El Tiempo is reporting that at least 40 Colombians are currently working for private contractors on behalf of the United States in war zones in Afghanistan. At $4,700 a month, they cost less than half of what contractors like Xe Services (formerly Blackwater) pay for a U.S. contractor.

The best part (as far as the companies are concerned anyway) is that sometimes they don’t pay the workers at all, or pay them substantially less than what was agreed upon. This is the lesson some Colombians learned when they went to work for contractors in Iraq in 2006:

According to some complaints, at first the ex-soldiers were offered $4,000 per month. Later the contract said $2,700, and in the end, they were paid $1,000 a month, less than half of what they were making in Colombia.

ProPublica has done an investigative series called Disposable Army on how military and civilian contractors have gotten screwed, especially the foreign ones who don’t have the knowledge or the resources to fight messy legal battles in U.S. courts over breach of contract and negligence. (Here’s a good interview with the author.)

But it seems like maybe it would be a bad idea to double-cross Colombian ex-military. The El Tiempo article also throws it out there that one of the Colombians who did local recruiting for the companies had been murdered. Hm.

(H/T The Colombia Report, original image courtesy Lisa Kong.)

Posted in Colombia | Tagged , | Leave a comment


I wonder if anyone has ever tried to tally up the total economic, social, and political cost of the war on drugs. Over half a century, it has killed thousands of people, militarized rural areas, criminalized whole generations of minorities, corrupted police forces, eroded civil rights, cost billions of dollars, and destabilized entire countries.

All of it’s gotten us basically nowhere, but since the goriest chaos has mainly ravaged other countries, suggesting a change of course in the U.S. is still political suicide.

Once the goriest chaos moves north, however, then what? That is, once Americans are directly effected, No Country For Old Men-style, will they become more open to a change of strategy?

These questions come to mind as I read about the three State Department employees killed in Juárez over the weekend, as well as the slaughter going on in Spring-Break-Yay! Acapulco. The former is particularly shocking, as to my knowledge, the drug cartels have tended to steer clear of the gabachos when they shoot things up. Does this mean they’re crossing a line? And what other lines are they ready to cross?

It could be the start of something that finally shocks Americans into changing their (and by proxy, the rest of the world’s) drug policies. On the other hand, if recent history is any guide, it could also shock Americans into clamoring for an all-out ground war. It doesn’t take much.

(Original image from the New York Times article cited above.)

Posted in Mexico, War on drugs | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Glass houses

Incensed at the recent State Department report wherein the U.S. wags its finger at the rest of the world for not respecting human rights, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has gone ahead and stated the obvious:

In the continent’s latest assertion of independence from its overbearing northern neighbour – Ecuador has already closed down a US airforce base in the country – Mr Correa hit back at what he termed the US government’s propensity to issue reports on other countries’ “progress” in advancing human rights while ignoring abuses committed by itself.

“What if Ecuador makes a report about human rights abuses in the US?” the president asked.

“In that country there was legalised torture – or has the US State Department forgotten that?”

This is a very, very good idea. Peru’s foreign ministry could express concern over Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and its implications for the “progress” of U.S. democracy; Chile’s state department could warn its citizens not to travel to Washington, D.C., because of its extremely high murder rate; and Guatemala could release a long, detailed report criticizing the U.S. for allowing torturers to remain in impunity.

(Original image courtesy Agencia Brasil)

Posted in Ecuador, Human Rights | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Note to readers

I just received a large project with a tight deadline, so blogging will be more or less suspended until Monday. In the meantime, have fun reading the rest of the Interwebs.

Posted in Housekeeping | Leave a comment


Bolivan President Evo Morales is in Chile this week for Sebastian Piñera’s swearing in as that country’s new president. The two are facing off this afternoon on the football pitch. From EFE:

The game, which was organized by the Chilean Ex-Professional Football Players Union, will include the participation of former renowned Chilean players, including Marcelo Salas, Carlos Caszely, Elías Figueroa, Rubén Martínez, Mario Soto, Pedro González, and Leonel Herrera, among others.

Piñera better bring his A-game: Morales lives and trains in La Paz, 3,640 meters above sea level. On the other hand, Piñera owns part of a professional football team, so maybe he’ll bring some ringers.

Here’s hoping for a match between Chávez and Uribe.

Posted in Bolivia, Chile, Odd, Politics | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Old school

1958-2010 (Via Periodico El Sol)

Former Colombian drug lord Evaristo Porras Ardila died last week of a heat attack, without a penny to his name. He was 62. Porras was one of Colombia’s original drug traffickers, from the generation of Pablo Escobar. He had a mansion modeled on the one from U.S. soap opera Dynasty (Escobar’s was based on the one from Scarface). He supposedly controlled the whole Amazon region in the southern part of Colombia, where his gang both produced coca paste and ferried it in by river from Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil.

Porras became a household name in Colombia in 1983 when he tried to frame hard-charging Security Minister Rodrigo Lara for taking bribes. Lara threw it back in the narcos’ faces by going after them even harder. Lara was murdered in 1984 by hitmen working for Escobar.

When Porras was arrested for drug trafficking in 1995, he had a panic attack and told authorities that if his face appeared in the media, he would kill himself. He was convicted and spent 20 years in prison. Colombian authorities confiscated US$4.2 million worth of assets from the man. His family claims that when he got out of prison in 2006, he was destitute:

The formerly powerful and feared narco was trying to get back the old Mauris Building (which has 18 apartments and three storefronts) located in Leticia, as well as an apartment on 127th Street in Bogota, where his wife – Luz Marina – lives, and where he died last Wednesday. “He didn’t even have anything to eat. Even though he won the lottery three times, they took everything from him,” said a family member.

That’s right, they say US$423,000 of his cash was from winning the lottery. Three times. For some reason, the government didn’t buy it. Despite his arrest and destitution, Porras’ family continued to control politics in his home turf until recently, with his brother Iván serving as mayor of the Leticia department from 2005 to 2007.

RIP, I guess.

Posted in Colombia, War on drugs | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Half-spring forward

The last time I was in Venezuela, I never quite figured out what time it was. My laptop clock was always off by a half hour, in one direction or the other. When I got home, I remembered that Chávez had ordered the clocks moved back by half an hour to give kids more time to get to school.

In the realm of wacky, dictator-like decisions, putting your country one half hour off the entire rest of the world is pretty competitive. (Though it’s not nearly as awesome as building a gold statue of yourself that rotates to face the Sun. Get on it.) These days, however, Venezuela’s business folk are saying that putting the time back the way it was will save electricity.

Maybe they’ll compromise and move it back 15 minutes.

Anyway, this is as good an excuse as I’ll ever get to post this “who’s-on-first/what’s-on-second” exchange between Chávez and his education minister when the time change was implemented back in 2007. Right, OK, adelante. Wait.

Posted in Odd, Venezuela | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Mexico’s Supreme Court rules against human rights commission

Supreme Court building.

Bad news for human rights in Mexico. The Supreme Court ruled today that the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) can withhold information related to ongoing investigations from the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) if it so chooses. More specifically, the ruling upheld Article 5 of the Attorney General Act, which states:

[The PGR] will provide information to the National Human Rights Commission when requested in the exercise of its functions, as long as the information doesn’t put ongoing investigations or the safety of individuals at risk.

Emphasis mine. Of course, the PGR itself gets to decide what “risk” means. I imagine they like to err on the side of caution. This means it will be basically impossible for the CNDH to intervene and stop human rights violations in progress, as most of the bad ones (forced disappearance, unlawful detention, torture, etc.) take place during the “investigation.”

The court’s vote in the ruling was split, 7-4. There is no reaction yet from the CNDH.

(Image used courtesy of Thelmadatter via Wikicommons.)

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

Rush Limbaugh, health care reform protester sex tourist

(Via Costa Rica's Diario Extra.)

Rush Limbaugh has said he’ll move to Costa Rica if Congress passes health care reform. But that can’t be right. By Limbaugh standards, Costa Rica is practically Stalinist, what with the social security system providing government health care and government clinics to everybody who pays into the system (workers must contribute about 15% of their paycheck, if memory serves, or they get sent to a gulag in Cañas).

What’s Rush really after? I’ll tell you: Ass.

Yes, ass. In addition to being great at socialized medicine, Costa Rica is great at The Sex Tourism. And Rush knows something about The Sex Tourism. Either that, or he had something far more scandalous in mind when he traveled to the Dominican Republic in 2006 on a private jet with a bunch of dudes and a bottle full of Viagra.

It would also explain why he had Costa Rica on the tip of his oily tongue. Like, maybe he’s been here before? Had he been, you would never notice. He would blend in with his listeners down here like an old shoe, all the other divorced, good-ol’-boy, Parrothead, fat-assed shit-kickers from Texas and Florida and Alabama, bellied up to the bars along Gringo Gulch like hogs in slop, drinking $4 beers and flirting with prostitutes who call them papi and ask for money so they can buy their kids school supplies.

I hope Rush isn’t a Pacific Coast kind of guy, because there are no private hospitals out that way to treat his inevitable venereal diseases. Anyway, he’ll be happy to learn that the government-run clinics are actually quite nice.

Posted in Costa Rica, Odd, Travel | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Bigelow turns lens south


Fresh off her Best Picture win for The Hurt Locker, director Kathryn Bigelow is talking about her next movie. It’s called Triple Frontier, a mistranslation of Triple Frontera, which is the border region shared by Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. The area is famous for being a no-man’s land, where anything goes, legally speaking.

It’s also famous for getting the stink-eye from the U.S. government for fostering terrorism boogies. Wrote MSNBC in a totally objective, non-panic-inducing article from 2007:

The Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia has taken root in South America, fostering a well-financed force of Islamist radicals boiling with hatred for the United States and ready to die to prove it, according to militia members, U.S. officials and police agencies across the continent.

In the minds of geography-challenged Americans, South America is practically Mexico, which is practically Tucson, so, you know, run for your lives. The U.S. military sent troops to Paraguay in 2005, ostensibly for “joint military exercises,” but more likely to supervise some extra-judicial killing and torture, like in the good old days.

Since Bigelow says Triple Frontier is being written by the same journalist who wrote The Hurt Locker, I imagine it’ll have something to do with terrorism and U.S. military operations in the border region, rather than the piles and piles of other things that happen in Latin America, which again just goes to show that Americans are only interested in the rest of the world insofar as they can view it through the narrow lens of their own domestic preoccupations.

Posted in Argentina, Arts and Culture, Brazil, History, Paraguay | 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]