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News from Latin America and the Caribbean

Category: United Nations

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.

U.S., Mexican governments reject report calling for drug legalization

Drug war peace march zapatistas efe

The governments of the United States and Mexico promptly rejected this week the conclusions of a high-profile international report calling for the "legal regulation" of some drugs.

In separate statements, the governments signaled that they would not back away from current strategies in the war on drugs, which in Mexico has resulted in more than 38,000 deaths in 4 1/2 years and is backed by more than $1 billion in U.S. aid under the Merida Initiative.

As The Times reported Thursday from Mexico City and Washington, the Global Commission on Drug Policy is urging governments to decriminalize drug consumption and experiment with legalization and regulation of some narcotics, especially marijuana. The report calls the 4-decade-old war on drugs a failure.

"We can no longer ignore the extent to which drug-related violence, crime and corruption in Latin America are the results of failed drug war policies," former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria said in a prepared statement tied to the report's release. "Now is the time to break the taboo on discussion of all drug policy options, including alternatives to drug prohibition."

Here's the commission's website, where visitors can download the full report in English or Spanish. The commission includes a former president of Brazil, a former president of Mexico, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and several business leaders.

On Thursday, as the drug-policy report was being released in New York, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy issued a statement arguing against its recommendations.

"The Obama administration's efforts to reduce drug use are not born out of a culture war or drug war mentality, but out of the recognition that drug use strains our economy, health, and public safety," the statement said.

In Mexico, President Felipe Calderon's government has consistently stated that it does not support the legalization of drugs but remains open to debate. The position was reaffirmed this week by the president's top national-security spokesman, Alejandro Piore (link in Spanish).

Piore said the Mexican government "categorically rejects the impression that in Mexico, by definition, a stronger application of the law on the part of the authorities shall result in an increase in violence on the part of the narco-traffickers."

Legalization, his statement also said, "does not do away with organized crime, nor with its rivalries and violence."

Read the full L.A. Times story on the commission's report here.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Masked Zapatistas, holding signs that read "No More Blood," march in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, on May 8. Credit: EFE

CUBA: Jimmy Carter arrives on 3-day visit



Former President Jimmy Carter is on a three-day visit to Cuba amid speculation he may try to win the release of a 61-year-old American convicted by a Cuban court of activities aimed at undermining the Communist-led government.

Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, arrived in Havana on Monday with his wife Rosalynn. He is expected to meet with President Raul Castro and other Cuban officials. His visit is attracting a bit of local news coverage, including by Granma, the official Communist Party newspaper, which mentioned Carter's "genuine interest" in improving ties between the U.S. and Cuba, and by the Havana-based news agency Prensa Latina, which recalled that it was the Carter administration that first eased restrictions on travel to Cuba by Americans (both links in Spanish).

Alan Gross, a USAID contractor who says he was providing Internet equipment to Cubans, was sentenced this month to 15 years in prison, in a case that has further strained relations between Havana and Washington, especially on the issue of human rights. Over the last few months, the Cuban government has released all of the dissidents arrested in a 2003 crackdown.

Carter, on his second trip to Cuba, is the only U.S. president, sitting or otherwise, to have visited the island since the 1959 revolution.

— Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City

Photo: Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez greets former President Jimmy Carter at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Gonzalez / Granma.


A growing list of Latin American nations moving to recognize a Palestinian state

Sebastian Pinera Mahmud Abbas gob chile

Joining a widening trend across Latin America, Chile and Paraguay are poised to recognize a Palestinian state based on borders before the 1967 Middle East War, reports in Israel and Latin America said.

In recent weeks, several countries in the region have declared their recognition of a Palestinian state half a world away. Led by the rising global player Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Ecuador and Venezuela have all done so, reports the Israeli daily Haaretz.

The move by these governments to recognize a Palestinian state within pre-1967 borders appears to be an uncoordinated response to requests that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has made to Latin American leaders, reports said. "There is no obvious coordination but quite a few Latin American governments are suddenly recognizing the Palestinian state in a very short amount of time," notes the Latin America-focused blog Two Weeks Notice.

On Saturday, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera met one-on-one with Abbas in Brazil during the inauguration of Dilma Rousseff as Brazil's first female president. Abbas attended the inauguration in Brasilia to "thank the presidents" that have recognized the Palestinian state, reported the Chilean daily La Tercera (link in Spanish).

Chile is home to a significant population of about 350,000 mostly Christian Palestinians (link in Spanish). Like many of its neighbors, Chile also has a large Jewish community. A Jewish leader in Chile called the decisions to recognize a Palestinian state "imprudent" (link in Spanish).

Continue reading »

White House: Cocaine market in U.S. under 'stress'

Cocaine dealer arrested sydney herald sun

The cocaine market in the United States is under "significant stress," reports the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Cocaine production has dropped in Colombia due to recent eradication efforts, putting stress on the U.S. market in 2009, the office announced this month. And although a direct connection between data is not sufficiently made clear, use of the drug also dropped last year in the United States, where most Colombian cocaine is destined after being moved by Mexican drug-trafficking organizations.

"Although a wide array of data now confirm the decline in use and availability of cocaine in the United States, there are still far too many Americans using drugs that drive violence and instability in other nations," said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House office. "That is why the Obama administration is working to restore balance to our drug control efforts by emphasizing demand reduction at the same time we are supporting our international allies in their efforts to curb the supply of these drugs."

Continue reading »

World mayors sign climate-change pact in Mexico City

Mexico City mayors climate change summit

Hoping to place cities at the forefront of global climate-change policy efforts, leaders of more than 100 urban centers pledged on Sunday in Mexico City to commit their governments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The so-called Mexico City Pact is a precursor to climate-change talks with world governments opening next week in the Mexican resort city of Cancun. Countries will attempt once more to come up with a binding treaty to rein in global warming after the failure to do so at United Nations talks in Denmark last year.

In Mexico City, mayors and representatives of 138 cities, including Los Angeles, Paris and Johannesburg, signed the voluntary pact that states they will develop and implement local climate-change action plans that are "measurable, reportable and verifiable." The mayors summit was organized by the government of Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, whose efforts to "green" this crowded and polluted megalopolis are considered the most ambitious in Latin America.

Ebrard, who appears a likely presidential candidate in Mexico in 2012, said local governments will be key to reducing the effects of climate change. A majority of the world's population is now living in cities for the first time in history.

"We have to tell the international community that it's in the cities that the battle to slow global warming will be won," the mayor said before the summit.

Other cities in the region joining the pledge in Mexico City included Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina; La Paz, capital of Bolivia; Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, the largest cities in Brazil; Bogota,  capital of Colombia; Quito, capital of Ecuador; and Montevideo, Uruguay's capital (link in Spanish).

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, center, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, at left, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa hold the pact. Mexican magnate Carlos Slim, who also presented his plan on climate change at the mayors summit, is seen in the far rear, third from left (link in Spanish). Credit: World Mayors Summit on Climate Change

Cholera detected in the Dominican Republic

Cholera victim rick loomis latimes

A case of cholera has been detected in the Dominican Republic, the first sign that the worsening epidemic in neighboring Haiti could be crossing the border shared by the island nations. The cholera case was diagnosed in a 32-year-old Haitian man who works in the Dominican Republic and visited Haiti between Oct. 31 and Nov. 12, reports said.

A cholera case has also been detected in Florida, involving a woman who recently returned from Haiti.

The man's diagnosis in the Dominican Republic sent authorities scrambling to identify any other possible cholera cases; several suspected cases have turned out negative. The Dominican Republic has tightened control of its border with Haiti, including temporarily shutting down a traditional cross-border market in the Dominican border town of Dajabon.

At least 1,100 people in Haiti have succumbed to cholera since the outbreak began last month.

The Dominican government said Wednesday that it would ask employers in the tourism and construction sectors to temporarily stop hiring Haitian workers. Carpets doused with chlorine were being placed on border bridges to disinfect tires and shoes, reported Dominican Today. The man with cholera is in stable condition in a hospital in eastern Dominican Republic, the Miami Herald reported.

Times staff writer Joe Mozingo recently reported on a woman who attempted to save her 2-year-old son from the disease. The mother, Rosemane Saintelone, was unsuccessful, and then was turned away from public transit trucks when drivers saw her carrying her child's corpse. Mozingo and staff photographer Rick Loomis observed dozens of bodies piling up in pits.

Haiti has a presidential election scheduled for Nov. 28, but the campaigns are being hampered by the cholera outbreak, deadly anti-U.N. riots, and continued recovery efforts after the devastating January earthquake.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: A cholera victim in Port-au-Prince. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Nicaraguan consul found dead in New York

Nicaragua's consul was found slain Thursday in his apartment in New York City, where the U.N. General Assembly is meeting, Reuters reports.

Cesar Mercado, 34, was found by his driver with his throat slashed inside his apartment in the Bronx, police said. An official with Nicaragua's U.N. mission confirmed Mercado's death but said he would not comment further. Mercado worked out of an office near the U.N. headquarters in Manhattan. Police said there was no known motive.

Read Spanish-language coverage at El Diario-La Prensa in New York and La Prensa in Nicaragua.

— Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Homeless in Haiti, and losing hope

Haiti amputee sounlove zamour

Misery is gripping the survivors of Haiti's catastrophic Jan. 12 earthquake, more than six months after the disaster and despite an international outpouring of humanitarian aid and goodwill. L.A. Times correspondent Ken Ellingwood was recently back in Haiti, where thousands sit in squalid temporary encampments waiting for relief, and new homes.

"At first we thought that the way the international community was coming together that in six months we'd be off the street. But we're still here," Stella Nicholas told Ellingwood from a shelter near downtown Port-au-Prince. "Our government is incapable of getting us out of this situation. I hope the international community can keep our hope alive, because it's fading."

Read the entire story here.

The Times also checks back in with quake survivor Sounlove Zamor, above, a 19-year-old amputee who has been waiting for several months for a trip to an Israeli hospital to be fitted with prosthetic limbs. Communication and passport issues have kept Zamor waiting and waiting. As a commenter on the story notes, Zamor is but one of many amputees hoping for prosthetic surgery.

An L.A. Times editorial recently called for the United States government to expedite visas for thousands of Haitians with sponsors in the U.S. Meanwhile, hip-hop entertainer Wyclef Jean is reportedly considering a run for Haiti's presidency in elections later this year. The deadline to declare a candidacy is Aug. 7.

So what's taking so long to get improvements to the people of Haiti?

Authorities in charge of the relief effort say that progress is actually impressive, given the scale of the disaster. Major outbreaks of illness or violence have so far been averted, although rape is increasingly a threat in some camps. The quake exacerbated existing problems in Haiti, such as deficiencies in infrastructure and the ambivalent nature of land rights in the country. Reaching recovery goals will take more time, officials say.

At a conference in New York in March, the international community pledged $9 billion in aid for reconstruction efforts in Haiti. To learn more about those efforts, visit the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission and the United Nations' Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti, headed by former President Clinton.

Yet as reports frequently point out, skepticism remains high among ordinary Haitians who are still struggling to survive since the disaster struck. Richard Morse, a Twitter user in Haiti who rose to prominence in the days after the quake, recently tweeted: "First 2 questions to ask Haiti's Presidential Candidates 1) Are you planning any audits? 2) Are you planning any arrests?"

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Sounlove Zamor, 19, right, with her sister Baranatha, 20, at the general hospital in Gonaives, Haiti. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Guatemala's international justice watchdog quits in frustration

Carlos2For 2 1/2 years, Carlos Castresana, a well-respected Spanish jurist, has headed the commission formed to repair Guatemala's notoriously flawed justice system. He was tasked by the United Nations with the gargantuan job of cleaning up Guatemala's corrupt police force, reforming ineffective courts and challenging rampant organized crime -- all part of the Central American nation's recovery from devastating civil war.

Castresana finally gave up. He resigned on Monday, citing what he described as broken promises by the Guatemalan government and, in especially blunt terms, accusing the new attorney general, Conrado Reyes, of having criminal ties.

"I feel I cannot do anything more for Guatemala," he said at a news conference.

Under Castresana, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala provided an important boost for human rights. It was widely credited with the prosecution, against all odds, of dozens of corrupt police and government officials.

A former federal prosecutor in Spain, Castresana was well-known in international justice circles. He told The Times when he assumed the Guatemalan post that he was prepared to take on a wide range of formidable adversaries.

"Democracy is based on the principle that the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor, those in government and those outside of government, should all be equal in the eyes of the law," Castresana said at the time. "Sadly, that hasn't been the reality in Guatemala."

-- Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City

Photo: Carlos Castresana in Guatemala City. Credit: Prensa Libre


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