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May 31, 2012

Want Joy? Move to Venezuela

Columbia University's Earth Institute published its first World Happiness Report last month, and Venezuela is pleased. The study found the Andean nation was the most joyous place in South America and No. 2 in Latin America after Costa Rica.

Out of 156 nation's ranked, Venezuela came in at 19, behind Costa Rica at 12. Brazil was 25, Argentina was 39 and Colombia was 41. Nicaragua was the grumpiest place in LatAm at 89. 

"It is not just wealth that makes people happy: Political freedom, strong social networks and an absence of corruption are together more important than income in explaining well-being differences between the top and bottom countries," the institute said.

Check out the full report here. 



May 25, 2012

The U.S. Human Rights report: losing friends and alienating allies

The U.S. State Department released it's 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices yesterday, where it highlighted violence in Honduras and Mexico, mass detentions in Cuba and an executive power-grab in Venezuela. Read the story about it here and see the full report here. 

Today, Venezuela responded, calling the annual report "irresponsible."

"It is particularly scandalous that the U.S. government aspires to establish itself as a “world judge” in terms of human rights and meanwhile largely does not accept the agreements of the Universal System to promote and protect human rights, nor its mechanisms of oversight and control," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

They have a point. The United States never ratified the OAS' Inter-American Human Rights Commission, or the International Criminal Court. According to this 2009 Human Rights Watch article, the U.S. hasn't ratified an international human rights treaty since 2002. 

While Venezuela's reaction was to be expected, the HR report also drew fire from the US top ally in the region, Colombia. While President Juan Manuel Santos was ringing the opening bell at the NYSE this morning, Colombian Foreign MInister Maria Angela Holguin told the W radio station that the report was "unfair" because it doesn't recognize the progress the country has made on the human rights front. 

Venezuela-Cuba cable. Latest victim of government's code of silence?

Early this  week, the Associated Press reported that a much-touted fiber optic cable laid between Venezuela and Cuba in February, 2010, seemed to be MIA. The Cuban government hadn’t mentioned it lately and Internet on the island remained the slowest in the hemisphere, the report said.

Today, Venezuela issued a statement saying the 1,600-km cable is active, has a capacity of 640 gigabytes and has helped speed communication with the island and throughout the region.  

"It's absolutely operational. It will depend on the Cuban government what it uses it for. Of course that's their sovereign matter, but we know that the undersea cable is in full operation," Jorge Arreaza, Venezuela's science and technology minister, told reporters, according to the AP.

If that’s true, the Venezuelan government could have saved itself the headache by communicating a bit more with the AP when they were writing their original story. The agency said it had tried repeatedly to tallk with government officials. Despite having an active communications department that sends out dozens of press releases a day, trying to get a Venezuelan official to answer a question can be difficult.

Several months ago, I was working on a story about Venezuela’s version of one laptop per child. I admire what they are trying to do and I was simply trying to get someone from the Ministry of Science and Technology to confirm some numbers. It never happened.

It’s that kind of silence that fuels rumors and seems to validate speculation – whether it’s Chávez’s health or the status of an undersea cable.  In Miami recently, a telecom executive told me Venezuela’s Simon Bolivar I communications satellite, which was launched in 2008, never worked.  Knowledgeable sources have since told me otherwise, and in today’s release the government highlighted the satellite’s success.

The government also said it will be launching a second Chinese-manufactured satellite, the Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda, by year’s end. The $140 million “remote viewing and observation” satellite will be used for planning social projects, defense, agriculture and urban planning, Arreaza said.

That sounds like grist for the rumor mill.


jim wyss

Inside South America is written by Jim Wyss, the South America bureau chief for the Miami Herald and McClatchy Newspapers.

Feel free to send a story suggestion. Read Jim's stories at MiamiHerald.com.

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