Archive | December, 2010

Police are no match for Mexico’s violent drug cartels

29 Dec

The latest progression in Mexico’s drug wars has seen the small border town of Guadalupe stripped of a police force. The town has been left completely undefended and unpoliced after its last remaining officer, 28-year-old Erika Gandara was kidnapped on 23rd December. The Mexican government has sent soldiers to patrol Guadalupe and to investigate the kidnapping of Ms Gandara who had patrolled the town of 9,000 inhabitants on her own since June.

Mexican army arrives in Guadalupe

It is revealing of the government’s strategy against the cartels; for four years the army has been positioned in the chief problem area, Ciudad Juárez, meanwhile a lack of resources means that neighbouring towns with similar drug problems albeit on a smaller scale, are overlooked. Murders and abductions are so frequent and the pay so poor that policing has become an unattractive profession in Chihuahua, this region of Mexico. Since President Felipe Calderón came to power in 2006 with promises of a crackdown on the cartels 30,000 people have died in drug-related violence. Continue reading

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El caganer: Cataluña’s crazy Christmas tradition

23 Dec

The traditional Caganer

It’s called the caganer and if you were to translate it into English we’d probably call it the ‘defecator’, which sounds like some poor excuse for a superhero. In fact this little figure of a peasant boy ‘doing his business’ has become one of the most popular features of Christmas for children across Cataluña. The figure, dressed in a red beret, sash and black trousers, is hidden in the traditional nativity scene. Along with baby Jesus in his manger, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, angels and kings, no Catalan nativity scene is complete without its caganer. Continue reading

A Christmas gift to disband Farc rebels in Colombia

22 Dec

Christmas lights like these in Bogotá were taken to the rebel-controlled jungle

It’s a rather roundabout way of demobilising rebels. The Colombian army has installed a giant Christmas tree in territory held by Farc rebels (Fuerzas armadas revolucionarias de Colombia) to encourage the guerrilla fighters to lay down their weapons. But it’s no carrot-stick approach. The 25m tall tree is clad with 2,000 fairy lights that are attached to movement sensors and will only light up when guerrillas approach. So it’s less of a gift, more a disguised intruder alarm which special forces smuggled into the Macarena mountain range last week.

The army plans to put trees in nine other rebel-occupied areas to spread the idea that Christmas is a good time to abandon armed struggle. And then probably that a ceasefire is not just for Christmas after all. The initiative, code named ‘Operation Christmas’, saw troops visit rebel territory in Blackhawk helicopters. As well as decorating the tree with lights it has been covered in slogans urging the rebels ‘demobilise, at Christmas everything is possible’ and ‘If Christmas can come to the jungle, you can come home.’ Continue reading

A prostitute, a lizard and a jamón serrano: A typical taste of Almodóvar

19 Dec

No-one can consider themself a fan of Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar without seeing one of his most famous films, ¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto! or ‘What have I done to deserve this?’ Released in 1984, Almodóvar’s fourth film was his most successful to date, catapulting him onto the international film scene. It can be considered a classic while displaying all the themes and characteristics that still define Almodóvar’s work today in Volver in 2006 and Abrazos rotos in 2009.

Almodóvar described the film as a homage to Italian neorealism, which depicts the poverty and depression of the working class in post-Second World War Italy. In this case Almodóvar depicts the economic struggles of a dysfunctional family in the outskirts of Madrid after Franco’s dictatorship.

But the film is most characterised by Almodóvar’s famous love of colour and the absurd which gained currency during Spain’s transition to democracy and the cultural movement of the movida madrileña. In the 1980s Almodóvar documented Spain’s newfound freedom of expression, experimentation with recreational drugs and use of popular slang in his surreal films. His work has been compared to that of Andy Warhol and the surrealist Spanish film maker Luis Buñuel, who was a member of the daring Generación ‘27 along with Federico García Lorca. Continue reading

Celebrate La Noche Latina in North London

16 Dec

For those who are a bit bored of the same old Christmas songs, the same decorations and predictable festive treats, the London-based charity Latin American House are throwing a Christmas event which is more about tequila than tinsel.

Children enjoy sweets from a pinata during a posada

Tonight La Noche Latina will celebrate Christmas the Mexican way with everything from piñatas to posadas.

For those who are not yet initiated in Mexican culture:

Piñatas are those brightly coloured papier-mâché objects with sweets and treats inside that are a must at every Mexican child’s birthday party. They are usually suspended in the air and only those who whack them hard enough are rewarded with the sugary contents.

Posadas are processions that recreate Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay in Bethlehem. In Mexico they are held on each of the nine nights leading up to Christmas, from December 16th to 24th. Sometimes the procession is candlelit with people carrying religious images and individuals are selected to play the parts of Mary and Joseph.

Don’t turn down a glass of ponche, a traditional Mexican punch which promises to warm you up on the most chilly of nights combining shots of brandy, rum and tequila.

The event will be hosted by Latin American House with Mestizo, a local restaurant and tequila bar and Flavours of Mexico, a non-profit company aiming to develop the interest in Mexican food in the UK. Continue reading

Hugo Chavez out in the cold for Venezuelan flood victims

14 Dec

After flooding in Venezuela has left thousands homeless, President Hugo Chávez has taken the opportunity to show off his Socialist fair thinking and house the homeless in his office while he sleeps, and works, in a tent outside.

There are 25 families living in the Miraflores palace in Caracas while Chávez governs the country from the Bedouin tent given to him by the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who he greatly admires. And now the pair have two things in common: their drafty accommodation and, certainly according to the USA, poor human rights records. Continue reading

New data: Overcrowding in Chilean jails revealed

11 Dec

Following Wednesday’s comment piece on the deadly prison fire in Santiago, the following figures have come to light, revealing the full extent of overcrowding in Chilean prisons. After at least 81 prisoners perished in the San Miguel jail fire, the nation will expect results from Sebastián Piñera’s pledge for prison reform. Click on the Many Eyes interactive graphic below to see how the data compares…

Prison Prisoners Capacity
Source: Fundación Paz Ciudadana 2009
Puente Alto 1,752 630
Santiago Sur 6,237 2,446
Valparaíso 2,898 1,178
Arica 2,104 1,092
San Miguel 1,654 892
Concepción 2,096 1,194
Antofagasta 1,155 68
Santiago 1,730 1,197 

Overcrowding in Chilean Jails Many Eyes