Military personnel caught up in Secret Service scandal


CARTAGENA, Colombia -- Five members of the U.S. military may have taken part with Secret Service agents in misconduct involving prostitutes at a hotel in Cartagena,and have been confined to their quarters for violating curfew.

The service members -- assigned to support the Secret Service at this weekend’s Summit of the Americas -- may have been involved in “inappropriate conduct” at the Hotel Caribe, where a team of now-recalled Secret Service agents was staying, the United States Southern Command said  Saturday.

Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of the Southern Command, said in a statement that he was "disappointed by the entire incident and that this behavior is not in keeping with the professional standards expected of members of the United States military."

He said the military would conduct an investigation and the personnel would face appropriate punishment.

Meanwhile, the military service members are under orders not to have contact with other individuals and will return to the U.S. after the completion of their mission at the summit.

The incident has threatened to mar President Obama’s meeting this weekend with leaders from Central and South America gathered for a regional summit on trade and security.

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Argentina newborn found alive in icy morgue suffers medical setback

Analia Bouter and husband Fabian Veron
BUENOS AIRES -- Doctors in Argentina on Friday struggled to save the life of a baby who was mistakenly declared dead last week and spent 12 hours in a refrigerated hospital morgue before her mother discovered she was alive.

Luz Milagros Veron, who survived in a tiny wooden box in the morgue at Perrando de Resistencia Hospital, on Thursday suffered cardiopulmonary failure and an infection. She was in critical condition and in the neonatal intensive care ward Friday, hospital administrators said.

The baby was born three months premature, weighing slightly more than a pound and apparently stillborn. Doctors at the hospital signed a death certificate and sent her to the morgue.

Before leaving the hospital later that night, her mother Analia Bouter, asked to see her infant’s body one last time. After a hospital worker pried the lid off the box, she heard her frost-covered baby whimper and saw her make slight movements, Bouter later told reporters at a news conference. The baby was in stable condition until her Thursday emergency.

Hospital director Dr. Jose Luis Meiriño has insisted that the hospital follows “strict medical protocols” and that the baby was born with “no apparent vital signs.” Her birth was attended by an obstetrician, a gynecologist and a neonatologist, he said.

The provincial health minister, Francisco Baquero, has said an investigation would be conducted, adding, “We’re dealing with a human error.”

The baby’s father, Fabian Veron, told reporters: “In spite of everything, we believe that if my daughter is still with us its because it’s a message that she will survive.” The couple have four other children.


Mexico presidential race leaves voters dismayed

Brazil wins the gold medal in gridlock

Yes, they're abierto: Cubans open their doors to small business

-- Andres D'Alessandro in Buenos Aires and Chris Kraul in Bogota, Colombia

Photo: Analia Bouter and her husband, Fabian Veron. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency

Argentina president Fernandez proposes oil firm nationalization

Argentina President Cristina Fernandez
BUENOS AIRES -- Blaming a lack of investment in domestic energy production for a spike in oil and gas imports, Argentina President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner sent a proposal to congress Thursday to nationalize a majority interest in YPF, the country’s largest oil company.

If approved, the government would acquire a 50.1% interest in the company, whose majority owner is Spain-based Repsol. News of the proposal sent YPF share prices soaring 8.6% in New York Stock Exchange trading, as investors positioned themselves for the government’s possible purchase of shares.

Fernandez has ramped up her criticism of the oil industry in recent weeks, blaming it for a doubling of energy imports last year and a reversal of the country’s once sizable energy surplus.

But industry analysts point to Fernandez’s populist fuel price controls and consumer subsidies as reasons for the production decline. By forcing producers to charge customers less than market prices for gasoline, diesel and gas, she makes them loath to spend millions of dollars in drilling for new reservoirs, analysts said.

In a recent interview with the Times, energy consultant Daniel Gerold of Buenos Aires said Argentina's price controls thus feed a “vicious cycle” of decreasing domestic supplies and rising imports, cutting Argentina’s trade surplus.

The issue has become a political football. Local politicians in several states who support Fernandez have revoked about a dozen of YPF’s exploration permits in the last month. Meanwhile, YPF this week promised to invest $4.4 billion over the next five years in several projects in Santa Cruz state.

Fernandez on Thursday met with member governors of the Federal Organization of Hydrocarbon Producing States and was expected to address the nation about nationalization.

Opposition senator Maria Eugenia Estenssoro criticized the proposal as the “third rape of YPF in 12 years,” referring to formerly state-owned YPF’s privatization in 1999, and the 2008 sale of a large stake in the energy company to a close ally of the president “who didn’t put up any money.”

Many of Latin America’s former state-owned oil companies have undergone partial privatization in recent years, a hybrid  policy that has enabled former monopolies such as Petrobras of Brazil and Ecopetrol of Colombia to expand production and profits.

Conversely, tighter state control at Venezuela’s state-owned petroleum company PDVSA since massive strikes in 2002 and 2003 prompted President Hugo Chavez to fire 20,000 workers there has led to a sharp decrease in crude output and efficiency.


North Korea rocket launch reportedly fails

Argentina, Britain mark Falklands War's 30th anniversary

Colombian rebels free last 10 military hostages

-- Special correspondents Andres D'Alessandro in Buenos Aires and Chris Kraul in Bogota, Colombia.

Photo: Argentina President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner arrives for an event at the government house in Buenos Aires on Thursday, April 12, 2012. Credit: Eduardo Di Baia /Associated Press

Mexico's President Calderon pays first official visit to Cuba

Mexican President Felipe Calderon in Cuba

MEXICO CITY -- Through the decades, Mexico and revolutionary Cuba enjoyed close ties. It was in Mexico in the 1950s that a young Fidel Castro, along with Ernesto "Che" Guevara, plotted the uprising that would eventually take them to power. Mexico remained a bastion of support for Cuba for years.

But after the 2000 election of the first of Mexico's two consecutive presidents from the conservative National Action Party, things began to sour.

On Wednesday, in a long-delayed effort to improve relations between the two governments, Mexican President Felipe Calderon made his first official trip to Havana, where he was to meet with President Raul Castro and a host of other Cuban officials.

The visit is largely symbolic. Calderon has not quite eight months left in office. But it marks an important boost for the Castro government at a time when the island is undergoing extensive economic change.

It also comes on the eve of the regular Summit of the Americas, where Cuba's attendance has once again been barred, this time almost solely by U.S. veto.

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In Colombia, the face of one of the 'Missing Ones'

Colombian woman protests kidnappings

Every day on World Now, we pick a remarkable photo from somewhere around the world. Today we were struck by this shot of a Colombian woman holding a photo of her missing relative. His name is Carlos Alberto Forero, a hostage of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC.

FARC, the largest rebel group in Colombia, released its final 10 military hostages Monday, some of whom had been captive in makeshift jungle prisons for more than 14 years, The Times' Chris Kraul and Jenny Carolina Gonzalez reported. The release was welcomed -- but Colombians say it isn't enough.

"The nation, the world, demands the liberty of all kidnap victims," President Juan Manuel Santos said.

It isn't clear exactly how many people are still being held as kidnap victims in Colombia, or even by whom. The Associated Press gathered three different counts: A police official said FARC was still holding at least six people. An official with the Colombian prosecutor estimated 30. And a citizens' group has 405 people on its list.

This woman was among a group of Colombians whose loved ones are still missing. They gathered at Bolivar Square in Bogota on Wednesday, trying to draw attention to the continuing plight of kidnapping victims. The protest was called by the Los Que Faltan foundation -- "The Missing Ones."

If you spot a striking photo from around the world, please tweet it to us at @latimesworld.


Iranian website cancels Q & A with official

Red Crescent center torched in Homs, Syria

Ethnic Berbers and Arab militiamen battle in western Libya

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: A relative of FARC hostage Carlos Alberto Forero shows a picture of him during a protest called by "The Missing Ones" foundation at Bolivar Square in Bogota on Wednesday. Credit: Luis Acosta / Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

25 suspected Anonymous hackers arrested in international sweep

Twenty-five alleged hackers from the freewheeling, decentralized Anonymous protest movement have been arrested across Europe and South America in a massive sweep coordinated by Interpol, an agency based in France that links police around the world.

Suspects arrested in Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Spain were believed to have carried out coordinated digital attacks against the Colombian Ministry of Defense, a Chilean electrical company and other targets, the Associated Press reported.

The Spanish national police said Tuesday that they had arrested four “cyberdelinquents” tied to Anonymous, accused of blocking and defacing websites of political parties, institutions and businesses. Authorities seized 25 personal computers, hard drives and other equipment for analysis. Two servers used by the group in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic were blocked.

One of the arrestees, known by the aliases "Thunder" and "Pacotron," was believed to be in charge of the Anonymous infrastructure in Spain and Latin America, Spanish police said.

The Interpol website was down Tuesday evening. Online chatter hinted that Anonymous had carried off a revenge attack, echoing retaliatory hacks in the past when other members were arrested.

“ seems to be #TangoDown. We can’t say that this surprises us much,” an Anonymous account tweeted.

The loosely linked band of hackers has carried off a number of cyber attacks, many of them with activist aims, such as opposing broad bills against online piracy or supporting the "Arab Spring" protests.

In December, it brought down the Stratfor security think tank server and claimed to have stolen credit card numbers from its clients to nab money for Christmas donations.

Last year, it claimed to have obtained emails, credit card information and other sensitive data from U.S. police websites in retaliation for the arrests of alleged members in the U.S. and Britain.

The year before, it said it had attacked PayPal as part of "Operation Avenge Assange" after PayPal decided to stop processing donations for WikiLeaks, which many of its members admire.

And just a few weeks ago, it posted a 16-minute recording of an FBI conference call with foreign policing agencies about two British teenagers allegedly tied to the hacking group. 

"There are future operations planned in the way of everything from campaign finance reform, to elections, to infosec [information security] and much, much more, stay tuned," an Anonymous activist told the CNET technology news website in an interview Tuesday. "Expect us."


Syrian envoy denounces U.N. talks, walks out [Video]

French council throws out legislation on genocide denial

Venezuela's Chavez has surgery in Cuba; no word on cancer spread

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles



Venezuela's Chavez has surgery in Cuba; no word on cancer spread

Poster of Hugo Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela

REPORTING FROM CARACAS, VENEZUELA, AND LOS ANGELES -- A statement issued by the Venezuelan government Tuesday said President Hugo Chavez had undergone surgery in Cuba with "a satisfactory result," but it left several questions unanswered, including whether his cancer had spread.

The statement said Chavez would need several days to recover and that results of tests from the surgery would be made public. It did not specify when.  

Chavez announced this month that tests had shown evidence of a lesion close to where a tumor was removed by Cuban doctors in June. He has never given the precise location nor the type of original tumor.

Weeks earlier, he had declared himself free of cancer.

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Ecuadorean president pardons newspaper in defamation case

Ecuador President Rafael Correa
REPORTING FROM QUITO, ECUADOR, AND LOS ANGELES--Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa on Monday pardoned three owner-editors and a columnist at the El Universo newspaper who had been convicted of defaming him in a controversial press freedom case.

Brothers Carlos, Cesar and Nicolas Perez and columnist Emilio Palacio had been ordered to pay $42 million in fines and serve three years in prison for publishing an allegedly libelous opinion piece by Palacio in February 2011 in the Guayaquil-based paper, the nation's second largest.

In the article, Palacio referred to Correa as a dictator and accused him of ordering authorities to fire indiscriminately at a hospital crowded with civilians during a 2010 police mutiny.

"Even though many don't want me to make concessions to those who don't deserve it, this is something that I decided in my heart to do some time ago, along with relatives, friends and close comrades, to pardon the accused and to revoke the sentences they deservedly got," Correa said during a televised speech at the presidential palace in Quito on Monday.

He added that the sentence proved three things: that the editors lied, that a newspaper is responsible for what its writers publish and that citizens shouldn't be afraid of confronting the news media.

"It showed you can prevail against abuses of media power," Correa said of the libel verdicts, which were upheld this month by the nation's supreme court. Correa said at that time that he was considering pardons, partly to keep his political programs on track.

Press freedom advocates, while acknowledging that the newspaper went overboard in its antagonistic coverage of Correa, criticized the verdicts as excessive and as having a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

Correa's pardon is the second given to Palacio in defamation cases in three years. Correa earlier had ignored a request from the the Organization of American States' human rights panel to reconsider his suit. Since the beginning of the case, Correa had said he would drop it if El Universo issued an apology, which it refused to do. Two of the Perez brothers have fled the country, as did Palacio, who sought political asylum in the U.S.

Correa also said Monday that he was dropping his suit against authors of a book called "Big Brother" who wrote that the leader knew of and tolerated his brother Fabricio's allegedly corrupt business practices. Correa has acknowledged his brother was involved in shady dealings but he said he had no advance knowledge of them.


Mexico prison riot was cover for jailbreak, officials say

Northeast Brazil has its own distinct Carnaval

Colombia attacks blamed on alliances of rebels with criminals

--Cristina Munoz and Chris Kraul

Photo: Ecuador's President Rafael Correa during a news conference at the presidential palace in Quito. Credit: Dolores Ochoa / Associated Press 

Colombia drops plan to let military judge abuses in its ranks

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos addresses troops

Colombia has shelved a plan to expand the power of military courts to judge alleged military abuses, an idea that was vigorously opposed by human rights groups.

"Military judges lack the independence and impartiality to decide whether an alleged crime constitutes a human rights violation and duly transfer the case to civilian authorities when necessary," Human Rights Watch wrote in a letter to President Juan Manuel Santos in December after the plan was proposed.

A commission made up of former magistrates and retired military personnel had advised the government to withdraw the reform. Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said Saturday that the country wouldn't "retreat even one step on human rights."

Colombia has grappled for decades with an armed and seemingly intractable conflict between the government and leftist rebels, who the state says are in league with criminal gangs. Guerrilla groups have attacked Colombian civilians and have been accused of using child soldiers.

In the throes of that conflict, the Colombian military has been accused of abusing its powers. In some of the most alarming cases revealed over the last decade, civilians have been killed and falsely labeled as combatants -- so-called false positives -- to plump up government statistics.

Echoing the worries raised by rights groups, The Times editorialized against the plan in January:

Colombian officials insist that the current proposal, which is expected to be debated by Congress in March, isn't an attempt to wrest back military control of prosecutions from civilian courts; the country's defense minister says that serious human rights violations, including rape, torture and forced disappearances, would still be turned over to civilian judges. But that's hard to believe given that the decision about which cases to turn over would be made by the military, which lacks professional investigators and judges as well as the necessary independence and impartiality.


Colombia's wrong-way reform

Colombia civilians caught in war against insurgents

Colombia attacks blamed on alliances of rebels with criminals

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, right, addresses soldiers with Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon at the military base in Popayan in November. Credit: Fernando Vergara / Associated Press

Ecuador president may pardon newspaper owners and columnist

Ecuador President Rafael Correa
REPORTING FROM QUITO, ECUADOR, AND BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa hinted Thursday that he was considering a pardon for the owners of El Universo newspaper and a columnist whose multimillion-dollar fines and jail terms for allegedly defaming the leader were upheld by the nation’s highest court.

At a Thursday news conference, Correa hailed the “historic” verdicts that he said upheld the principles of democracy and liberty. But he also reminded reporters that he had the power to pardon the defendants.

“I’m going to talk about [granting pardons] with my friends, my closest circle, because the last thing I want to do is damage my political goals,” Correa said. “We have to see what is best for democracy, for the country.”

Correa attended a 15-hour hearing of the National Court of Justice in Quito, the nation’s highest court, at which judges refused to annul a lower court’s sentencing of the Guayaquil newspaper’s owners and editors Carlos, Cesar and Nicolas Perez to $42 million in fines and three years in jail.

Correa’s lawsuit has attracted condemnation among press freedom and human rights groups, while some analysts have said El Universo went too far with its antagonistic coverage of the president.

The Perez brothers were not present at the hearing. Cesar and Nicolas fled to Miami this month and said they will seek “international support.” Carlos Perez is the only brother still in Ecuador -- holed up in the Panamanian Embassy in Quito, where he is seeking asylum. (Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli said on his Twitter account Thursday that he will grant the request.)

Emilio Palacio, whose February 2011 column in the Guayaquil newspaper provoked the president's lawsuit, also has been sentenced to jail. He fled to Miami in August and said he will seek political asylum.

In his column, Palacio described the democratically elected president as a “dictator” and accused the president of having ordered authorities “to fire at their discretion at a hospital full of civilians” during a police mutiny in September 2010. The lower court found Palacio didn’t prove the charges and found him and his bosses liable.

Palacio was convicted in 2009 for a previous column attacking an official in Correa's government. The offended official personally pardoned him.

The court ruling left El Universo’s future in doubt. The owners have previously said that having to pay the fine would be the death knell of the paper, Ecuador’s second largest.

In an editorial published Thursday, the newspaper said it would “continue working faithfully in its commitment to ethical principles of journalism and in defense of the interests of Ecuadoreans” while it looked for support among international organizations.

The Perez brothers have said they will appeal to the Inter-American Court for Human Rights, an arm of the Organization of American States.

Pending is another defamation case brought by Correa against reporters who wrote that his brother was involved in corrupt contracting practices. Although Correa has acknowledged that his brother was involved in shady dealings, he denies any prior knowledge of them, contrary to what the reporters wrote.


Honduras' deadly prison fire stirs furor

Venezuela turnout shows hunger for peace, Henrique Capriles says

Brazil finally ready to confront abuses in past dictatorship

-- Cristina Munoz and Chris Kraul

Photo: Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa in Quito on Thursday. Credit: Dolores Ochoa / Associated Press


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