Insulza stepping out

A week after his reelection to a second (and final) five-year term as Secretary General of the OAS, Chilean José Miguel Insulza is coming out swinging. First he demanded Venezuela release the head of an opposition television channel jailed for insulting the president, then he requested Cuba release its infirm political prisoners, then he urged the FARC to release all its hostages, not just the handful released this week.

For a guy who by some lights tended to tread softly on matters near and dear to the hearts of Chávez and his allies, this is kind of an about face. What happened?

Basically, politics.

Presidents gunning for a second term generally need to avoid pissing off voters. The OAS has 35 voting members, 15 of which are in Chávez’ Petrocaribe oil give-away program and two others of which are in his ALBA tree fort. So angering Chávez or his allies could easily have meant thumbs down for Insulza’s second term, or at the very least a loud enough tantrum to make the other OAS countries put their support behind a less controversial candidate.

(If there’s one thing Chávez and his allies are good at, it’s tantrums.)

Now that he’s slipped quietly into his second term, however, Insulza has five years ahead of him and no chance for another reelection, so he can take aim at whatever he likes, free from the bonds of electoral politics. Maybe he’ll try to build himself a legacy, the kind that evaded him during his first term. It would be wonderful to see OAS bodies turn both barrels on the human rights violations of some of the larger, more influential member states, like Mexico and Brazil (or, ahem, the United States).

Fortunately for human rights victims in the Americas, Insulza now has nothing to lose.

Posted in Cuba, Human Rights, Politics, Venezuela | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Animal rescue in Colombia

A short NYT video on the largest animal refuge in Colombia, built in a residential area of Cali. Many of the animals come from drug lord menageries. The full article on the refuge is here.

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

Beef prices in Argentina

GlobalPost.com has published a great little video on beef prices in Argentina. The government has regulated prices and exports to keep citizens happy, but that means producers have been pinched. Some are no longer producing, which could result in a beef shortage in the country with the highest per capita beef consumption in the world.

Posted in Argentina, Economy | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Be back soon

A combination of Holy Week, other obligations, and severe food poisoning means I’ll be taking a break from blogging for a few days. See you on the other side.

Posted in Housekeeping | Leave a comment

BREAKING: Ricky Martin is gay

Shocking, right? The Puerto Rican singer held forth on his Web site today:

What will happen from now on? It doesn’t matter. I can only focus on what’s happening to me in this moment. The word “happiness” takes on a new meaning for me as of today. It has been a very intense process. Every word that I write in this letter is born out of love, acceptance, detachment and real contentment. Writing this is a solid step towards my inner peace and vital part of my evolution.

I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am.

Good for him. Bad for the 20-something (30-something?) women who have crushed on him all these years. Have a nice Semana Santa everyone.

(H/T Gawker)

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Arias out of bounds

Juan Santamaría, the pacifist.

Sometimes, almost-former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias is insufferable. He has this schtick where he travels around the world preaching that other countries should abolish their militarys like Costa Rica did, and then the world will be a better place.

No doubt it would be, but this is exactly the kind of self-regarding smugness that makes the rest of Central America hate the Ticos. Now Uruguay hates the Ticos too, after Arias decided he has a better idea for how they should run their affairs:

“I’m going to ask President Mujica to consider abolishing his army. Why does Uruguay need an army? Who is Uruguay’s enemy? Is Argentina going to invade, is Brazil going to invade?” Arias said in an interview.

“I’m going to write a letter to President Mujica to ask him to consider what we considered in 1948, when we asked ourselves, what do we need an army for? Why don’t we get rid of it, and declare peace with the world? I certainly think that Uruguay could do the same,” added Arias, who holds a Nobel Peace Prize.

Wow, what a great idea, what could possibly go wrong? I guess this argument might make sense to a country that’s never been in a conflict with powerful, well-armed neighbors (a few dozen of William Walker’s drunks crossing the border from Nicaragua doesn’t count). Historically, however, it’s a deeply hypocritical position because when facing conflict, Costa Rica invariably hides under the skirts of someone else’s military.

During the conflict between the Sandinistas and the Contras, Costa Rica sold out its peace principles immediately to allow the U.S. government to operate clandestinely from its northern border, in exchange for billions of dollars in aid money. Similarly, faced with massive amounts of drug trafficking both along its coasts and in the air, defenseless Costa Rica has turned time and again to the U.S. Navy and Air Force to bail it out.

I guess criticizing your neighbor for buying fire and flood insurance is pretty easy when you rent.

Posted in Costa Rica, Politics, Uruguay | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Unclear on the concept

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa is actually going to do it: He’s ordered his foreign ministry to prepare a report on human rights abuses in the United States, in retaliation for similar reports released regularly by the U.S. State Department.

Correa had threatened to do this when the State Department report on Ecuador was first released. Now I guess Chávez egged him on sufficiently during their recent bilateral meeting that he’s pulling the trigger.

When these reports are thorough and more or less even-handed (like the lengthy one produced by China this year) they can be pretty damn interesting. After all, from its treatment of minor drug offenders, illegal immigrants, and “illegal enemy combatants,” to its invasion of other countries and use of trigger-happy private military contractors unaccountable to domestic courts, the U.S. has a lot to answer for.

So what’s the report going to look like?

I’ve ordered the foreign ministry… to prepare a report on the human rights situation in the United States and denounce the existence of political prisoners, five Cubans who received only a pantomime, a monstrosity of a trial.

The Cuban Five? Really? You have to go and beat that old, worn out drum? The poor, innocent Cubans who were also international spies? Aside from being tenuous, it’s not even Ecuador’s fight, and it completely misses the point of human rights reports, which is that they criticize countries for the way they treat their own citizens. Like, you know, when they jail journalists for insulting government officials.

Color me disappointed.

Posted in Cuba, Ecuador, Human Rights | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The truth is out there

Rumors and accusations have been floating around for some time about links between the Chávez government and the FARC. Now Adam Isaacson at the Plan Colombia and Beyond blog has done us all a great favor by compiling all the evidence that’s come out over recent years in one place.

The conclusion? There is no conclusion. Though there have been accusations from both the Colombians and the U.S. government, as well as statements of support for the FARC and its members from the Venezuelan government, so far hard evidence is scarce, inconclusive, or circumstantial. Yet people – especially North American-type people – keep talking:

Words matter. Colombia could interpret (misinterpret?) the [Obama] administration’s message as a “green light,” a signal that Colombia would be justified in taking military action in Venezuelan territory, and that Colombia would have U.S. support in the political and military firestorm that would follow such action.

Precision is important, because it will determine what actions follow. The question the Obama administration needs to answer unambiguously, then, is: does it believe that Venezuela’s government, as a matter of policy (as opposed to the actions of corrupt or rogue elements), is aiding and abetting the FARC today?

The important thing, Isaacson says, is for governments on all sides stop accusing Venezuela of supporting the FARC until some hard, irrefutable evidence emerges, as such support would basically be grounds for war. Should evidence of Venezuelan support for the FARC emerge, Venezuela and Colombia should take their dispute to the UN Security Council before the shooting starts.

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

Good for a laugh

I give you, the Venezuelan version of People of Wal-Mart, Solo en Venezuela (Only in Venezuela).

“The door bell doesn’t work, please knock with the hose.” OK, fine, one more:

Posted in Arts and Culture, Odd, Venezuela | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Santos in the lead

A survey sponsored by El Tiempo puts Juan Manuel Santos in the lead for Colombia’s May 30 presidential elections, with 34.1% of the vote. He’s followed up by Conservative candidate Noemí Sanín, with 21.7% of the vote.

As a candidate needs 50% plus one vote to win in the first round, the election will almost certainly be decided in a runoff, and that runoff will be between two candidates from the right. The survey finds that more Colombians have a positive opinion of Sanín than Santos, meaning she might give Uribe’s former defense minister a run for his money.

Posted in Colombia, Politics | 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]