The Cuban regime is not quite sure whether to call 3D film technology the newest enemy of the revolution. A week after issuing an all-encompassing ban on movies using the technology, the Castros might be changing their mind.
On Nov. 2, the Cuban government announced in the state newspaper Granma that "cinematic exhibition (including 3D rooms) and computer games will cease immediately in whatever kind of private business activity." Ever since Raul Castro took over the reins in Cuba, the regime has been loosening its grip on the economy, allowing for some private ventures. This journey into the third dimension appeared to be the latest example.
The note itself cited economic reasons for the ban -- "to ensure the economic reforms proceed in an orderly fashion." The private screening rooms, a big success on the island, compete with state-run cinemas. According to Sampsonia Way, an online magazine devoted to freedom of speech, the movie theaters are rooms in private residences, with a capacity ranging from 20 to 100 and are equipped with air-conditioning, 47-inch TV sets or 200-inch screens, 3D glasses and decent sound systems. They offer snacks and popcorn. Unsurprisingly, an afternoon spent in an air-conditioned room enjoying such goodies and watching slightly dated 3D Hollywood blockbusters such as "Star Trek" or "Ice Age" wins out over one spent in a dilapidated government cinema showing the 2010 French Holocaust drama "Sarah's Key."
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The Letter from Birmingham Jail it is not. Since September, former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, who is serving out a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses in the 1990s, has been engaged in a particularly rare form of opposition politics, tweeting out political commentary to his now-10,000 followers from behind bars.
Last month, the Twitter account -- along with an accompanying Facebook page -- launched with an inaugural YouTube message and photo montage of Fujimori, along with a written message to his queridos amigos announcing that he would be sharing his thoughts and memoirs on social media, and that "some young people and close collaborators" would be administering the accounts:
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It was not shocking news, exactly, when Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto proposed Monday that foreign companies like ExxonMobil and Shell be able to invest in Petróleos Mexicanos, the troubled national oil company more commonly known as Pemex. Peña Nieto has been making it clear for months now that oil-sector reform is high on his agenda, and Mexican politicians have been debating overhauling Pemex for years. This week's announcement may only be the first in a series of reforms that could finally set the lumbering, outdated, corruption-plagued behemoth to rights.
And yet even though it's been clear for quite some time that an overhaul was coming, the proposed changes still managed to stir up powerful emotions among Mexicans. "We will defend our natural resource," lawmaker Benjamín Robles declared defiantly on Twitter. To understand why, it helps to look at the outsized role this single company has played in Mexico's history and national mythology.
"For Mexicans, Pemex is like the Virgin of Guadalupe - it has the magic of symbolism," one political analyst told the Washington Post on Tuesday. "It's like apple pie for Americans."" There's the Fuente de Petróleos, a granite statue in the middle of a busy intersection in Mexico City that pays tribute to Pemex and its workers, depicting them as Soviet-style, hard-muscled oil men amid drilling machinery. Historian Lorenzo Meyer has likened the day Pemex was founded to Mexico's "moon landing."
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Late Wednesday evening, the lower house of Uruguay's legislature passed a bill providing for the establishment of a fully legal, regulated marijuana market. If the bill is approved by the Senate -- a likely outcome, given the ruling Broad Front's sizeable majority in the chamber -- the tiny Latin American country will become the first to fully legalize the growth, sale, and distribution of the world's most popular illegal drug.
The passage of the bill has been controversial inside and outside the country. Polls consistently show that the majority of Uruguayans are opposed to legalization, and Wednesday's vote only succeeded by a narrow majority of 50 votes to 44. Less than 24 hours after its passage, the legislation drew criticism from the United Nations' International Narcotics Control Board, which warned of "serious consequences for the health and welfare of the population" should the bill become law. But the move has also drawn support from some drug policy activists, who praise its creation of a legal market as an important step toward a more sensible law enforcement paradigm.
Uruguay's marijuana bill differs from liberal drug laws in other countries like the Netherlands and Portugal in that it provides not only for decriminalization of personal possession and use, but also for the legalization and regulation of every aspect of the production and distribution process. The law establishes three categories of cannabis production: home cultivation for personal use, "membership clubs" where small numbers of individuals can establish growing and sharing cooperatives, and licensed private enterprises that will be allowed to grow marijuana commercially. All sales are to be conducted through state-run pharmacies, and a new government agency, the Institute of Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA), will be established to monitor and regulate consumption, production, and distribution. And -- sorry stoners the world over -- legal purchase is limited to Uruguayan citizens.
The downside (or upside) of creating a market for marijuana, however, is that in order to attract consumers, officially sanctioned marijuana will have to compete with the old illegal stuff in both price and quality. Which means -- you guessed it -- for this bill to work, the Uruguayan government is going to have to start distributing some quality weed on the cheap.
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Today Pope Francis paid a visit to one of Brazil's notorious favelas, the slums that house more than 20 percent of Brazil's population. Walking amongst the shanty town -- an area so dangerous it's been dubbed Rio's Gaza Strip, Francis seemed at home, telling residents not to give up hope, and doling out kisses to the multiple babies passed his way for a Pope's blessing. It's the kind of ministry -- surrounded by the poor and the marginalized -- that Francis seems to have sought out his whole career. The so-called "Slum Pope" was known for making regular jaunts into similar neighborhoods in Argentina, washing and kissing the feet of drug users there -- but he was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio then.
As Pope, Francis has worked hard to make sure he still gets regular up-close and personal contact with the faithful. He's been something of a one-man wrecking ball when it comes to some of the more excessive trappings of the papacy, and his humility has won him legions of adoring fans -- many of whom turned up in the streets of Rio this week to swarm his famously non-bulletproof, open-topped car and stop traffic, causing security officers to begin shoving them out of the way.
Which raises the question: now that Francis is no longer a relatively-obscure Argentine Cardinal, but the Bishop of Rome, should he still be pursuing this kind of hands-on evangelizing when it may be coming at a cost to the very people he's hoping to serve?
EPA/LUCA ZENNARO / POOL
On Wednesday, the story of Robert Seldon Lady, a former CIA station chief in Milan, Italy, took another improbable turn when he was arrested in Panama near the Costa Rican border. Lady has been living quietly in the United States since fleeing an Italian investigation that resulted in him and 22 other Americans being convicted in absentia for their roles in the 2003 abduction of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, a radical cleric the CIA believed was helping recruit jihadists to fight in Iraq.
Nasr, who also went by Abu Omar, was pulled off a Milanese street during a daily noon-time walk. He was thrown into the back of a van, driven to Aviano Air Base, near Venice, and then flown to Egypt, where he was interrogated and tortured. The practice of seizing suspected terrorists and forcibly removing them to a third-party state for interrogation is often known as extraordinary rendition; in the eyes of the Italian judicial system, though, Nasr's abduction was kidnapping. After an investigation implicated a collection of CIA agents in Italy, tying their cell phones to the place and time at which Nasr was thrown into the van, the Italian government conducted a trial that sentenced 23 Americans to seven to nine years each in prison. The convictions were upheld last September by the Italian Supreme Court.
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A U.S. attempt to gain leverage against a country widely considered a potential destination for NSA leaker Edward Snowden inspired a burst of bravado from the Ecuadorean government on Thursday. The country's communications minister announced that Ecuador was "unilaterally and irrevocably" renouncing a trade pact that gives it preferential treatment when exporting certain goods to the United States, saying it would not be subjected to "blackmail."
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Be it the next pope or the next Nobel Prize winner, an international news event is not an international news event without a rush of betting on its outcome. Enter the British online gambling website William Hill, which is currently allowing users to bet on Edward Snowden's location as of New Year's Day, 2014 (the NSA leaker is currently hiding out at a Moscow airport as U.S. officials seek his extradition, with few options for outbound flights). As you can see below, the odds-on favorite for Snowden's destination is Cuba (7/4), with the United States (3/1) and Ecuador (4/1) close behind. Notice the reference further down the list to Ecuador's embassy in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is currently holed up:
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On Wednesday, Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio
Messi, were formally accused of tax fraud worth €4 million ($5.3 million) by
Spanish Inquisition public prosecutors in Barcelona.
El País reports:
[The charges] relate to a failure to declare part of the star's earnings from his image rights in tax declarations made between 2007 and 2009....
According to the suit, it was Messi's father who came up with the alleged tax avoidance "strategy," which the player "ratified" when he turned 18. The scheme purportedly revolves around "pretending" to transfer the Barcelona player's image rights to front companies in the tax havens of Belize and Uruguay.
The setup, said public prosecutor Raquel Amado, allegedly allowed Messi's earnings to be transferred from the companies paying for his image rights to the tax haven-based businesses without being subject to barely any tax and without the knowledge of the Spanish tax office.
Messi, winner of FIFA's Ballon d'Or (given to the best player in the world) every year since its inception in 2010, was the 10th-highest paid athlete on the globe last year, taking home an estimated $41.3 million from salary and endorsements.
One might wonder why someone making so much money would feel the need to commit tax fraud (assuming the allegations have merit), but this kind of chicanery has long been common in Spain, where the government has traditionally taken a "don't ask, don't tell" approach of sorts to its wealthier residents' tax returns. In recent years, however, authorities have cracked down on tax evasion as part of the government's larger effort to reduce the deficit. It appears Messi got caught up in this campaign.
Moreover, while frowned upon, tax evasion is not exactly unheard of in the world of international soccer. In 2011, reports suggested that top English players such as Manchester United's Wayne Rooney and Arsenal's Theo Walcott were involved in a tax scheme of dubious legality, while Diego Maradona, Messi's mentor and fellow Argentine, still owes around $50 million to the Italian government in unpaid taxes and interest.
Messi, in a statement posted to his Facebook page, has denied the allegations:
We have just learned through the media about the claim filed by the Spanish tax authorities. We are surprised about the news because we have never committed any infringement. We have always fulfilled all of our tax obligations according to the advice of our tax consultants, who will take care of clarifying the situation.
In the meantime, here's a video of a wonderful Messi goal and even more wonderful commentary by Ray Hudson:
EPA/PIER PAOLO FERRERI
Hugo Chávez's Bolivarian Revolution was supposed to offer ordinary Venezuelans political power and social services. On some of these counts, it has at least partially succeeded. On others -- such as the provision of toilet paper -- not so much.
On Tuesday, Alejandro Fleming, the country's commerce minister, announced that the government would make the equivalent of a frantic grocery store run to pick up some rolls. "The revolution will bring the country the equivalent of 50 million rolls of toilet paper," he told the state news agency AVN. "We are going to saturate the market so that our people calm down." (Not that long ago, the "revolution" was promising to provide housing and health care but hey, Marx said something about the importance of toilet paper, right?)
"This is the last straw," Manuel Fagundes, a shopper trying to track down some toilet paper in Caracas, told the Associated Press. "I'm 71 years old and this is the first time I've seen this."
Though the lack of toilet paper represents a new low for Venezuela's reeling economy, this isn't the first time the country has been hit by goods shortages. Staples like cooking oil, sugar, and flour are often missing from supermarkets. Because the government has imposed strict capital controls, Venezuelan companies say they lack the foreign reserves to buy the goods they need on the international market, leaving shelves bare and consumers furious.
These debilitating shortages, which seem like a throwback to the Soviet era, don't bode well for Nicolás Maduro, who won a narrow victory in presidential elections in April. Opposition figures have wasted little time in making hay out of the government's troubles. Responding to this week's toilet-paper proclamation, for example, the opposition academic Alex Capriles quipped on Twitter, "50 million rolls of toilet paper come out to 1.75 rolls per person. These are the great revolutionary solutions." And writing for the paper El Universal, Diego Bautista Urbaneja described the shortages as the central problem facing the Maduro government:
If [Maduro does not possess], as Chávez did, a great ability to shape popular understandings of the country's problems, they will be imposed on the collective imagination more forcefully the more the government fails to interpret the problems correctly, as the result of years of misguided economic policies.
But the government doesn't appear to be taking this latest shortage as an indication that economic reforms are necessary. Look no further than Fleming, the commerce minister, who blamed the toilet-paper shortage on "a media campaign that has been generated to disrupt the country."
Speaking collectively for the media here, I only want to ask Fagundes one question: How'd you know?!
LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images
What can an impoverished island nation -- one isolated by the United States and lacking natural resources of its own -- do to secure its influence in the world and earn hard currency? In Cuba's case, the answer lies in its medical corps.
On Monday, Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota announced that his country is in negotiations to hire some 6,000 Cuban doctors to come work in rural areas of Brazil. The plan highlights what has become a cornerstone of Cuban foreign policy and its export economy. Since the Cuban revolution in 1959, the country has aggressively exported its doctors around the world -- sometimes for humanitarian reasons, sometimes for cash -- and has garnered a reputation as a provider of health care to the world's neediest countries.
Shortly after the revolution, for instance, Fidel Castro sent physicians to Algeria as a sign of socialist solidarity and to Chile in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake. Since then, Cuba has sent at least 185,000 health workers to more than 100 different countries, according to the New York Times.
But what began as a strategy for exporting revolution has in more recent years turned into a means of ensuring the government's survival. Cuba's largest medical mission is currently in Venezuela, which sends Havana 90,000 barrels of oil per day in exchange for 30,000 Cuban physicians. It's an elegant quid pro quo that secures legitimacy for the Venezuelan government and keeps the Cuban economy afloat.
We hear a lot about Cuban cigars, but tobacco is far from Cuba's most important export. In 2006, 28 percent, or $2.3 billion, of Cuba's total export earnings came from medical services, according to a study by Julie Feinsilver. As a rough measure of comparison, Cuba's cigar exports totaled $215 million in 2011.
So what might Cuba's latest foray into medical diplomacy entail? In return for physicians and other health workers, Brazil is expected to fund infrastructure projects in Cuba and direct a $176 million loan toward Cuban airports. Cuban medical personnel, meanwhile, will fan out to rural areas of Brazil that are typically underserved by doctors.
It's a bitter irony for U.S. policymakers that 50 years after the imposition of the Cuban embargo, the communist regime is circumventing efforts to isolate it by sending, of all things, doctors around the world.
Never mind that the motive isn't always humanitarian.
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images
Late last week, the Venezuelan government detained Timothy Tracy, a 35-year-old American filmmaker, on charges of attempting to foment unrest in Venezuela following its contested April 14 presidential election. Given the Venezuelan government's long history of lobbing absurd accusations at the United States -- most recently alleging that American "imperialists" had infected the late Hugo Chávez with cancer -- Tracy's arrest carries a whiff of Chávez-era paranoia, and a hint of cold political calculation to direct deep dissatisfaction over the election result at Venezuela's primary political enemy: the United States. Tracy was arrested at the airport trying to leave the country.
So who is Timothy Tracy? The New York Times describes him as a somewhat naive Hollywood producer with only rudimentary Spanish and no knowledge of Venezuela who was working on a documentary about the country's political divisions. "He seemed like a man on a lark," the Times writes. According to his LinkedIn profile, Tracy graduated from Phillips Academy Andover, the prestigious New England prep school, and Georgetown before taking on a series of producing gigs in Los Angeles.
What's particularly baffling about the case is that Tracy's film and television experience is far from what one would expect from a documentary filmmaker exploring one of the world's most dangerous countries.
Tracy describes himself as the creator and producer of Madhouse, a History Channel show about stock car racing in North Carolina. Check out the trailer below, which appears to be something of a parody of the American South and NASCAR culture.
He also claims to have served as a production manager on Poliwood, a documentary about the intersection of American politics and Hollywood:
And he served as a co-producer and story consultant on American Harmony, a documentary about a barber shop singing competition. It looks as delightfully bad as you'd expect:
Not exactly the credits you'd expect from someone the Venezuelan government insists -- with no proof so far -- is a spy.
It was a key component of Hugo Chávez's special brand of charisma: the exotic, grandiloquent insult. Chávez was not the only world leader who relished a good -- if perhaps, at times, one-sided -- fight with los imperialistas, but what made him stand out for so many, including many in the West, was the gusto with which he flung out bombast like "you are a donkey, Mr. Danger" and "go to hell, Yankee shits!" Everyone remembers that Chávez called George W. Bush the devil. But here, we've collected some of the less well-known -- but no less colorful -- insults from the 14-year reign of the Zinger King of Caracas.
Insult: "Puppy dog of the empire."
Insultee: Mexican President Vicente Fox
or "Little Yankee"
Insultees: Counterrevolutionaries, or, as the New York Times put it, "the type of Venezuelan who favors shopping sprees in Miami over paying allegiance to the fatherland."
Insultee: The Catholic Church hierarchy
Insultee: Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles
lord of war ... one of the dogs of the devil."
Insultee: Donald Rumsfeld
Insultee: Barack Obama
Compared to these, maybe Bush got off easy with the "devil."
LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images
We hear plenty about drugs and conflict diamonds; but the international black market for timber -- a global trade that has been plaguing the forests of South America, Central America, and Asia for years, and one that is estimated to be worth anywhere from 30 to 100 billion dollars a year -- gets a lot less attention.
Illegal wood had a rare moment in the spotlight on Feb. 19, when Interpol reported the results of its first international operation to target timber trafficking. "Operation Lead," which brought together law enforcement agencies from twelve Latin American countries, was carried out over a month late last year and resulted in the seizure of the equivalent of 2,000 truckloads of timber (worth millions of dollars) and the arrests of more than 200 people.
While individual countries in the region, such as Columbia and Brazil, have cracked down on the illegal trade in the past, the transnational nature of the crime makes it difficult for domestic law enforcement agencies, which are limited in their jurisdiction, to be very effective. An international approach has the potential to be more successful. According to the head of Interpol's Environmental Crime Program, Operation Lead has laid the foundations for future efforts to combat the global trade.
So why timber? It is not as lucrative as the drug trade, but it still brings in a fair amount of cash. According to a recent Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) report, in Laos, rare rosewood logs can fetch $18,000 per cubic meter. The EIA also notes that traffickers can earn $1,700 for a high-quality mahogany tree on the Peruvian black market, and about $1,000 for a cedar tree. In 2006, illegal logging in Peru was bringing up to $72 million in profits per year. Some estimates put the yearly profits in Columbia as high as $200 million.
In Latin America, the drug and timber trades aren't mutually exclusive. Though the extent of the connection is not yet clear, timber trafficking overlaps with organized crime and the drug trade in interesting ways in countries like Colombia and Peru.
For one, it has been suggested that timber offers drug traffickers an opportunity to invest in a new illegal market -- to "diversify their portfolios" -- as some governments become more successful (however slightly) in cracking down on the drug trade.
In Peru, where an estimated 80 percent of total timber exports are illegal, the wood trafficking network has become so sophisticated that drug traffickers are now piggybacking on the timber trade -- literally. In 2006, a U.S. State Department cable (later released by WikiLeaks) reported that drug traffickers in the Andes moving coca paste and opium "appear to be getting involved in transport of illegal timber, for both its profitability and its utility as concealment." In 2010, Peruvian police seized nearly 400 kilos of cocaine and coca base hidden in a single shipment of Sinaloa cedar.
Logging may also be viewed as a profitable way to open land for the farming of coca. According to a 2011 UN report, since 1981, more than 3,000 square miles of Columbia's forests have been cut down illegally to make way for coca crops. In 2008, then Columbian Vice President Francisco Santos Calderon announced, "If you snort a gram of cocaine, you are destroying 4 square meters of rainforest."
All considered, it isn't surprising that the illegal logging trade has taken a violent turn in some countries. Last year in Cambodia, an anti-logging activist and a reporter covering the illegal trade were both murdered. Three Brazilian activists were killed in 2011 -- just three out of dozens that have been murdered over the past several years.
It should be noted that illegal logging is not entirely run by timber kingpins and "wood mafias." Local communities also cut down wood illegally (to use, not to sell), and have probably been doing so for generations.
The countries affected are going to have to take strong action if they want to save their forests, because the problem is not going to fix itself. The world's appetite for high-value wood is high and is only getting higher. In its report entitled "Appetite for Destruction: China's Trade in Illegal Timber," the EIA states that between 2000 and 2011, the quantity of global log imports tripled, with a value that increased fivefold. China -- with wood product exports that have increased almost sevenfold in the past decade, with new construction projects beginning every day, and with a new bourgeoisie that covets fancy rosewood lounge sets (which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars), cars with wood-embellished interiors, and yachts -- comprises a large part of that demand. According to the EIA, China is the world's top importer of illegal timber. "More than half of China's current supplies of raw timber material are sourced from countries with a high risk of illegal logging and poor forest governance," including Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Madagascar, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea.
Nicaragua in particular has seen enormous growth in its illegal timber market thanks to Chinese demand. In 2008, Nicaraguan exports of granadillo totalled about $127,000. In 2011, after other Central American countries enacted stricter wood export regulations, that number grew fifty fold, to $6 million.
China Photos/Getty Images
Americans, U.S. President Barack Obama said yesterday during his inaugural address, "are made for this moment."
Why? Because "we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive, diversity and openness, endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention."
It's a reassuring thought, but do we Americans really possess these qualities more than any other countries?
Without a doubt, the U.S. is not particularly youthful when compared to other countries around the world. The median age in the U.S. is 37.1; the world's median age is 28.4, placing us well on the older end of the spectrum. We're younger than most of the OECD countries, but are still beaten out by Brazil (29.6), Chile (32.8), Ireland (35.1), Israel (29.5) and Mexico (27.4).
Is the U.S. very diverse? Not really, according to Stanford political scientist James Fearon. Fearon tried to measure diversity in 160 countries around the world in a 2003 study, and (with all the appropriate caveats that ethnicity is a difficult thing to define) found that the the U.S. comes in as the 85th most diverse country in the world. The most diverse western country is actually Canada, with an "ethnic fractionalization index" of .596 (the U.S.'s is .491), and we're outranked by almost every country in sub-saharan Africa, as well as Brazil (.549), Mexico (.542) and Israel (.526), among others.
How about our appetite for risk? A little trickier to measure, but a group of researchers at the Social Science Research Center in Berlin tried last November, through a study in which they conducted experiments to measure the risk tolerance of 80-100 students in 30 countries, to see how their results compared with development and growth levels. The U.S., despite our "have gun, will travel" reputation, is actually somewhat risk averse, according to this research: they give us a risk tolerance score of about .-07 - still above those stodgy Germans, but slightly below France. Meanwhile, the Brazilians (again!) seem to be a little more inclined to put some skin in the game:
Finally: do we have more capacity for reinvention than other countries? This might be the hardest characteristic to find a proxy for, but one might be how likely a country's workers are to find new jobs within a certain time period. This study, from 2004, looked at 25 countries, and found that while U.S. workers are fairly likely to keep on moving, they are still less likely to change jobs in a twelve month period than Canadians (again!) or Russians.
Whether these particular characteristics are really the ones that will count in the years to come is the subject of a separate blog post. But if Americans are "made for this moment," as Obama says, it seems that Canadians and Brazilians might be too -- or maybe even more so.
On Tuesday, indigenous residents of El Berlin, a small rural town in southwestern Colombia, forced the Colombian military off its mountaintop base. Members of the Nasa indigenous community surrounded several soldiers, picked them up, and dragged them away from their posts. The military eventually retook the facility using tear gas to disperse the protesters.
Tuesdays' confrontation started after government forces ignored an ultimatum from indigenous authorities demanding an end to what they saw as government occupation of tribal lands, according to La Semana. Over 1000 members of the indigenous community had been staging a sit-in at the base for nearly a week in preparation for the showdown with the government forces. The soldiers were at the outpost protecting an antenna but the community claims that the military outpost was built on a sacred mountain.
The clashes have caused at least 30 injuries and one death, and confusion remains about how events are unfolding. The scene is further complicated by the suspected presence of FARC soldiers on the outskirts of the town who fired shots in the air amidst the clashes.
President Juan Manuel Santos has demanded an end to the violence, asserting "we will not tolerate attacks against those who defend us." Last week, Santos had promised, "we will not cede a single centimeter of land of El Cauca or of the nation's territory."
The ongoing crisis has seized national attention and touched off a flurry of debate in Colombia about indigenous rights, the military's human rights record and the stability of the state. Some discussion boards are suggesting that the images from this debacle could cost Santos his reelection. Others are lauding the soldiers' restraint in not firing on the crowd during the kerfuffle, and images of a soldier crying after being carried down the mountain by protestors has elicited sympathy for the military.
Government supporters have revived the standard charge that the indigenous groups must be tied to the FARC. Santos himself claimed that there were "links" between the indigenous tribe and guerrilla groups. Other critics claim the indigenous tribes are seeking to return to highly profitable coca cultivation that the military is trying to eradicate.
El Berlin is located in southwest Colombia in El Cauca department (state), which was once host to the late FARC commander, Alfonso Cano, who was killed by government forces in 2011. Indigenous communities in Colombia have suffered the most during the protracted armed conflict of the past six decades. Their national representation has strengthened in recent years and has increased their appeals for various levels of autonomy from the government.
Indigenous leaders have called for both the military and the illegal armed groups to quit the area and let the local communities live in peace after six decades of suffering FARC, paramilitary and military clashes that left hundreds dead and thousands displaced.
Santos says that they will negotiate with the Nasa community only if they end the attacks on the soldiers. Several national leaders, including former president Ernesto Samper, suggested solutions to the crisis ranging from the creation of a humanitarian zone to international intervention.
Tension remains high after protestors captured 30 military guards, since released, and four FARC combatants. As of Thursday morning, the military retained control of the mountaintop base. The local civilian police force is charged with responding to protestors.
There's some rare promising news out of El Salvador, which with 7 killings per 10,000 inhabitants per year, has one of the world's highest death rates due to armed violence. Ever since Msgr. Fabio Colindres, a Catholic bishop in the capital city of San Salvador, negotiated peace between the city's most violent gangs -- the Mara Salvatrucha gang (MS-13) and Barrio 18 -- last March, crime has been more than cut in half, dropping from 15 deaths per day in March to only 6 deaths per day in June. According to government reports, an estimated 800 lives have been saved as a result of the peace and communities feel significantly safer.
Insisting that the drop in violence was "el proceso de paz" (the process of peace) and not simply a "tregua" (truce), Colindres met with Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza at La Esperanza Prison yesterday. Meeting with gang leaders who had been transferred there from maximum security prisons just before the peace agreement, Insulza commended the inmates:
Thanks to your courage in opening yourselves to understanding and to conversations, and for understanding that the good that comes of this will be a lesson that could be applied in other countries that suffer from criminal violence."
Gang members in the neighborhoods don't really want to be doing the things that they're doing, but there really - there is no resources, no outlet for these kids to address the issues that they're involved in. So, once there is a space - once something is created for them to kind of think about the things that they're doing and there is some activity around the issue as an alternative, they break down."
Over 150 days since the brokered ceasefire, Colindres reminded the community that (my translation), "one can only achieve peace believing that it is possible... It's a process that involves-and should involve-the entire nation."
Despite the heated rhetoric over inequality in the United States and elsewhere, today more people on average believe that the rich "deserve their wealth," according to a 23-country survey released by Globe Scan last week.
The survey, which asked over 12,000 people whether they agreed with the statement "most rich people in my country deserve their wealth," found that this year nearly 15 percent strongly agreed and 28 percent agreed versus 12 percent and 27 percent respectively in 2008. The slight increase was driven by improved perceptions of deserved wealth in Australia and Indonesia, with an eight and 11 percent increase of "agree" statements respectively. In the United States, ground zero for the Occupy movement, 58 percent believed the rich deserved their wealth.
The study found that in 6 of the 23 countries surveyed-- Australia, the United States, Canada, China, and Indonesia and India -- the majority of respondents believe that the rich deserve their wealth.
This group represents almost half of the world's population and includes the world's three largest democracies, India, the United States and Indonesia. Perhaps unsurprisingly, among the countries with pro-wealthy perceptions are the two largest economies, the U.S. and China, and countries in the upper tiers of fastest growing economies -- China, Indonesia, and India.
However, the countries in this group run the gamut in terms of prosperity levels: India and the United States occupy opposite ends of the GDP-per-capita spectrum. Also notable is the absence of any European or Latin American state in the pro-rich category. Six European states, five of which are in the OECD, and five Latin American countries all pooh-poohed their country's wealthy. The only African countries surveyed, Kenya and Ghana, showed unfavorable views of the rich and their wealth, though there was a significant jump in approval in Kenya from 2008.
Below is a side-by-side comparison between each country's GINI coefficients-a commonly-used measure of inequality-- and their attitudes towards the rich.
*CIA World Factbook Figures (higher numbers indicate greater inequality)
Something didn't happen at the sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia over the weekend. Yes, Western hemisphere nations failed to reach consensus on including Cuba in the gathering, overhauling the region's drug policy (an expert taskforce will study the issue), or, really, much of anything. But I'm talking about something else: Barack Obama appears to have not worn a guayabera -- the light tropical dress shirt that several Latin American leaders are sporting in the summit photo-op above. And there's our president, looking decidedly stuffy in a suit jacket and (admittedly open) button-down.
"Obama, loyal to his jacket. The others, in guayaberas," read a caption to a similar picture published in Venezuela's El Universal. (The article proceeds to critique the dress of several heads of state, noting that, among the female leaders, Costa Rica's Laura Chinchilla came closest to adopting the guayabera style.)
In the run-up to the summit, the daughter of Colombian designer Edgar Gómez Estévez told local media and the Spanish news agency EFE that she was making 130 guayaberas for Obama and that they would be more daring than usual because Obama was a "distinct, special, happy, and extroverted person." As far as I can tell, the White House never confirmed that Obama would be wearing a Gómez-designed guayabera.
Nevertheless, Cuba's Fidel Castro latched on to the reports, dubbing the event the "summit of the guayaberas" and criticizing the U.S. president for planning to wear a shirt that originated in Cuba while barring Cuba from attending the summit.
To be fair to Obama, it appears that several leaders at the summit decided to forego the guayabera (and some are even wearing ties!):
So what happened with Obama's wardrobe? Either the early media reports were wrong, or Obama had a change of heart about wearing the shirt. The real question: How long before we see a campaign ad accusing Obama of taking directives -- on fashion, no less -- from Fidel?
EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images
After it was reported this morning that the United States intends to "release at least a portion of $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt," a Brookings Institute Panel this afternoon discussed the future of U.S.-Egypt relations. Shadi Hamid, the director of Research at the Brookings Doha Center, said he thinks this sends the wrong message given the current the NGO crisis:
"I think it sends a very dangerous message that right now we're going to resume military aid even though Egypt is essentially waging war on civil society...There's a sense that the Obama administration will back down when push comes to shove, and the Egyptian military is right to think that because we are about to back down, and that sets a precedent for future governments...It sends the message that U.S. threats are hollow."
Hamid added that U.S. favorability ratings in Egypt during the Obama administration have been lower than under the last year of the Bush administration, and that the President's Cairo speech has changed nothing:
"Contrary to the perception that the Cairo speech brought about this new beginning, this new era in U.S.-Arab world relations in the region, that's not quite the way it worked out...The SCAF has in some ways manufactured this [NGO] crisis, but they're also tapping into something that's very much there in Egyptian society."
According to visiting fellow Khaled Elgindy, not much has changed on the Egyptian side either:
"All of what we've seen is actually less a shift in U.S.-Egypt relations than a deepening or acceleration of preexisting trends."
The turning point for the U.S.-Egypt relationship, notes Saban Center for Middle East Policy director Tamara Cofman Wittes, is on the horizon.
"It didn't come last year with the revolution itself, it's coming now as this transitional period comes to a close with the presidential elections and the anticipated handover of executive authority to a civilian government in June."
The U.S. is going soft, Egyptians have always disliked America, and bilateral relations are business as usual. Same old, same old.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
Given the CIA's history of intrigue in Latin America, it may not be particularly surprising that the region's leaders are sensitive to signs of U.S. meddling in their countries' internal affairs. But sometimes the conspiracy theories seem pretty outlandish. In July, for example, Bolivian leader Evo Morales expressed concern that U.S. authorities would plant something on his presidential plane when he traveled to New York for the U.N. General Assembly in order to link him with drug trafficking.
Well, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has previously accused the United States of fomenting coups against him, topped Morales' claim today. Reflecting on Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's recent diagnosis of thyroid cancer, Chavez noted that it was "strange, very strange" that he, Kirchner, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, and Rousseff's predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva, had all battled cancer in recent years.
You can see where this is going. Citing revelations this year about the United States carrying out medical experiments in Guatemala in the late 1940s in which subjects were deliberately exposed to sexually transmitted diseases, Chavez wondered whether it would come to light in 50 years that America had developed technology to spread cancer and brandish it as a weapon against its enemies, according to Bloomberg. "Evo take care of yourself, Correa, be careful," Chavez added, in reference to the leaders of Bolivia and Ecuador.
Chavez also said that Cuba's Fidel Castro had warned him of this very scenario. "Fidel always tells me, ‘Chavez be careful, they've developed technology, be careful with what you eat, they could stick you with a small needle,'" he explained.
But, after all the insinuation, Chavez made sure to clarify that he had no proof for these charges. "I don't want to make any rash accusations," Radio Nacional de Venezuela quoted the Venezuelan leader as saying.
Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images
A recently discovered video from online hacker group, Anonymous, has threatened to expose collaborators of the Los Zetas Mexican drug cartel in retaliation for the kidnapping one of the members of the online collective. The video claimed that they would release the names of journalists, taxi drivers and others who have worked with Los Zetas in the past.
The video, published on Oct. 6, and picked up today by major media outlets, was in response to an alleged kidnapping of an Anonymous member following a street protest in the Veracruz state. The video deptics a man wearing a suit and a Guy Fawkes mask delivered his threat in Spanish. The style is similar to other videos put out by Anonymous group in the past. The original video is embedded below, with a translated version provided by The Guardian linked here.
Global intelligence company, STRATFOR, released a report several days ago, where they argued that any action by Anonymous was certain to lead to more violence on the part of the cartels. In the report, they specified that this could be especially detrimental on bloggers and journalists who have risked their lives to report on the drug cartels activities.
Last month, a separate set of online activists who used social media platforms to deliver news and reports about the drug cartels to local citizens, were found hanging from a bridge. A message found next to their bodies was clear to all passersby: "This is what happens to people who post funny things on the Internet. Pay attention." As a result, many journalists and activists may face a new threat in their quest to increase transparency and report on the crisis facing Mexico.
Muammar Qaddafi didn't have many friends left in the days before his death, but the ones he'd maintained were still publicly supporting him against mounting odds. Earlier this month, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who blames Western meddling for the unrest in the Middle East, praised Qaddafi loyalists for "resisting the invasion and aggression" and asked "God to protect the life of our brother Muammar Qaddafi." Another Qaddafi ally, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, refused to recognize Libya's interim government, called for the country's new leaders to negotiate with their fugitive ruler, and expressed sympathy for the Qaddafi regime, which, in his view, had been torn asunder by the "machinations of the imperialists." In Cuba, Fidel Castro condemned the "genocide" and "monstrous crimes" committed by the United States and its NATO allies in Libya.
While Castro and Mugabe haven't yet made public statements about Qaddafi's death today, Chavez has already offered a eulogy. Upon returning to Venezuela after receiving treatment for cancer in Cuba, El Universal reports, Chavez expressed outrage at Qaddafi's "murder," declared that the "Yankee empire" will "not be able to master this world," and said "we will remember Qaddafi forever as a great fighter, a revolutionary, and a martyr."
The state-run news outlets in Venezuela and Zimbabwe are dutifully expressing their solidarity with Qaddafi as well. Venezolana de Televisión reports that Qaddafi was "assassinated" -- a verb we're not seeing much in the coverage today -- while the Agencia Venezolana de Noticias ridicules Western leaders (the "patrons of aggression against Libya") for invoking freedom and democracy today while waging a military campaign in Libya and establishing crass commercial ties with its new leaders. The analyst Raimundo Kabchi tells AVN that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "practically authorized and encouraged" Qaddafi's "assassination" during her recent visit to Libya.
The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation's commentary, meanwhile, comes in the form of an obituary. The ZBC explains that while Qaddafi's "anti western, anti imperialism approach" made him an "enemy of the west" (surely it had nothing to do with the Berlin nightclub or Lockerbie bombings), his "strong military support and finances" won him "several allies across the African continent" (including, of course, Zimbabwe). "Rebel forces" may have killed him today, the news outlet adds, but Qaddafi was really toppled by the U.S. and its NATO allies, who "interfered in the Libyan uprising targeting Colonel Gaddafi using their airstrikes and killing thousands of civilians in the process." The ZBC meditates on Qaddafi's legacy:
He will be to many a hero who went down fighting and exposed the west's decolonising mission in Africa in order to secure the continent's rich resources, that is oil in the case of Libya.
Retired Major Cairo Mhandu, a member of Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party, echoed ZBC's view today, according to the Global Post, warning of the "beginning of a new recolonization of Africa." Qaddafi, Mhandu argued, "won elections and was a true leader. It is foreigners who toppled him, not Libyans. Qaddafi died fighting. He is a true African hero." (Mugabe's political opponents told Voice of America that Qaddafi was the architect of his own downfall and that his death was a step in the direction of democracy).
Qaddafi's friends aren't limited to a handful of anti-Western world leaders, either. The Daily Beast reports that Qaddafi's former nurse Oksana Balinskaya, who's returned to Ukraine, is mourning the loss of her former boss, whom she considers a "brave hero" for making a last stand in his hometown of Sirte. "Why should we hate him or think of him as tyrant, if he gave us jobs and paid us well?" she asks.
Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images
A tracksuit-clad Hugo Chávez is seen doing leg lifts, neck rolls, and some other mild exercises in a video recently released by the Venezuelan government. "Healthy government, healthy body, healthy mind," Chávez says between routines. Other members of his cabinet appear in the workout video as well, though from the snippet we've seen no one really seems to be working up much of a sweat. At one point, the group walks slowly around a circle at a snail's pace, following Chávez. P90X, this is not (in fact, it doesn’t even look as vigorous as Jane Fonda's routine), though, given Chávez's cancer fight, the 57-year-old Venezuelan leader probably needs to take things slowly.
Chávez, who celebrated his birthday on July 28, said he completed his first round of chemotherapy last month and will soon begin a second round. He is undergoing cancer treatment in Cuba, where he had a tumor removed on June 20 -- though he has yet to say what kind of cancer he has.
In televised remarks last week, Chávez said: "I'm in the best mood possible.… My mood is unbeatable." Chávez has said he plans on running again for president in 2012. His approval remains at about 50 percent, according to a recent opinion poll -- meaning there has been little negative reaction so far to his cancer. Analysts had said his initially cagey explanations for what he was doing in Cuba were because he feared looking weak and sick -- which may be one reason for the recent exercise video. Chávez also said he had lost 30 pounds recently.
"I was too fat. I'm doing exercise, rehabilitation," he said.
What exactly is Hugo Chavez recovering from in Cuba? Two weeks ago, he underwent surgery for what he later described as a swelling in his pelvis. Initially, his spokesman said he would return to Venezuela in a few days. But after two weeks, there's no word when he will return, and Venezuelans are wondering if there's more to his medical problems than originally thought.
In Caracas, rumors have swirled that he may have actually been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, that he suffered an infection after botched liposuction surgery. The once-fit baseball player has been looking paunchier lately.
Chavez didn't help matters when he called in to a state TV show on June 12 -- the only communication he has had since the surgery -- and said there were no "malignant" signs found.
"His choice of words was a red flag," a former Venezuelan health official told the Wall Street Journal, since a pelvic abscess is usually caused by an injury or infection -- nothing that would prompt a search for anything "malignant."
A pelvic abscess is also something of a mysterious diagnosis since it often doesn't take this long to recover from, the official said. In fact, the official said Chavez might still have to be hospitalized even after he returns to Venezuela -- another reason to suspect something more serious is going on.
Chavez's almost total radio silence has raised the most eyebrows. When healthy, it's not uncommon for him to break into television broadcasts and sporting events to give a lengthy lecture about the news of the day. He's also an avid tweeter. His account (@Chavezcandanga) went silent on June 4th until earlier today, when he marked a public holiday celebrating a 19th-century military victory by tweeting: "Today is my army's day and the sun rose brilliantly! A huge hug to my soldiers and to my beloved people."
But why no further tweets for the past two weeks, nor an appearance on television, save for one phone interview? There is certainly plenty going on back home worthy of comment. A prison riot in Guatire, outside Caracas resulted in the deaths of 25 people, and the government was forced to bring in 5,000 soldiers to reestablish order. The country also experienced an electricity crisis that has closed thousands of businesses, schools, and hospitals due to blackouts and power rationing.
The opposition has complained about the lack of transparency surrounding Chavez's condition. One opposition newspaper editorialized this week that "incompetent Cabinet ministers are turning this into a complete mystery or a state secret that creates uncertainty and anxiety within the population."
There's a political calculus that might be at play for Chavez and his allies. With elections coming next year, he may not want to appear weak in public. And some analysts also believe the government might be preparing a triumphant homecoming -- whenever he actually makes it home.
"The vacuum now will amplify the magic of his return...to show that Superman overcomes all adversities," wrote Venezuelan pollster Luis Vicente Leon.
AFP/ Getty Images
A Brazilian woman with the title of oldest person in the world died yesterday. Maria Gomes Valentim was just two weeks shy of her 115th birthday. For those keeping track, the new oldest person in the world is an American, Besse Cooper, who is 48 days younger than Valentim.
According to the Gerontology Research Group, which tracks supercentenarians -- people older than 110 -- there are 87 known people in the world who fit that description.
Foreign Policy crunched the numbers to figure out the countries in the world with the most supercentenarians.
Given the decent success rate of piracy in the Gulf of Aden, it's actually surprising that high-seas robbery isn't more popular in other parts of the world. (Indonesia is a notable exception.) Today, the AFP reports on what seems to be a textbook pirate attack off the coast of Peru:
A gang of criminals known as "the pirates of the sea" have raided a Japanese tuna trawler off the central Peruvian coast, the office of the port of Callao harbor master has said.
The criminals boarded the 'Kenyu Maru II' before dawn and surprised the 15-person crew, the office said in a statement.
The gang of some 20 criminals tied the crew's hands and feet, then took off with their money, cell phones and the ship's communication equipment.
This is reportedly the second attack by pirates in rowboats on a foreign ship near Callao this year. Of course, stealing money and equipment is quite a bit less ambitious than holding it for ransom, a crime with a bigger payoff but also higher potential for tragic results.
I'm also curious about the AFP's decision to put "pirates" in quotation marks in both the headline and lede of the story. Have Somalis copyrighted the term?
In addition to questioning Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's mental state, the health of Bolivia's firebrand President Evo Morales also comes up in the WikiLeaks document dump (The WikiLeaks website appears to be down at the moment but I'll add a link to the original cable once it become available):
The U.S. ambassador in Brazil said in a January 2009 dispatch that Brazil's defense minister had confirmed a rumor that the leftist leader was suffering from "a serious sinus tumor" that might explain "why Morales has seemed unfocussed and not his usual self" at recent meetings.
Ambassador Clifford Sobel quoted the Brazilian, Nelson Jobim, as saying that "surgery will be an effort to remove it" and that Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva "had offered Morales an examination and treatment at a Sao Paulo hospital."
Morales underwent surgery in February 2009, but the official story was that he had a deviated septum as a result of a soccer injury. Morales' spokesman stuck by that line today, saying the cable "had a big dose of speculation."
AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images
President Obama definitely has a lot on his mind after the drubbing congressional Democrats received yesterday. It seems unlikely that he'll get himself involved in an international argument over antiquities, but that hasn't stopped the Peruvian government from trying.
President Alan García formally asked US President Barack Obama his support behind Peru's demands for Yale University to return thousands of artifacts removed from the Inca site of Machu Picchu a century ago for study at the US university.
In a letter, delivered to the US Ambassador to Peru Rose M. Likins, President Garcia said that Obama's support was "fair and necessary" for Yale University to return the pieces removed from Machu Picchu.
According to the letter, Obama's support is necessary as the US government led by William Howarf Taft in those years, was the one that authorized Hiram Bingham's work in Peru.
Without a doubt it's unfortunate and unfair American and European scientists and scholars pilfered artifacts from around the world to bolster collections at museums from Berlin to New Haven. But it's difficult to imagine that Obama, with his myriad domestic and international concerns, will do much to return pottery, jewelry and bones to Machu Pichu.
This is a new tactic. Having failed to legally amend the Nicaraguan constitution to keep his political allies in office, President Daniel Ortega simply had the constitution reprinted with a few key changes while the country was away on vacation. The Christian Science Monitor reports:
Taking advantage of last week's public holiday decreed by President Daniel Ortega, top Sandinista legislator Rene Núñez ordered the reprinting of the Nicaraguan Constitution while the rest of the country was on vacation. When opposition lawmakers returned to work this week, they discovered that the "new edition" of the Constitution mysteriously included an old law that many left for dead 20 years ago.
According to the resurrected second paragraph of Law 201, supreme court judges, electoral magistrates, and other public officials can remain in office beyond their term limits until new officials are appointed. The problem is, according to legal analysts, that the law was a "transitory" provision in the 1987 Constitution and expired more than two decades ago. That's why it wasn't included in the current Constitution, which was printed after the reforms of 1995.
Yet with elections happening next year, Mr. Ortega, who hopes to run despite a constitutional ban on presidential reelection, wants to keep his "dream team" government in office, even though the terms of 25 top officials have already expired.
Some opposition groups have gone as far as to call on citizens to burn copies of the new constitution in the streets. A better approach might be to print up their own editions, removing Ortega from power. It's the Calvinball approach to constitutional reform.
MIGUEL ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images
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