Archive for the Latin America Category

Vicente Fox?

Posted in Latin America with tags on August 11, 2010 by Black Pumpkin

Vicente Fox, former President of Mexico, apparently agrees with me.


It’s Cinco de Mayo! It’s time to think about drugs?

Posted in Domestic, Latin America with tags , , , on May 5, 2010 by Black Pumpkin

Today is Cinco de Mayo.  Most people will think of celebrating.  I think of the Mexican drug war.

Our neighbor to the south is in a war.  The Calderon government is using the military to fight drug cartels.  And innocent people are dying.  Just after coming into office, President Felipe Calderon used a surge strategy to try to stop the cartels.  He sent 50,000 troops to fight them.  Unfortunately, it isn’t working.  And a leaked report is showing just how bad it is.

Over 22,000 people have been killed in the Mexican drug war since Calderon took office.  He claims that most of these people are traffickers or gunmen of the cartels and perhaps he is right, but innocent people are dying in ever greater numbers and there seems to be no end in sight to the war itself.

While this situation seems intractable, I wonder about the roots of the problem.  Clearly this war is about drugs.  But what does that mean exactly?  Perhaps this is too simplistic, but I think of it as a simple economics equation: supply and demand.  The cartels make an incredible amount of money by supplying drugs (mostly to the US) to a demand that is seemingly insatiable.  The strategy that the Calderon government (as well as our own government) is to attack the source of the supply.  But what if we focused instead on the demand.

In a way our government already does focus on demand by trying to teach kids to “just say no” and other worthless missives.  But what if we really turned things on their head?  What if we legalized all drugs instead of using the same failed policies?

The reason that drugs are so expensive is that they are illegal.  If you could get a drug legally, this would open up a lot of different possibilities and therefore the price would come down and cartels would have much less of an incentive to use it to fund their operations.  Only if they were legal would we be able to control who made them, how pure they were or when or to whom they were sold.  Currently, we have many more questions than answers.  By bringing things out into the open, we would be able to keep track of all those things that we can only guess at now.

Obviously, we can’t just legalize everything and hope for the best.  We would need regulations and reasonable limits on who can purchase them and when they can be used.  For instance, it should still be illegal to drive a car under the influence of a drug (similar to prohibitions on driving while under the influence of alcohol).  In addition, we should have a realistic education program that taught the real dangers of using alcohol and drugs.  We don’t need to try to scare the shit out of people with horror stories, we need to teach them that certain drugs will have particular effects on their bodies.

If we are really serious about not only helping the citizens of this country with drug abuse problems but also helping to end the Mexican drug war, then legalization should be something that needs to be considered.

Honduras – a police state?

Posted in Latin America with tags , , , on November 26, 2009 by Black Pumpkin

Honduras has been a lot of turmoil in the last few months.  In June the President, Manuel Zelaya, was forced out of office at gunpoint.  I wrote about it at the time, here and here.  And I still don’t know exactly what happened or why, but then I read pieces like this one from Sarah Stephens who is the executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas and she has visited Honduras at least twice since the coup.  And the picture she paints is not very pretty at all.

And now we have elections come up on Sunday.  It is hard to argue that an election held in Honduras today could be considered free and fair.  So I have to agree with Ms. Stephens when she argues that the US must not recognize the election’s winner until the situation improves.

An exerpt from her piece on Huffington Post:

“The de facto government of Roberto Micheletti, the former head of the Honduran Congress who the military installed as president, has issued various decrees restricting freedom of assembly and authorizing the military and police to shut down opposition media outlets and, in one instance, to confiscate their equipment. The opposition media is back on the air, but regular interruptions of television and radio transmissions continue. Meanwhile the threat of another shutdown looms due to a recent decree that prohibits any statement by the press that threatens ‘national security.'”

Porous Borders

Posted in Domestic, Latin America, Poetry with tags , , , on August 12, 2009 by Mort the Sport

(A slightly different version of this poem was published in The Chaffey Review.)

Light sinks into the skin

of the ocean.

Under crumpled canvas in the back of a pickup

headed north over the 15 freeway’s washboard,

a kid, laboring for breath, rides the bumps in the road,

stomach acid slithering up his throat. A mystery

of heat and darkness. Cool jets of exhaust and morning air

lick at the tarp, causing the boy to cough.

Tonight is too far away.

Light through the water moves faster

than his thoughts, his tendency to equate space

with freedom, his devotion to Los Santos,

his memory of kidnappings, the burnt offerings

Tia Juanita made after her daughter died.

He hears the unfamiliar whine of American radio

streaming out of the windows of passing cars.

His mother is breathing into his ear.

The faint smell of the mint she found

in between the seat cushions in Ernesto’s pickup

before they met with the coyote. The smell

of wet switchgrass, gravely waving to the drivers,

the shoulder gently sloping like a pregnant belly,

swollen. The taste of honeywater in his mouth.

The dark circles under her eyes haunt his memory.

She’s passionate, even in sleep, in the face

of disconsolate attempts to move north.

But now they’re almost there.

But where is that?

Tia Inez will still be pulling a double shift when they get

to a cul-de-sac in La Puente. The bridge.

The front door of the apartment will be screened

by a heavy lacework of rusting iron, bursting with red,

like capillaries on a drunkard’s nose.

He will stare at the stucco facade.

A billboard will read: “You deserve a break today.”

The bright letters will mean nothing to him.

He will mouth the word for home.

The boy closes his eyes:

The waves sang in the distance,

the foam white like ghosts. His urine etched steaming worms

into the uneven ground. He stumbled over the litter

in the street – dominoes, teacups, broken glass.

On the beach, he gave his yellow rock to one of the beachcombers

so the man wouldn’t find the anemone hidden in the turbid water

of his bucket. Ernesto zigzagged through the streets,

his truck cutting turns like a scalpel. It idled

in front of their home. Words spilled out of their mouths

when the coyote stuck out his hand. He had no time

for questions and the money paid for travel, not answers.

Ernesto said his brother, Tonino, had a hook

instead of a hand, a piece of the price

of his northbound trip.

The boy’s mother kisses him

and then the cross hanging from her neck. The thumb

of sun has prodded her awake. Her swelling belly

ripples in the heat, a mirage, a miracle. A sheet

of sunlight cleft by hungry shadows.

As he and his mother arrive at the border,

he feels the same way he did on the ledge

overlooking the sea. There is nowhere else to go.

The rocks reach out of the water like spears,

but he pushes off anyway. He jumps headlong,

the sea foam spilling like clouds.

Somewhere beyond memory,

the sun-stained water gurgles,

salt glazing his lips.

Honduras: Going From Bad to Worse?

Posted in Latin America with tags , on July 7, 2009 by Black Pumpkin

Honduras has been all over the place lately.

The democratically-elected President, Manuel Zelaya, is deposed in what many are calling a military coup.  The new President, Roberto Micheletti, says that the former leader will be arrested if he returns.  He tries anyway and is unable to land at the airport because the military is blocking it.  All the while the people of Honduras are taking to the streets to protest both against Zelaya and for him.  Meanwhile the current administration is censoring journalists and even killing people.

So the light at the end of the tunnel is that Costa Rica’s President, Oscar Arias, has agreed to mediate talks between the two sides.  Hopefully, things can be resolved before there is more violence.  We’ll have to wait and see.

Honduran President Arrested (Updated)

Posted in Latin America with tags , on June 28, 2009 by Black Pumpkin

I know it is hard to believe but there are other things going on in the world than Iran (have we forgotten about that already?) and Michael Jackson (I’ll keep my mouth shut about that).

The President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, was arrested shortly before a vote on a referendum was set to take place that would decide whether he would be able to seek a second term.  According to the Honduran constitution, the President is allowed only one term, and his was set to expire in January of 2010.  So Zelaya decided that he would hold a referendum to try to win another term.  Unfortunately for him, many others in government (even within his own party) did not like the idea.  So someone (most likely in the military) had him arrested.

But the part that is most interesting to me is this from the BBC:

In an interview with Spain’s El Pais newspaper published on Sunday, Mr Zelaya – an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – said a planned coup attempt against him had been thwarted after the US refused to back it.

“Everything was in place for the coup and if the US embassy had approved it, it would have happened. But they did not,” Mr Zeleya said.

“I’m only still here in office thanks to the United States.”

I have no way of knowing if this is true or not, but it is interesting.  And considering the way that Latin America has been dealt with in the past, I would not be surprised at all.

UPDATE: Well, I knew as soon as I first saw an article on this that it would be a big story.  But it seems that this story is even more complicated than I first realized.

First, I do not believe that the US had anything to do with Zelaya’s ouster.

In addition, I do not believe that Zelaya was even ousted in a coup.  At least not in the traditional sense.  He was trying essentially to subvert the Congress by taking his referendum directly to the people.  But his referendum would have changed the Constitution, but in Honduras any change in the Constitution must first come from Congress and then to the people.  But since Congress would not go along with Zelaya’s plan, he decided to just hold a referendum on his own.

The Supreme Court then ruled the referendum illegal and told the military not to go through the normal processes that would take place during an election.  I find it curious that the military runs the elections in Honduras, but who am I to criticize.  After Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, the top military commander, told Zelaya that he wouldn’t run the election, Zelaya fired him.

So just before the election was to be held, the Congress told the military to arrest the President.  They did so.  And then took him to Costa Rica.  I don’t really know how constitutional it is to arrest the President and take him to another country, but it does seem that Zelaya was doing things that were technically illegal, and the Congress dealt with them in the best way they knew how.  Fortunately, I have not read that anyone was hurt when he was arrested.

Of course, some in the country have been protesting Zelaya’s ouster, and there is fighting in the streets.  Hopefully order can be restored with a minimal amount of bloodshed.  I would hate to see a situation like the one in Iran.

Something else that I find curious is the people that are supporting Zelaya.  Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega, Hillary Clinton and even Barack Obama are calling for his return to power.  Perhaps that is because of how he was taken or perhaps there is more to the story than we are being told.

This is certainly a complicated situation and it is hard to know what is going on without being there, but the way that this is being labeled a military coup seems disingenuous.  Especially since the military was not in power after Zelaya was taken and is not in power now.  In fact, the person who would be in charge should something happen to the sitting President is the one who is now in power, as the Honduran Constitution dictates.

(Yes, I am so nerdy/wonky, that I am in the process of reading the entire Honduran Constitution with the help of Google Translate.)