La Plaza

News from Latin America and the Caribbean

Category: Latin America

Argentina: Former dictator gets life in prison

Jorge videla court reuters

A former Argentine military dictator was sentenced Wednesday to life in a "common prison" for the torture and killing of 31 dissidents during the nation's so-called Dirty War in the 1970s and '80s.

The sentencing of Jorge Videla, center in the photo above, signals one of the harshest finishes for leaders from a period in which military juntas seized control of several Latin American nations -- often with U.S. aid -- in attempts to suppress rising leftist or Marxist threats to power.

Tens of thousands were killed or "disappeared" in Argentina after the coup against Isabel Martinez de Peron in 1976.

Other former officials from the military junta, including former Gen. Luciano Menendez, were also sentenced Wednesday in a federal courtroom in the city of Corboda. The men had defended their actions as measures taken against "terrorists" and "armed combatants" threatening Argentina's government. Three decades later, it is normal for Argentine news reports to refer to charges against former junta members as examples of "state terrorism" (link in Spanish).

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Peru: Alberto Fujimori's daughter is running for president

Keiko fujimori campaign fuerza2011

The daughter of Alberto Fujimori, the jailed former president of Peru, has launched a campaign to claim her dad's old job and is a strong contender in a wide field leading into elections next year.

As expected, Keiko Fujimori announced her candidacy earlier this month for elections scheduled in April. The 35-year-old former congresswoman organized her own political party, Fuerza 2011, in order to run. She led in preliminary polls this summer but has since slipped to third place in the most recent polling, behind a former mayor of Lima and a former president.

The three candidates are considered centrists in tight competition, with enthusiasm for the candidacy of radical ultranationalist Ollanta Humala, a foe of current President Alan Garcia, diminishing.

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Colombia's Alvaro Uribe reached out to rebels, rebels to the U.S., cables show

Alfonso cano abc

Colombia's right-wing former president, Alvaro Uribe, sought contact in the final months of his term with the FARC guerrilla army in an effort to set "road maps" for new peace talks during the government of his successor, Juan Manuel Santos, leaked U.S. diplomatic cables show.

Uribe secretly reached out to the FARC even as he pursued a hard-line campaign to eliminate the rebels by force, while publicly refusing negotiations as long as the FARC kidnapped and held hostages.

The new batch of cables, published by El Pais and other websites, also reveal that the FARC sought direct contact with the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, the Colombian capital. The FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, is the oldest active guerrilla force in Latin America and has waged war against the Colombian government for nearly half a century.

The leaked cables offer a window on the intensely complex political gamesmanship involving Colombia's government, several active guerrilla groups and outside players. These include the United States, a strong ally of Uribe through the Plan Colombia aid package, and neighboring Venezuela, seen as supportive of the FARC under the government of President Hugo Chavez.

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The L.A. Times' Greenspace environmental blog looks at Chiapas; Cancun talks

More than 190 nations gathered in Cancun this week to try to craft a treaty to reduce carbon emissions. The Times' Greenspace blog is monitoring events, including the Mexican state of Chiapas' interest in joining California's upcoming cap-and-trade market for carbon emissions.

Greenspace coverage includes entries about Chiapas, the Cancun conference itself and a "climate summit" hosted by Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in November.

- Times staff

Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega dubbed 'Chavez Mini-Me' in leaked U.S. cables

Daniel ortega hugo chavez

The president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, has received almost $1 billion in aid from President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela -- sometimes in "suitcases full of cash" sent from Caracas -- a relationship that prompted a U.S. diplomat to dub Ortega a "Chavez Mini-Me," leaked U.S. diplomatic cables show.

Ortega, the cables say, also funds his party's political campaigns with money from drug traffickers and once bribed a prominent Nicaraguan boxer to stump for him in public in exchange for not facing sexual assault charges -- which Ortega himself has faced, as alleged by his stepdaughter.

The batch of new cables, released by WikiLeaks and published by the Spanish newspaper El Pais and other sites, paint a deeply unflattering portrait of the ex-guerrilla leader, asking at one point of Ortega's foreign-policy ambitions: "Petulant Teen or Axis of Evil Wannabe?"

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Payasos entertain Los Angeles on Day of the Clowns

Historic Olvera Street Plaza in Los Angeles this weekend hosted the annual Dia de los Payasos, or Day of the Clowns, which featured nearly 60 entertainers, colorful costumes and lots of smiles.

PayasosOlveraStreetClowns120510

Read the full story on Dia de los Payasos by L.A. Times staff writer Carla Rivera.

Photo: Entertainers gather in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday for Day of the Clowns. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

Messy Mexican election reemerges in leaked cables

Congress mexico 2006 election calderon amlo reuters

The controversial 2006 presidential election that brought Felipe Calderon to power in Mexico reemerged in the secret U.S. diplomatic cables released this week, sparking a fresh controversy on Friday involving -- of all other world leaders -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

In a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, dated October 2009, President Calderon is described as telling the former U.S. director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, that he believed Chavez had "funded" his top opponent and nemesis in the race three years earlier, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Calderon ran with the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, while Lopez Obrador ran with the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD. The campaign was characterized by many at the time as the first "U.S.-style" race, with unprecedented levels of television spots. Some Calderon television ads in 2006 directly compared Lopez Obrador to Chavez, calling the leftist a "danger to Mexico."

From the cable:

Calderon emphasized that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is active everywhere, including Mexico. He went out of his way to highlight that he believes Chavez funded the PRD opposition during the Presidential campaign nearly four years ago. Chavez uses social programs, including sending doctors, to curry political influence, and there are governors in Mexico who may be friendly to him. Calderon said that Mexico is trying to isolate Venezuela through the Rio Group. Calderon also commented that he is particularly concerned about Venezuela's relations with Iran, and that the Iranian Embassy in Mexico is very active. Calderon underscored that Iran's growing influence in Latin American should be of considerable concern to the United States, and Chavez is doing all he can to aid and abet it.

Iran maintains an embassy in Mexico City, and its presence in Latin America is a point of concern for the United States, other leaked U.S. documents show, but other claims attributed to Calderon in the October 2009 cable were not immediately verifiable.

Calderon eventually won the 2006 race by less than 1% after a partial recount, a result which Lopez Obrador and his most ardent supporters refuse to recognize to this day. Mexican filmmaker Luis Mandoki later released a documentary film called "Fraude" on the 2006 race and the social movement that followed that sought to declare Lopez Obrador the "legitimate president."

Violent scuffles, as seen above, gripped the Mexican lower house of Congress in the days leading up to Calderon's swearing in, as some legislators attempted to physically block his ascendance to office. Days after assuming the presidency, Calderon dispatched the Mexican military to confront the country's drug cartels.

Late Thursday, via Twitter, Lopez Obrador demanded that Calderon prove Venezuela's Chavez financially supported his 2006 campaign (link in Spanish). The president's office has not responded.

In other portions of the leaked cable, Calderon requested that the U.S. create a more "visible presence" in Latin America overall.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Conservative PAN and leftist PRD legislators scuffle over control of the podium in the Chamber of Deputies in the aftermath of the disputed 2006 election, Nov. 28, 2006, in Mexico City. Credit: Tomas Bravo / Reuters

WikiLeaks on Latin America: U.S. ambassador to Mexico speaks out

6a00d8341c630a53ef013489b5ca74970c Carlos Pascual, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, is clearly not happy to see the WikiLeaks disclosure of diplomatic cables. While not confirming the authenticity of the missives, Pascual tells The Times that they do not represent U.S. policy and should be viewed as "impressionistic snapshots of a moment in time."

"But like some snapshots, they can be out of focus or unflattering," Pascual said in comments e-mailed to us Thursday night. "Collectively, however, they also show U.S. diplomats doing what they are supposed to do -- engaging with governments and societies around the world to advance our shared interests."

The cables revealed an assessment of President Felipe Calderon's war on drug cartels that contrasts sharply with the official view repeated by U.S. and Mexican leaders. U.S. diplomats write that rivalries among Mexican security agencies and tensions between the army and navy all work to hobble the government's efforts. Here is The Times' story, and here is a good summary of the cables in La Plaza.

"Confidentiality is fundamental to do business in virtually any sector -- whether it’s in banking, law, journalism, medicine, education or diplomacy," Pascual added. "Attacks on confidentiality -- on the ability to communicate freely -- will threaten our jobs, our ability to resolve problems, and the impetus for creativity in our societies."

Pascual said that "no illegal act" would undermine the "rock-solid" relationship between Mexico and the United States. The Mexican Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, released a statement (link in Spanish) that, while saving most of its scolding for WikiLeaks, added that the cables "reflect certain deplorable practices, from the perspective of the respect that should reign between nations collaborating on common goals."

-- Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City

Photo: Carlos Pascual. Credit: El Universal

New cables reveal frank U.S. views on Latin America, from Argentina to Venezuela

Hugo chavez wikileaks

The global fall-out over the leaked U.S. diplomatic cables continues to trickle into Latin America, where leaders are responding to a variety of disclosures that reveal frank opinions on governments with whom   the United States has sometimes had tense relations.

Here's a run-down of some of the most significant claims or statements made on Latin America in the latest WikiLeaks disclosures, by country. Links below follow news coverage as well as the original cables as published by WikiLeaks or the news organizations that have reviewed them.

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WikiLeaks on Latin America: A cache on Mexico

WikiLeaks has amassed 2,836 classified or secret records relating to Mexico, but the website has made no announcement on when or if any of those records will be released.

The Mexico records were discussed briefly in an online chat on Monday with the editor of the Spanish daily El Pais, which has been publishing some of the leaked U.S. diplomatic cables (link in Spanish). The editor, Javier Moreno, says the Mexico records are related to "the war against drug trafficking." Moreno defended El Pais' decision to publish leaked U.S. cables, saying  his newspaper's job is "not to protect governments."

He did not say whether El Pais will be publishing any records on Mexico.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the leaking of the diplomatic cables "an attack on America's foreign policy interests" and said her office would not be commenting on the contents of any specific leaked documents.

The Mexico records obtained by WikiLeaks originate mostly from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, but also come from consulates in Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, Monterrey, Guadalajara and other cities, reports El Universal (link in Spanish).

The United States has a deep diplomatic and intelligence infrastructure in Mexico, with field offices inside the country for the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals Service, FBI and other agencies. As reported previously by La Plaza, the United States and Mexico opened a joint office in Mexico City in August to oversee the implementation of the Merida Initiative, the multiyear aid package to help Mexico confront powerful narcotrafficking groups in a conflict that has left 30,000 dead over four years.

"Neither officials from Mexico or the United States working in the Bilateral Implementation Office will engage in intelligence or operational activities," the State Department said in its August statement announcing the office.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

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Ken Ellingwood
Daniel Hernandez
Efrain Hernandez Jr.
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