Save our Park! Oh, and the turtles, too.

Playa Grande, the turtle's primary nesting beach, is dark. But is anybody worried about the lights next door? Photo by Dave Sherwood

Legislation to downgrade Costa Rica’s Las Baulas National Park to a refuge has been shelved – at least for now. The country’s transnational environmental lobby is sighing relief.

But what about the turtles?

Downgrading a park is admittedly poor form – and sets an awful precedent. The reality, however, is that the critically endangered leatherback doesn’t need a lousy paper park – it needs comprehensive, holistic management that looks at all threats, not just those presented by a group of surly real estate investors on shore.

Of course, as with most environmental debates, this one is complex. There  are no simple solutions. Las Baulas National Park harbors the single most important leatherback  nesting beach in Central America. And species’ populations have plummeted 97% in 30  years. But the gargantuan legal battle required to expropriate private beachfront property inside the park is a distraction.

While we protest, bicker and carry on, time is running out for the leatherback. Last year, just 30 nested here, down by half from the year before and 1,500 two decades ago (before the ‘park’ was established, incidentally).

Unlike signing a petition on Facebook, navigating government bureaucracy and ineptitude and imposing order on the hundreds of absentee investors in neighboring Tamarindo who pump fecal matter and shine lights (see above) into the leatherback’s bedroom or mitigating sea turtle bycatch in vast international waters requires real commitment - and doesn’t package well in a bulk mailer or mass email.

Too bad for the turtles – but at least the beach is pretty.

Posted in Costa Rica, Environment | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Playtime

A somewhat hilarious AP article out today profiles Chávez’ efforts to arm and train some kind of civilian militia force. Frankly, it sounds like a rip-roaring good time: Take a few days off work (unless you weren’t doing anything anyway), play army with real guns, blow things up, etc.

I have family members who do this on weekends, and have at times participated. I can vouch for the entertainment value.

But Noticias24 has gotten its panties in a twist over the fact that the drill sergeants encourage their recruits to “kill those gringos!” This brings up an interesting question that several people have asked me in the last few weeks: Do Venezuelans hate Americans?

I’ve only traveled in Venezuela three times, so my experience is somewhat limited. But what I’ve seen is that while the president of Venezuela talks a lot of smack, Venezuelans still watch baseball and drive American cars and take shopping trips to Miami and sell most of their oil to the United States. They will not hesitate to give you a piece of their minds, but they will also buy you a wijky and invite you home to meet the family.

Probably their essential Caribbeanness has something to do with it.

But also, the thing is, to hate people from another culture, it helps to have been personally hurt by that culture in some way. All the macroeconomics, international politics, and military strategy that Chávez alludes to in his lengthy Sunday ramblings are perhaps outrageous, but abstractly so for your average Venezuelan.

In my experience, you’re much more likely to get hated on for your gringoness in Nicaragua or Mexico, where direct interaction with norteamericanos has often been distinctly unpleasant. In contrast, for many decades Venezuelans got employment, training, an improved standard of living, and some pretty decent-sized piles of oil cash from their contact with the gringos.

So if you want to see real gut-level gringo-hating in Venezuela, I think you’ll have to wait till US Marines are camped out in Miraflores and drawing mustaches on the Bolivar portraits. Until then, it’s just a game.

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

Reality is just so much less interesting

While the usual suspects up north try to drum up panic over the possibility of an insidious Iranian incursion into the American continent, the always-excellent Tim Rogers just went ahead and asked Iran’s ambassador to Nicaragua what they’re up to:

The Iranian Embassy in Managua, he said, is “the smallest diplomatic mission in the entire American continent.”

The ambassador said the three-member mission, which operates out of a rented house in an upscale neighborhood in Managua, is just him, a cultural attaché and an economic adviser.

“I wish it were a bigger mission with more people. But that’s the way it is,” the soft-spoken ambassador said, in fluent Spanish.

Contrary to rumors that Iranians are flooding into Nicaragua without visas, Pour insists the “Iranian colony” here is less than 40 people, many of whom have been here for decades. In fact, he said, for the March 21 celebration of Iranian New Year, the entire Iranian community in Nicaragua was invited to the embassy – and all 36 of them showed up.

Sounds pretty nefarious. The article also notes that all the talk about deep-water ports and hydroelectric dams has gone nowhere, which pretty much makes sense if you’ve heard anything about the fiscal responsibility and project management prowess of Nicaraguan heads of state.

Posted in Nicaragua, Politics | Tagged | 1 Comment

‘The Torture Coloney’

For your Wednesday evening reading pleasure, a very long, very strange article on Colonia Dignidad, a German colony founded in Chile by a child molester/Nazi named Paul Schaefer. In addition to being the personification of the evil cult leader, Schaefer – who died last week in prison – got into evil politics as well, torturing people on behalf of Pinochet.

The whole thing’s too weird and creepy to excerpt. Just print it out.

(H/T BoingBoing.)

Posted in Chile, History, Human Rights, Odd | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Chávez tweets UPDATED

Hugo Chávez now has a Twitter account: @chavezcandanga, which roughly translates to “Chávez candanga.” That is to say, if you think you can translate candanga, please, give it a shot. As far as the Venezuelan executive’s eloquent use of Venezuelan slang in an official capacity, it’s reminiscent of the “vergatario:”


Anyway, all trips down memory lane aside, @chavezcandanga now has 14,000 followers and counting. Chávez has said he has a “team” of people working his Twitter, and to watch to see what happens as of midnight. As of before midnight, he has twitted no tweets.

UPDATE: The feed is live. Here is Chávez’ very first tweet. We will bring you more updates on this gripping  new development, like, pretty much never.

Posted in Odd, Politics, Venezuela | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Mockus running away with it

This is almost ridiculous. According to the latest polls, Mockus leads Santos 38% to 29%, and in a runoff he would absolutely dominate, with 50% to Santos’ 37%. I think it might be time for Chávez to start squabbling with someone else, and for the rest of us to start wondering what a Mockus presidency would actually look like.

Posted in Colombia, Politics | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Anywhere but there

They did it. Arizona – a state for old people and unemployed real estate brokers – now has the most fascist immigration laws in the country. I try not to write about happenings in the United States in this space, but since Lat/Am Daily criticizes so many other countries in the Americas for their human rights violations, I’ll make an exception for this travesty.

From the New York Times:

The law, which proponents and critics alike said was the broadest and strictest immigration measure in generations, would make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and give the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.

Let’s see, where was I the last time I was required to carry documents proving my non-illegal status? Oh, that’s right, I was in Cuba. Then again, no one’s ever accused the US right wingers of being consistent.

Enjoy your police state.

Posted in Human Rights | Tagged | 5 Comments

Santos and Mockus tied

Folks, we have a race. According to the latest poll results, Santos and Mockus are technically tied for first place, polling with 35% and 34% of the vote. Also?

If the second round of the presidential election were between Santos and Mockus, the former mayor of Bogotá would win the election with 50%, over the former defense minister’s 44%.

And that’s from El Tiempo, which is owned by Santos’ family. Hot damn.

Posted in Colombia, Politics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Pecados de mi Padre

This looks like a fascinating movie: Pecados de mi Padre – Sins of my Father – purports to be a documentary on the life of Pablo Escobar’s son, Sebastián, but it also appears to have a healthy bit of good clean footage and storytelling about Pablo himself.


However, I have to say that having read Killing Pablo the whole thing seems a little weird. According to my foggy recollection, during Pablo’s final days, 16-year-old Sebastián was Pablo’s communication link to the world and to his troops, such as they were by that point.

And he took to the job pretty heartily.

That would make Sebastián a little more than just the innocent bystander he appears to be portraying himself as. Of course, many of us at 16 would have done something similarly craven if given the chance, but I still wonder if this documentary is an attempt at laundering the past.

Anyway, lots of questions. Hope I can find this somewhere other than HBO.

(Thanks to Anahí for the tip on this one.)

Posted in Arts and Culture, Colombia, History, War on drugs | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Untethering

Everyone seems to agree that the economies of Latin America are experiencing a nice little recovery. The IMF, for example, just raised its forecasts for the region and is now projecting 4.1% GDP growth for the region, with 4.2% growth for Mexico and 5.5% for Brazil. Oh boy, numbers.

But here’s something interesting.

In an analysis of the region’s sovereign debt prospects (PDF), Fitch Ratings divides the region’s economies into three “camps.” One camp includes countries like Venezuela, Argentina, and Ecuador, whose recovery will be slower than that of the rest of the world for reasons that should surprise no one (high inflation, weak institutions, poor fiscal discipline, if you must know).

In a second camp are countries like Chile, Peru, and Brazil, whose good fiscal discipline, low political risk, and safe investment environments mean their economies will be growing like weeds this year and next.

Then we have the middle camp, which is basically countries that cast their development lot with the United States: Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador. And here’s the interesting part. Fitch projects this group will see only a moderately-paced recovery specifically because they’re tied to the US.

Meanwhile, Fitch says the Chile/Peru/Brazil group is doing particularly well partly because it does more business with China.

So I ask you: At what other point in recent history has easy access and close ties to the US economy been seen as a disadvantage?

(Original image courtesy H. Langos via Wikimedia Commons.)

Posted in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Economy, El Salvador, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela | Tagged | Leave a comment
  • DAILY LINKS

    • 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]