Wild-eyed theory of the week

This just had to be transcripted. From North Carolina Representative Sue Myrick:

Here we are with a pourous border, not really paying attention to who’s coming over, what’s happening with Iran and Hugo Chávez and Venezuela. We know that there are people going to Venezuela, learning Spanish, and then coming up through Mexico with fake documents, trying to cross the border. If they’re stopped they say, I’m Mexican. You know. Or Spanish. The point is, a border agent who really knows the difference in their language can tell that they aren’t Mexican, and so it’s very difficult if those agents aren’t really trained in linguistics to know that. And they get across.

Ah yes, the ol’ learn-Spanish-in-Venezuela-then-pretend-you’re-Mexican-or-Spanish trick. Really a shame the US public education system can’t get the next generation of border guards past the Me gusta el pollo stage.

How long, O Lord, until North Carolina sloughs off into the Atlantic?

Posted in Human Rights, Mexico, Politics, Venezuela | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Astroturf image of the week

In his latest bid to sow conflict in order to direct attention away from the country’s real problems while eroding other non-Chávez power bases, Chávez is going after the Catholic Church. Allegedly, El Pueblo is behind him:

Far be it from me to stick up for the Catholic Church for any reason, but if those signs were really drawn by the people holding them, then I’m a child-diddling archbishop.

Check out the script on that “es.” Elegant!

Of course, civil society organizations staging demonstrations hand out pre-drawn placards all the time. I believe such a practice is less common among sitting governments, with the possible historical exception of the PRI, which is maybe not the first thing an aspiring democrat would want to be compared to.

The most disappointing part is that, were those signs actually drawn up by El Pueblo, they would be way more entertaining.

Posted in Politics, Venezuela | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Betancourt’s tin ear

What is wrong with Ingrid Betancourt? The most charitable explanation is that she is absolutely terrible at public relations. Her first act upon being rescued from six years in FARC captivity last year was to leave her faithful, long-suffering husband. Then she moved to France – her other nationality – and now she’s asking the Colombian government – the government that mounted a hugely complicated, daring operation to rescue her – for US$6.8mn in damages for the kidnapping ordeal.

There are plenty of people who would be within their rights to demand monetary compensation from the Colombian military, but Betancourt? And really, is this the best she’s got?

A smart person and a good politician would have been able to leverage her kidnapping experience into a few speaking engagements, a visiting professorship, several seats on the boards of NGOs, and a profitable book about a humbling journey that made one spiritually stronger, etc.

And then, who knows? Public office? A UN Rapporteurship? A lobbying position?

But when Betancourt stepped off that helicopter and onto the public stage, she spontaneously combusted, and she’s been burning ever since. La Silla Vacia tries to argue that this latest tone-deaf move is part of her history of chasing after money. But as I just noted, there are all sorts of ways Betancourt could have turned her ordeal into money had she been so inclined. Sell the movie rights, for Christ’s sake.

Only someone who feels both completely indifferent to the opinions of average people and totally entitled to special treatment from authority could do something this boneheaded. This isn’t Betancourt the almost-martyr presidential candidate, Colombia’s angel of suffering before FARC brutality and the gaze of all the world.

This is Betancourt the aristocrat, and it makes one think that maybe the gringos were right.

(Original image courtesy Fabio Gismondi, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Posted in Colombia, Human Rights, Politics, War on drugs | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Bank tweeters arrested

In an interesting development in Venezuela, the CICPC (equivalent, I think, to the FBI) has made its first arrest of Twitter users: Two people who the agency says tweeted rumors with the intent to destabilize the banking sector by causing a run on banks.

According to a press release, CICPC director Wilmer Flores said:

False rumors on social networks are clearly punished in Article 448 of the banking law. This means that anyone who spreads malevolent rumors via any means, e-mail, text messages from cellular phones, through Twitter, Facebook, or any other technological tool, with their own voice or through any other means of communication is committing a crime and must answer to the relevant authorities.

Noticias24 ran down one of the allegedly felonious tweets, from one Luis Enrique Acosta Oxford, which said, “People, so you can’t say I didn’t warn you, pull your money out of BANESCO today, there aren’t many days left.”

I know, rumors on Twitter. Can you believe it?

This tweet was from June 30, a couple weeks after the government took over (deservedly) Banco Federal, intensifying an already tense situation after the take-over of about a dozen other small and medium-sized banks late last year.

Malicious speech isn’t protected anywhere in the world, and people should learn that applies to Twitter as well. But if you need a special law to protect your banking system’s solvency from the effects of rumors, perhaps the real problem lies elsewhere.

Posted in Economy, Venezuela | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Guinea pig bets on Uruguay

The Germans may have Paul the Psychic Octopus, but the Peruvians have Jimmy the Frightened Guinea Pig, whose terrified skittering apparently means Uruguay and Germany will face off in the World Cup final.

Not sure if having the support of a guinea pig will do anything to encourage the Uruguayan squad today as they stare down almost certain destruction at the hands of the Dutch.

Posted in Odd, Peru, Uruguay | 1 Comment

US warships headed to Costa Rica

Southward bound.

Militaryless, democratic, non-conflict-having Costa Rica is the new front in the United States’ War on Inanimate Objects. The country’s  national assembly has given the OK for a veritable US invasion force to enter Costa Rican territory: 7,000 marines on 46 warships, including the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship the USS Makin Island, pictured.

La Nación quotes a document from the US Embassy that states that, “The US personnel in Costa Rica will be able to enjoy freedom of movement and the right to carry out the activities that they consider necessary to complete their mission.”

Well isn’t that just permissively vague.

The legislation says the mission has to do with fighting drug traffickers, as well as a few humanitarian goals, though the humanitarian use of a Harrier jet is still somewhat unclear.

On a casual note, I would point out again that for all the Costa Rican smugness about not having an army, they do a pretty good job of borrowing one when they need it. On a more serious note, because this is bound to be extremely politically unpopular domestically, the government must have a damn good reason for inviting all this firepower in from up north.

My guess is that the government is secretly terrified it is losing control of the security situation. They probably should be.

A proportionally very large amount of cocaine is busted in Costa Rica every year, and the country has become something of a bodega for Mexican and Colombian drug smugglers, what with its good infrastructure, weak judicial system, ill-equipped police force, long coastlines, remote beaches, terrible immigration enforcement, and ample opportunities for laundering money through real estate transactions and layers of shell corporations.

I’m not sure how well-armed helicopters will change any of those factors, unless you could make the National Registry more transparent by slipping a few Hellfire missiles through the front door . Probably wouldn’t hurt.

Anyway, keep ironing around that wrinkle fellas. You’ll win the war on drugs any day now.

Posted in Costa Rica, Politics, War on drugs | Tagged , , , | 27 Comments

Money laundering (get it?)

If you read one story today, let it be Michael Smith’s very long and very interesting story in Bloomberg on how Mexican drug traffickers launder money through US banks like Wachovia (now owned by Wells Fargo) and Bank of America.

The piece is long and excellent enough to defy excerpting, but let’s give it a shot:

For years, federal authorities watched as the wife and daughter of Oscar Oropeza, a drug smuggler working for the Matamoros-based Gulf Cartel, deposited stacks of cash at a Bank of America branch on Boca Chica Boulevard in Brownsville, Texas, less than 3 miles from the border.

The Oropeza case gives a new, literal meaning to the term money laundering. Oropeza’s wife, Tina Marie, and daughter Paulina Marie deposited stashes of $20 bills several times a day into Bank of America accounts, Salazar says. Bank employees got to know the Oropezas by the smell of their money.

“I asked the tellers what they were talking about, and they said the money had this sweet smell like Bounce, those sheets you throw into the dryer,” Salazar says. “They told me that when they opened the vault, the smell of Bounce just poured out.”

Yes, they were literally laundering money. I suppose to wash off the cocaine, or something.

The drug traffickers appear to be onto something obvious: In my personal, anecdotal, totally non-peer-reviewed experience, it is a hell of a lot easier to open bank accounts and move money in the United States than in Latin America.

Maybe someday soon, the war on drugs will also make it impossible to open a bank account in the US without presenting a copy of a university diploma.

Posted in Economy, Mexico, War on drugs | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Know your nominees

Obama’s nomination to head USAID’s programs in Latin America is Mark Feierstein, who, according to the Andean Information Network, is a pollster who works for right-wing political candidates in Latin America, including ones who’ve presided over massacres:

Feierstein, of the firm Greenberg, Quinlan and Rosner, served as a political adviser to former Bolivian president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada during his 2002 Presidential campaign.  Sánchez de Lozada resigned and fled to Chevy Chase, Maryland in 2003 to escape prosecution for the massacre of 60 protesters by troops operating under his orders.  Last year Feierstein and his colleagues again conducted polling in Bolivia to assist the campaign of right wing candidate Manfred Reyes Villa, who lost by a landslide to President Evo Morales.[1]  The appointment of the political pollster has increased apprehension in the region that aid programs will continue to be used to support U.S.-favored political actors within the region’s democracies.

The AIN takes the eminently reasonable position that if Obama wants Latin Americans to see USAID as something more than a shady political operation, he should not appoint shady political operatives to run it.

(Disclaimer: I don’t know much about the AIN, only that I heard an excellent interview with head Kathryn Ledebur on the Just the Facts podcast, and she impressed me very much as a thoughtful person who knows what’s up.)

Posted in Bolivia, Politics | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Kick some ass

Peru’s El Comercio is reporting that a reservoir holding chemical left-overs from a mining operation collapsed, contaminating the Opamayo River, killing a bunch of fish, and polluting god knows what else.

According to MineralMundi, the Caudalosa Chica mine is used for extracting silver, copper, lead, and Zinc. Government sources are estimating that 21,400 cubic meters of toxic material escaped the reservoir, though the article doesn’t specify what kind of toxic material is involved.

When an open-pit goldmine in Costa Rica was shut down in 2007 on fears that something similar was about to happen, the chemical causing concern was cyanide. Not sure if that’s the case here.

Supposedly the Caudalosa Chica mine has polluted things before.

It would be easy to jump all over whatever mining company is at fault, but let’s be honest, mining companies and any other profit-motivated corporations will go as far as you let them. We know this for a fact. It’s what they’re designed to do: pursue profit where they can get it.

At the heart of the matter, therefore, these environmental catastrophes are the government’s fault, for not requiring strict enough safety procedures, for not funding the institutions charged with enforcing those safety procedures, and for not having strong enough punitive measures in place to punish companies who dodge the rules and to make damn sure any clean-ups are well funded.

Post-disaster, the government usually attempts a neat responsibility dodge, a la Barack Obama’s declared desire to kick BP executive ass. But really, the  asses that deserve kicking are seated in nice leather chairs located in a statehouse somewhere.

Posted in Environment, Peru, Politics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Acid-throwers linked to contest opponent

María Fernanda Núñez is a Colombian model who was poised to win the title to represent North Santander in the Miss Colombia competition. Then someone threw acid in her face.

Now the Colombian authorities say they know who did it, and the suspect is linked to another participant in the competition. From Semana:

The suspect is Fabián Sáez Ibáñez, a young man who identified himself with his ID card on June 10 in the chemical store where he bought the bottles of acid. Sáez is the boyfriend of Yesid Ramón Gómez, who is himself the cousin of Carolina Gómez Gómez, one of the eight candidates who were competing against ‘Mafe’ for the title of Miss North Santander and to represent the region in [the Miss Colombia competition] in Cartegena. Carolina Gómez [is] a favorite together with the candidate who was attacked.

Buying acid with your ID card on the day you plan to attack someone with said acid does not strike me as a brilliant move. Anyway, Caracol is reporting that the suspects, whoever they are, have fled, which is a bit smarter.

The Semana article seems to indicate that María Fernanda is recovering well, and she appeared on CNN the other night. Here’s a video of her from 2009. Get well soon.

Posted in Arts and Culture, Colombia, Odd | Tagged | Leave a comment

    • The Nation has a long, wonky, wonderful article on Mexican maize cultivation, the effects of NAFTA, and the dangers of genetically-modified seeds. Author Peter Canby backs up his excellent writing with piles and piles of meticulous research. Not to be missed. [link, via SM] (Image from Joel Penner.)

    • Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas ended his hunger strike yesterday after 134 days. Farinas decided to end his strike after the Cuban government said it would release political prisoners rounded up in the "Black Spring" crackdown of 2003. Get well soon. [link]

    • The Uruguayan selection, which has made it to the quarter finals of the World Cup, just received a shipment of half a ton of fine cuts of beef for the mother of all asados in preparation for a contest against Ghana on Friday: "450 kilos of lomo, 200 of entrecot, 75 of vacío, 75 of colita de cuadril, 150 of ojo de bife and 50 kg of picaña." [link]

    • Hitmen have assassinated the PRI candidate for governor of Tamaulipas State, Rodolfo Torre Cantú. Torre was gunned down along with six others at about 10:30 this morning on a highway on the way to a campaign event. Drug mafias are assumed to be responsible. [link]

    • From the days when coups were something of a regional sport, new documents detail a famous British ballerina's role in a plot to topple the government of Panama. The plan was to use her yacht to gather men and arms, then "land somewhere and collect in the hills." It didn't work. [link]

    • Mexico's Attorney General's Office has posted on its web site irrefutable evidence that gold-plated AR-15s and diamond-studded pistol grips are not nearly as cool-looking as they sound. The deadly knick-knack collection is said to belong to Valencia Cartel leader El Lobo. [link]

    • Two Brazilian ranchers were sentenced to 30 years in prison apiece for ordering the killing of an environmentalist nun: "Prosecutors said the pair offered to pay a gunman $25,000 to kill the 73-year-old [Dorothy] Stang because she had prevented them from stealing a piece of land that the government had granted to a group of poor farmers." [link]

    • This video of a kidnapping and car chase in Mexico is notable mainly for the bad-assitude of the TV journalists who were on this like white on rice. Well done, gentlemen.

    • The Economist takes a peak at the Mockus phenomenon in Colombia: "His moustacheless beard gives him the air of a Baltic pastor... He is financing his campaign with a bank overdraft. His supporters rely on Facebook and make their own posters; street vendors sell unofficial campaign T-shirts." [link]

    • Some cruise lines will cease traveling to Antarctica after this cruise season, as a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil goes into effect next year. The ban came after a 2007 incident when a Gap Adventures ship got punctured by ice and sank, causing a mess. [link]