September 02, 2014

Hugo Chavez gets his own prayer

IMG_0122In some quarters, Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez is treated like a saint.

Shortly after his death in March 2013, an informal shrine to him popped up by his hilltop grave. Now he's got his own prayer.

Ultimas Noticias reports that at the close of a socialist workshop on Monday attended by President Nicolas Maduro the delegates were led in the "Prayer of the Delegate," which is being referred to as the Chavista "Our Father."

Here's the opening line: "Our Chavez who art in heaven, the earth, the sea and in us, the delegates, hallowed be thy name."

Maduro could use some divine intervention. With plummeting approval ratings and a tanking economy he's announced a shakeup is in the works.  


October 28, 2013

Peace, Politics clash in Colombia as presidential race heats up

Ever since President Juan Manuel Santos announced last year his intention to pursue peace talks with the country’s largest guerrilla group, he’s been under attack from his predecessor and former boss Alvaro Uribe. Over the weekend, Uribe unveiled his latest weapon in the war: a candidate to face Santos in the April 25 presidential race.

Óscar Iván Zuluaga, 54, a former mayor, senator and minister of finance, beat out two rivals to clench the nomination for Uribe’s Democratic Center party. He called himself Uribe’s most loyal pupil and made it clear where he stands on the peace talks taking place in Cuba with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

“Peace is not in Havana,” he said in his nomination speech. “The national agenda isn’t up for negotiation with the FARC.”

“I have never believed in this [peace] process because it’s based on a mistaken premise,” he told El Tiempo newspaper. “A legitimate state cannot sit down on equal terms with an organization that commits terrorist acts and finances itself through narco-traffic.”

Read more here:

October 15, 2013

Leaders of Dominican Rep. and Ecuador top new ranking, US and Uruguay at bottom

Mexico’s Consulta Mitofsky recently put out its annual ranking of regional leaders, which found Dominican Rep. President Danilo Medina on top and US President Barack Obama at the very bottom. The ranking is based on approval ratings in each country and they’re not strictly comparable, but let's not let the small print get in the way of a good list.

Two interesting points:

1)      Ecuador’s Rafael Correa remains hugely popular. (Compared to last year he fell one spot in the rankings but his approval numbers are actually up.)

2)      Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro debuts on the list at #8 after his late boss, Hugo Chávez, exited the rankings at #4 last year.

Check out the full report here.

Otherwise, here are the takeaway numbers:

#1 Dominican Republic  - Danilo Medina 88%

#2 Ecuador  - Rafael Correa 84% [He was ranked at #1 with 80% last year]

#3 Panama – Ricardo Martinelli 69%

#4 Nicaragua - Daniel Ortega 66%

#5 El Salvador – Mauricio Funes 64%

#6 Bolivia – Evo Morales 59%

#7 Mexico – Enrique Peña Nieto 56%

#8 Venezuela - Nicolás Maduro 48% [The late Hugo Chávez was #4 last year with 64% approval]

#9 Guatemala – Otto Perez 48%

#10 Uruguay – Jose Mujica 45%

#11 USA – Barack Obama 44%

August 05, 2013

An experiment in Amazon conservation faces economic reality


I recently returned for Ecuador where I was working on this story about one of the most innovative and ambitious conservation plans ever attempted.

The Yasuní-ITT Initiative was designed to leave more than 846 million barrels of crude oil untouched, in perpetuity, beneath Yasuní National Park — rioting with unknown species and tribes living in voluntary isolation.

In exchange, the government asked the world to cover just half of the crude’s $7.2 billion market price.

Environmental groups praised the plan as a novel way to slash greenhouse gases. In 2010, the United Nations threw its support behind the project, setting up a trust fund to receive and manage donations. There were hopes that crowd-sourcing conservation might be a model for other developing nations.

But six years after its launch, those goals are proving elusive. The plan has raised less than 10 percent of the $3.6 billion it’s seeking. Ecuador’s government says it has received $116.7 million and has pledges for an additional $220 million — some of it in non-cash cooperation. The United Nations trust fund has just $9.8 million in the bank.

The shortfall is driving speculation that Ecuador might be forced to drill for crude in the ITT oil block (short for Ishpingo, Tambococha, Tiputini), which it says holds 20 percent of the nation’s reserves.

“We want to keep 400 million tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere,” President Rafael Correa told a crowd in April. “But if the international community doesn’t help share the responsibility, we have to make the best decision for the Ecuadorean people.”

Correa and his cabinet held a meeting about the fate of the project in June and are expecting to meet again in coming weeks. Officials say drilling the ITT is on the table.

In the balance is one of the most biodiverse spots on the planet. The ITT block is among the most isolated areas of Yasuní National Park, a 2.4 million-acre U.N. biosphere reserve, which holds about one-third of all of the Amazon’s amphibian species, even though it represents just a small fraction of the total area. In any given two-and-a-half acre plot of the Yasuní — roughly the size of a soccer pitch — there are more species of trees than in the United States and Canada combined.

An entomologist from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History told me that 85% of all the insects he collects in Yasuni are unknown to researchers. 

PHOTO: Santiago Serrano

See the full story here. 

Interested in supporting the cause? You can donate as little as $2 though the UNDP website. 

May 01, 2013

New study finds the press in six Latin American nations "not free."

The percentage of the world’s population living in societies with a fully free press has fallen to its lowest level in over a decade, according to a Freedom House report released today.

The study, "Freedom of the Press 2013," found an overall downturn in global media freedom in 2012 "punctuated by dramatic decline in Mali, deterioration in Greece, and a further tightening of controls in Latin America."

In Latin America, 15 countries were ranked with a "free press," 14 had a "partly free" press and six had "not free" press.

Among the Latin America highlights are:

St. Lucia ranked among the top for press freedom coming in at 12 out of 196 on the list.

Costa Rica came in at  23 (tied with the United States.)

Peru came in at 89

Bolivia and Panama tied at 94

Argentina 109

Colombia 112

The nations ranked "Not Free" were:

Mexico, Ecuador, Paraguay tied at 134

Honduras 140 

Venezuela 168

And at the bottom of the barrel was Cuba at 191. It's tied with Iran. 

See the full Freedom House list here

November 08, 2012

The US elections as seen from south of the Rio Grande

I spent election day on Colombian naval base on the Pacific. Military men are pretty circumspect when it comes to politics, but everyone said it wouldn't have mattered who won the vote, because US-Colombia relations are so institutionalized and far-reaching that they're immune to politics. I'm not sure that's completely true, but thought it was an interesting sentiment.

My colleagues Mimi Whitefield and Tim Johnson take a deeper look at the Latin American reaction to the US vote in today's Miami Herald.  

MEXICO CITY -- There’s agreement across the region that Latin America wasn’t a priority during the first term of President Barack Obama but analysts say there are issues that might raise the profile of Latin America and the Caribbean during the president’s second term. Among them: trade, potential political change in the region, the potent voting bloc U.S. Hispanics have become, immigration, changing U.S. attitudes toward drug policy and security. But, in general, regional expectations for meaningful change in U.S. Latin American and Caribbean policy during Obama’s second term were muted. The campaigns of both Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney “proved that Latin America is not a priority for the United States,’’ said Simon Pachano, a political science professor at the Latin American Faculty for Social Sciences in Ecuador. “Latin America existed when they were looking for Hispanic votes, but it wasn’t present in their foreign policy proposals.”

Read the full story here.


September 25, 2012

Ecuador, Venezuela lead ranking of hemisphere's most popular leaders

Mexico's Consulta Mitofsky just put out their regional leadership list. The ranking is based on approval ratings so they're not strictly comparable nation-to-nation, but let's not let that get in the way of a good list.

Approval ratings are usually a good indicator of a candidate's election chances, so we'll have three opportunities in coming months to test that thesis. Hugo Chavez (ranked No. 4) is facing reelection Oct. 7, Rafael Correa (ranked No. 1!) faces reelection in February, and, of course, Barack Obama (ranked No. 10) has his chance Nov. 6. 

Without further ado: 

Top 5 Leaders in the Region based on approval ratings

#1 Ecuador - Rafael Correa 80%

#2 El Salvador - Mauricio Funes 72%

#3 Guatemala - Otto Perez 69%

#4 Venezuela - Hugo Chavez 64%

#5 Brazil - Dilma Rousseff 62%

...And the Bottom 5:

#16 Canada- Stephen Harper 37%

#17 Paraguay - Federico Franco 36%

#18 Chile - Sebastian Pinera 36%

#19 Honduras - Porfirio Lobo 14%

#20 Costa Rica - Laura Chinchilla 13%

To see the full list click here.

August 03, 2012

The Olympic issue: Cuba has best per capita showing except for New Zealand

It's day seven of the Olympics and time to see how Latin America is faring in the medal race. While none of the nations have broken the Top 10, there's plenty to be proud of. Colombia's Rigoberto Uran came out of nowhere on day one to win a silver in cycling and trounce the hometown favorites. Venezuelan Fencer Ruben Limardo (seen biting his medal below) won that nation's first gold since 1968. And as usual, Cuba is doing very well considering its size. With a population of 11 million and 5 medals so far, that works out to 1 medal for every 2.2 million residents. Unless I am missing something, that's the best per capita showing save New Zealand (six medals and a population of 4.3 million, or 1 medal for every 716,66 people).

Here's the Latino per captia breakdown:

Cuba            1 medal per 2.2 mln

Colombia     1 medal per 15 mln

Mexico         1 medal per 16 mln

Venezuela   1 medal per 28 mln

Brazil           1 medal per 34 mln

And here's the medal breakdown

Nation  Gold    Silver  Bronze  Total    

Brazil    1        1         4            6

Cuba     2        2         1            5

Mex.     0       3         1             4

Col.       0       2         1            3

VZ.        1        0         0            1     

And here's the medal biter:

January 23, 2012

Venezuela: Chavez says consulate closure not about hamstringing primaries

The rumble over Venezuela's consulate in Miami continues. On Sunday, President Hugo Chavez insisted that his decision to close the office had to do with the safety of the staff there, and not any desire to hamstring the Feb. 12 opposition primaries. 

If you're unfamiliar with the spat, check out this story. 

"Now that we closed the consulate because of threats to our personnel, they accuse me of trying to sabotage the primary elections and that it's an abuse of the Venezuelans that live in Miami," he said during his Sunday television show. "Now they say we're the ones being abusive."

South Florida exiles are concerned they will have nowhere to cast their ballots as the coalition of opposition groups vote for a single candidate to face-off against Chavez in October. 

Chavez has said that Venezuelan exile groups were threatening the staff - a charge those groups deny. 

But during a US Department of State briefing last week, the spokesmen did acknowledge there had been...something.

Here's the Jan 17 exchange with Deputy Department Spokesman Mark C. Toner

QUESTION: Yesterday the country recalled its consular staff in Miami, saying they faced grave and imminent danger. So what – do you have a reaction to that?

MR. TONER: Well, I mean, obviously we take the security of all foreign missions very, very seriously. This is something, as you’re well aware, that we talk about in terms of other governments around the world, that we ask – urge them to uphold their obligations under the Vienna Conventions. We hold ourselves, obviously, to those same standards. If a Venezuelan official in the U.S. did receive any threats, those threats should be reported to the Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, who also works with relevant law enforcement agencies to take appropriate steps to address them.

Obviously, the --

QUESTION: Have you received any reports of threats?

MR. TONER: Well, I’m – let me finish, Kirit.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

MR. TONER: The decision on how to manage its consulates and how to provide consular services to Venezuelan citizens is ultimately that of the Venezuelan Government. Now specifically to Kirit’s questions, we did previously assist the Venezuelan Consulate in Miami to address some minor security concerns in December, but since then we’ve not received any reports of any new threats against the consulate or its employees, nor any additional requests for security support.

QUESTION: Can you describe what those threats --

MR. TONER: I can’t. I can’t get into the details.

QUESTION: But you described them as minor. I mean, what is minor?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. TONER: Not significant.

QUESTION: Thank you.


August 20, 2011

Colombia cashes in on ‘.co’ Internet domain

Dotco-logo_rgb For years, Alexander Anthony Mijares had been trying to purchase the website for his Miami-based manufacturing company — but the owner wasn’t willing to sell. So when Mijares heard that domains ending in “.co” were being offered, he jumped at the chance and bought about 60 sites, including

“Of all the domains I ever heard of, this one made the most sense,” he said. “Co is the international symbol for corporations and I wanted to make sure I had every single one of my companies covered.”

While “Co” is shorthand for business around the globe, in the world of Internet domains it’s the country code for Colombia. And for the last year, the South American nation has been turning those two letters into online gold.

When .co was opened up to international buyers in July 2010, there were 8,000 requests in the first minute. Now, there are more than 1.1 million registered sites in more than 200 countries. The United States accounts for about 50 percent of all .co registrations and Florida is the second-largest market after California.

Read the full story here.


jim wyss

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

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