News, links and observations about Latin America from Times correspondents

Posted in Latin America | 20-Apr-07 | Source: Los Angeles Times

The 'garden of death' blooms

They’re calling it the ``Garden of Death’’ in Rio de Janeiro.

Cariocas, as Rio residents are known, awoke today to find 1,300 red roses planted in the white sands of celebrated Copacabana Beach. Each flower represents a person killed violently this year.

The Rio of Peace group also planted 700 crosses last month at Copacabana in a symbolic protest against the carnage. But the number of victims has accelerated rapidly in the drug wars, gang battles and other criminality that afflict one of the world’s most picturesque cities.

If things don’t improve, organizers warn, there could be 6,000 crosses or flowers in the beach by year’s end.

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

Can Brazil nab the World Cup games?

And speaking of fútbol (see two postings below), any country that can produce soccer talent of the caliber of Pele, Garrincha and Ronaldinho hardly needs a home-field advantage. But Brazil, the only five-time World Cup winner, is a current favorite to host soccer's premier showcase in 2014 for only the second time in its history.

The Portuguese-speaking futbol powerhouse was the only country from its 10-nation South American group to submit a formal bid for the tournament. Colombia had been pondering a bid, but backed out at the last minute. South America hasn't hosted the World Cup since Argentina won the tournament in Buenos Aires in 1978.

It remains to be seen whether Brazil can upgrade enough of its stadiums in time to convince FIFA, the soccer world's governing body, that it's capable of rolling out the welcome mat. Some Brazilians still are haunted by memories of their country's stunning loss to Uruguay in the 1950 final, at Rio de Janeiro's then brand-spanking-new Maracanã stadium.

Posted by Reed Johnson in Mexico City

A busy week in the drug wars

The growing intensity of Mexico's drug wars, and its spread to new corners of the country, has been covered extensively in all of the country's major dailies this week. Twenty-one people were killed on Monday alone: from the state of Quintana Roo in the south, to Baja California and Sonora in the north. It was the bloodiest day so far this year.

Perhaps most disturbing has been the news of a wave of violence sweeping through the northern city of Monterrey, part of Nuevo Leon state and considered by many Mexico's business capital. Mexicans are used to hearing about drug shootouts in border cities like Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo, and even in Acapulco, but not in corporate-dominated Monterrey.

El Universal reports on the battles taking place between the so-called Gulf and Sinaola cartels--and perhaps within the Gulf cartel itself--over the right to control the drug trade there. So far this year, 18 police officers have been killed by suspected drug bands in the Monterrey metropolitan area.

In March, El Universal columnist Raymundo Riva Palacio wrote that officials in the federal Attorney General's office have linked "high officials" in the government of Nuevo Leon Gov. Natividad González Parás to traffickers. The officials are said to offer protection to one band of traffickers. Riva Palacio offers a highly detailed and chilling account of the battles going on in Monterrey, which has reportedly become a center of the retail drug trade and of arms trafficking.

Posted by Héctor Tobar in Mexico City

'A goal for the ages'

That was the headline today in the Buenos Aires daily La Nación, reflecting the wonder of the press here, and in Spain, with the transcendent goal that the young Argentine forward Lionel Messi scored while playing Wednesday for Barcelona.

Commentators instantly compared the goal to the classic netted by Diego Armando Maradona, the now-retired Argentine legend, against England in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Messi, 19, hadn’t been born yet.

While the circumstances of Messi’s goal were more mundane—it was scored in Barcelona during a King’s Cup victory against rival Getafe—the art and dazzle of the young Argentine’s feat were lauded on both sides of the Atlantic. Replays and analysis of his achievement dominated sports television in Argentina.

Messi began his epic run in his own half, clearing two defenders and charging toward the visitors’ goal with opponents converging. He swerved to avoid rivals, rounded past the goal-keeper and lifted the ball home from a narrow angle.

But there was a bittersweet coda at home, as Argentines lamented a lost opportunity during last year’s disappointing World Cup. The national-squad coach opted to use Messi sparingly last year. The phenom never got a touch in the decisive match, in which host Germany ousted Argentina.

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

The Latino contribution to armed forces

Last Saturday in his weekly Culture Mix column, Times staff writer Agustin Gurza informed readers that documentary film maker Ken Burns had agreed to revise his upcoming PBS series on World War II to include the contributions of Latinos who served in the U.S. armed forces.

Burns had come under fire from Latino advocates who were upset that the seven-part documentary "The War," scheduled to air in September, neglected the contributions of some 500,000 Latino men and women who served Uncle Sam in an hour of need.

Among others, Gurza spoke with Otto Santa Ana, an associate professor of Chicana and Chicano studies at UCLA, "whose father and five uncles served in WWII," Gurza wrote. Now Jennifer Vo, identified as a library aide for the Los Angeles Unified School District, has joined the discussion in a commentary co-written with John P. Schmal that's posted on the local website

In her interesting, highly detailed piece (which apparently was written before Burns decided to shoot new material for his series), Vo discusses the many contributions of Latinos to the U.S. military, from the Expedition of 1781 that established the Pueblo of Los Angeles to the Korean War and beyond.

"From my earliest memories, my family has always expressed its pride in its military tradition of protecting American soil," writes Vo, two of whose family members were killed in action in World War II.

Posted by Reed Johnson in Mexico City

Mexico ponders the power of its broadcast giants

Mexicans who have been waiting decades for more competition in their nation's television sector are going to have to wait a little longer. Hector Osuna, president of the Federal Telecommunications Commission, said this week that his agency is going to have to do lengthy studies of the nation's broadcasting spectrum before awarding licenses for new radio and TV concessions.

Osuna said the research likely won't be completed until 2008, ensuring the continued dominance of Televisa and TV Azteca for the foreseeable future. The two networks control 94% of the nation's television stations and virtually all of its advertising revenue, making Mexico the most closed TV market in Latin America outside of Cuba.

Broadcasting is one of several key industries dominated by oligopolies, which are being blamed for retarding Mexico's economic growth and exacerbating income inequality. Seven of the 10 Mexicans listed on this year's Forbes ranking of the world's richest people made their money in industries where there is little or no competition in Mexico.

They include telecom mogul Carlos Slim Helu, who recently surpassed American investor Warren Buffett to become the world's second-richest man with a net worth estimated at $53.1 billion, as well as TV Azteca Chairman Ricardo Salinas Pliego (No. 172, $4.6 billion) and Emilio Azcarraga Jean (No. 459, $2.1 billion), chairman and chief executive of Grupo Televisa.

Posted by Marla Dickerson in Mexico City

TV Marti exec gets prison in fraud case

In the ongoing scandals involving U.S. government efforts to broadcast anti-Castro propaganda to Cubans, a senior executive of TV Marti drew a 27-month prison sentence in federal court in Miami Wednesday for bilking the taxpayer-funded operation of at least $112,000.

Jose M. Miranda also must pay $8,000 in fines for orchestrating kickbacks from a production contractor, Perfect Image Film and Video Productions, during his five-year stint as programming director.

TV and Radio Marti, both funded and operated by the U.S. government’s Office of Cuba Broadcasting, have been the subject of fierce criticism and debate in Latin America as well as in the United States. The broadcasts cost U.S. taxpayers tens of millions each year and seldom reach their target audience: Cuba’s 11 million people.

Cuban President Fidel Castro’s Communist regime jams the TV signal, and costly efforts to beam it from airborne U.S. military planes have also failed to get the programming into many Cuban households. Even those who can receive it tend to see the programs as amateurish and turn the channel in favor of livelier and less politically oriented programs from Mexican satellite providers.

Castro has railed against the intrusions into his country’s airwaves as imperialistic and aimed at inciting insurrection.

The Miami-based production and broadcast services are staffed by scores of anti-Castro Cuban exiles who keep pressure on the Bush administration to maintain harsh sanctions on Cuba.

Posted by Carol J. Williams in Miami

Tijuana's aging bullring heads out to pasture

Tijuana’s downtown bullring played host to many a bloody battle between man and beast. And now, facing it’s own death, its not going down without a fight. Two months after work crews began demolishing the 50-year-old structure to make way for a residential tower, bullfight aficionados and history buffs have been granted a court injunction halting the work.

In it’s heyday in the 1960s and 70s, the bullring was packed to the rafters every Sunday, mostly with tourists from Southern California. Sometimes Hollywood stars like Ava Gardner and Marilyn Monroe would show up, say historians.

But after a new bullring was built near the beach, attendance waned. It may be too late to save the bullring; half the steel structure has already been torn down. But preservationists are working to at least salvage the façade or create a small museum.

The effort hasn’t attracted much support in this booming city where most residents are newcomers. A potential developer of the site considers the aging structure an eyesore that housed a brutal, antiquated sport.

“I don’t have any fond memories,” said Gabriel Robles, the managing partner of Baja Resort Advisors. “I always thought it was terrible. Why don’t we bring aback the lions and the Christians. How about gladiator fights?” State officials are expected to make their final decision in June. Stay tuned.

Posted by Richard Marosi in Tijuana

Why did Cuba's Vitral magazine close?

There's been a lot of speculation on both sides of the Straits of Florida about the reasons behind the closing of Vitral, a self-described "sociocultural Catholic magazine" based in the western Cuban diocese of Pinar del Río.

Founded in 1994, and noted for its relatively independent editorial stance and willingness to discuss and even occasionally criticize the communist Cuban government, the 10,000-circulation magazine announced in April that it was shutting down because of a lack of funds.

Named for a variety of multi-colored glass used in old church windows, the magazine stressed the need for openness and a diversity of opinions about Cuba. According to an unidentified "church activist" in this story in El Nuevo Herald of Miami, the magazine was closed down because it had become a threat to "conservatives in the church and hard-liners in government."

But two days ago, a Catholic News Agency story quoted the diocese's bishop emeritus Jose Siro Gonzalez as saying that he hoped the closing would be only temporary, while insisting that the lack of such basic resources as paper and ink was indeed a real problem for the publication.

Posted by Reed Johnson in Mexico City

Honoring Peruvian victim of school massascre

La República of Lima highlights the death at Virginia Tech of a Peruvian student, Daniel Pérez Cueva, who was among those gunned down on campus. Cueva was a swimming champ who spoke three languages and dreamed of becoming a diplomat, the newspaper says.Today’s issue of the tabloid features front-page photos of a smiling Cueva and a mug shot of the dead shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, alongside the headline: "The two faces of the Virginia Massacre."

Posted by Patrick J. McDonnell and Andres D'Alessandro in Buenos Aires