• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, thehavananote.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
It’s not been a banner week – or month – for Cuba on the trade, investment, and economic front.
After its second attempt in 10 years to find commercial quantities of oil in Cuban deep water in the Gulf of Mexico – its latest well came up dry – Spain’s Repsol is “almost certain” it won’t try again. Repsol has the option to drill again later this year before the Italian-owned Scarabeo rig – which, due to the US embargo, had to be specially built with no more than 10 percent of American parts for exploration in Cuba – moves on to Brazil. Next up are two Malaysian and Russian firms, whose explorations this summer could be crucial to Cuba’s near-to-mid-term hopes of accessing undersea reserves it estimates to be as high as 20 billion barrels (the US estimates it to have around 5 billion).
As Jorge Pinon, a former oil executive and an expert on Cuba’s oil prospects, points out, once the only rig in the world that can drill in Cuban waters without violating the US embargo moves on, it could be years before it’s available and another player is willing to invest millions in the gamble – especially when larger reserves beckon elsewhere around the world. The prospect of an energy-independent Cuba was intriguing from a geopolitical standpoint, and surely a blow to Cuba’s hopes of digging out of its continuing economic troubles. Just as some wondered if success in the Gulf could derail the economic reforms underway out of necessity, it might soon be time to ask if failure could spur on the painfully slow pace of the reforms.
The pace seems even slower for foreign investments on the island as of late. Cuban officials have cracked down on foreign investors and their domestic partners found to be involved in corruption – two British executives have recently landed in jail. Other partners such as Unilever and a group of Israeli investors in Cuban citrus are on their way out following unsuccessful contract renewal negotiations. It’s mystifying to watch Cuban officials working harder to chase off investors than to bring them in when, as one western diplomat put it, such concessions are “inevitable”. With plans to drastically cut government payrolls (that the small domestic private sector can’t quickly or totally absorb), Cuba’s main benefactor and trading partner, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez’s health (and hold on power) uncertain, and big bills to pay with not enough hard currency earnings to pay them, it’s hard to understand what’s going on. And that is exactly the sort of climate that will scare off investors for the time being.
And in perhaps the most bitter news for Cuba, the US Supreme Court has rejected a petition over the US trademark rights to the Havana Club rum name. Given that the US accounts for 40 percent of the worldwide rum market, CubaExport and its French distributor partner Pernod Ricard, which distribute Cuba’s flagship rum to more than 80 other countries around the world but not in the US yet, had hoped the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) would hold their seat in the US market until the embargo is eventually lifted. That’s because CubaExport had registered the US rights to the name in 1976 (after the prior owner, who’s rum distillery was expropriated by the Cuban government, failed to renew the US trademark rights in 1973), and renewed its rights every ten years thereafter in order to keep its rights current.
Two decades and no US imports from Cuba later, Pernod Ricard’s competitor (and reigning worldwide rum distributor) Bacardi started bottling its own Havana Club rum. Pernod Ricard responded by suing Bacardi for the trademark infringement. Then, in 1998, Bacardi triumphed by getting allies in Congress to pass a rider, Section 211 of the 1999 Omnibus Appropriations Act, to block registration and renewal of trademark rights associated with expropriated Cuban properties (without “consent” of the “original owner” of the trademark), and to even block a US court from hearing a complaint on their behalf.
Pernod would likely have argued in court that the new law didn’t apply because the original owner of the Havana Club label had failed to renew their trademark rights in the US and thus was no longer considered the original owner, but it never got the chance, since Section 211 forced a Florida court to throw out the pending suit by Pernod Ricard against Bacardi. Then, when CubaExport tried to pay for the Havana Club rights renewal in 2006, as it had done for three decades, Section 211 now prevented the USPTO from accepting the payment.
The Havana Club rum dispute remains as obscure as ever to the larger American public. It’s simply too complicated, and there isn’t a big enough constituency to care. And that’s the real shame. Thanks to a backroom deal on a fast-moving, must-pass bill , the intended targets aren’t the only losers. The United States’ sterling reputation for intellectual property rights protection has taken a hit, and if renewed threats of retaliation by Cuba bear out, US businesses that have nothing to do with the row and enjoy trademark protection in Cuba today could lose that protection. Whatever one thinks of the Cuban government’s expropriation of businesses in the early days of the Revolution (and the American business community that overwhelmingly opposes Section 211 is surely no fan), it's hard to see how following Cuba’s usurping example is really the answer.
The latest episode of "Pablo Escobar: The Boss of Evil" airs June 4 on Caracol TV. The debut last week attracted some 11 million viewers, the network said, a number that is expected to climb until the series finale.
One promotional spot for "The Boss of Evil" (see video at original post) is indicative of some of the difficulties that the show's creators face in packaging the program for a Colombian audience. The ad has several segments, each representing a different facet of Escobar's life: ruthless killer, rich businessman, lover, and finally the world's most hunted man. A deep-voiced narrator describes well-known stories about Escobar, such as the fact that he paid assassins 1 million pesos (today worth about $545) for each police officer killed. Each segment ends with the narrator asking the audience, "What do you believe?"
The implication is that the Colombian public – including a new generation not quite old enough to remember Escobar's era – can select the vision of Escobar they most want to believe in. One of Escobar's greatest public relations skills was blurring the line between truth and lies, forcing Colombians to choose between his version of reality and the state's, which had its own serious credibility problems. Escobar's hand-scrawled communiques often lambasted police brutality in the Medellin slums that served as his powerbase. These accusations had some truth to them. But Escobar's depiction of reality was fundamentally warped: he denied his involvement in drug trafficking until the very end, and famously described his 1991 surrender to the government as a "sacrifice for peace." The implication was similar to the question posed by "The Boss of Evil" promos: Did Colombians believe Escobar's presentation of himself as a populist businessman, or the state's picture of him as murderous kingpin?
An article on Escobar published by Semana news magazine in 1983 (in Spanish) gave one of the most popular visions of Escobar, describing him as a "Robin Hood" who strolled around Medellin neighborhoods, addressed by inhabitants as "Don Pablo." This ambiguity of Escobar's legacy is one reason he continues to fascinate, and why he makes for great TV. Contradictory characters are the most interesting ones. And audiences are drawn to stories of hubris – by the end of Escobar's life his $3 billion fortune was squandered, and he was on the run, unable to stay more than six hours in a single location.
"The Boss of Evil" is not the first time that a Colombian telenovela has mined the world of drug trafficking for material. But by making Escobar the protagonist, the TV show is courting controversy, asking its audience to view him with curiosity and interest. This raises difficult questions over whether such a position borders on complacency towards Escobar's crimes, or approval of his lifestyle. Two of the show's creators had family members who were victims of Escobar's violent campaigns, allowing Caracol TV to avoid accusations that the TV show is painting too sympathetic a portrait of the Colombian drug lord.
Escobar's mystique is also related to his ambiguous position as Colombia's ultimate capitalist. He brought a flush of foreign cash into the country, fueling building booms and propping up businesses. He was an independent innovator and a micro-manager who hated to delegate.
And in his own twisted way, Escobar could make an argument that his cocaine trafficking business was a patriotic effort. Dating back to the 19th century, coca and cocaine were controlled and consumed by Western commercial interests. Unlike other natural resources in South America, Escobar made cocaine a Colombian-run business, bringing in huge profits that actually stayed in the country.
Escobar was behind other innovations. He used urban terrorism in a way never before seen during Colombia's decades of conflict. He made casual, brutal violence an accepted tactic of the drug trade. His cunning communiques, aimed at manipulating public opinion and justifying the acts of violence he described as "reprisals" against the state, are echoed today in the "narco-banners" hung across Mexico. And as Gabriel Garcia Marquez writes in "News of A Kidnapping," an account of Escobar's campaign to force the government to revoke its extradition laws, Escobar's cultural influence still lingers:
Easy money ... was injected into the national culture. The idea prospered: The law is the greatest obstacle to happiness, it is a waste of time learning how to read and write, you can live a better, more secure life as a criminal than as a law-abiding citizen – this was the social breakdown typical of all undeclared wars.
But as much as Escobar was an innovator, setting the tone for how organized crime continues to do business today, it is impossible to separate him from Colombia's history. Many members of Colombia's traditional land-owning elite could also trace their wealth back to criminal enterprises: contraband smuggling, land seizures, and slavery. Escobar's wealth came from just another industry that was technically illegal. And like Escobar, Colombia's elite long practiced their own system of violent justice, forming private armies to protect their interests in the countryside. By using violence as a tool to achieve his economic interests, Escobar formed part of the same tradition. The Medellin kingpin did not emerge from a vacuum.
The creators of "The Boss of Evil" argue that the TV show is intended as a way to relive one of the most difficult periods of Colombia's past. By emphasizing historical accuracy, the show will not act as a justification of Escobar's actions, the show creators say. As Semana points out (in Spanish), telling stories about bad guys is seductive. The irony is that the TV show is asking is audience to do something that Escobar repeatedly proved he was totally incapable of doing: distinguishing between good and evil.
The ancient Maya, famed for their knowledge of astronomy and highly precise calendar, closely followed the movements of Venus – possibly including the planet’s rare transits across the sun.
Now modern Mexico gets to view this last-in-a-lifetime planetary show tonight, along with the rest of the western hemisphere, when Venus will travel across the sun, appearing like a freckle on the face of our distant star.
“Venus will pass between the earth and the sun, creating a small shadow,” says Alejandro Farah, an astronomer with Mexico’s National Autonomous University.
There won’t be another chance to see this phenomenon for another 105 years. Mercury circles the sun fast enough that its shadow can be seen across the sun every 13 to 14 years. However, the tilted orbit of Venus makes its transit exceedingly rare. The transits occur in pairs spread eight years apart, separated from the next pair by more than a century. The last set was visible in 1874 and 1882. Tonight's phenomenon is the second of a pair (the first was in 2004) and won't be seen again until 2117.
For viewers in Mexico City, the second planet from the sun will make its move at approximately 5 p.m.
While June weather in the capital is typically hot and clear during the day, rain showers and thunderstorms often obscure the late afternoon sky. Weather.com predicts “scattered showers” for the capital beginning around 3 p.m. But, as often happens in the sprawling metropolis, rain may fall in one borough while the sun shines on another.
Venus’ five-hour journey will be visible for about three hours in Mexico City, until the sun sets at 8:13 p.m. local time. (The three top spots in the country to witness the journey are in Torreon, Coahuila, and Los Cabos and San Pedro Martir, Baja California, where Venus will be visible on the face of the sun for about six hours.)
IN PICTURES: Venus
The Maya followed Venus closely. Archeological studies of wall paintings in the ancient city of Mayapan suggest that the twin transits of Venus in 1153 and 1275 were likely seen and registered by the Maya, according to UNAM astronomer Jesus Galindo Trejo.
The Mayan studies of this planet were based on the “full capacity that the Maya had to carefully follow the apparent movement of this planet,” Mr. Galindo Trejo wrote in an academic article. “They meticulously registered the seasons of appearance and disappearance of Venus in its movement around the sun, seen from the Earth.”
Viewing activities are planned around the capital. UNAM’s science museum, Universum, plans to set up about a dozen telescopes on an esplanade for people to safely witness the phenomenon and will host talks, astronomy workshops, and children’s activities. Chapultepec Castle in the heart of the city’s largest park will also set up viewing stations.
The city’s Institute of Science and Technology is advising viewers to take special precautions, including never looking at the sun directly and using special filtered glasses to view the phenomenon for just seconds at a time.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Riorealblog.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
The first step taken on a path from Santa Barbara, Calif., to Rua Barão da Torre in Ipanema was when Sam Flowers was a mere ten-year-old, begging his mother to let him learn how to decorate cakes. That led to a BS degree in hotel administration from Cornell University, with an eye towards opening a restaurant.
“The irony is that I learned enough about the business to get frightened away,” Flowers admits with his easy smile. Even so, while earning an MBA he continued to decorate cakes, dreams on a back burner.
During eight years in executive management at Universal Studios, Flowers took a couple of vacations to Rio. “The first time I came alone and it rained every day. I didn’t speak Portuguese,” he recalls. “But I had never been anywhere before where I blended in, a country of mixed-race people.”
Flowers spent eighteen months here in 2004-5, that included a stint at PUC to learn Portuguese. He also scouted out locations, entertaining thoughts of chocolate chip cookies and brunch. On learning that opening a business will get you a resident visa, Flowers reserved the name Gringo Café on the internet. Then he went home to develop a business plan and put together the necessary funding for his enterprise.
“You have to have a back-up plan,” he advises. “With enough resources for a worst-case scenario. Not having enough cash set aside is one of the top reasons restaurants fail.” According to Flowers, nine restaurants in the vicinity of the Gringo Café have opened and closed in the two years he’s been in business. No positive cash flow from one to three years is typical in the restaurant business, he adds.
What are the biggest problems a gringo restaurateur faces in Rio de Janeiro?
- Customers shy away from new foods; Brazilians eat crêpes and pasta, but have little experience with delights such as Sam’s mouthwatering blueberry pancakes or comforting macaroni-and-cheese.
- Employee turnover; the current low unemployment rate means training lots of chefs and waiters, only to have them move on.
- High payroll costs, due to taxes; “The burden is dramatic,” says Flowers. “And you pay income tax even if you’re losing money!”
Economists have long described and lamented the so-called “Brazil Cost“, which retards business vitality for everyone, not just foreigners. Steps have been taken to reduce this at different levels of government. But much remains to be done.
Meanwhile, revenue in the Gringo Café’s second year is up 15 - 20 percent from its first year. Rio’s high dining-out prices have actually helped business, as tourists and locals head away from prime venues on Avenida Visconde de Pirajá to find more affordable meals on back streets.
When Flowers began to dream of the Gringo Café, he looked for someone who could describe to him all the steps of the process of making the investment, getting a visa, and setting up the business. Such a person didn’t exist, he discovered. Now he’s doing some consulting on the side for other dreamers. “You really have no way to know what [the business] is going to look like until you’re in it,” Flowers concludes – despite so much careful preparation. “You have to test and adjust.”
– Julia Michaels, a long-time resident of Brazil, writes the blog Rio Real, which she describes as a constructive and critical view of Rio de Janeiro’s ongoing transformation.
A flood of villagers are fleeing their homes in the state of Sinaloa, driven out by a battle between two of the country's biggest criminal organizations – the Sinaloa Cartel and the Beltran Leyva Organization – for the crown jewel of Mexico's drug production: the Sierra Madre mountain range.
In May, the Sinaloa state government released a report (see pdf in original post) claiming 1,203 families, or an estimated 5,000 people, had been forced to leave their homes in the last several months, but blamed the displacements on both increasing violence in the area and a severe drought. The Sinaloa Human Rights Commission, a non-governmental organization, says the number of displaced in the state is closer to 25,000 people over roughly the same period, the vast majority of whom are fleeing the fighting between drug cartels.
Both the state and the human rights organization reports agree that the majority of these people come from municipalities in the Sierra Mountains, which cut through the states of Sinaloa, Durango, and Chihuahua. This region makes up part of the so-called Golden Triangle, the epicenter of marijuana and poppy (the raw ingredient for heroin) production in the country. Authorities also believe there are large, industrial-size methamphetamine labs in the area.
The Sierra is a symbolic center of operations for the Sinaloa Cartel and the cartel's birthplace. For opposition forces, taking this strategic and symbolic center of operations would represent a seismic shift in the Mexican underworld and may help explain why the Sinaloa cartel forces have targeted the Zetas' stronghold of Nuevo Laredo in recent weeks.
Displaced people, interviewed during a visit to the area by InSight Crime, say that beginning in July of last year caravans of vehicles carrying large groups of heavily armed men have poured into their territory to commit assassinations, burn houses, and run them from their villages.
"They say: 'If you stay, you work with us. If you don't work with us, you die,'" one frightened displaced resident of Sinaloa de Levya told InSight Crime on condition of anonymity.
As many as a dozen people were killed in his community in the municipality of Sinaloa de Leyva at the end of last year, he said. The final straw came in January, when villagers say between 8 and 9 vehicles – some of which had makeshift machine-gun turrets in the pickup beds – with 70 to 80 heavily armed men arrived and burned several houses.
Nearly 300 families fled to nearby Surutato, in the neighboring municipality of Badiraguato, where the majority remain. Some of these displaced say the villagers have regrouped, armed themselves and are employing guerrilla tactics, such as putting obstacles in the road, to keep the opposition forces, who they say are from the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) – Zetas – Juarez Cartel at bay. The Mexican army is also present, sending reinforcements to the small battalion based in Surutato.
The pattern of attacks in Sinaloa de Leyva is repeating itself further north in the municipality of Choix and south in the municipalities of San Ignacio and Concordia, where mixed groups of suspected BLO, Zetas, and Juarez Cartel members make regular incursions in an attempt to root residents suspected of supporting the Sinaloa Cartel from their areas of production.
In Concordia, the prize may be control of the new highway that will slice through the mountains, connecting the key port city of Mazatlan with Durango, where a similarly bloody battle is playing out between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas.
But it is in Choix where the recent battles have been the fiercest. During one five-day stretch beginning in late April, at least 21 were killed in running battles through the mountainous region. (Press reports oscillated between 21 and 40 dead.)
The Sierra is the birthplace of the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias "El Chapo," who, along with his partner Ismael Zambada, alias "El Mayo," has ruled this territory for years. For a time, they were partnered with the Beltran Leyva Organization, which also hails from the Sierra.
But a dispute between the Chapo – Mayo faction and the Beltran Leyva family erupted in January 2008 when authorities arrested a top member of the family, Alfredo Beltran Leyva, in Culiacan, Sinaloa. The BLO, believing Chapo had betrayed the clan, killed Chapo's son as he entered a Culiacan mall in May of that same year.
Since then, the state has seen some of the highest homicide rates in the country as the groups' various factions, all of whom have networks that stretch into urban areas, eliminate soldiers and alleged supporters of the other. A third faction, remnants of the Juarez Cartel based in the Sinaloa municipality of Navolato, also entered the fray against the Chapo – Mayo clans. Those two groups, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Juarez Cartel, have fought for control of Ciudad Juarez over the past three years.
When authorities killed the Beltran Leyva clan's head, Arturo, alias "El Jefe de los Jefes," in a dramatic December 2009 shootout in Cuernavaca, it was thought the Chapo – Mayo faction had won. Police arrested Alfredo's brother Carlos just days later, leaving Hector, alias "H," as the only one to run the family's affairs. However, Hector has surprised, steadily rebuilding his forces by aligning himself with one-time enemies – the Zetas and the Juarez Cartel.
The Zetas' core is former military personnel, while the heart of the Juarez Cartel hails from Sinaloa. Using the Zetas' military prowess, the Juarez Cartel's soldiers and local know-how, and the BLO's institutional and historical presence in municipalities like Guasave, the BLO-Zetas-Juarez group is now making regular incursions into Chapo – Mayo controlled areas in the Sierra mountains.
The dispute is more than personal and drug-related. The Sierra is also a known refuge for criminal groups. Stretching back to Mexico's civil war, so-called "gavillas," – or small, mostly blood-related criminal clans – have operated in the region. Both the Beltran Leyvas and Chapo ran their own gavillas for a time. They later graduated to creating more regional "commandos" and used the local gavillas as proxies.
As long as there was one boss or one organization controlling the Sierra, the gavillas were quiet and under control. But the current war has forced numerous gavillas into choosing sides or, in at least one case, breaking off on their own, creating an even more unstable situation.
The Norwegian Refugee Council said in a recent report 230,000 Mexicans had fled their homes because of drug-related violence since 2006. In contrast, the United Nations identifies a mere 1,570 people as a "population of concern”. Meanwhile the national government continues to refer to the displaced as "internal migrants," downplaying the relation to the drug cartels.
In some ways, the growing problem of displacement resembles Colombia where armed groups fight for control of drug production zones. Like Colombia, the threat to villagers is explicit: work for us or leave. And like Colombia, authorities have been slow to recognize the problem, thus leaving villagers to arm themselves and fight back.
– Steven Dudley is a director at Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of his research here.
Costa Rican authorities announced that the country registered its first yearly decrease in homicides in six years. The country registered 474 homicides in 2011, 53 less than 2010. That brings the rate per 100,000 down to 10.3 from 11.5.
Homicides in Guatemala decreased in both 2010 and 2011 and it appears as if the trend will continue in 2012. Homicides look to be down between 10 – 20 percent compared to this time last year.
While homicides did not decrease in El Salvador last year, the country will experience a sharp reduction in homicides for 2012 should the gang truce hold for the rest of the year. Homicides are down around 60 percent compared to the first few months of the year.
Homicides aren't the only measure of violence and the region's numbers are still higher than everyone wants. However, better governance and creativity can bring about improvements in the daily lives of the region's citizens.
– Mike Allison is an associate professor in the Political Science Department and a member of the Latin American and Women's Studies Department at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. You can follow his Central American Politics blog here.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, cuba.foreignpolicyblogs.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
Mariela Castro’s US tour continued this week with a visit to the United Nations, a meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, and a public presentation at the New York Public Library. The East Coast stopover followed a busy agenda in San Francisco last week, and has upset those who say that Castro used the visit to “bash” the United States, others who found her comments regarding President Obama (that she would vote for him if she could) overly controversial, and of course, those who believe that she should never have been granted a US visa for the visit in the first place.
But in reality, the visit appears to have gone quite well, and is deserving of some kudos.
The beauty of free speech in a country like the United States is that Mariela Castro is allowed to visit and share beliefs with which many people agree – say, regarding the rights and equality of LGBT persons – as well as beliefs with which many people disagree – for instance, that the current political system in Cuba is open, fair, and democratic, as she stated Tuesday evening. Those who listen and participate in an exchange with her are able to formulate their own opinions, and should be allowed that privilege.
David da Silva Cornell, an international business attorney based in Miami, appeared to provide the most reasonable treatment of the issues around this visit in a Huffington Post article this week. He repeated Moshe Dayan’s famous quote “If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.” and added: “Refusing even to engage in dialogue with those with whom one disagrees never seems to yield results.”
In his opinion piece, da Silva Cornell called upon Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and Castro’s co-panelist for the New York Public Library session on Tuesday, to challenge Castro by raising the connection of LGBT rights to the larger context of universal human and civil rights that are so limited in Cuba. And sure enough, Carey did. She asked Castro on Tuesday evening whether she would anticipate expanding her push for LGBT rights to “people with different religious or political views.”
The fact that Carey did not receive much of a reply matters little. What is important is the clear difference in certain convictions between Carey and Castro as interlocutors, and the peaceful exchange of ideas nonetheless.
– Melissa Lockhart Fortner is Senior External Affairs Officer at the Pacific Council on International Policy and Cuba blogger at the Foreign Policy Association. Read her blog, and follow her on Twitter @LockhartFortner.
The story of a Brazilian campaigner forced to flee her Amazon home by death threats from illegal loggers underscores the dangers faced by land activists in the country, and the government's failure to protect them.
On May 19, land activist Nilcilene Miguel de Lima left her community in Labrea municipality in the south of Amazonas state, fearing that she would be killed by illegal loggers if she stayed. Since November last year, she had been under the protection of nine armed police officers. However, the guard was withdrawn after its initial six-month term ended, leaving her vulnerable to attacks, reported Publica (in Portuguese).
According to residents of Labrea, illegal loggers celebrated Miguel de Lima's departure, telling residents, "We've put the National [Police] Force on the run," the news website reported.
Miguel de Lima has been the target of numerous threats and attacks since 2009 when she became head of God Will Provide (Deus Provera), an association of local farmers and rubber tappers. In June 2010 she was beaten by a group of illegal loggers, and her house was burned down in August of that year, apparently in retaliation for her activist work, reported Oeco Amazonia (in Portuguese). She fled Labrea in May 2011 but returned under a government guarantee of protection.
Now, she has been forced to flee again. Though the government paid her airfare out of Labrea, acknowledging the danger if she stayed, it appears little is being done to protect others in the community at risk. As Publica notes, seven people have been killed in the region since 2007.
InSight Crime Analysis
Miguel de Lima's case highlights the dangers associated with land activism in Brazil. Much of this is connected to illegal logging, which represents up to 80 percent of the country's timber industry, according to Greenpeace. Many have died as a result of clashes between communities trying to protect their land from large businesses and criminal groups moving in to exploit the highly lucrative trade.
Five campaigners against illegal logging were assassinated in the Amazon state of Para in one month last year. Some 1,000 land activists have been murdered in the last two decades, but only 80 hitmen and 15 landowners have been convicted for these crimes, according to the Guardian.
Neide Lourenco of the campaign group Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) said that the withdrawal of Miguel de Lima's security unit was "a message of impunity and a victory for lawlessness. Those who denounce deforestation are expelled and the criminals have all the freedom to continue extracting resources from the forest."
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Riogringa. The views expressed are the author's own.
Despite the fact that US immigration reform is seemingly becoming more of an uphill battle in an increasingly polarized country, support for the DREAM Act – a law which would give immigrants brought to the United States in their youth a path to residency – is on the rise. Though the DREAM Act bill was narrowly defeated in the Senate in December 2010, it was reintroduced last year, and immigration reform advocates still hold out hope that it could pass.
I've written about several Brazilians at the heart of the DREAM Act, including Felipe Matos, one of the United States' top immigration reform activists, and Polyana de Oliveira, a Brazilian who moved back to her country of birth after running out of time for the DREAM Act to pass. But what I recently discovered is that the very person who inspired the DREAM Act is in fact Brazilian by birth.
Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois was one of the senators who wrote and introduced the DREAM Act back in 2001, inspired by Tereza Lee. Tereza was born in São Paulo to Korean parents, and lived in Brazil until she was 2, when the family moved to Chicago. Ms. Lee became a talented pianist and was accepted into some of the top music schools in the country. But since she was undocumented, she was ineligible for financial aid. One of her music teachers decided to search for a solution, and called Mr. Durbin's office to see if he could help. Soon, the DREAM Act was born.
Part of the reason it took so long for the bill to be considered in Congress was that it was due to be discussed on September 12, 2001; Tereza herself was supposed to fly to Washington for the hearing. Fortunately, Tereza was lucky. She had the fortune to be able to study at the Manhattan School of Music, where she is currently pursuing a doctorate. Now age 29, she married an American and gained residency. But she's still a vocal part of the DREAM Act movement, advocating for others like her.
I spoke to Tereza briefly about her family's journey from Korea to Brazil to the US, as well as her role in immigration reform.
What brought your parents to Brazil? What brought them later to the United States?
My parents had lost everything – their belongings, homes, and land – during the Korean War and subsequent struggles. They became part of a massive wave of Korean immigration to North and South America. They first moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where I was born, and started a small clothing business. Although they were, initially, relatively successful, they decided to move to the US to start over again after almost all of their savings [were] stolen via identity theft. My mother sold her wedding ring in order to buy visas and plane tickets for us, and we moved to Chicago when I was two.
Once you became a resident, where was the first place you traveled abroad? Have you been back to Brazil or to Korea?
I've not been back to Brazil, and have unfortunately never been to Korea, but I have been able to visit Germany, France, Italy, and Japan.
Before I even boarded an airplane, though, I really experienced a feeling of vertigo when I received my permanent resident document which allowed me to travel. Although I was, of course, beyond thrilled to finally have documentation, and be one step closer to American citizenship, at the same time it struck me as incredibly bizarre and unsettling that this small, flimsy piece of paper could have such power over my life.
What's your involvement like with the DREAM movement at present?
I am constantly trying to keep up to date on all the latest news on the DREAM Act. I stay in touch with other DREAMers as much as I can, and have become friends with many of them. I also volunteer occasionally at rallies and events – there are so many here in New York.
Do you think the DREAM Act has a chance of passing anytime in the near future?
Absolutely! Both houses of Congress voted to pass the DREAM Act in 2010, and with only a few more votes to override a filibuster in the Senate, it would have been made law then. I'm no expert on politics, but I know the upcoming election will be very significant for the DREAM Act. On the other hand, my guess is that it's not likely to happen before the election.
What advice would you give to other DREAMers?
Stay positive, both in your own lives and in your communications with others. Being caught between the cracks of the immigration system for years can be enormously frustrating and debilitating, and many DREAMers I've talked to have battled severe depression. I also know, though, that DREAMers know how to survive amid great obstacles and constant fear, and it never ceases to amaze me how many DREAMers have persevered and become valedictorians, star athletes, and leaders in their communities. When we bring our message to the public, anger won't work. We need to focus on the benefits that America will receive from allowing all of these talented people to contribute, and then, once the DREAM Act passes, go out and prove it!
Colombia's guerrillas freed French reporter Romeo Langlois on Wednesday, just over a month after he was taken hostage during a clash between rebels and Army troops in the southern province of Caquetá.
Rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) handed Mr. Langlois over to a humanitarian mission made up of representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, a former Colombian senator, and an envoy of the French government.
Television images from the village of San Isidro, where the handover took place, showed Langlois, a reporter for France 24, smiling amid a throng of villagers. The townspeople have reportedly prepared a festive lunch for Langlois, the humanitarian commission, and his former captors.
The ease with which the rebels moved among the civilian population in the village shows the FARC still maintains a certain amount of control in the area, a historic stronghold of their southern bloc.
Wearing a blue shirt and black pants, Langlois appeared in good health despite having been wounded in the arm during the firefight when he fell into FARC hands just a few miles from the village where he was released today.
"Aside from the fact that I was retained for a month when I was wounded, everything else has gone well. I can’t complain,” he told reporters, adding that he was never tied up during his captivity.
Langlois was taken by the rebels on April 28 after the military unit he was accompanying on an counternarcotics mission came under attack by the FARC’s 15th Front. Three soldiers and a police officer were killed in the attack.
The Army said Langlois shed the bullet-proof vest and helmet the Army had furnished him with and surrendered to the rebels, declaring he was a journalist. Several days later the FARC declared the reporter a “prisoner of war.”
Human rights and press freedom groups rejected the notion of Langlois being considered a POW and said the FARC’s failure to release him immediately violated a rebel announcement in February that it would cease kidnapping civilians.
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