Central America

  • A magnitude-7.3 earthquake originating 42 miles off the coast of Nicaragua reverberated throughout Central America, killing at least one man in El Salvador.
  • Bus drivers in Panama City have ended their strike after meeting with the country’s president, Juan Carlos Varelaover. The drivers were concerned about their futures after the government took over municipal transit service.

Andes

Southern Cone

  • Argentina is attempting to attract close to $200 billion of investment in its moribund energy sector. The country’s Vaca Muerte Basin is seen by many investors as the next profitable location in a worldwide “shale oil revolution.”
  • The Brazilian state of Acre has become a safe haven for thousands of immigrants from across Central America and Africa making their way into Brazil.
  • Authorities have continued to crack down on clandestine abortion clinics in Brazil, where abortion is currently illegal in most cases.

Image: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class David A. French, Public Domain

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Mexican Radio Host Shot Dead on the Air http://latindispatch.com/2014/10/14/mexican-radio-host-shot-dead-on-the-air/ http://latindispatch.com/2014/10/14/mexican-radio-host-shot-dead-on-the-air/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 11:00:14 +0000 http://latindispatch.com/?p=17969 Top Story — Mexican activist and radio host Atilano Roman Tirado was shot on-air during his weekly program Oct. 11 in the state of Sinaloa.

Two gunmen forced their way into the radio studio of Fiesta Mexicana where Tirado hosted his Saturday morning program “Así es mi Tierra.” Listeners of the program could hear a shot fired around 10:40 a.m. followed by a co-worker’s voice saying, “he killed him.” Programming on the station did not resume for another 30 minutes.

Besides his radio work Tirado, 47, also lead the Movimiento de Desplazados por la Presa Picachos (Displaced Persons of Picachos Movement), a group of 800 farming families whose lands were flooded during the construction of the Picachos dam in 2009.

The movement demanded authorities grant housing and public services as well as create fishing and tourism cooperatives to benefit the families affected by the flood.

Tirado was known to be critical of the Mexican government and militant in his activism.

He was also no stranger to violence and received death threats along with three other leaders of the Displaced Persons of Picachos Movement, according to a post on the movement’s blog from Sept. 23, 2010, the AP noted.

Though the movement had become less active in recent years, Tirado participated in protests both Thursday and Friday last week after he accused state organizations of granting commercial fishing licenses intended for members of his organization to outsiders.

Mario Lopez Valdez, the governor of Sinaloa state, said Tirado’s murder “would not go unpunished.” A lack of security cameras at the studio, however, may complicate any investigation.

Violence against members of the media is common in Mexico. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York based independent nonprofit, 75 journalists and media workers have been killed in Mexico since 1994, 93 percent of them Mexican nationals.

The nonprofit’s 2014 Impunity Index ranks Mexico seventh of 14 countries where murders of journalists are most likely to go unpunished.

Mexico is also ranked 152nd out of 180 countries on the 2014 World Press Freedom Index issued by Reporters Without Borders.

Earlier this month another politically active journalist, Margarito Gonzalez Juarez, survived an attack in the state of Zacatecas, when his home was shot at by unknown gunmen. That shooting is also still under investigation.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

  • Mexican police accidentally shot and injured a German university student in the Guerrero state capital Chilpancingo, two weeks after a massacre in the separate Guerrero city of Iguala left six dead and 43 missing.
  • U.S. politicians are citing the alleged risk of undocumented immigrants carrying Ebola to argue the U.S. border should be sealed, even though health officials say the disease is unlikely to enter United States from Mexico, echoing calls for a border clampdown during the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, which originated in Mexico.
  • Revenues from tourism went up by 18 percent between January and August, reversing losses taken by the sector in recent years due to high crime levels.

Caribbean

  • The latest entry in The New York Times’ long tradition of editorials calling for an end to the U.S. embargo on Cuba argues that recent economic reforms on the island make the country more receptive to diplomatic overtures.
  • Four Jamaican nationals were shot and killed Sunday after leaving the offices of a Chinese company which is working on a major highway project in the country.

Central America

  • Guatemalan health authorities are monitoring nearly 3000 suspected cases of the mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus.
  • Two Honduran prosecutors were shot and killed in the city of San Pedro Sula, notorious for having the world’s highest homicide rate.
  • Panama’s finance minister has protested Colombia’s designation of the country as a “tax haven”, a move aimed at thwarting tax evasion by Colombian firms.

Andes

Southern Cone

  • Marina Silva, who placed third in Brazil’s first-round election announced her endorsement of opposition candidate Aécio Neves, who has edged past President Dilma Rousseff ahead of the Oct. 26 runoff.
  • Brazilian authorities announced the country’s first suspected case of Ebola on Friday, a 47-year-old Guinean man who entered the country on Sept. 19.
  • Violent protests against the treatment of indigenous groups marked celebrations of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Americas in Santiago, Chile.

Image: Youtube

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Bolivians in New York Cast Votes for President, Favoring Opposition http://latindispatch.com/2014/10/13/bolivians-in-new-york-cast-votes-for-president-favoring-opposition/ http://latindispatch.com/2014/10/13/bolivians-in-new-york-cast-votes-for-president-favoring-opposition/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 18:22:31 +0000 http://latindispatch.com/?p=17959 NEW YORK – When Bolivians in New York City cast their votes in a presidential election Sunday, most of them went against the trend that swept President Evo Morales into his third term.

While Morales won around 60 percent of the vote in Bolivia, New York voters gave him just over a quarter of their vote, preferring instead the opposition candidate Samuel Doria Medina.

The remote election in New York was held at a public school in the Latino enclave of Jackson Heights, Queens. More than 900 voters were registered, although just 414 showed up to vote. The vote was the second contest held abroad since foreign voting was first allowed during Bolivia’s 2009 election.

While the polls in New York represented just a tiny segment of the general election, and Morales’ easy re-election to a third term was long predicted, many said the foreign vote was nonetheless symbolically important.

Bolivian Ambassador to the U.N. Sacha Llorenti said the foreign vote was part of a broader trend in which a growing Bolivia increasingly looks to the outside world. “It’s the consolidation of a process in which our citizenship goes beyond our borders,” Llorenti said.

While Morales’ victory was all but guaranteed — he was polling well above fifty percent and facing a fractured opposition — some New York voters were still worried about electoral fraud, according to Frank Cuba, the notary responsible for the vote in Jackson Heights.

The voters accused Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism party (MAS) of hand-picking the 24-member Jackson Heights electoral jury, which was responsible for checking voters’ registrations and counting their votes by hand.

Cuba insisted the process was apolitical, adding that he and other electoral staff did not belong to any political parties, but were instead appointed by the judicial branch of Bolivia’s government, and that jurors were selected at random.

Despite Cuba’s assurances, Ana Traverso-Krejcarek, a sociologist who has worked for the state government in the longtime opposition stronghold of Santa Cruz, said she was concerned about fraud. She added, “What I’ve noticed is that there are a lot of people from the government” at the polling site.

Despite those concerns, the atmosphere was relaxed. Laughing children ran through the cafeteria, hiding beyond stacks of tables and chairs. One juror brought in homemade papas a la huancaina, a traditional Andean dish of potatoes in a rich peanut sauce. Two NYPD officers lounged in a corner, texting.

As Traverso-Krejcarek pointed out, several MAS members were present, including Jessica Jordan, Bolivia’s consul in New York. Jordan highlighted Morales’ accomplishments in a variety of areas. “Growth, poverty, infrastructure, stability. That’s what’s been happening,” said Jordan, a former beauty queen who also ran unsuccessfully for governor of Bolivia’s Beni state in 2010 and 2013.

At one point during the day, Jordan visited with an elderly voter, kneeling down to make eye contact and chat about Beni, her home state.

Despite the presence of many MAS officials and accusations that the party was hand-picking jury members, many of the jurors were themselves critical of the president. Erik Coarety Nina, who moved to the U.S. more than 30 years ago from Bolivia’s capital La Paz, said he wasn’t against Morales, but that the president, first elected in 2005, had served too long. “People are saying, ‘too much already.’ I believe in change.”

A volunteer representing the opposition Democratic Unity party (UD) was also present for the vote. Wearing a white UD ball cap and matching armband over his business suit, Willy Bordon spent the day among the jurors, near the voting booths.

Bordon said most of the Bolivians in New York would be voting for his candidate, in contrast to Morales’ popularity back home, a result, he said, of the president “spending a lot of money, especially in propaganda. In the U.S.A., everybody has the same opportunity to be informed.”

The UD’s candidate, Medina, won 180 out of 414 votes in Jackson Heights.

Voters turned out despite Morales’ near certain victory for a variety of reasons. Juror Gabriel Tordoya said he wanted to strengthen the president’s mandate to reduce extreme poverty in his third term. “Bolivia is going very good right now, but we’d like to change a little more. There are still a lot of people in the streets,” said Tordoya, who plans to retire in Bolivia next year.

The number of Bolivians in extreme poverty has declined to about 20 percent of the population, down from more than a third when Morales took office.

María del Rosario Ortiz Bello said she was voting because she comes back to Bolivia every year. “I’m nervous, because I need a change. I don’t want to live like Venezuela, Cuba, Argentina, Ecuador,” she whispered, in reference to the left-leaning bloc of countries aligned with Bolivia. Regarding Morales: “He is a crazy man.”

Many voters highlighted the importance of mandatory voting laws. “It’s a right. It’s also mandatory. Everyone has a duty to strengthen our institutions,” Llorenti, the UN ambassador, said.

The laws can make it difficult for voters who abstain to get anything done in Bolivia. Voters receive a certificate which, for 90 days after the election, they must present in order to do business at a bank or government office. One voter, Johnny Bolivar, a jeweler living in Queens, said his main reason for voting was to make sure he can return to Bolivia to accept an inheritance from his mother.

The voting period, which ran concurrently with the election in Bolivia, was extended by 35 minutes, as many Bolivians had been at a Hispanic Day parade in Manhattan. Each of the 414 votes was announced one by one in front of about 50 onlookers, many of whom filmed the proceedings.

Once the tallies had been announced, showing a win (in New York) for Medina, the opposition candidate, Willy Bordon was beaming. “I’m happy, I’m very happy,” Bordon said. “I promised Samuel that in New York, we’re going to win.”

One man burst into song. “¡Viva Bolivia, viva Santa Cruz!”

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Mexico Arrests Another Drug Cartel Kingpin http://latindispatch.com/2014/10/10/mexico-arrests-another-drug-cartel-kingpin/ http://latindispatch.com/2014/10/10/mexico-arrests-another-drug-cartel-kingpin/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 11:06:32 +0000 http://latindispatch.com/?p=17947 Top Story – Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, alleged leader of Mexico’s Juarez cartel, was captured in the Mexican city of Torreon, the Associated Press reports. This is the second arrest in two weeks of a major Mexican cartel leader, following that of Hector Beltrán Leyva, of the Beltran Leyva organization on Oct. 1.

Nicknamed “The Viceroy,” or “The General,” Fuentes had a $5 million reward for his arrest in the United States and a $2.2 million reward in Mexico. He took control of the Juarez cartel from the its founder, his brother Amado, after the latter died while undergoing cosmetic surgery in 1997.

Both arrests occur as Mexico’s government faces intense scrutiny over the disappearance of 43 student protesters in the city of Iguala as well as an alleged massacre of suspected 22 gang members by army troops in Mexico state. “I think it’s a little bit because of the pressure,” said Samuel Gonzalez, Mexico’s former top anti-drug prosecutor, told the AP.

During his leadership of the Juarez cartel, Carrillo Fuentes engaged in a years-long turf war with the Sinaloa cartel, arguably the bloodiest in Mexico’s history. The conflict resulted in at least 8,000 deaths, and centered around a route controlling an estimated 70 percent of all the cocaine entering the United States. In February, the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, was captured by Mexican forces—the most high-profile arrest of a drug lord so far since President Enrique Peña Nieto’s took office in December 2012.

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration issued a statement congratulating Mexico for Carrillo Fuentes’ arrest. It remains to be seen, however, if his capture will translate into a decrease or increase of violence in the area, as other groups vie for power.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

  • The mayor of Iguala, Mexico has not been seen since he took a leave of absence after the disappearance of over 40 students last week, in which he and the local police have been implicated.
  • The most recent indictment filed by U.S. authorities against Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera suggest that country’s government is seeking the extradition of Sinaloa cartel boss, arrested in February in Mexico where he remains in custody.

Caribbean

  • Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, who died of a heart attack Saturday, will be buried in a private service, ending speculation over whether Duvalier will be officially buried by a government uncomfortable with the legacy of his brutal regime.
  • In the past year, some 25,000 Cuban migrants entered the U.S. without travel visas, many of them on vessels unsuitable for the journey, the highest number of Cuban migrants the U.S. has seen since 1994.

Central America

  • Speaking in Guatemala Wednesday, former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani suggested the country use statistical analysis to guide the hiring and payment of the notoriously corrupt security forces.
  • An InSight Crime investigation looks at the arrest in France and later extradition to the U.S. of a relatively unknown Guatemalan drug kingpin and the implications of that arrest for his political and business connections back home.

Andes

  • FARC guerilla chief Rodrigo Londono, alias “Timochenko,” has been travelling to Cuba where the group is holding peace talks with Colombia’s government, and while officials have said they will kill or capture the leader whenever they get the opportunity, it remains unclear whether he sat down with any members of the government.
  • Despite its solid growth in recent years, Colombia’s economy may be threatened by the declining price of oil, a commodity which makes up two-thirds of the country’s exports.
  • Venezuela will pay Exxon Mobile $1.6 billion, $15 billion less than the U.S. oil giant sought in a World Bank arbitration, and while the penalty for nationalizing a major project is less than expected, many other such cases remain outstanding.
  • Colombia registered 186 attacks on human rights activists between June and September, a 170 percent increase from the same period last year.

Southern Cone

  • Marina Silva, who was knocked out of Brazil’s presidential election Sunday, withheld her anticipated endorsement for Aécio Neves in an apparent effort to force more left-leaning concessions from the candidate before he faces incumbent Dilma Rousseff in an Oct. 26 runoff.
  • The first 42 Syrian refugees arrived in Uruguay, the first country in the region to assume all of the refugees’ resettlement costs.

Image: Youtube

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