Archive | February, 2011

Peru leads the way against Colonel Gaddafi

25 Feb

Peru's President Alan Garcia

It looks like Peru’s President Alan García could teach the UN Security Council a thing or two. After a week of increasing bloodshed in Libya, as Colonel Gaddafi lives up to his promise of fighting demonstrators down to the last bullet, President García cut diplomatic ties with the country, while the UN Security Council still stands dumb. His was the first nation to do so.

García condemned Gaddafi’s violent tactics of ordering army units and trained militia to attack anti-government protesters and mourners. Earlier this week he said: “Peru expresses its most energetic protest at the repression carried out by the Libyan dictatorship of Muammar Gaddafi against his people, who are demanding democratic reforms to change a government led by the same person for 40 years.” Continue reading

Gateway to Latin America: LAB chair, Sue Branford

21 Feb

For the past 34 years, the London-based research organisation, Latin America Bureau, has published groundbreaking books on Latin American issues and spread awareness through events such as lectures and workshops. Speaking to me from her home in Clun, Shropshire, chair of LAB, Sue Branford, tells me more about the organisation.

Sue Branford, Chair of LAB since 2003

Having been a member of LAB almost since its inception, and led the organisation since 2003, no-one knows LAB, or indeed the continent it represents, better than Branford. She has visited every Latin American country and most of the Caribbean islands. While working freelance for the Guardian and the Financial Times, she lived in Sao Paulo, Brazil throughout the 1970s, and returned for brief spells in later decades. She is fluent in Portuguese and speaks good Spanish.

She tells me how LAB was created, in 1977, by a group of writers, journalists and activists shocked by the military dictatorships of the likes of Pinochet, Videla in Argentina and Stroessner in Paraguay. During Videla’s ‘Dirty War’ in Argentina from 1976 to 1983 it is estimated some 20,000 people disappeared; human rights groups claim the figure is closer to 30,000.

Pinochet with his henchmen in the 1970s

“There was very much a feeling that we ought to show solidarity here in Britain with those suffering repression and disappearances in Latin America”, Branford enthuses. “There was a real surge of interest in Latin America after Pinochet’s military coup in Chile in 1973. Many refugees came over from Chile to escape the repression. Many countries in Latin America were under military dictatorships around that time, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Bolivia. Stories were beginning to be told of the horrors of these military dictatorships and the work being done in Latin America to mobilise against them was starting to echo around the world. We thought that needed more publicity. That’s where it all started from.” Continue reading

Mexican wrestling at the London School of Lucha Libre

17 Feb
 Intrepid freelance journalist, Ben Edwards, visits the East End wrestling school to learn how to become a luchador.
I’m keeled over at my computer googling ‘neck injuries’, convinced I’m suffering from whiplash. The rest of my body feels like it’s been caught in the middle of a Wild West gunfight. The website warned that Mexican wrestling would hurt, but I never imagined it would be as painful as this.

Lucha Britannia's Shiro Yoshida by Patrick Siboni

Lucha Libre – the art of Mexican wrestling – is technically the same as American wrestling. It’s theatre, not blood sport. Yet what makes Lucha Libre distinctive is the masks. Because no matter how colourful they are, there’s no escaping the fact they look like they’ve been pinched from a Soho sex shop.

This, I must stress, is not what lured me to spend an evening learning how to be a luchador at the London School of Lucha Libre, but it’s all I can think about as my instructor Garry Vanderhorne (Shiro Yoshida in Lucha-lingo – a sobriquet which is clearly more Japanese than Mexican) barks orders at me in his little green gimp mask. Continue reading

Learning to love the burrito at Chilango

10 Feb

Chilango on Islington's Upper Street

There’s something I have to admit. I’m a burrito virgin. Or at least I was, before I stepped past the brightly coloured, glassy exterior of Chilango’s Angel branch for my first taste. It’s something about the bulking ooziness of the burrito which has always made me opt for its quesadilla counterpart instead. But no more, dear burrito loving friends. I have now been officially initiated into the Chilango club.

While placing my order, faced with a rather intimidating list of options (how much can you fit in a burrito?), I had an awful thought that this might end up like a visit to Subway. Do you want this sauce? Um, yeah ok. What bread do you want? Um, any. But luckily, it was nothing like it. Here’s some guidance for those who don’t yet know the ropes:

First: choose your carbs/ pulses. There’s rice, black beans or pinto beans. No refried beans at this establishment, James May will be glad to know.

Second: choose your filling. Chicken, beef or veg?

Third: any peppers, cheese, salsa etc?

Fourth: which sauce would you like; mild, medium or hot? And this is the tricky bit. Not shy of a bit of spice I went for the medium and my nose was running ten minutes in, so be warned.

Fifth: if you want guacamole, that’s an extra pound. That may seem steep, but after briefly interrogating the lively deputy manager, Alan, I was reassured that if you want the best avocado, imported from Mexico don’t-you-know, then the extra pound is well worth it. Continue reading

Easter Island Rapa Nui clan in clashes with Chilean police

7 Feb

The island known to most as Easter Island, which lies 3,200km off the west coast of Chile, is officially named Rapa Nui along with the Polynesian people that live there and the language they speak. Sixty per cent of Easter Island’s 4,000 population are descended from the indigenous group. Most of their income is gained from tourism as people travel to the Unesco World Heritage Site to see the Moais, giant carved stone figures which date from sometime between 1250 and 1500. The Rapa Nui have lobbied the Chilean government for independence since the island was annexed in 1888. And in recent years the struggle has grown more pronounced.

The Maois

On Sunday the most recent clash saw police evict a group of Rapa Nui, the Hitorangi clan, from a luxury hotel which they had been occupying since August in protest. They claim the hotel was built on land which had been illegally seized from their ancestors. For months they have been protesting against plans to develop the island for further tourism. The Hangaroa Eco Village and Spa where the group were camped out was brought from the Chilean government by the Scheiss family, a powerful investment group, in the 1990s. Hotel owner Jeannette Scheiss was quoted in the Santiago Times saying: “If someone feels they have a claim to our land, they have to prove it through judicial procedures”. Rodrigo Gomez, a lawyer for the group, said up to 50 armed police had broken into the hotel to remove the final five occupiers who were arrested and released pending court hearings. Mr Gomez said the operation, which took place two days before the group were due to appear in court to discuss the land ownership, had been “utterly irregular and illegal”. A statement on the Save Rapa Nui website claimed that another of the group’s lawyers had been prevented from visiting his clients in jail. Continue reading

Top Gear crosses the line with racist Mexican comments

2 Feb

Clarkson immitates the Mexican ambassador who he expects will be sleeping and miss the comments

Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, the sometimes bumbling middle-aged presenters that make up the Top Gear trio, are hardly known for the most clean of humour. But their comments characterising Mexicans as  ‘lazy’ on Top Gear last Sunday, 30th January, have proved a step too far. While discussing a Mexican sports car, the Mastretta, Hammond took the opportunity to (rather ineloquently) criticise the Mexican people as a whole: “Mexican cars are just going to be a lazy, feckless, flatulent oaf with a moustache leaning against a fence asleep looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat”. May joined in by describing Mexican food as ‘refried sick’ and Clarkson, positively gleeful at his colleagues’ outbursts, said he was confident the BBC would not receive any complaints because the Mexican ambassador would be asleep. Continue reading