News, links and observations about Latin America from Times correspondents

Posted in Latin America | 11-May-07 | Source: Los Angeles Times

Mother's Day means mucho dinero in Mexico

Today is Mother’s Day in Mexico, as it is every May 10, but instead of a sappy greeting card, mothers here get the day off from government jobs and many businesses.

Even factories cut moms loose at lunchtime. Families visit cemeteries. Children give home-made cards. And the traffic is mostly families taking the afternoon off.

It’s not all roses. Despite the deep reverence for mothers by their Mexican families, women’s rights here are still lagging badly. And it’s not like mom can spend her day off enjoying the peace and quiet: schools close early after Mother’s Day pageants and festivals.

But Mexico City restaurants have been packed, with mothers spilling onto the sidewalks in clumps of spring pastels. Mothers were also being celebrated Thursday in El Salvador, Guatemala and Chile.

Making mom’s day doesn’t come cheap. Flower vendors were asking two to three times their usual rates, and mariachi bands were charging as much as $20 a song.

Posted by Sam Enriquez and Cecilia Sanchez in Mexico City

Pope to canonize Brazilian friar

Brazil is getting its first native-born saint. Pope Benedict XVI, who is visiting Brazil, will formally recognize Antonio de Sant’Anna Galvao, a Franciscan friar who lived and worked in Brazil in the 18th and early 19th centuries, on Friday.

Friar Galvao is beloved by many Brazilians, especially in Sao Paulo, for what they believe to be his healing powers and his ability to ease childbirth. While alive, Galvao invented a “pill,” actually a small piece of paper inscribed with a prayer to the Virgin Mary that people swallow in the hopes of being cured of some ailment or affliction.

Not everyone in the church is delighted with the Friar Galvao pills, as they are known, since they border on the purely superstitious. But nuns make tens of thousands of them, and distribute them to the faithful for free.

Latin America’s other saint-in-waiting, Mons. Oscar Romero, has received something of a boost from the pope. Asked aboard his flight to Brazil about the case, Benedict praised the slain archbishop of San Salvador as a “great witness to the faith” who stood up to the military dictatorship of his day and who “merits beatification.” Beatification is the step before sainthood.

Posted by Tracy Wilkinson in Sao Paulo.

Narco threats to journalists in Mexico

The international press freedom organization, Reporters Without Borders, voiced concern today about threatening messages to journalists in Mexico, including an apparent attempt to kill a reporter in Veracruz by sabotaging her car.

The group stated that reporters had been getting threatening warnings, apparently from drug traffickers, the latest being a note left with a human head on a Veracruz street that read: " Here is a gift for journalists and other heads will fall, as Milo Vela well knows." Vela is a columinst for the Veracruz daily newspaper Notiver.

Also, one of the wheels on a car being driven by freelance journalist Lydia Cacho Ribeiro was loosened, causing her to nearly crash. She has been the focus of death threats.

"These so-called narco messages to the press are extrememlly disturbing," the group said in a press release.

Two journalists have been killed and one missing in Mexico this year, making it the hemisphere's deadliest country for the press, according to the group.

Posted by Michael Young in Los Angeles

Colombian Veep apologizes to Senate

Colombia's Vice President, Francisco Santos, issued a major skid-back on his comments earlier this week that "30 or 40" members of Congress would wind up in jail when investigators reach the bottom of a scandal involving the solons' alleged links to paramilitaries.

Colombia's El Pais website carried the full letter to the Senate, in which Santos said he was sorry if the comments, made to the RCN TV network, "interfered" with the work of Congress, which he said would "emerge stronger" after the investigation concludes.

So far, 17 members of Congress are under investigation for alleged ties to the right-wing paramilitaries, which have been blamed for numerous human-rights abuses in Colombia.

Santos also had told RCN that Congress should not approve a free-trade agreement with the United States. The President, Alvaro Uribe, went to Washington recently to promote passage of the agreement in the U.S. Congress, and was not pleased about either of the veep's comments. Some of those under investigation in the "parapolitics" scandal are close Uribe allies.

Posted by Geoffrey Mohan in Los Angeles

The Mersey flows in Mexico

The only thing acid trips and school productions usually have in common is they go on way too long.

But students of Colegio Williams, a private Mexico City prep school that taught Octavio Paz a thing or two, deftly fused both in a show Tuesday night that transcended the tedium of amateur performance while avoiding any nasty emergency-room freak-outs.

“With a Little Help From My Friends,” was ostensibly a tribute to the Beatles, their music, lyrics and 1960s love-love-love philosophy. Students also honed their English—for example, taming Spanish accents for live solos of “Nowhere Man” and “Imagine.”

The treat for anyone who still remembers the ‘60s was seeing kids having fun with Beatles songs while dressed as clowns, jugglers, bobbies, gangsters, punks, fairies, magicians, hippies, demons and cellophane flowers. Each tune featured an elaborate performance that some of the parents might have once described as pretty trippy.

Pix to be posted Friday at

Posted by Sam Enriquez in Mexico City

Grenada prepares to sell Hog Island for development

The government of Grenada has lifted the protected status of its national parks in preparation for selling much of Hog Island, a refuge for the endangered Grenada Dove, to a resort developer.

The Mount Hartman-Hog Island preserve on the little-developed island off Grenada’s rugged southern coast is home to at least a third of the estimated 120 native doves surviving in the world now, and environmentalists fear the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts construction will destroy the birds’ habitat.

Grenadian officials have argued the five-star resort at Mount Hartman harbor, wildly popular with the yachting set, will boost Grenada’s attractiveness to well-heeled tourists and create new jobs in an economy still reeling from the widespread destruction of Hurricane Ivan in September 2004.

Opponents of the project, including Pastor Stanford Simon of St. George’s Baptist Church, have been fighting the development on the grounds that the national parks and preserves are entrusted to future generations and should not be sold for commercial benefit.

Despite assurances two months ago from the Ministry of Health, Social Security and the Environment that the government had no plans to abandon the dove sanctuary, Prime Minister Keith Mitchell’s government this week signed off on Parliament’s amendment of the Grenada National Parks and Protected Areas Act to allow the sale of parkland.

Mitchell’s government has ordered an environmental impact assessment on the project and Four Seasons said it planned to leave migratory corridors undeveloped to a 150-acre dove sanctuary inland. But opponents report that land clearing has already begun in preparation for building.

Posted by Carol J. Williams in Miami

The best of Latin America's young writers

Residents of Colombia’s capital city, Bogotá, are justly proud of the long literary heritage of their city and nation, which is often familiar to outsiders only for headlines of violence. Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez is only the best known in a venerable tradition of Colombian writers.

The capital’s promotion of reading contributed to Bogotá being named a World Book Capital for 2007, a recognition bestowed on a different city each year by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Previous Unesco World Book capitals included Turin, Montreal, Antwerp, New Delhi, Alexandria and Madrid.

Bogotá officials decided to ask some 2,000 literary observers—editors, agents, authors and readers—for their thoughts on the ``most representative’’ of young Latin American writers.

The result is the ``Bogotá 39,’’ a total of 39 writers, all under 39, whose homelands range from Mexico to Argentina, from Cuba to Chile.

Posted by Patrick J. McDonnell and Andrés D’Alessandro in Buenos Aires