Thursday, February 15, 2018

Guatemala: You're Under Arrest!


You’re Under Arrest

Guatemala arrested a former president and nine of his ex-ministers as part of a crackdown on corruption in the Central American country.
Former President Alvaro Colom and members of his former cabinet are accused of embezzling funds and committing fraud during the setup of a public bus system in Guatemala City in 2010, Al-Jazeera reported.
Prosecutors said there are questions around how the government auctioned off concessions and granted subsidies for the buses.
Among those arrested was current chairman of Oxfam International Juan Alberto Fuentes, a former Guatemalan finance minister. The arrest adds to the woes of the prominent charity, which is currently embroiled in a sex abuse scandal in Haiti and Chad – where staff members are accused of paying prostitutes for sex.
Noting that another former Guatemalan president is already facing trial and current President Jimmy Morales himself faces corruption allegations, Al-Jazeera quoted experts as saying the political arrests are far from over – though they could easily be hijacked for political ends by the elite.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Brasil Will Not Close Its Border To Venezuelan Refugees


This Way to the Red Carpet

Brazil won’t close its border to Venezuelan refugees, but it has launched a task force to manage the influx and provide resources for cities and states to cope with the migrants.
In the city of Boa Vista, the capital of the northern state of Roraima, the local government said such refugees already account for 10 percent of the population, or around 40,000 people, creating a humanitarian crisis, Reuters reported.
Brazilian President Michel Temer visited Boa Vista Monday and promised to provide Roraima with federal funds and also look into relocating some of the refugees to other states.
The visit came after a Brazilian man set fire to a house where dozens of Venezuelans were living last week. Due to widespread shortages of food and essentials in Venezuela, thousands have fled across the border to Brazil – some of them walking hundreds of miles.
Earlier both Colombia and Brazil tightened border security in response to the Venezuelan exodus.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Pope And South America


Man in the Mirror

Pope Francis took the opportunity during his annual Christmas address to give Vatican officials a tongue-lashing for their ambition and vanity, nagging issues he sees as a “cancer” within the church.
“Reforming Rome is like cleaning the Egyptian sphinxes with a toothbrush,” the pope said during his address. “You need patience, dedication and delicacy.”
Known for his commitment to reforming the Catholic Church, Francis has always spiced his Christmas greeting with bittersweet notes of the church’s ills.
But a string of recent gaffes by his Holiness has some saying that the reformer needs to take a look in the mirror.
During his trip to South America last month, the pope denounced misogyny and corruption within politics and society at large and called on the nations of Peru and Chile to bolster the rights of their indigenous communities.
However, people in both nations have criticized the church’s response to revelations of sexual abuse in prominent Catholic institutions, ABC News reported.
Before his arrival in Santiago, homemade bombs went off in three Catholic churches, complete with notes protesting Francis’ appointment of a bishop in 2015 accused of covering up wide-scale sexual abuse by a priest in the 1980s and 1990s.
Francis dove directly into the issue during the first leg of his trip in his many public addresses, but stopped short of condemning the bishop he’d elevated, telling journalists that “the day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, then I’ll speak.” He went on to equate accusations by survivors with slander, the Associated Press wrote, sparking outrage from victims and the public.
“That is the enigma of Pope Francis,” said Anne Barrett Doyle of the online abuse database “He is so bold and compassionate on many issues, but he is an old-school defensive bishop when it comes to the sex-abuse crisis.”
Francis eventually apologized for the statement, but his tour in Peru wasn’t without its hiccups, either.
During an address to some 500 cloistered nuns in Lima, Francis lobbed a joke that likened gossiping nuns to the Shining Path terrorists who fought the Peruvian state during the 1980s and 1990s, a conflict that resulted in 69,000 deaths, Reuters reported.
Critics argued that the church’s sex-abuse scandals were more akin to terror than were gossiping nuns.
The church recently took over a 20,000-member Catholic lay society based in Peru amid widespread accusations of pedophilia. But instead of being handed over to Peruvian investigators, the founder of the society was forced into exile in Rome, where he is being investigated by the church.
Such anecdotes smell of brushing scandal under the rug, but some argue that the strict political structure of the Catholic Church gives the pontiff only so much power, Simeon Tegel wrote for US News & World Report.
Even so, others say that the politically active pope is preaching hypocrisy by demanding reform without doing the legwork, Tegel wrote.
One only has to look at the numbers to see dissatisfaction with the Holy See, Tegel writes: The proportion of Latin Americans describing themselves as Catholic fell to 59 percent last year from 80 percent only two decades ago, according to one study by Chilean pollsters.
That’s a reflection of something happening in the church – and it’s certainly not reform.

Friday, February 9, 2018

La Casa Minima In Buenos Aires


La Casa Mínima

The narrowest house in Buenos Aires is less than 10 feet wide. 

As you walk down Pasaje San Lorenzo in the San Telmo district of Buenos Aires, keep an eye out for house number 380. It’s a charming sight, but such a sliver of a building that you could easily miss it. The tiny home, known as La Casa Mínima, is the narrowest in the Argentine capital. According to local legend, it was once owned by a freed slave.

At its widest point, La Casa Mínima measures just 8.2 feet (2.5 meters) across. Its façade is marked by an old wooden door, painted green, above which sits a miniscule second-floor balcony. The house is painted white, with some of the original clay bricks poking through where the paint has peeled away. In terms of depth, the house extends a comparatively generous 42 feet (13 meters) from front to rear. Still, it remains a notably narrow slice of Argentine architecture.
Locals, and in particular local tour guides, tell a widely repeated tale about the building’s history. This popular account claims that La Casa Mínima was a gift from the Urquiza family to one of their former slaves. The tiny house was supposedly given to the African slave in 1813, shortly after his liberation.
A lack of any supporting evidence isn’t the only problem with this story. It’s true, and perhaps just a little too coincidental, that gradual abolition was introduced in Argentina in 1813, when the Free Womb Act was introduced, “freeing” all babies born to slave mothers. However, slavery wasn’t truly abolished in Argentina until 1853; Buenos Aires had to wait until even later, in 1861.
The idea, therefore, that a freed slave might be given a home, albeit it a tiny one, in Buenos Aires in 1813 seems unlikely, but the story has helped maintain interest in the building, and, more importantly, has done its part in raising awareness of the history of slavery in Buenos Aires and Argentina.
According to actual historical studies of La Casa Mínima, including its owners and inhabitants, the building’s history is far more prosaic. Originally, the building in which La Casa Mínima now stands was once a single home measuring a respectable 52.5 feet (16 meters) wide. Over time, however, it was slowly divided up to be rented out or sold off to various inhabitants. Thanks to some particularly bad math and dubious planning, the owners managed to end up with an extraneous slice in the middle. Rather than try to rectify the matter by including it in one of the neighboring homes, they decided to turn it into a standalone abode: the narrowest of its kind in the capital.

An Academy Award Coming For The Chilean Film "A Fantastic Woman"

‘Fantastic’ lead performance empowers Chilean Oscar nominee

February 5, 2018 Updated: February 8, 2018 2:10pm
The title of the film “A Fantastic Woman” only means what you first think it does once you get to know its heroine, a transgender singer named Marina Vidal, who is dismissed, denigrated and worse for living what others believe is a “fantasy” existence in Santiago, Chile.
Directed by Sebastián Lelio and nominated for an Oscar this year for best foreign language film, “A Fantastic Woman” is masterfully deceptive and even enigmatic.
The plot is familiar to the point of being predictable, and Lelio takes his time allowing us to see who Marina Vidal really is. Marina (transgender actress Daniela Vega) has just moved in with her older lover, Orlando Ornetto (Francisco Reyes), when he suffers an aneurysm and dies after she rushes him to the hospital.
Orlando’s family knows who she is and have never understood why Orlando gave up a “normal” life to take up with a transgender woman. For a while after Orlando’s death, Marina seems lost, almost unsure of what to do. Orlando’s ex-wife, Sonia (Aline Küppenheim) and son Bruno (Nicolás Saavedra) want her gone from Orlando’s apartment and erased from the memory of their husband and father. When Marina meets Sonia in a parking garage to hand over the keys to Orlando’s car, Sonia is cold, dismissive. “What are you?” she asks. Bruno’s attitude is worse.
Through all of this, including dehumanizing treatment by the police who suspect she may have had something to do with Orlando’s death, Marina is stoic. We get little insight into what she is thinking for a while. She is humiliated and degraded again and again, but contains her emotions.
Is it strength that allows her to endure this treatment, or is she afraid to stand up for who she is? The latter would make her a martyr, and for a time, that’s what Lelio wants us to consider.
Lelio uses the familiarity of the plot and the detachment of Vega’s extraordinary performance to keep us guessing about why Marina is allowing herself to be so degraded.
In the end, this is a film about entitlement. Orlando’s family thinks Marina is out to milk the estate for everything she can get. For them, she is not entitled to any of it.
But the entitlement Marina is pursuing is of a much different and more significant kind. It is the entitlement to be who she is.
The film would only be very good were it not for Vega’s performance, which ranks right up there with the five women nominated for best actress this year and, in some cases, surpasses them. The performance is understated, restrained, because this is who Marina is. In fact, the character is often silent as she makes her way through a hostile world. Yet even without dialogue, we feel her constant wariness, a very human mix of determination and fear. Even her grief is restrained, as if she knows there are those who don’t believe she has a right to mourn her lover. It’s one thing to be strong and determined when there is nothing to fear. But to be strong and determined when there are those in the world who would deny you the right to exist is not only courageous, it is fantastic.
David Wiegand is an assistant managing editor and the TV critic of The San Francisco Chronicle. Follow him on Facebook. Email: Twitter: @WaitWhat_TV
A Fantastic Woman
POLITE APPLAUSEDrama. Starring Daniela Vega and Francisco Reyes. Directed by Sebastián Lelio. In Spanish with English subtitles. (Rated R. 100 minutes.)
David Wiegand

David Wiegand

Assistant Managing Editor, Arts and Entertainment