As part of what seems like a quest to get in a good photo-op with every one of the world's most despotic leaders before the end of his presidency, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva stopped in Equatorial Guinea yesterday for a meeting with President Teodor Obiang Nguema Mbasogo:
Both presidents expressed their agreement to safeguard democratic principles, cooperate against organized crime and to combat other challenges facing both nations. President Obiang was pleased with the support of the Government of Brazil concerning the candidacy of Equatorial Guinea as a full member of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). President Obiang hoped that Equatorial Guinea would become a member of the Community in time for the next CPLP Summit to be held July 2011 in Luanda, Angola.
The two countries issued a Joint Communique, highlighting the good relations that exist between the two and called upon developed countries to "ensure that measures taken to remedy the worldwide economic crisis not affect the economies of developing countries."
As George Ayittey wrote in our most recent print issue, Obiang has been a kind of one-man economic crisis for Equatorial Guinea, having reportedly amassed a personal fortune of over $600 million off his country's massive oil reserves while his country remains one of the poorest in the world.
Responding to questions about the trip in the Brazilian press, Foreign Minister Celso Amorim replied, "business is business." But al Jazeera's Gabiel Elizondo seems broader aspirations in Lula's recent trips to Africa, which have taken him to an astounding 25 of the continent's 53 countries:
As the clock ticks down on Lula's term as president, it is becoming increasingly clear that he wants to play a large role on the international stage and his frequent trips to Africa as president will probably help shape his post-presidency life
He recently acknowledged this, saying that he will be looking for opportunities to work against poverty and hunger, particularly in Latin America and Africa.....
There has been some talk about Lula being a perfect fit to lead the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), or to take on a special envoy role with Africa. He most certainly will start a foundation, possibly run by Amorim, his foreign minister.
But, whatever the future might hold for Lula after his presidency expires, it is a good bet it will involve work directly with the African continent - after all, he has an authentic knowledge of the continent like few other non-African leaders.
On the other hand, doing business with leaders like Obiang is not necessarily the best place to start combating African poverty.
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Welcome to the ultimate Bolivarian oasis: the 23 de Enero slum -- a veritable hotbed of die-hard chavismo and radical socialism in Caracas. What can you expect to find in this little slice of heaven? Stockpiles of Communist Manifesto, murals depicting Jesus Christ brandishing AK-47's, and an oddly high number of dogs who will respond to the name "Comrade Mao."
The 100,000 inhabitants, who can see the presidential palace from the hills where they reside, have evidently internalized the image of chavista majesty framed by the sunset: they have adopted the dream of a fully socialist Venezuela -- as espoused by President Hugo Chavez himself -- and set it into motion in their own community.
This chavista neighborhood was named for January 23, 1958, when former president Marcos Perez Jimenez and his military dictatorship were overthrown. Following in the legacy of revolution and radicalism, the town's leftist ways now extend beyond the ubiquitous Che Guevara bandanas and "revolutionary car washes"; in fact, the Caracas slum is actually surpassing Chavez in his most precious goals: advancing socialism and eradicating capitalism. For starters, the inhabitants of "Little Vietnam" (as it has tellingly come to be called) have rejected the devalued bolivar -- which Chavez still struggles to revive -- and circulated little pieces of cardboard as communal currency instead. They plan to use their communal banking system to extend micro-credit and foster economic independence in the future. Meanwhile their residents work on a voluntary basis, and their markets purchase goods solely from nationalized distributors.
The town's ardent support for Chavez's cause has, paradoxically, created a chasm between the president and his most devout followers. After militant groups hailing from 23 de enero claimed responsibility for numerous attacks on Chavez's opponents, the Comandante was forced to distance himself from the very community his leadership brought to fruition. And the vexation goes both ways: leaders from 23 de enero have repeatedly expressed disappointment that Chavez has yet to rid his government of "false socialists." Despite these conflicts, Chavez is ideologically bound to the town; not to mention, he relies upon the increasingly extremist electorate's support to keep his political career afloat.
Looks like Hugo's caught in a bit of a Catch-22 here. Unfortunately for him, 23 de enero shows no sign of slowing down its radical rampage anytime soon:
'Here in 23 de Enero we are committed to take this process to the very end,' said cooperative member Martin Campos, a 38-year-old retired soldier sporting a yellow baseball cap with a red star. 'We are chavistas. Red, very red.'
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Two words sum up Argentina's national stance towards the atrocities committed under the 1976-1984 military dictatorship: "Nunca más" -- never again. But while the junta remains firmly in the past, the effects of its clandestine crimes remain potent in the present. The national outcry, the investigations conducted by the Argentine National Commission on the Disappeared, and even the tireless marching and protesting by mothers of "desaparecidos" on Mayo Square have failed to yield information on what happened to the estimated 30,000 victims of state-sponsored abuse.
But last month, after being hidden beneath floorboards for 34 years, a secret list emerged to give some Argentinians what they thought they might never get: answers.
Throughout its rule, the military junta enforced a meticulous policy of destroying all their documents. But apparently it wasn't meticulous enough: one accused subversive named Juan Clemente escaped from his detention center with 259 pages of the military government's records. Clemente feared divulging the papers would cost him his life, and so kept them hidden underneath his house for over three decades; but a new safeguard from the witness protection program and a sense of urgency elicited from the imminent verdict of the Tucuman trial has motivated him to bring them forward.
Certainly with the lack of available evidence, the incriminating notes -- easily attributed to junta operatives by the flagrant signatures on each page -- will bolster the case against the four Dirty War perpetrators on trial. The new evidence could even be to thank for a more just verdict come July 8.
But perhaps the list has delivered an even greater form of justice: some reprieve for those left oblivious as to the fates of their abducted loved ones. Families of the Dirty War's "desaparecidos" have flooded into the courts to examine the papers -- even the sadistic notes on intelligence operations, torture sessions, and the victims' decrepit physical states.
The families were also able to access the pages in which the junta took stock of their victims, recording their names in the left columns and the outcome of their detentions in the right. For some of those reading, two letters beside their loved one's name -- DF, or "disposition final" -- may bring both heartbreaking finality and bittersweet relief.
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Lula being Lula:
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva says no "gringo should stick their nose in where it does not belong."
Silva was visiting Para state Tuesday, where the Belo Monte dam is planned. It would be the world's third-largest hydroelectric project.
The dam has been opposed by figures such as British singer Sting and more recently by "Avatar" director James Cameron.
I'm relying on the AP's translation and I'm not sure if the word was meant to have negative connotations, but da Silva did also once blame the financial crisis on "white people with blue eyes," and in any case, this probably isn't the most productive way to deal with the legitimate criticisms of the Belo Monte project.
That said, Lula's comments are a useful reminder that while Cameron and his cohorts view this as a case of rapacious multinational corporations exploiting the wilderness and the Na'vi … er … I mean … indigenous people who live there, Brazilians are justifiably proud of their country's industrial growth and don't like being lectured by foreign celebrities. Cameron and Sting probably don't want any part of a fight with Lula for the sympathy of the Brazilian public.
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In lieu of his famous and long-winded diatribes (his longest speech clocked in at 7 hours and 10 minutes), Castro -- or, more likely, a loyal ghostwriter -- now communes with the populace via the blogosphere. Several times a week, a new "Reflection of Fidel" appears on the website of Granma Internacional, Cuba's leading newspaper. His latest contribution stirred up trouble last week when passages of a post were quoted in a speech by Cuban delegates before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. In the article, Castro alleges:
The state of Israel's hatred of the Palestinians is such that they would not hesitate to send one and a half million men, women and children from that country to the gas chambers in which millions of Jews of all ages were exterminated by the Nazis... The Führer's swastika would seem to be Israel's banner today."
Not surprisingly, his added caveat -- that "this opinion is not born of hatred"-- did little to appease outraged Israelis, and today the government formally denounced Cuba's remarks. The comments come on the heels of a similarly incendiary speech by the Syrian envoy before the council last week, raising fresh concerns about anti-Semitism in the global community.
Costa Rica, increasingly known as a haven for medical tourism, is putting a stop to one controversial practice:
The health ministry last month ordered the country's largest stem cell clinic to stop offering treatments, arguing there is no evidence that the treatments work or are safe.
"If (stem cell treatment's) efficiency and safety has not been proven, we don't believe it should be used," said Dr. Ileana Herrera, chief of the ministry's research council. "As a health ministry, we must always protect the human being.
The clinic's owner, Arizona entrepreneur Neil Riordan, told Reuters he closed the clinic and admitted the treatments, involving the removal and re-injection of stem cells, had not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
"I think her point was that it is not FDA approved," he said in a telephone interview from Panama.
The ministry said the clinic had a permit to store the adult stem cells, extracted from patients' own fat tissue, bone marrow and donated umbilical cords, but is not authorized to perform the treatment.
Riordan has patients suffering from multiple sclerosis and other forms of paralysis who are coming to his defense, but the evidence that his treatments work is mostly anecdotal. It certainly makes sense that the Costa Rican government doesn't want to be held liable for an unproven treatment, but with patients becoming more comfortable with medical tourism, you can expect similar clinics to open elsewhere.
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The British border agency discovered 728 pounds of cocaine off the southern coast of the country on Sunday, floating in bags attached to lobster pots. The three men charged with the conspiracy to import the drugs are due in court today, where they will likely confess to the crime, but remain ignorant of their invoking the drug's notorious double entendre: "the white lobster."
In the Caribbean, where the ban on coca leaves and the burgeoning cocaine trade are hot topics, many call cocaine "the white lobster." Faced with a law enforcement crackdown, Colombian traffickers often are forced to release their drug supplies into the ocean. From there, currents bring the bulging packages to the shores of some of the most impoverished surrounding regions, where fishing communities collect and sell them to make a living.
The contrast here elucidates just how vastly different the role of drug trafficking is in different areas of the world. The cocaine trade requires a crackdown; but certainly that crackdown should be executed very differently in countries like Nicaragua, where the presence of "white lobster" belies enormous financial hardship, than in Britain, where lobster -- in this case -- is merely the fancy floatie for 9 million dollars of narcotic loot.
This is still very much developing:
The man, who had been in Chile since January, was applying for a visa to the United States, said Lt. Col. Fernando Vera of the Carabineros, Chile's uniformed national police.The suspect was arrested Monday at the embassy and turned over to Chilean authorities.
A senior State Department official confirmed the arrest, telling CNN "we found traces of explosives residue and the man was turned over to the Chilean police."
CNN Chile, CNN's partner network, said the national police identified the suspect as Mohammed Said. Dawn, an independent Pakistani news organization, said the suspect's name is Mohamed Said Uf Rejaman. The suspect was doing an internship in tourism at a Chilean hotel, CNN Chile said.
He is scheduled to be charged Tuesday with violating Chile's law on weapons and explosives, CNN Chile reported.
Epa que tal? Aparecí como lo dije: a la medianoche. Pa Brasil me voy. Y muy contento a trabajar por Venezuela. Venceremos!!
"Hey how's it going? I appeared like I said I would: at midnight. I'm off to Brazil. And very happy to work for Venezuela. We will be victorious!!"
Chavez has chosen @chavezcandanga as his handle -- candanga is an obscure word for "devil" -- and the feed will be part of what Chavez's allies have called an "assault" on social networking sites, which are currently dominated by the opposition.
But what are his thoughts about Justin Bieber?
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It hasn't gotten the same attention at developments in Europe and the United States, but the Catholic Church's pedophilia has been increasingly making news around Latin America in recent weeks.
In Brazil, an 83-year-old priest who allegedly molested altar boys as young as 12 has been placed under house arrest -- some of the cases were caught on video and released on the Internet. The Mexico City archdioece barred a priest after it came to light that he had pleaded guilty to assaulting an 11-year-old girl in 1989. A priest in Chile is under investation for molesting five young men. Bishops in Chile and Brazil have condemned the abuses and asked forgivenes while Colombia's Cardinal controversially defended the church's past practice of keeping abuse allegations private.
As Steve Kettmann wrote recently Pope Benedict XVI has made reviving the church in increasingly secular Europe one of the main goals of his papacy -- a goal that's been severely undermined by the unfolding scandals in Ireland, Germany, and elsewhere.
But the damage to the church's credibility in Latin America may be an even bigger concern for the Vatian, particularly given the increasingly popularity of Pentacostalism and other protestant offshoots.
I don't think even PETA would make this argument:
Bolivia's opposition and homosexual groups criticized comments made by Morales at the first "people's conference" on climate change the previous day, in which he said that chicken producers inject birds with female hormones and "when men eat those chickens, they experience deviances in being men."
The Bolivian president also suggested that the European diet made men go bald.
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Raul Castro has made some modest reforms since taking over in July 2006. A few token changes, including the introduction of cell phones, DVD players, microwaves and computers, have been made - but access to these amenities has been prohibitively expensive. New salary incentives were also introduced in 2008, although such moves are not completely new.
All in all, the expected moves towards a market-oriented economy have been lacking. But now there are some small signs that the leadership is planning to liberalize some sectors of its economy. Where will they start, you ask? It might not be where you would expect: barber shops and beauty salons.
According to the measure -- which state run media has not yet announced -- all barbers and hairdressers in small shops will be allowed to charge market prices and pay taxes (15 percent of average revenue) instead of getting a set monthly wage:
Daisy, a hairdresser in an eastern Guantanamo province, told the Reuters news agency that under the old system the government took in 4,920 pesos per month per hairdresser.
Now she will pay the government 738 pesos per month and keep any earnings above that.
‘We have to pay water, electricity and for supplies but it seems like a good idea,' Daisy said.
She said that while the plan did not turn the shops into co-operatives, employees would have to join forces to decorate and maintain the establishments."
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The State Department was quick to portray Wednesday's meeting between Cheryl Mills, Hillary Clinton's powerful chief of staff, and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruni Rodriguez, as a big old nothingburger -- even though it was the highest-level contact between the countries in ... well, I don't know how long.
"They talked about Haiti," said departmental spokesman P.J. Crowley during this afternoon's press conference. "In particular, she did meet with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez to ensure that our assistance is consistent with the priorities established by the Haitian Government. Cuba has volunteered, I think, in the significant assistance in the health sector, and they want to see -- make sure that this assistance is implemented in a coordinated fashion. So it was a specific meeting about Cuba’s -- the support that they wish to provide to Haiti."
"[W]e don’t agree with Cuba and Venezuela on very much, but we all agree on the importance of assistance to Haiti," Crowley said.
Asked whether Mills brought up human rights, Crowley responded: "[W]e do have regular meetings with Cuba in the context of migration talks and specific issues, like postal services."
"When we do have discussions with Cuba, we always bring up the issue of human rights, we always bring up our concerns about prisoners who are held there," he continued. "And in this particular case, we did. I’m aware of that the specific issue of Alan Gross came up. I just don’t know if the broader issues were touched on as well." (Gross is the USAID contractor who was arrested in Havana late last year and accused of espionage.)
Some people will see this development as a sign that Obama is stepping up his engagment with the Cuban regime, but I strongly doubt it. Just last week, the president ripped the Cuban government for using a "clenched fist" -- a reference to his inaugural address -- against "those who dare to give voice to the desires of their fellow Cubans.'' A Cuban journalist who is calling for the release of the country's political prisoners is said to be near death after a hunger strike that has stretched longer than a month, and the regime has just brutally cracked down on a dissident group calling itself Las Damas de Blanco, the Ladies in White. The timing is awful for any sort of attempt to cozy up to the Castro brothers, and I'm sure the Obama folks know it.
More broadly, there's not much political upside in trying to engage the Cuban regime, given the entrenched opposition to any kind of rethink of the decades-long failure of U.S. Cuba policy on Capitol Hill. Nobody in Congress is laying down any political cover for Obama on this issue, so the odds are long that the administration would make the first move. If anything, U.S.-Cuba relations are heading south.
The only bright spot here would be if the Cubans seriously engaged on Gross -- which U.S. officials say they haven't done thus far. But Crowley gave no details on that front, so we'll just have to wait and see.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon's drug war has been going on now for more than three years, and led directly or indirecty to the deaths of more than 18,600 people -- well over the number of U.S. troops killed on 9/11, and in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. And yet it never seems to gain traction as a major subject of discussion here in the United States.
Will the killing of three people with ties to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez change that? The White House has already commented on the deaths, saying that President Obama is "deeply saddened and outraged by the news." The State Department is allowing its consular staff to leave cities along the border. Another 13 people were killed Saturday in the fabled resort town of Acapulco -- four of them beheaded. Mexican journalists are being terrified into silence. It certainly feels like we are entering a new phase of conflict.
And that's just Mexico, a relatively strong state. Countries in Central America are being overwhelmed by the traficantes. Guatemala just arrested its drug czar and national police chief for stealing some 1,500 pounds of cocaine from the drug dealers, and it's not clear whether the government there is strong enough to win this fight.
So what is Obama going to do about it? His administration has asked for $450 million from Congress to bolster Mexico's security and counternarcotics forces with new equipment, including helicopters and surveillance aircraft, as an extension of George W. Bush's Merida Initiative. That's on top of the $700 million Congress allocated for 2008 and 2009. Central America has gotten another couple hundred million. Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Venezuela outlined a number of other related initiatives during his recent congressional testimony.
If you ask me, it all seems like doubling down on a failed strategy -- a typical example of trying to solve a social and political problem through military and technical means.
To her credit, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged the United States' own culpability during her recent Latin America trip. "The demand in the large market in the United States drives the drug trade," she said. "We know that we are part of the problem and that is an admission that we have been willing make this past year."
But she offered zero new ideas for addressing the demand side of the equation, and the administration's new drug budget looks a heckuva lot like Bush's drug budget, with its focus on interdicting supplies over treating drug addicts and reducing the secondary effects of drug use ("harm reduction"). Obama's drug czar, former Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske, recently said that legalizing marijuana in any way was "a nonstarter," even as more states move ahead with their own decriminalization initiatives.
So are the Obamans smart enough to know better, but trapped by politics and afraid to try a bold new approach? Or do they really believe in the drug war?
President Barack Obama is applauding for accepting a court decision that prevents him from running for a third term.
Obama says Uribe's respectful heeding of the Feb. 26 ruling by the Colombian Constitutional Court "will resonate in the Americas" as an "invaluable example."[...]
The Obama letter was delivered to Uribe on Thursday by U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones in Chile, where both men are attending the inauguration of that country's new president.
I understand why Obama would be relieved that the United States's most loyal ally in Latin America didn't pull a Zelaya, but this seems very condescending to me.
There's an ongoing debate over initiatives like the Ibrahim Prize, which gives former African leaders a monetary reward for good governance and upholding democratic norms, but that at least is a lifetime achievement prize which rewards behavior over the course of a career. Nothing screams paternalism and low expectations quite like congratulating a president in the developing world for doing something that most democratic leaders are simply expected to do.
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I think Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva may be promising a bit too much for his chosen successor, Dilma Roussef:
Silva said he selected a woman as his successor because he believes that "we've won this stage of discrimination against women. If it exists, it's the minority in the heads of reactionaries."
"The first demonstration that machismo will be defeated was my decision" to select Rousseff as his successor, said Silva, whose second four year term ends on Jan. 1, 2011.
Lula no doubt came to this conclusion on his visits to the United States, where racism has been eliminated since the election of Barack Obama.
Reihan Salam wrote about "The Death of Macho" for FP last July.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is counting on divine intervention to pull Venezuela out of its power crisis:
Rationing and blackouts have afflicted the South American oil exporter since late 2009, due mainly to a drought that has cut water levels at hydroelectric installations normally supplying more than two-thirds of power needs.[...]
"The squalid ones are hoping it won't rain," Chavez said late on Tuesday, using his usual term for the opposition. "But it's going to rain, you'll see, because God is a 'Bolivarian.' God cannot be squalid. Nature is with us," the socialist leader added during an event with athletes
As announcements of government screw-ups go, this is a pretty welcome one:
The death toll from last weekend's earthquake in Chile has been revised sharply downwards, generating further criticism of the muddled official response to the crisis.
As powerful aftershocks rattled the area around the second city of Concepción today, officials said that 279 dead people had been identified. The death toll had previously been put at 802, but officials said that figure included people listed as missing but not confirmed dead. Some bodies have yet to be identified, so the 279 figure is likely to rise.
Chile's two main newspapers said the government had revised the death toll in the hard-hit Maule region down from 587 to 316.
As hard as Concepcion's been hit, 279 seems like mercifully few given the severity of the quake.
It seems that Americans are in no particular hurry for a change in Cuba policy:
Forty percent of Americans say the Cuba embargo should remain in place while 36 percent want it ended, and nearly half say they wouldn't visit the island even if allowed, according to a BBC/Harris Poll released Tuesday.
Nearly three in 10 Americans believe President Barack Obama's gestures toward Cuba have not been enough, 35 percent believe they went far enough and 10 percent say they went too far, the poll showed.
The good news for embargo opponents is that younger Americans are less supportive of the policy than older voters. Most Americans -- 63 percent -- see Cuba as "unfriendly" but not an enemy. I have to imagine that most of these voters wouldn't be in favor of slapping new sanctions on other merely "unfriendly" nations, but the poll is a reminder that once policies have been in place.
Some British bloggers seem to be infuriated by remarks made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at her meeting with Argentine President Cristina Kirchner today. Here's what Clinton had to say about the ongoing dispute over the Falkland Islands:
And we agree. We would like to see Argentina and the United Kingdom sit down and resolve the issues between them across the table in a peaceful, productive way. [...]
As to the first point, we want very much to encourage both countries to sit down. Now, we cannot make either one do so, but we think it is the right way to proceed. So we will be saying this publicly, as I have been, and we will continue to encourage exactly the kind of discussion across the table that needs to take place.
Guest-blogging for Andrew Sullivan, Alex Massie writes:
So one hopes that Clinton was merely being polite, but her words carry weight and will increase a sense of expectation in Argentina (and more broadly across Latin America) that cannot possibly be met and that is guaranteed to infuriate the British. At best this is clumsy; at worst it's rather worse than that.
If me email is anything to go by... the average Briton is likely to react to this sort of American intervention by suggesting that it's time to bring our boys home from Afghanistan and leave the Americans on their own.
The Economist's Bagehot was even angrier, and seemed to speculate that the move by Clinton was some sort of retaliation for " the release of the Lockerbie bomber and the fuss over Binyam Mohamed":
I have hesitated to read drastic slights into the sometimes awkward diplomacy between Barack Obama and Gordon Brown. But this stance on the Falklands cannot be seen any other way. It really is no way for the Americans to treat their most important military ally—as some in America doubtless appreciate.
I recognize this is a very contentious issue, but I think these writers may be reading a bit too much into Clinton's statement. It seems to me that when U.S. diplomats say they "encourage both countries to sit down," what they're really saying is, "we don't want to deal with this so please, just don't start another war." I don't really see the stab in the back here.
ALEJANDRO PAGNI/AFP/Getty Images
The secretary of state's Latin America trip continues:
While in Montevideo, Mrs. Clinton met with President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay and President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, congratulating him for accepting a Constitutional Court ruling that denied him the opportunity to run for a third term.
Yes, it's definitely a good thing that Uribe isn't ignoring the court ruling and attempting to illegally extend his term, but does it really merit a congratulations?
Chile was rocked by an 8.8-magnitude earthquake early this morning, and reports are still dribbling out about its effects, including the tragic deaths so far of at least 85 people. There's still much we don't know -- particularly about what's going on in Concepcion, the country's second-largest city, which was the closest major town to the quake's epicenter. Some Flickr users, such as condeorloff, have already started uploading photos of damaged buildings some 200 miles away in Santiago, the capital. So Concepcion must be pretty bad. There have also been numerous aftershocks, and warnings about tsunamis threatening the coastline.
But one thing is already clear: Chile was well prepared for this disaster, having been struck by 13 large earthquakes since 1973. The biggest seismic event in recorded history was in Chile, a 9.5-magnitude quake in 1960. While the death toll will inevitably go up, and hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage are likely, the country seems very resilient.
Comparisons to Haiti, whose earthquake was much smaller but several orders of magnitude more deadly, are inevitable. But not only was Chile far better prepared, it is also a vastly more developed country, one that just joined the OECD and has a highly competent government, so it's no surprise that it would be able to weather this disaster relatively calmly. Would the United States?
UPDATE: Reuters is now reporting that the death toll has climbed past 300. There are also reports of extensive damage in Concepcion and Talcahuano, a port town that was hit by the tsunami. I've seen no reports of looting -- nor would I expect to -- but folks did try to take advantage advantage of the chaos:
At least 269 prisoners took advantage of the quake to escape from a prison about 250 miles (450 km) south of Santiago, police said. Twenty-eight of the inmates were captured and three shot.
Bloomberg reports that some 1.5 million home were destroyed, and some 2 million Chileans affected, by the quake. I'm not sure how they arrive at those estimates so quickly, but suffice it to say that this was a major tragedy and that it will take months, if not years, for Chile to recover.
UPDATE2: The death toll is now past 700. More here.
MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images
According to a source who attended the luncheon and asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the situation, Chavez and Uribe started yelling and called each other names, using obscene language.
The source also said that Cuban President Raul Castro had to intervene to stop the verbal fight, asking, "How is it possible that we're fighting at a summit intended to unite Latin American and Caribbean countries?"
In the Telegraph's account includes more juicy details:
Mr Chavez then accused Mr Uribe of planning his assassination by a paramilitary squad and threatened to walk out of the summit in disgust.
"An angry Uribe then shouted: 'Be a man! These issues are meant to be discussed in these venues. You're brave speaking at a distance, but a coward when it comes to talking face to face'," the diplomat said.
Mr Chavez is reported to have replied: "Go to hell!"
Russian Deputy Prime Minsiter Igor Sechin apparently blew his top after Kommersant published an article suggesting that Russian financial support for Cuba was being linked to recognition of the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia: The Miami Herald reports:
In an article Feb. 12 in the daily Kommersant, reporter Andrei Odinets said that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's tour of Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Mexico was intended to restart – in the aftermath of the Caucasus war – Moscow's "diplomatic offensive in Latin America, which last year began to choke."
"It is possible that Moscow will encourage Russian investment in Cuba's mineral riches if Havana announces its recognition of [South Ossetia and Abkhazia]," Odinets wrote. "Russia already has worked such a scheme in Venezuela," trading oil-exploration money for diplomatic support, he said..
In an angry letter to Kommersant on Monday, Sechin derided Odinets as a self-appointed expert in foreign policy and an inept journalist. Some of Odinets' information was "biased and untrue," Sechin said. The reporter's allegation that Cuba's diplomatic support could be purchased was "detrimental to the principles of [Russo-Cuban] cooperation and long-term friendship, historically based on the shared values and trust acquired during the long and difficult years of working together."
In the friendship between Moscow and Havana "there is no place for cold financial calculation or ambition," Sechin wrote.
Strangely, in the letter, Sechin doesn't seem to deny that there was quid-pro-quo in the other countries that have recognized the breakaway regions, just that such cynical maneuvering would be unthinkable given the long history of Cuban-Russian cooperation. Is he suggesting that there is room for cold financial calculation in the frienship between Moscow and Caracas or Moscow and Managua? I'm not even going to ask about Nauru.
The lawyer for the 10 American missionaries charged with taking 33 children out of Haiti without permission was fired earlier this week by the group's legal advisor, Jorge Puello, after being accused of trying to offer bribes to get the group out of jail.
If you think that's weird, the situation took a bizarre turn yesterday when it was revealed by the New York Times that Mr. Puello was also being investigated for allegedly leading a trafficking ring involved with Central American and Caribbean women and girls.
No wonder Mr. Puello said in an interview that he was "representing the Americans free of charge because he was a religious man who commiserated with their situation." Color me crazy but employing the services of a wanted international trafficker typically isn't the best way to convince a judge that you weren't trying to smuggle children. I can't help but think that these guys are now way up the proverbial creek.
The frequent stories of grusome beheadings and seemingly rand mass-murders coming out of Mexico's drug war can make the country sound like its on the brink of anarchy. But as Alexandra Olson points out, by regional and historical standards, the country's violence is not unusually high:
Mexico's homicide rate has fallen steadily from a high in 1997 of 17 per 100,000 people to 14 per 100,000 in 2009, a year marked by an unprecedented spate of drug slayings concentrated in a few states and cities, Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna said. The national rate hit a low of 10 per 100,000 people in 2007, according to government figures compiled by the independent Citizens' Institute for Crime Studies.
By comparison, Venezuela, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have homicide rates of between 40 and 60 per 100,000 people, according to recent government statistics. Colombia was close behind with a rate of 33 in 2008. Brazil's was 24 in 2006, the last year when national figures were available.
Mexico City's rate was about 9 per 100,000 in 2008, while Washington, D.C. was more than 30 that year.
Of course, all of that is cold comfort to residents of Ciudad Juarez, which had a mind-boggling homicide rate of "173 per 100,000 in the city of 1.3 million, or more than 2,500 murders last year."
Mexico's relative national stability combined with what can only be described as out of control carnage in the drug war zone, supports Jorge Castaneda's argument that Mexico should be looked at not as a state under seige, but as a country increasingly embroiled in a military quagmire inside its own borders.
Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images
A few days ago, I optimistically hoped that Brazil, which led the U.S. peacekeeping operation in Haiti and lost at least 14 citizens in the earthquake would take a leadership role in the relief effort. But Al Jazeera's Gabriel Elizondo reports that things have gotten tense on the ground between the two countries most invested in the effort -- Brazil and the United States:
Nelson Jobim, Brazil’s defence minister just came back from Haiti and made a point of that saying Brazil would not voluntarily relinquish any of its command duties. Essentially, what he was saying was that Brazil, not the Pentagon, would continue to lead the UN forces.When pressed, Jobim also admitted that the US military doesn’t take orders from foreign forces.[...]Brazil - like the US, U.N. and France - is in Haiti for the long haul. Jobim said on Saturday that his country would have a major presence in Haiti for at least the next five years.Brazil is not only shouldering a big part of the UN role in Haiti, but is also leading the humanitarian efforts, sending cargo planes loaded with supplies to Haiti as fast as they can be loaded. It is also taking aid from neighbouring Uruguay and Paraguay, as well as any other country that wants to donate but can't handle the logistics on their own.This, too, is a growing issue. Three Brazilian planes loaded with supplies were held up and not allowed to land in Haiti by the FAA (America’s agency that handles air traffic, which is now in control of airspace in Haiti). Celso Amorim, Brazil’s foreign minister, apparently was so upset about it that he put in a call to Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and asked that Brazilian aeroplanes be given priority over chartered flights.
Washington Post reporter Ian Shapira, referring to an incident where CNN medical expert Sanjay Gupta actually began treating patients in Haiti, asks, "Are reporters with backgrounds in medicine being show-offs when they simultaneously report on a disaster and administer care?"
A somewhat convoluted CNN.com writeup of the incident reveals that Gupta -- after a team of Beligan doctors and nurses left a field hospital due to security fears -- "monitored patients' vital signs, administered painkillers and continued intravenous drips. He stabilized three new patients in critical condition."
"I confess that when I saw the CNN reporter Sanjay Gupta caring for a baby in Haiti, dealing with the child's head wound, I cringed," Shapira writes. "I thought he had an ulterior motive, that he was trying to boost CNN's flagging ratings by sending a message to audiences back home: CNN tells great stories, but CNN also saves lives!" Reporters aren't supposed to get involved in the narratives they cover, but Shapira concludes, that in this case Gupta did the right thing by intervening.
Gupta's story reminded me of Kevin Carter, the South African photographer who committed suicide in 1994, only a year after taking this Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of a Sudanese girl suffering from malnutrition as a vulture patiently awaits her demise:
Seeking relief from the sight of masses of people starving to death, he wandered into the open bush. He heard a soft, high-pitched whimpering and saw a tiny girl trying to make her way to the feeding center. As he crouched to photograph her, a vulture landed in view. Careful not to disturb the bird, he positioned himself for the best possible image. He would later say he waited about 20 minutes, hoping the vulture would spread its wings. It did not, and after he took his photographs, he chased the bird away and watched as the little girl resumed her struggle. Afterward he sat under a tree, lit a cigarette, talked to God and cried. "He was depressed afterward," Silva recalls. "He kept saying he wanted to hug his daughter."
The haunting image made Carter a global celebrity, but it also raised uncomfortable questions about whether he should have helped the girl rather than simply watching her die. To be sure, Carter had plenty of emotional and financial problems, and he drank and used drugs excessively. But's it's not hard to imagine that his world-famous photo left him wracked with guilt, contributing to his suicidal state of mind. In his rambling final note, he wrote, "I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain . . . of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners."
That's why I can't blame Gupta for helping out when he did. On the one hand, he crossed a journalistic line and became part of the story. On the other hand, he probably saved a few Haitians' lives. Imagine how he'd feel if he had to report on CNN that he'd stay there to watch them die that night?
Every world leader, it seems, has that one member of the family he'd rather not see getting too much press. Jimmy Carter had Billy. Hamid Karzai has Ahmad Wali. Bill Clinton had Roger.
Behold, Miguel "El Negro" Piñera, the brother of Chile's new president:
I managed to get this iPhone shot of Miguel, a night-club owner,
respected musician, and notorious party animal, at Sebastian Piñera's victory party Sunday in Santiago. Let's just say that, among the well-heeled crowd dressed in a seeming uniform of khaki pants and pastel-colored polo shirts, Miguel stood out. Here he is at an earlier event, enthusiastically receiving what is apparently some kind of traditional Chilean dessert:
The cake, a gift from his niece, reads: "Enjoy yourself." You can Google his wife, Argentine former model Belén Hidalgo if you wish -- but I suggest you do so on your own time.
UPDATE: Welcome, Chilean readers. To clarify: This blog post is meant to be humorous, not a serious examination of Miguel Piñera or his role in politics. Please take it in that spirit.
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