La Plaza

News from Latin America and the Caribbean

Category: Argentina

The week in Latin America: Cattle vs. soybeans

Guachos argentina latimes

Here are stories that made headlines this week in Latin America, and highlights from our coverage of the region by Times reporters and your blogger here at La Plaza:

Suit dismissed in Border Patrol shooting

A U.S. judge has dismissed a lawsuit seeking damages for the family of a 15-year-old Ciudad Juarez boy who was shot and killed by a Border Patrol agent last year, the El Paso Times reports. The death of Sergio Hernandez Guereca occurred on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, and thus out of U.S. jurisdiction, the judge overseeing the suit ruled.

Here's our La Plaza report on the June 2010 incident, in which border agent Jesus Mesa Jr. shot at a group of teens who were allegedly throwing rocks at him. Hernandez's family plans to appeal the dismissal of the case.

Trading cattle for soybeans in Argentina

Special correspondent Chris Kraul tells us about a cattle rancher in Argentina -- a nation synonymous with delicious beef -- and found that the global commodities boom is making soybean production far more lucrative for Argentina's famed gauchos.

The shift is challenging traditions in the Pampas, the wide plains that have inspired Argentine artists and writers for generations. "The Pampas are no longer the open plains with a gaucho sipping mate in the shade," one analyst told Kraul. "Now it's a green industry, motorizing the entire economy."

Peru suspends coca eradiction program

The government of Peru's recently sworn-in President Ollanta Humala has suspended a coca eradiction program, surprising U.S. envoys who seek to help countries in the region scale back the production of cocaine.

Peru says the program, which the U.S. has backed with $10 million this year, is under evaluation as the new president reviews its eradication efforts overall. The Andean nation is the second-largest producer of coca, the base material for cocaine, after Colombia.

Dominican hotel owner suspected in journalist slaying

Authorities in the Dominican Republic are searching for a hotel owner suspected of ordering the killing of a muckracking journalist who published alleged links between organized crime and anti-trafficking prosecutors. Read more in La Plaza.

-- Daniel Hernandez

Photo: Cattle rancher Mario Caceres with his soybean crops in Argentina. Credit: Andres D'Alessandro / For The Times

The week in Latin America: Don't cross this union boss

Elba esther gordillo ap

Here are stories that made top headlines this week in Latin America, and highlights from our coverage of the region by Times reporters and your blogger here at La Plaza:

Poverty grows in Mexico

Mexico's government and political class struggled to come to terms with new figures that showed poverty is steadily on the rise in Mexico, swelling to nearly half the national population. Of those 52 million Mexicans now identified as poor, more than 11 million live in extreme poverty, the independent findings said. "This government like no other has sought to give opportunity to the poor," President Felipe Calderon responded.

Boom times in Argentina?

Argentina's economy, meanwhile, is booming and expected to grow by 8% this year, reports special correspondent Chris Kraul from Buenos Aires. Exports, construction, and auto manufacturing are on a roll. But trouble spots abound, including a rising inflation rate and capital flight of billions of dollars. "No one questions that the economy is running well," one analyst said, "but it's running on steroids."

This is Elba Esther's world

The poor quality of public education in Mexico is considered a key factor in explaining migration to the United Stats and the lure of organized crime for many young Mexicans. For many people, the failure of the schools has a person's name: Elba Esther Gordillo, the flamboyant chief of Mexico's behemoth teachers union. A profile of the hugely powerful Gordillo by Times correspondent Tracy Wilkinson -- for which "La Maestra" declined to be interviewed -- lays bare how entrenched power hierarchies in Mexico reinforce crushing class barriers for millions.

A 6,000-year sentence in Guatemala

Four former Guatamalan soldiers were handed a stunning sentence of more than 6,000 years each for involvement in a notorious massacre during Guatemala's long civil war. Although the maximum time anyone can actually spend behind bars in Guatemala is 50 years, the sentences sent a strong message to the international human rights community on the pursuit of justice for wartime atrocities in the small Central American nation. The 1982 Dos Erres massacre that led to Tuesday's sentencing involved the systematic rape and brutal beating deaths of 201 civilians. The former soldiers maintain their innocence. 

-- Daniel Hernandez

Photo: Teachers union boss Elba Esther Gordillo of Mexico. Credit: Associated Press

The week in Latin America: Allende suicide confirmed

Allende archive suicide

Here are stories that made top headlines in Latin America this week, and highlights from our coverage of the region by Times reporters and your blogger here at La Plaza:


Salvador Allende's death confirmed as suicide

Nearly four decades after the violent military coup in Chile, results of a judge-ordered autopsy on the remains of ousted President Salvador Allende confirmed that he killed himself and was not slain by soldiers attacking La Moneda, the presidential palace, on Sept. 11, 1973.

The inquest results, which were received with "great peace" by Allende's survivors, put to rest a significant historical mystery of the 20th century and a lingering wound on the Chilean national psyche. Allende was the first democratically elected socialist in Latin America, but his presidency was cut short by the coup that brought to power the brutal U.S.-backed dictatorship in Chile under Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

The death of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda, shortly after the coup, is also being investigated in Chile, as well as hundreds of other deaths presumed to be tied to the dictatorship.


Another high-profile corruption case fails in Mexico

An operation targeting officials in Michoacan collapses. Jorge Hank Rhon walks free in Tijuana. Now, the ex-mayor of Cancun is the latest high-profile corruption suspect to be released in Mexico after authorities failed to build a solid case against him, reports The Times.

Gregorio Sanchez, arrested in May, 2010, walked free on Wednesday, but was ordered to wear a tracking bracelet while prosecutors attempt to build another set of charges. Sanchez was campaigning for governor of the state of Quintana Roo at the time of his arrest on suspicion of cartel ties. Supporters claim he was targeted for political reasons, an allegation also raised against the similar failed cases in Tijuana and Michoacan.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced in Washington this week a "surgical strike" against La Familia cartel operations north of the border, with 1,985 arrests. The 20-month investigation "stripped La Familia of its manpower" in the U.S., authorities said. La Familia is based in Michoacan.


Buenos Aires mayoral election heading to runoff

The capital of Argentina looks to remain a center-right counterweight against the leftist-populist government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner after mayoral election results in Buenos Aires.

A runoff is scheduled for July 31 between conservative incumbent Mauricio Macri, who won 47% of the vote on July 10, and leftist Fernandez ally Daniel Filmus, who won about 28%. The election results left one rock-pop singer in "disgust," a comment that exposed deep social and class rifts in Buenos Aires.

Fernandez seeks to be re-elected in October.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: An archive image shows the body of Chilean President Salvador Allende being removed from the presidential palace in Santiago on Sept. 11, 1973. Credit:

'Disgusted' by half of Buenos Aires, singer reveals social rifts in Argentina election column

Mauricio Macri election result

"Half of Buenos Aires disgusts me," a well-known singer announced in a newspaper column in Argentina last week (link in Spanish). "I've been feeling this way for a while."

The writer, Fito Paez, has sparked a political controversy with the essay published in the paper Pagina 12. Paez was referring to results of the mayoral election on July 10, in which incumbent Mauricio Macri of the center-right opposition won 47% of the vote, signaling -- in Paez's tough opinion -- a capital almost half-full with selfish and superficial people.

Not everyone agreed, of course.

"Here, half the porteños [Buenos Aires residents] continue trying to solve the world from tables at bars, taxis, stupefying themselves with prophets from the void dressed like family television entertainers because 'people like having a good time,' or showing up to any public event for the chance of appearing in a photo in a trendy magazine," Paez wrote. Half "are bothered by any notion tied to human rights ... or spend the day tweeting stupidities that no one cares about."

Paez, obviously, had been supporting Daniel Filmus, the center-left candidate from President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's ruling populist coalition. Filmus came in second in the voting in Buenos Aires, which first elected Macri mayor in 2007. A runoff between the two is scheduled for July 31.

The Paez column has turned into a political tussle of its own (an automated translation is here), exposing lingering social and class rifts in Argentina. Buenos Aires is seen by many as a bastion of the elite, out of touch and indifferent to provincial Argentines, who make up the bulk of the Kirchner coalition base. The widow president is preparing a run for reelection in October.

In a bit of political dissonance, an advisor to the conservative Macri notched up the rhetoric on Paez by characterizing the rock-pop balladeer as "fascist" for stereotyping a good sum of his neighbors. Being called a fascist is not to be taken lightly in a country still healing wounds from its past military dictatorship. Critics also accused Paez of hypocrisy. So concerned with the poor, they huffed, and he lives in the capital's exclusive Recoleta district?

The papers have been brimming with articles on the column. Macri supporters reacted with indignation at the offenses lobbed by the singer, a native of the neighboring Santa Fe province. "It's fascists against fascists," quipped a correspondent for a Peruvian daily. 

"Fito Paez I love disgusting you," one person wrote on Twitter. "I was terrorized by the thought of sharing your tastes or ideas." (Kirchner's official Twitter account was copied on the note, for apparent emphasis.) 

Paez has lain low since the controversy erupted. But Kirchner supporters are coming to his aid in the news media. Writer Andres Rivera said Paez's words were "appropriate and moderate," adding ominously that the election results confirm for him that "Buenos Aires is crossing into fascism."

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Buenos Aires mayoral candidate Mauricio Macri celebrates election results on July 10. Credit:

A senseless end for Facundo Cabral, and shame in Guatemala

Facundo cabral bellas artes poster

The brutality and senselessness of armed conflicts in Latin America -- guerrillas, cartels, paramilitaries -- can often seem to know no boundaries. In shootouts and massacres, civilians and migrants usually make up the bulk of the victims, no matter the era.

Facundo Cabral, the folk singer from Argentina who was killed in Guatemala City on Saturday by gunfire reportedly not intended for him, was as civilian and migratory as you can get in Latin America.

Cabral was eighth-born to a poor family in Buenos Aires in 1937, and later grew up in the far southern tip of Argentina, the province of Tierra del Fuego. He ran away from home at age 9 with the intent of making it back to the capital and seeking a meeting with then-President Juan Peron. The boy, gone for four months, had heard Peron "gave jobs to the poor" (links in Spanish).

His singing career took off in 1970 with an international hit, "No soy de aquí, ni soy de allá," or "I'm Not From Here, and Not from There." In spoken verse that precedes one famous video recording of the song, Cabral says, "I am not liberty, but I am he who provokes it." Cabral's greatest hit has been recorded some 700 times and in 27 languages.

After the rise of the military junta in Argentina, the singer went into exile for a time in Mexico. By 1996, he was designated a United Nations "Worldwide Messenger of Peace." Cabral, 74, toured and performed actively across the region, which is what took him for a planned series of concerts in Central America beginning last week.

He performed in Guatemala City on Tuesday and in the city of Quetzaltenango on Thursday. Early on Saturday morning, while riding to the airport, the vehicle Cabral rode in was ambushed in what authorities suspect was an organized-crime hit intended for his promoter Henry Farina, a Nicaraguan.

As of Tuesday, police in Guatemala have arrested two men in connection to the attack. Cabral's body arrived to a stricken Argentina Tuesday, carried by a Mexican air force jet.

Mourning and a sense of national shame have taken hold among many in the troubled Central American nation where the beloved folk singer died. His killing was seen as yet another senseless death in a country with one of the worst crises of violence and impunity in the region. Mexican drug cartels, pushing south, are invading territory and threatening entire governments.

Artists, performers and human rights activists have reacted with regret and soul-searching in recent days. In a letter to a newspaper, the Guatemalan singer Ricardo Arjona wrote: "As a Guatemalan, I deeply regret the impact this news will generate among international opinion. As a friend and colleague, I will lament the absence of Facundo forever."

Fans gathered before the National Palace in Guatemala City on Saturday, expressing further shock, sadness and anger. One sign held by a mourner read: "Sorry to the world for the assassination of Facundo." Guatemalans want peace and justice, the gathered said in signs, "not just for Facundo Cabral but for the future of our children."

President Alvaro Colom has declared three days of national mourning.

In what would be one of his final concerts in Guatemala City on Tuesday, Cabral told his audience: "I have given you my thanks. I will thank them in Quetzaltenango. And after that, whatever God wishes, because he knows what he does."

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Image: A 1973 poster for a Facundo Cabral concert at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City. Credit: El Pueblo de Tierra.

Cyberattacks strike networks in Brazil, revealing vulnerability across Latin America

Dilma rousseff brasil president Latin America's vulnerability to cyberattacks was laid bare in recent weeks as government networks in several countries were hacked or temporarily shut down, and hackers threatened to go after more.

On June 21, the hackers group LulzSec claimed on Twitter that it had shut down Brazil's federal government portal and the website of President Dilma Rousseff. Both sites were still not loading properly until Wednesday, demonstrating that Brazil was unable to secure the public online face of its government for more than a week.

Websites for Brazil's tax collection agency, statistics agency, army, and state oil company Petrobras were also targeted, reports said (link in Spanish), although Petrobras sought to deny the breach. The attacks have been primarily "denial of service" swarms in which a site is overloaded with users and thus shut down.

Yet reports said hackers have also accessed sensitive information, such as Brazilian military personnel's private data. Brazil's federal IT agency Serpo said in a statement that, in all, 25 attacks were carried out against government sites between June 22 and 26 (link in Portuguese).

According to a Foreign Policy Digest report in February, governments across Latin America remain deeply vulnerable to cyberwarfare, with Brazil, with its large economy and population, said to be particularly at risk.

Worldwide hacker groups such as Anonymous now appear to have cells in various Latin American countries and have carried out or threatened cyberattacks on government sites, usually announcing their plans via Twitter and YouTube. Two weeks ago, hackers shut down the Colombian Senate's website for a day (link in Spanish). On Tuesday, Anonymous shut down the website of Argentina's Senate in protest of a proposed tax on digital consumer products. The site was still not loading properly as of Thursday morning.

Attacks were also threatened on government or industry sites in Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Mexico, although these did not appear to be carried out. Anonymous had said it would strike Peru and Chile an an operation called "Andes Libre" for what it said was those governments' monitoring of social networking activity, while Anonymous said it would go after Venezuela and Nicaragua for those leftist governments' support of Moammar Kadafi in Libya.

LulzSec appears to have had a short lifespan, calling it quits after 50 days of activity, reports The Times.

Twitter accounts tied to supposed Anonymous cells in Latin America, however, remain active, with a threatened attack looming Thursday against a government-private development project in Mexico called Iniciativa Mexico.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil. Credit: Europa Press

La Plaza comments switching to Facebook

La Plaza today is switching to a new commenting system.

The system requires commenters to sign in through their Facebook accounts. People without Facebook accounts will not be able to leave comments.

Readers will have the option of posting their La Plaza comments on their Facebook walls, but that's not required.

Readers are welcome to express their opinions about the news -- and about how the new Facebook comments system is working.

Jimmy Orr, the Los Angeles Times managing editor in charge of, discussed our online comments and the Facebook system in greater depth in a March entry to the Readers' Representative Journal.

We hope to see your comments on Facebook.

-- The Foreign Staff of the Los Angeles Times

Son of British vet of Falkland Islands war becomes a citizen of Argentina

Cristina de kirchner james peck

The son of a British veteran of the 1982 Falkland Islands war has become a citizen of Argentina, stoking tensions in the two nations' still-smoldering political dispute over the islands in the South Atlantic.

Argentina's president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, personally handed newly minted citizen James Peck his Argentine identification card in a public ceremony on June 14, the 29th anniversary of the end of the Falkland war.

Peck, born on the islands, is the first Falklander to receive Argentine citizenship, reports BBC News. He said his decision to become a naturalized argentino was not politically motivated but rather a move meant to make it easier for him to see his Argentine-born children, which he discovered was difficult for him because of his British passport, reports said.

The 42-year-old artist lives in Buenos Aires and had recently separated from the mother of his children.

Peck's father fought for the British in the 10-week war that left hundreds dead on both sides after Argentina invaded the territory on April 2, 1982, under order of the then-ruling military dictatorship. Argentina still claims sovereignty over the islands, which are known as the Malvinas in Spanish.

Peck's story has played somewhat sourly in the British media, particularly since Kirchner bluntly criticized British Prime Minister David Cameron late last week.

Kirchner said Britian is "a crude colonial power in decline" and that Cameron's recent comments that the Falkland Islands should remain a British territory are an expression "of mediocrity, and almost of stupidity."

In an interview published Monday, Peck said he was unprepared for insults and the charges of treason he's received from some islanders. "I've had messages saying that if I go back I'll be shot," he said.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner with new citizen James Peck in Buenos Aires. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency

Chile volcano keeps spewing ash, grounding flights across South America

Chile volcano ap june 12

The Puyehue volcano on the border between Chile and Argentina continued to spew ash over the Andes and Patagonia regions of South America on Tuesday. The eruption is now entering its 11th day and shows no sign of stopping.

Flights were grounded from Argentina to Australia and New Zealand as ash clouds that could harm jet engines blanketed the region and moved west across the South Pacific. Flights were also being canceled in Santiago, Chile's capital (link in Spanish), as well as in Brazil and Uruguay.

The Associated Press said "booming explosives echoed across the Andes" on Monday as ash and lightning rose from the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcanic complex, which is in southern Chile just west of the border with Argentina. Activity at the volcano began on June 4. Thousands of nearby residents have been evacuated.

Concerns rose this week that the eruption could harm the region's tourism industry as the high winter ski season approaches, reports said. Here's a fresh video report (in Spanish) on the eruption from the Argentine news source Clarin.

See more photos of the ongoing eruption at our sister blog Framework.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: The Puyehue volcano emits ash and lightning on Sunday. Credit: Associated Press

Uruguay moves to overturn amnesty law, an opening for major human rights cases


Uruguay is close to overturning a law that gave amnesty for human rights crimes committed by the military during the nation's 1973-85 dictatorship. The Senate narrowly approved the measure this week, and the lower house is expected to make only minor changes. The repeal could go into effect by May 20, the day Uruguay honors political prisoners who disappeared or were killed during the military regime's crackdown on leftists.

South American countries once saddled with right-wing military dictatorships have taken various steps to end amnesties that many enacted as the army returned to its barracks and democracy was restored; Argentina, for example, has put several former generals on trial. Uruguay was one of the last to take this step; the amnesty was criticized by Amnesty International in a 2010 report, which said the law permitted impunity. And the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled earlier this year, in a forced-disappearance case, that Uruguay should scuttle the law.

"The vote to annul Uruguay's amnesty law is a major victory for justice," Tamara Taraciuk Broner of Human Rights Watch told La Plaza. "The law has been an obstacle to prosecute police and military personnel for decades."

But Uruguay's still-powerful military and opposition political parties said the amnesty should stay in place. Top military brass held a late-night meeting with President Jose Mujica on Thursday to register complaints, the Montevideo daily La Republica reported (link in Spanish).

Overturning the military amnesty was a pet project of Mujica, whose leftist supporters demanded it. Mujica, 75, is himself a former guerrilla leader imprisoned and tortured by the military.  An amnesty for crimes committed by leftist guerrillas during the same dictatorship years remains intact.

-- Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City

Photo: Uruguayan President Jose Mujica. Credit: Associated Press








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About the Reporters
Ken Ellingwood
Daniel Hernandez
Efrain Hernandez Jr.
Chris Kraul
Richard Marosi
Tracy Wilkinson