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The Collective
Sunday, September 9, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Guatemala electing new president

Guatemalans are voting in presidential and parliamentary elections after one of the bloodiest campaigns in the country’s history.

More than 50 candidates, activists and their relatives have been murdered in the run-up to the elections.

[…]

Guatemala is still suffering the after-effects of the 1960-1996 civil war between leftist rebels and successive military governments, which left nearly a quarter of a million people dead or missing.

Which, sadly, also means that Guatemala is suffering the after-effects of the 1954 coup against the elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz-a coup that was sponsored by the CIA in response to fears that Arbenz was too cozy with communists and because his government had expropriated a large amount of land that had been owned by the United Fruit Company (upon whose Board of Directors served Allen Dulles, brother to then Secretary of State John Foster Dulles).

The CIA trained and provided equipment to Guatemalan dissidents who ousted Arbenz and installed a new president. A great deal of instability ensued from that point. While the general instability was not created by the US-sponsored coup, it substantially inflamed it. Arbenz had been the second president freely elected in a row after an earlier coup has ousted a military dictator.

The Guatemalan coup was, by the model for the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion to oust Castro.

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Thursday, September 6, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Noriega given stay of extradition

A US judge has temporarily blocked the extradition to France of ex-Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega to allow his defence to present a new appeal.

The judge told the lawyers to present on Thursday evidence to support their claim that France would not abide by a key part of the Geneva Conventions.

The issue at hand is whether Noriega will be treated as a prisoner of war or not.

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Filed under: Latin America, Criminal Justice, Europe | Comments Off |
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via CNN: Expansion begins on Panama Canal

The $5.25 billion expansion is expected to double the 50-mile canal’s capacity and lower the price of consumer goods on the East Coast of the United States by allowing wider vessels to squeeze through with more cargo.

About two-thirds of the cargo that passed through the canal is headed to or from the United States. China is the Panama Canal’s second-largest user.

The waterway now moves 4 percent of the world’s cargo. The new locks, approved in a referendum nearly a year ago, are expected to be ready for use between 2014 and 2015

I have no particular commentary, but thought it was interesting and noteworthy.

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Filed under: Latin America | Comments/Trackbacks (1) | | Show Comments here
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Judge agrees Noriega extradition

Noriega faces 10 years in prison in France on money-laundering charges.

Judge William Turnoff’s decision was a formality after a judge last week rejected arguments by Noriega’s lawyers he should be returned to Panama.

Of course, as noted before, even if he goes back to Panama he faces charges as well. At a minimum being a former strongman ain’t what it used to be when you got to retire to Miami Beach.

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Filed under: Latin America, Criminal Justice, Europe | Comments Off |
Monday, August 27, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

On Saturday I noted that there were rumors swirling around like mad in Miami concerning Fideal Castro’s earthly status.

The response has been for a column with Fidel’s byline to be published (via the BBC: Castro column amid health rumours):

In the article, Mr Castro makes no mention of his health but writes about the events of the 1950s that eventually saw him and his band of rebels topple Fulgencio Batista and come to power.

Call me crazy, but somehow I don’t think that that is going to quell any rumors about Castro’s health.

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Friday, August 24, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via Reuters: Judge clears way for Noriega’s French extradition

A U.S. judge on Friday denied former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega’s demand for a speedy return home when his U.S. prison term ends next month and said nothing stood in the way of a French extradition request.

[…]

Noriega faces much more serious charges in Panama than in France. He has been convicted in absentia in his homeland for murder and human rights violations, including the 1985 beheading of Hugo Spadafora, an outspoken opponent.

His attorneys say he wants to go home to clear his name there.

Recent reforms of the penal code in Panama, however, could mean that Noriega would serve his the 20-year prison term awaiting him there under house arrest, because he is over 70 years old.

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Filed under: Latin America, Criminal Justice | Comments Off |
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Cuban leader Castro ‘very well’

Secrecy surrounding his condition has fuelled rumours about the extent of his health problems and his eventual political future.

However, Cuban officials have repeatedly said he will eventually resume office.

Which, I can’t help but feel, is very Soviet of them.

It does strike me as odd that at this stage of the game, where the quasi-transition from Fidel to Raul has gone quite smoothly, that they continue to insist that Fidel is going to fully recover. Why maintain that public stance? He is clearly too ill to make even a controlled public appearance and the simple fact that he is 81 years of ago suggests that “full recovery” isn’t in the cards, as 81 year-olds often die sans a major illness and surgery, let alone with them.

The part about all of this that strikes me as odd is that they seems to have the opportunity before them to fully ease away from the idea of the Cuban state equaling Fidel, yet they prefer to insist on the notion that he will return.

Perhaps it is simply the habits of a closed political system, or maybe it is Fidel’s own denial manifesting as public statements. In any event, I continue to believe that this lingering illness is perhaps the best thing that could have happened to the regime, as had Fidel suddenly died, there would have been an immediate crisis that would have been far more difficult to manage. As it stands, the illness has given the party leadership the chance to figure out how to proceed and has allowed the Cuban public time to adjust to government without Fidel without having to go through the shock of his death.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Venezuela lawmakers back reforms

Venezuelas parliament has given initial approval to reforms proposed by President Hugo Chavez, including an end to presidential term limits.

The proposals still require a final endorsement by parliament, which is dominated by Mr Chavez’s supporters, and must then be put to a referendum.

The constitutional reforms would also increase presidential control over the central bank.

Doubtless the reforms will easyily clear all hurdles and be instituted.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via National Nine News: Chavez puts Venezuela’s clock ahead 30 minutes

“Its about the metabolic effect, where the human brain is conditioned by sunlight,” Chavez said in a rambling, seven hour discussion on his radio show “Alo, Presidente” with Science and Technology Minister Hector Navarro.

Specifically, Chavez said the Law of Metereology will be changed to reflect Venezuela’s new time grid on the map showing it to be three-and-a-half hours behind GMT instead of the current four hours.

Minister Navarro said the longer day would benefit “all Venezuelans in their jobs and studies.”

It seems a tad creepy for the chief executive to be worrying about the metabolic effects of sunlight on the brain of the citizens of his country…

Of course, one has to wonder about the ego of any officeholder who engages in seven-hour long radio shows.

And lest it be assumed that I am being overly flippant, or overly critical because it is Chávez, I seriously do think that things like this are signs of potential problems. When a leader (especially one who is constantly seeking more and more power) thinks it is his duty or right to worry about such minutiae as precisely when people get up relative to the amount of sunlight outside, then we are talking about someone who has a clearly over-inflated view of himself and his role in government. Beyond that, any leader who really thinks his people want to listen to him on the radio for hours and hours on end has an unhealthy and skewed view of his importance. People with an unhealthy view of their importance + lots of power = the potential for serious abuse of power over the long haul.

h/t: Betsy Newmark

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Filed under: Latin America | Comments/Trackbacks (3) | | Show Comments here
By Dr. Steven Taylor

WaPo has an interesting piece on the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez border in today’s edition: Border Crackdown Has El Paso Caught in Middle.

One of the issues that it notes is one that is frequently under-discussed in the immigration/border security debate, i.e., the economic interchanges that cross the border daily and the degree to which security has economic costs:

“Every major auto manufacturer in the world gets the parts to their cars manufactured in Juarez or Chihuahua, from the wire harness in the dash to the lights in the overhead, the headlights, stereo system, you name it. Just about every component is manufactured here,” said Richard Dayoub, president of the El Paso Chamber of Commerce.

“If we take it to a point where the application of these laws in order to more secure our borders slows down commerce from Mexico into the U.S. . . . we’ll all feel it throughout our economy,” he said.

The piece also has this interesting tidbit, that puts some of the economics into perspective:

Now North America’s fourth-largest manufacturing hub — after Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth — El Paso and Juarez’s surrounding state of Chihuahua have 270,000 manufacturing jobs, three times as many as Detroit, in 400 maquiladoras, or duty-free factories, economic development officials said. About 78 percent of residents are Hispanic, and 25 percent are foreign-born. Families send breadwinners across the bridge daily to work, and children to study.

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Filed under: US Politics, Latin America, Border Security | Comments Off |
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