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Latin America Blog

Teen motherhood: how does Latin America stack up?

By Sibylla BrodzinskyCorrespondent / 10.30.13

Paola González, a 17-year-old honor student from a poor family here, didn't plan on becoming a mother so young. But likely neither did many of the 20,000 other girls under the age of 18 who the UN Population Fund found give birth every day in developing countries around the world. 

The eight-months-pregnant Bogotá teen dreamed of studying physical education in college and becoming a teacher. But she used no birth control when she became sexually active. "I didn't really think about it," says Paola.

Teen motherhood is something that perpetuates poverty and puts girls' health and life at risk, according to the new UN report entitled "Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the Challenge of Adolescent Pregnancy," released today.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, 18 percent of women in the recent UN survey reported giving birth at least once before the age of 18. Among that total, 2 percent reported giving birth before the age of 15. The highest regional teen birth rates before the age of 18 were reported in Nicaragua (28 percent), Honduras (26 percent), and The Dominican Republic (25 percent). The global average for women giving birth before 18 years of age in developing countries is 19 percent.

Latin America fares better than Africa (28 percent in West and Central Africa, and 25 percent in East and Southern Africa) and South Asia (22 percent) in terms of teen pregnancies, but trails behind Arab States (10 percent) and East Asia and the Pacific (8 percent).

Marcela Suazo, the UNPF specialist for Latin America, says that studies show as many as 90 percent of pregnancies in girls who are 15 years old or younger are the product of rape. Due to cultural norms, these offenses are rarely reported to health services in Latin America. "The younger a girl is, the more hidden away the pregnancy," Ms. Suazo says.

There can also be disproportionate blame placed on a girl for getting pregnant, according to Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA executive director.

While the report says that many girls get pregnant due to a lack of information – one out of every three teenage girls in Central America was found to be unaware she could get pregnant the first time she had sex – Paola was informed. "I learned about planning methods in school but didn't use them," she says.

At school, where Paola is on the honor roll, teachers were surprised at her pregnancy but have encouraged her to continue studying. 

Paola is aware that having her baby will set her back, but she doesn't see it as a deterrent to fulfilling her dreams. She plans to finish high school and begin her college studies by the middle of next year.  "Having a baby wasn't in my plans but I won't let it get in the way," she says defiantly.  

A bus with the pictures of Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez and Martin Sabbatella, head of the Federal Audiovisual Communication Services Authority (AFSCA), is parked in front the National Congress as people gather to celebrate the Supreme Court ruling that upheld the government-sponsored media law in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013. (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)

Argentina: Will controversial media law help or hinder 30 years of democracy?

By Correspondent / 10.30.13

Thirty years ago today, following the fall of a brutal, seven-year military dictatorship, Argentines voted in general elections.
The democratic process has remained unbroken since, and last night many here celebrated a media law that they believe is pivotal to strengthening that democracy. Opponents, however, say it is a dangerous tool whose only function is to silence anti-government voices.
After four years of injunctions, appeals, and advertising campaigns that polarized opinion, Supreme Court judges ruled yesterday that a controversial 2009 media law was constitutional.

The ruling means Clarín – one of the biggest media conglomerates in Latin America, which vigorously fought the legislation – must finally adhere to the law, which limits the size of broadcast media companies and supersedes legislation from the dictatorship.  
Clarín is an outspoken government critic, accused by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of lying, and it's now required to auction off many of its assets. Media companies, for instance, cannot own more than 24 broadcast licenses across Argentina. Clarín’s cable provider owns at least 158.

“This is a triumph for democracy, liberty, and pluralism,” Martín Sabbatella, who heads the government agency that is enforcing the law, said after yesterday’s ruling. The judges determined that “on limiting market concentration,” the law “favors freedom of expression.”

Clarín disagrees. Its CEO has called the law an attack on the independent press and, subsequently, on freedom of expression. But during the Supreme Court hearing in August, Clarín's lawyers fumbled for an explanation when asked how free speech would be affected.

In a statement, the company implied that the true intention of the government was to control the media. It accused President Kirchner’s administration of “colonizing” 80 percent of broadcast outlets through a number of strategies, including making them dependent on government advertising.
In their 392-page ruling, the judges warned against using government advertising as a means to “eliminate dissent and the pluralist debate of ideas.”
Kirchner – who was reelected with 54 percent of the vote in 2011, and held on to a slim majority in both congressional houses in midterm elections on Sunday – has also been accused of ruling Argentina by decree and trying to influence the courts. (But she is not alone: the same accusations were aimed at Carlos Menem, who was president from 1989 to 1999.) Last year, Kirchner nationalized an oil firm by emergency decree and, in 2010, used the same method to fire the central bank president.
Some analysts say her government has moved towards a “competitive authoritarianism,” in which there are free and fair elections but abuse of other democratic processes and the media. 

For Kirchner’s supporters, however, the constitutionality of the media law and the 30th anniversary of democracy are cause today for double celebration.

Members of the Trique Indian boys basketball team practice in the town of Santa Maria El Tule, Mexico, Friday, Oct. 18, 2013. The boys from the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca, many who play barefoot, have become famous in Mexico after winning all six of their games to become this year's champions at the International Festival of Mini-Basketball, held recently in Argentina. (Luis Alberto Cruz Hernandez/AP)

Is basketball now a rising star in soccer-loving Mexico?

By Lourdes MedranoCorrespondent / 10.28.13

Soccer may be king of sports in Mexico, but the rising popularity of basketball is giving fútbol a kick in the shin.
"We're seeing a new wave of young people showing great interest in basketball," says Jaime González Rodriguez, director of the municipal sports institute in Nogales.

Mr. González Rodriguez points toward dozens of teens dribbling and shooting hoops in a gym at a sports complex here in the border state of Sonora. At a special basketball clinic, the youngsters share the court with former Phoenix Suns players Tom Chambers, Steven Hunter, Tim Kempton, and Horacio Llamas, the National Basketball Association's (NBA) first Mexico-born player.

The NBA is working to extend its reach into Mexico. In December, the San Antonio Spurs will go up against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Mexico City –marking only the second regular-season game to be played there. The timing of the NBA's foray south of the border comes just as a basketball buzz is gripping Mexico.

While Mexico's beloved national soccer squad struggles, its basketball team is making history. Having pulled off an improbable championship run at the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Americas, the team heads to the FIBA World Cup in Spain next year. Mexico last appeared in the basketball tournament in 1974.

Then there's Mexico's "barefoot team."

Earlier in October, a group of Trique Indian boys from the southern state of Oaxaca dominated the International Festival of Mini-Basketball and eventually emerged as champions in the Argentina venue.  As the name suggests, the games allow children to play on smaller courts with shortened hoops.

The team earned its nickname because most of the boys play barefoot, despite having sneakers provided for them. Most were not used to playing in shoes because their families can't afford them. The boys earned acclaim from various corners of the world.

The boys' incredible feat, no pun intended, not only serves to inspire other kids in Mexico and Latin America, but is also a boon to the sport, González Rodriguez says.

"Things seem to be falling into place," he says. "Now we are demonstrating the value of basketball in Mexico."

The director recalls that basketball reigned in Nogales for decades. But over time soccer rose to the top. From the 1960s and through the '80s, the city was known as "the cradle of basketball," Mr. Rodriguez says. Soccer long has had an official presence in Mexico. The country participated in the first World Cup soccer match in 1930, but it wasn't until after the country hosted the 1970 World Cup that soccer exploded in the streets and became a national obsession.

But inside the local gym hosting the NBA clinic, basketball is best. At least according to Andrés Borboa and Marco Antonio Osorio, both 13-year-olds who play on the same basketball team. "I like everything about basketball," Marco says.

The boys say they learned valuable techniques from the Suns that they will put to the test at their next game. They admit to knowing little about the Suns stars working with them today, saying they're more familiar with players such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant.

But they know about Mr. Llamas. "He has inspired me, because like him, I also want to make it to the NBA," Andrés says.

Llamas, who made a name for himself in the Mexican league before playing his first game with the Suns in 1997, says he was honored to be part of the event in a place that's part of his basketball career. "I played in Nogales many years ago," he says.

Llamas is flattered that kids born long after he played in the NBA know who he is. He says this shows that an interest in basketball can prove a positive influence and help kids steer clear of trouble. "So many bad things are said about our country, but a lot of good things are also happening," Llamas says, referring to the many youngsters who dedicate time and effort to sports. "We need to pay more attention to the good things."

Laura Bozzo, Spanish language TV talk show host, speaks during a interview in her television studio in Lima, Peru, Sept. 7, 2004. Last month Ms. Bozzo hitched a ride with rescue crews, helicoptering into an impoverished village in Guerrero state – ostensibly to lend a helping hand. (Martin Mejia/AP/File)

A century after the Revolution, Mexico could make it harder to expel foreigners

By David AgrenCorrespondent / 10.24.13

After twin storms hit Mexico simultaneously last month, TV talk show host Laura Bozzo hitched a ride with rescue crews, helicoptering into an impoverished village in Guerrero state – ostensibly to lend a helping hand. But when allegations surfaced that Ms. Bozzo staged a made-for-TV spectacle – preventing the state government helicopter she arrived in from distributing supplies to incommunicado settlements – some outraged citizens on social media called for a uniquely Mexican punishment for the Peruvian-born reporter: expulsion.

Article 33 of the Mexican Constitution permits the president to discretionally expel anyone deemed non grata. It also prohibits the participation of foreigners in Mexican matters – mainly politics.

But President Enrique Peña Nieto has proposed reining in some of the excesses of Article 33. He sent a constitutional amendment on Tuesday to the Senate, which would allow anyone ordered out of the country the right to a hearing in which they can present evidence, consult legal council, and receive consular assistance. They can also seek injunctions known as “amparos” against unfavorable outcomes – previously unattainable since the Supreme Court would traditionally defer to the president.

With the proposed changes, “You begin to institutionalize the procedure,” says Federico Estévez, political science professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico.

The proposal, Mr. Peña Nieto said in the amendment documents, would allow Mexico to adhere to its international obligations in human rights matters, along with providing “minimum conditions to assure the adequate protection of [foreigners’] rights, that’s to say, due process.”

A change to Article 33 moves Mexico yet further away from anti-foreigner sentiments so prevalent after the Revolution of 1910, when the winners – who took up arms, demanding, “Land and liberty" – wanted to avoid a rerun of the Porfiriato, the period of President Porfirio Díaz, who often favored foreigners and their investments at the expense of ordinary Mexicans.

It’s also another step in the opening of a country so closed 25 years ago (prior to the signing of NAFTA) that kids would buy contraband candy like Snickers bars – smuggled from the United States – in itinerant markets.

With Mexico having signed free trade agreements with more than 40 countries and the current administration attempting to open the North American country to even more commerce, analysts say the scrapping of the excesses of Article 33 sends the right signal.

“It’s a good strategy by the administration,” says Arturo Pueblita Fernández, constitutional law professor at the Iberoamerican University. “It lets [investors] know, ‘Mexico is open for doing business.’"

Freezing out foreigners

The Mexican constitution still places some prohibitions on foreigners: only citizens can serve in the military or captain Mexican-flagged ships.

But changes have been made, too: foreign priests, for example, were previously not allowed to work in Mexico. Also, an amendment approved in the lower house of Congress last spring would allow foreigners to buy properties in coastal areas. The Senate still must approve the measure.

Still, Article 33 has long stood out among Mexican laws, somewhat spooking foreigners – mainly due its discretionary application, says Mr. Fernández, whose great-grandfather, an Italian immigrant and printer by trade, was expelled from Mexico for printing pamphlets in the 1930s for an opposition movement.

More recently, the government expelled Europeans in Chiapas state for alleged improper meddling in the 1990s Zapatista uprising.

The Interior Ministry, which is responsible for the National Immigration Institute, has also used Article 33 to kick out foreigners and “avoid the extradition process,” says Luis Guillermo Cruz Rico, a Mexican lawyer now working in Toronto.

Mr. Cruz and other observers say proposed amendments to Article 33 show how far the fear of foreigners has fallen in Mexico, and how it no longer moves the masses.

“It’s a convenient rhetorical device,” for some politicians, Mr. Estévez says.

“But it doesn’t get you much mileage anymore.”

Former 'missing child' in El Salvador's civil war tells his journey in film

By Bryan KayCorrespondent / 10.19.13

Nelson de Witt had just returned from summer camp when he heard the life-changing news.

It wasn’t the fact that Mr. de Witt’s biological family was located in El Salvador – he had long known he was adopted from the Central American nation.

But for the first time the details of his life before adoption were revealed – and the story was more dramatic than he ever imagined. Then 16-year-old de Witt learned he wasn’t just adopted at age two by a family in Boston; He was the son of El Salvadoran revolutionaries.

Born Roberto Coto, his mother died in a government raid on a guerrilla safe house in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa and de Witt became one of the estimated 800 disappeared children of El Salvador’s 12-year civil war, which ended in 1992 with a peace accord between the government and leftist guerrillas.

In the years following his discovery – which was facilitated by an emotional letter from his biological grandmother ­– de Witt was able to meet the surviving members of his birth family, which included one brother and two sisters, the grandmother, and his father. It was a journey that took him across Central America, from El Salvador to Costa Rica to Panama.

De Witt was lucky, he learned.

More than 75,000 people died in El Salvador’s civil war, and rights groups have uncovered that it was common practice for soldiers to "disappear" children – in many cases either taking them and raising them as their own, or selling them through illegal adoption networks. 

In a memoir titled Missing Mila, Finding Family: An International Adoption in the Shadow of the Salvadoran Civil War, de Witt's adoptive mother, Margaret E. Ward, references the shepherding role played by the wife of then US ambassador to Honduras John Negroponte in her son's adoption.

"As we considered the little we had been told about our adopted son and how he had been orphaned, it did occur to us that the background might be highly political," Ms. Ward wrote.

De Witt set out in his own small way to try to help others like himself and families who had lost young children during the civil war. And his summer camp in East Brookfield, Mass. again played a central role: De Witt, now in his early thirties, teamed up with his first camp counselor, John Younger, a professional filmmaker, to produce a documentary about his life story and El Salvador's myriad disappeared children. The project has been funded through Kickstarter, an online fundraising tool.

Titled "Identifying Nelson," the film follows de Witt on his 15-year journey toward understanding his past and his birth-country's history. He builds relationships with members of his biological family, meets the El Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes, and interviews other “disappeared” children.

In one of the opening sequences, a grainy newspaper photo appears on the screen, taken after Honduran authorities conducted the raid that killed de Witt's mother. In the arms of a woman wearing military fatigues, a two-year-old de Witt stares down the lens. "I am Nelson de Witt. I am Roberto Coto," de Witt narrates. "I am one of the disappeared children of El Salvador."

As the film progresses, we learn of his birth family's 14-year search to find him – particularly the tireless efforts of his grandmother. That long struggle is perhaps encapsulated best in a handwritten letter she penned after learning there was a chance her grandson might have been located in the US. Her words flash across the screen, a particularly poignant sentence highlighted. "You can't imagine how long I've been looking for you," she wrote. "Every night I prayed and asked God to help me find you..."

In another scene, we see newspaper photographs of a woman's bloodied corpse slumped on the floor. "As part of an operation for the FMLN [El Salvador’s rebel group during the civil war], my mother was involved in a kidnapping for ransom of a businessman, which ultimately led to my disappearance," de Witt says. "We don't know exactly what happened but we are sure my mother did not make it out alive." 

The film also documents de Witt’s reunion with his biological family: A photo of him greeting his father for the first time trails across the screen, their likeness striking.

"Identifying Nelson" documents de Witt’s personal voyage, but he envisions the film as a way to highlight the issue of El Salvador’s disappeared and to pressure authorities to continue uncovering the truth of what happened to them. “Thirty years on and families still are looking for loved ones,” he says.

The film is a three-part series, and Mr. Younger and de Witt have put on screenings of part one, due out in early 2014, at university campuses across the US.  

For updates on the film’s release and progress, visit

Haiti's child slaves land country high on new global slavery index (+video)

By Ezra FieserCorrespondent / 10.17.13

Slavery is alive and thriving, a new report says. 

But many of the 29 million modern day slaves might challenge your concept of who is a slave. It might be an indebted laborer, a victim of human trafficking, or, in the case of Haiti, the child working in the kitchen.

Walk Free Foundation used an expanded definition of slavery to produce what it says is a first-of-its-kind look at the practice in the modern world.

“It would be comforting to think that slavery is a relic of history, but it remains a scar on humanity on every continent,” says Nick Grono, CEO the Australia-based foundation that produced the Global Slavery Index 2013, the first of a planned annual publication. 

Nearly half of the world’s slaves live in India. But the index ranked 162 countries according to the percentage of enslaved people in the general population. Western Africa’s Mauritania, Haiti and Pakistan had the three highest rates of slavery, respectively, according to the index.

While Mauritania’s 140,000 to 160,000 enslaved people fit more closely with the historical perception of who is a slave, Haiti provides a different face to the practice.

Haiti’s 200,000 to 220,000 enslaved people are mostly children who live with families not their own, working as household servants in the Caribbean country’s complex and long-standing restavèk system.

Under restavèk (a Haitian creole word derived from French meaning “one who stays with”), poor, often rural, families send their children to live with a family of better means, usually in urban areas. The children are sent with the understanding that the family will clothe, feed, quarter, and educate them in exchange for their work.  

But inside the homes, “many of these children suffer the cruelest form of neglect – denied food, water, a bed to sleep in, and constant physical and emotional abuse,” the report says. 

The group estimates that between 300,000 and 500,000 children are in a similar circumstance, according to information it gathered on the ground. It is unclear why they counted some, but not all, restavèk children as slaves.

In compiling the index, researchers defined slavery as “the possession and control of a person … with the intent of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer, or disposal.” 

Some have argued against defining slavery so broadly, based in part on its historic significance.

In The Haitian Times last year, columnist Max Joseph wrote, “For Haitians, or any member of the African Diaspora for that matter, the word ‘slavery’ is distinctively associated with the transatlantic slave trade in which millions of Africans were forcibly uprooted from their villages and sold like domesticated animals in faraway lands.

“The notion of associating the restavèk phenomenon with slavery is a naked attempt at trivializing one of the most grotesque episodes in human history,” Mr. Joseph wrote. 

In its report, the foundation says it’s important to focus on “hidden” enslaved people, such as restavèk children. 

“Since hidden slaves can’t be counted it is easy to pretend they don’t exist. The Index aims to change that,” Kevin Bales, the lead researcher on the index, said in a statement.

Countries with the five highest rates of slavery:

  1. Mauritania
  2. Haiti
  3. Pakistan
  4. India
  5. Nepal

*The United States ranked No. 134 of 162

Mexican newspaper front pages carry messages of thanks to the US in Mexico City, Oct. 16. Thanks to the last minute victory of the US team over Panama, Mexico has advanced to the intercontinental playoff series against New Zealand for a spot in next year's World Cup. (Dario Lopez-Mills/AP)

Gracias USA? Why some Mexican soccer fans are thanking their northern neighbor (+video)

By David AgrenCorrespondent / 10.16.13

Chants of “USA! USA!” were heard in the most unlikely of places last night: Mexico City.

The cheers erupted in restaurants and bars across the city after the US soccer team scored in extra time – eliminating Panama and saving Mexico’s hopes of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

The irony of Uncle Sam’s squad saving Mexico from missing the World Cup wasn’t lost on many Mexicans, some of who said their team didn’t even deserve to advance and had hoped staying on the sidelines next year would bring about changes in the sport and its national governing body. A deep distrust of the United States – dating back to the Mexican-American War, when Mexico lost half its territory – could previously rally the country in ways only matched by perhaps the soccer squad and the national patroness, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“It doesn’t speak well of Mexico that it needed help from the United States,” says Alejandra Apreza, a young deli employee in a neighborhood near the president’s residence, Los Pinos. She says the performance reinforced the old stereotype that “Mexicans don’t work well in teams.”

But a potential sign of a changing Mexican attitude toward its big, bad northern neighbor, many today prefer to look at the problems at home instead of scapegoating the United States, which has long been a popular pastime in political, cultural, and academic circles here.

The national soccer side used to be a unifying force – beverage commercials even employed the slogan "Soccer unites us" – but has since become a source of contention, Ms. Apreza says.

With Mexico now suffering through an economic slowdown, continuing organized crime and violence, and facing difficulties in its attempts to achieve approval of structural reforms in areas such as energy and taxation, the national team, known as El Tri, is seen as another symptom of Mexico's challenges – given unhappiness with its overseer, the Mexican Football Federation – instead of some sort of escape.

“Soccer is a reflection of the overall situation of the country,” says Dr. Alejandro Herrera, a cardiologist. “It’s a reflection of the crisis that we’re in.”

‘De panzazo’ (scraping by)

Mexico lost 2-1 to Costa Rica on Tuesday night in a sloppy match it needed to win in order to control its World Cup fate. But with Panama losing, Mexico will now play New Zealand next month in a last chance, two-game qualifying series. The prospect failed to enthuse some fans.

“It’s like getting a D-minus in school,” says coffee shop employee and student Marco Antonio Rodríguez. “It’s barely scraping by,” he says, using the Mexican slang, "De Panzazo."

Social media lit up during the game, with acerbic tweets calling for celebrations at the US Embassy in Mexico City, instead of the usual Ángel de la Independencia monument. Many said, “Thanks,” in English, while US Soccer tweeted: “#Yourewelcomemexico.”

El Deforma, Meixco's version of the satirical news site The Onion, quipped in a headline: "[President Enrique] Peña Nieto to give all of Baja California to the USA," in exchange for goals against Panama.

Ex-President Felipe Calderón even weighed in, recalling that during his presidency he welcomed to the presidential residence of Los Pinos teams that won the U-17 World Cup and Pan American Games in 2011, and the 2012 Olympics. “What happened?” Mr. Calderón asked on Twitter.

Political historian Ilán Semo of the Iberoamerican University in Mexico City says one thing that’s happened has been a softening of anti-American attitudes in the population, even if it persists with some politicians.

“There’s a relationship of attraction and rejection” toward the United States, Mr. Semo says.

“[But] the old anti-Americanism of the 1970s and ‘80s has been modified.”

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro greets supporters after arriving at the National Assembly in Caracas October 8, 2013. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

Who gets blamed for crime in Venezuela? (Hint: It's not the government)

By Rebecca HansonWOLA, David SmildeWOLA / 10.15.13

 David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. Rebecca Hanson is a contributor. The views expressed are the authors's own.

In March and April of this year, President Nicolás Maduro made citizen security a campaign issue in a way that his predecessor never did. As we analyzed here, it was a somewhat risky strategy insofar as polls consistently showed that Hugo Chávez did not pay much of a political price for declining citizen security (we will unpack this phenomenon in a future post). Indeed, in 2009 a survey question asking about Mr. Chávez’s responsibility for crime found that almost 60 percent of respondents thought crime was such a difficult problem that no president could solve it. Only a little more than 25 percent thought that a different president would be more effective.

This was one of the reasons that it took the Chávez government so long to confront crime. It knew it did not pay politically for the issue and had no interest in altering this fact. Even when they began a comprehensive effort at citizen security reform in 2009, there was little public fanfare. Indeed it was not until January 2012 that Chávez publicly and forcefully addressed the issue by announcing Misión Seguridad.

In this piece we would like to ask whether the government increasingly “owns” the issue of citizen security in the eyes of the public. Put differently, have five years of citizen security reform and six months of President Maduro openly addressing the issue changed public perceptions? Is the government increasingly taking the blame for crime?

Incredibly, the data show very little has changed. We put the same question from 2009 mentioned above, on Datanalisis’ August-September 2013 Omnibus survey. The results were within the margin of error (x/-2.66 percent) and should be assumed to be identical.

After five years of civilian police reform, the creation of a new police university, the creation of a new police body, a presidential commission and a new law on gun control, a high profile presidential campaign in which the government candidate made citizen security his main issue, after a parallel militarized effort – the Bicentennial Security Dispositive starting in 2009, and the Plan Patria Segura starting this year – the majority of Venezuelans still see citizen security as an issue that is outside the scope of a president’s control.

Taking a step back, it perhaps should not surprise us that perceptions have not changed. The same Datanalisis poll shows that 64.4 percent of respondents say that la inseguridad has worsened in the past year. Only 11.3 percent think it has improved. The average Venezuelan could rightfully think: “Even with all the efforts the government has made, things have not gotten better. This problem simply goes beyond the government.”

But, if Venezuelans do not hold the president responsible for crime, whom do they blame for crime and violence? Another question we added gets at this. We had interviewers ask “Which of the following do you think are the primary causes of delinquency in Venezuela?”

The answers are striking and somewhat disturbing. The most common response is decline of the family with 27.8 percent. This response effectively privatizes the issue of crime, holding individuals and families responsible, rather than state institutions and actors.

“Police corruption” and “Deficient policing” together make up less than 10 percent of respondents’ answers (we will look at this issue in a future post). Ineffective government only gets 6.4 percent. The number two and three causes, lack of employment and ineffective government, are issues for which the Chávez government received relatively good marks from the population.

It should be pointed out that this question uses the term “delincuencia” instead of “la inseguridad.” While they are indeed synonyms in Spanish, it could be that for some people delinquency connotes youth crime instead of crime in general and thus responses referring to family, education, and employment are overestimated. We hope to rerun this question in the near future, using the term la inseguridad.

Nevertheless, the results are striking and are certainly consistent with Table 1 (see original post). Most people do not consider Venezuela’s crime problem to be the fault of the president. Neither do they see it primarily as the result of ineffective policing. 

This sheds some light on why the opposition has been so unsuccessful in getting crime and violence to stick to Chávez and now Maduro in electoral contests. Perhaps more importantly it should assuage lingering fears within the governing coalition that if they robustly address the problem they will eventually be blamed for it. The data suggest that is not the case.

Unfortunately, the data also show why it is so difficult to generate political support for efforts at citizen security reform. For most people, citizen security reforms (reforming the police, cracking down on gun sales, etc.) are not the most obvious and convincing ways to address crime.

Mexico coach Victor Vucetich, center left, talks with players during a training session in Mexico City, Monday, Oct. 7, 2013. Mexico will face Panama in 2014 World Cup qualifying match Friday night, Oct. 11, 2013. (Christian Palma/AP)

Mexico vs. Panama World Cup qualifier: Why some Mexicans are hoping for a loss

By David AgrenCorrespondent / 10.11.13

Juan Carlos Ladrón de Guevara, a diehard fútbol fan, is conflicted about Mexico's soccer team.

While many Mexicans are wearing the green and white colors of "El Tri" in preparation for tonight's game against Panama – which Mexico must win to keep its hopes of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup alive – Mr. Ladrón de Guevara says he sees benefits to losing.

He loves the World Cup and wants to watch his country compete. But Mexico is struggling against Central American minnows to qualify and the country has a history of bowing out of international tournaments in the early elimination rounds. Those are symptoms, he says, of political and managerial problems in the Mexican Football Federation (FMF), and for that reason, Ladrón de Guevara wouldn’t mind seeing his squad sit out the 2014 tournament in Brazil.

“Only receiving a strong blow such as not going to the World Cup might generate deep changes” in Mexican soccer, he says.

His comments might come across as extreme, but they underscore the deep discontent felt by many fans of Mexico’s team, which has a history of underperforming on the international level and being bogged down by disputes between coaches, players, and management.

“There’s that argument that if they don’t make the World Cup, then they’ll actually have to sit down and fix things in Mexico that don’t go on in other countries,” says Tom Marshall, a British soccer journalist based in Guadalajara. He cites an oft-whispered rumor about a "gentlemen's agreement" among teams to limit the movement of homegrown players, along with a system that protects the richest teams from being demoted to the less-affluent second division.

None of these issues lead to strong soccer performances or fierce competition in the Mexican league, Mr. Marshall says.

Mexico hasn't missed a World Cup tournament since 1990. But the travails of the national team seem to mirror those of the country, where optimism was infectious for both the economy and the national team at the beginning of the year – only to disappoint. President Enrique Peña Nieto, who took office in December 2012 , has promised to promote competition in Mexico's business sector, passing an overhaul on the telecommunications sector, but still struggling to gain approval for legislation to make other sectors – like oil and gas – more competitive.

'Complete renovation'

That some fans hope Mexico loses tonight sums up the state of soccer in Mexico. The game is a big business here and the Mexican league – whose owners form the FMF – is perhaps the richest in the hemisphere, making the subpar performances even more embarrassing.

Writing in Bloomberg, journalist León Krauze called the Mexican team one of a top five in the world for generating revenues, with jerseys selling well and thousands of Mexicans traveling to the World Cup to support their team.

But the on-field management has been less successful than off the field.

Mexico fired coach José Manuel de la Torre after the team stumbled in earlier World Cup qualifying games this year, scoring a single goal in four home matches at the Estadio Azteca – a high-altitude monster stadium where Mexico used to never lose.

Being national coach is no easy task, especially when “the national team players feel like gods,” says Hector López, a Guadalajara-based sports marketing expert.

“You have to know the players, you have to know the clubs, the directors. He’s almost more a negotiator than a coach,” Mr. López says.

Still, there is some optimism among fans that new coach Víctor Manuel Vucetich can right the ship: 61 percent of Mexicans surveyed by polling company Gabinete de Comunicación Estratégica predicted that the team would qualify for the World Cup – most likely via a last-chance, two-game playoff against New Zealand.

But calls for reform - in both soccer and the country - are still top of mind for many fans.

“If there’s not a complete renovation, we’re never going to be able to advance,” says David Palafox Torres, another medical student buying tickets for the Mexico-Panama match. “It’s the same for the country."

A demonstrator holds up a sign that reads in Creole 'Cholera of U.N. is a crime against humanity' during a protest against the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, March 22, 2013. (Dieu Nalio Chery/AP/File)

Rights groups suing UN for Haiti cholera epidemic

By Mike EckelCorrespondent / 10.09.13

The January 2010 earthquake that leveled large parts of Haiti and killed more than 200,000 people was met with a global outpouring of aid, supplies, and financial support for the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The rebuilding continues today.

But back in 2010, just nine months after the devastating quake, a cholera epidemic spread across the country, compounding the disaster. It has killed more than 8,300 Haitians and sickened more than 650,000, and has yet to be quashed.

Some advocacy groups say the leading organization behind the rebuilding is the same culprit behind the epidemic: the United Nations. Today, one group – the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti – filed suit in US federal court in New York to force the UN to compensate victims of the disease.

“Haiti today has the worst cholera epidemic in the world,” Ira Kurzban, one of the lead lawyers in the case, told a news conference in New York. “Cholera was brought to Haiti by the gross negligence and reckless conduct of the United Nations.”

Cholera had been unheard of in Haiti for nearly a century until Oct. 2010, when doctors reported seeing cases in Port-au-Prince and other surrounding areas. Epidemiologists later identified the strain of cholera that was afflicting people, tracing it back to a base for UN peacekeepers located on a tributary of the Artibonite River in Mire­bal­ais, northeast of Port-au-Prince. The river is Haiti’s primary water source.

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and Haiti-based partner organization Bureau des Avocats Internationaux filed the suit, saying “over­whelm­ing evi­dence” estab­lished that reck­less dis­posal of human waste by UN peacekeepers cre­ated the epi­demic. That conclusion has been buttressed by similar findings by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The institute filed claims with the UN in Novem­ber 2011, seeking compensation for victims and the installation of a new national water and sanitation system. But the world body dismissed the claims in February 2013 saying they were “not receivable” under international law that grants certain legal immunity and privileges to UN employees and requires the UN to come up with "appropriate modes of settlement" when it ends up in a legal dispute.

The UN press office had no immediate comment on the lawsuit. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced a $2.2 billion initiative in December 2012 to help eradicate cholera over the next decade in Haiti.

“Unfortunately, the United Nations has still not admitted its own culpability despite its own commission to investigate the sources of the epidemic,” Mr. Kurzban said. “Basically, the UN has stonewalled throughout this process.”

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