LAS VEGAS — I don’t know about you, but January for me means retightening the belt I began loosening back around Halloween and repairing all the damage I did to my body between Thanksgiving —which happened to land on my birthday this year— and New Year’s Eve.
I read some good books during the two weeks my bosses grant me at the end of every year, including an exceptionally racist one about the history of Chicago up to its founding, which kept making the Potawatomi and other tribes who lived in the area sound like bloodthirsty demons from the depths of the earth.
In his iconic book, Checagou: From Indian Wigwam to Modern City, 1673–1835, published by The University of Chicago Press in 1933, historian Milo M. Quaife paints the appearance and customs of the Natives as if they were from Pluto. He keeps talking about “halfbreed” this and “savage” that, though the only savagery I saw in the book mostly came from the English speakers. (The French were relatively civilized compared to the Anglos who invaded afterward.)
History is written by the victors, and today’s news is mostly written by those hoping to buddy up with the people in power. Luckily for you, sexy reader, it’s been over a decade since I last had any lust to pal around with the powerful. I believe journalism, like comedy, is for punching up, not down. And while I’m not really a journalist —I know a few real journalists— as a writer I try never to do any favors for the people in power by making excuses for them or repeating their lies, but instead make a constant effort to stand with the powerless and call things as I see them from that perspective.
So, without further ado, on to the shitshow…
~ On Tuesday, the coastal city of Santos in the Brazilian state of São Paulo laid to rest its most famous citizen and Brazil’s national hero, the soccer legend known simply as Pelé, who died last week at the age of 82 after a battle with colon cancer.
Maybe you don’t think Pelé was the greatest soccer player of all time, but he IS the only man to win THREE World Cups, and he did more to raise the global stature of soccer, as well as Brazil’s reputation on the world stage, than any person in history.
“Pelé is the most important Brazilian of all time,” as a 35-year-old Brazilian engineer put on the day of his funeral. “He made the sport important for Brazil and he made Brazil important for the world.”
Pelé, widely regarded as one of soccer’s greatest players, transfixed players and fans with his grace, athleticism and mesmerizing moves. He died Thursday at age 82. https://t.co/3FTNh195EW pic.twitter.com/LuLh6DRHhz
— The Associated Press (@AP) December 29, 2022
Now he’s bending the ball on that great big pitch in the sky…
~ Meanwhile, Brazil’s living legends are catching heat for not properly paying their respects to the “King of Soccer,” the man whom the International Olympic Committee named “Athlete of the Century” in 1999.
“Where’s Ronaldo Nazario? Where’s Kaká, where’s Neymar?” a 67-year-old bakery worker asked AP sports writer Mauricio Savarese during the ceremony in Santos. “Do they think they will be remembered like Pelé will? These guys didn’t want to stop their vacations, that’s the problem.”
“This guy invented Brazil’s national team,” said 17-year-old Geovana Sarmento. “He made Santos stronger, he made it big—how could you not respect him? He is one of the greatest people ever. We needed to honor him.”
~ Forty-nine newborns were named “Lionel” in Messi’s home province in December, part of an increase in popularity for the name following Argentina’s World Cup victory.
~ Fame gets old quick, even if you’re the most popular thing to come out of Puerto Rico since the piña colada…
bad bunny in his justin era pic.twitter.com/skUhg5xgBV
— gise (@getmeneedy) January 2, 2023
~ @foosgonewild posted a video report from FOX 26 Houston on a supposed attempt to ban the so-called “Edgar Cut” —you know the one— at Riverside High School in El Paso, Texas (which stands within sight of that hideous border wall).
Turns out it’s an old report from November 2021, and whether the petition was real and serious or not, that I immediately believed the report is proof of either my own gullibility or the degree of anti-Latino sentiment in this country.
~ It’s nothing new though…
~ A keto diet, which severely restricts carb consumption, is as antithetical to Latinoness as actually celebrating Christmas on Christmas Day instead of the night before.
~ The announcement last week that Carlos Reyes had died in 2021 at the age of 34 led L.A. Times columnist Fidel Martinez to reflect on the legendary music blog Reyes launched in 2008, Club Fonograma.
“He was merely looking for a place to write about the music of Spain and Latin America with an English language perspective,” regular contributor Andrew Casillas told Fidel. “He wanted a place where talking about Café Tacvba wasn’t niche but a standard process, where Calle 13 could be hailed as geniuses and not just ‘good reggaeton,’ where Julieta Venegas could be just as vital and important as Björk.”
“That’s exactly what Club Fonograma was,” writes Fidel. “It was a wonderful, beautiful space where our music was given the respect and appreciation it deserved. It was a labor of love —no one involved on the site got paid— that started off as a one-person project but quickly snowballed into a tight-knit community.”
~ Who ordered the fajita skillet?
🇻🇦| ADIÓS A BENEDICTO XVI: pic.twitter.com/eMRVZDKbsY
— Alerta News 24 (@AlertaNews24) January 3, 2023
~ Now that the Democrats mostly survived the midterm elections, it can only mean one thing: Biden can resume his strict immigration policy. And he’s wasted no time, announcing on Thursday morning that the U.S. would begin immediately sending back any Cubans, Haitians, or Nicaraguans who cross the border illegally.
He already launched the same policy against Venezuelans back in October.
Notice that three of the countries are our communist neighbors, on whom we’ve inflicted severe economic sanctions—none more or for longer than Cuba, our closest neighbor besides Mexico and Canada. The stated goal of these sanctions —at least in Cuba’s case, though we can extrapolate— is to squeeze the people living there, starve them into submission, and make them so desperate that they rise up and overthrow their governments.
Rather than rising up, however, the people have mostly been fleeing to the closest, richest, most secure safe haven they can find—which, thanks to over a century of U.S. policy in the region, happens to be the United States. If Canada bordered Mexico, most immigrants today probably wouldn’t bother with the United States, with its violent society, anti-immigrant rhetoric, and sick culture.
That said, if the United States hadn’t been meddling in Latin America for the past century or so, most of the people risking their lives to beg at America’s doorstep would have no reason to flee their precious homelands to begin with.
Haiti, of course, is the only non-communist country of the four Biden is singling out, but it’s caught as much hell from the U.S. as any of them, if not more—not because the Haitians are Reds, but because they’re Blacks.
~ “Do not, do not just show up at the border,” Biden said Thursday. “Stay where you are and apply legally from there.”
Biden either doesn’t know how bad things are there or is just that callous.
~ Bernie’s deputy press secretary points out that whenever House Republicans decide who their leader is and new members of Congress are sworn in, it’ll be the first time in history that Latino legislators make up over 10 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Today marks the first time Latine legislators will make up over 10% of the House of Representatives. Tu casa es mi casa.
— Nico Ballón (@nico_ballon) January 3, 2023
~ Here’s Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-IL), the first Latina member of Congress from the Midwest, on how her first day went…
~ One burning question was on everyone’s mind when C-SPAN caught AOC discussing something with Rep. Matt “She Was 18” Gaetz (R-FL) in the House chamber on the first day: What were they talking about?
What happened here? Can anyone read lips? pic.twitter.com/r7PR3Srcyg
— MeidasTouch (@MeidasTouch) January 3, 2023
Thank God there’s Ryan Grim at The Intercept:
“Gaetz told Ocasio-Cortez that McCarthy has been telling Republicans that he’ll be able to cut a deal with Democrats to vote present, enabling him to win a majority of those present and voting, according to Ocasio-Cortez. She told Gaetz that wasn’t happening, and also double-checked with Democratic party leadership, confirming there’d be no side deal.”
~ In case you’re hearing about the chaos that ensued on the Republicans’ first day in control of the House, here’s Carl Huse at the New York Times:
“Handed narrow control of the House by voters in November, Republicans squandered the opening hours of the new Congress they could have used to dispel concerns about their capabilities. Instead, they feuded in a disorderly display over who among them should be speaker as the most extreme elements of the new majority repeatedly rejected Representative Kevin McCarthy of California.
“Despite Mr. McCarthy’s prominent role in fund-raising and delivering the House to Republicans and his backing among most in the party ranks, about 20 Republicans refused to support him and for the first time in a century forced repeated rounds of voting for the speakership. After three flailing attempts at electing a speaker, Republicans abruptly called for the House to be adjourned until noon Wednesday as they scrambled for a way out of their leadership morass. The stalemate meant the usually routine organization of the new House did not occur and its members were not sworn in, nor could any legislation be considered.”
~ What’s the word for a political party whose members don’t take no for an answer?
House Speaker voting round 10 will turn into round 11 as Kevin McCarthy still does not have the votes to secure the position pic.twitter.com/6bF1wV24hL
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) January 5, 2023
~ The Democrats won just enough Latino votes to avoid getting whooped in the midterms —except in Florida— according to data analyzed by the research firm Equis.
~ “More than 4.7 million immigrants were facing deportation proceedings in fiscal 2022, according to a federal report released [last] Friday, a 29 percent jump from the same period the year before,” says the Washington Post.
~ Colorado is the latest state to join the bussing-migrants business, sending newcomers to New York and Chicago, though Democratic Gov. Jared Polis says he’s only helping migrants reach their final destinations.
“This is just unfair for local governments to have to take on this national obligation,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams said during a radio appearance on Tuesday—which is pretty much what the towns closest to the Mexican border have been saying.
~ At least 40 Texas counties passed or considered passing resolutions last year declaring illegal immigration an “invasion.”
~ In honor of the Texas Rangers’ bicentennial this year —or in spite of it, rather— a group of mostly Latino academics, activists, and journalists in the state will be posting videos on social media about the violence committed against Mexicans and Mexican Americans by the Rangers, who have since been lionized in books and movies.
“These posts will show the important role of the Rangers not just in the racial violence of the 1910s (RTF’s focus) but their role over the larger course of Texas in maintaining white supremacy and crushing dissident political movements,” the group tweeted as part of their announcement last week.
“The scholars will also show how the Texas Rangers actively sought to stop enslaved Black people from escaping bondage through the Underground Railroad to Mexico,” writes Axios.
~ Biden says his “intention” is to visit the border for the first time in his presidency as part of his trip to Mexico City next week to meet with AMLO and Trudeau.
~ Late last month the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump-era restrictions on asylum seekers are to remain in place until it decides whether the 19 states suing Biden for wanting to end the policy have a case. The court plans to hear arguments in February.
~ On Monday, officials closed Dry Tortugas National Park, located on a group of islands off the coast of Key West, after 300 migrants arrived by boat. No word on where the migrants came from —or the more than 160 migrants that have shown up in the Florida Keys over the past few weeks— but officials say they’ve “seen an increase in people arriving by boat from Cuba.”
~ After a global pandemic forced a ban on public gatherings and anti-immigrant rhetoric ratcheted up under Trump, almost a million immigrants became U.S. citizens in the fiscal year ending on September 30, marking a 15-year high.
~ On Monday, Mexico’s Supreme Court elected its first female chief justice by a vote of six to five.
#Mexico’s Supreme Court elected its first female chief justice in history on Monday. Justice Norma Lucía Piña was sworn in for her four-year term as head of the 11-member court, pledging to maintain the independence of the country’s highest court. ( @AP)
— Latino Rebels (@latinorebels) January 3, 2023
Hoping to see one of his allies snag the important job, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said “the judicial branch has been kidnapped… eclipsed by money, by economic power.”
“Now is the time of human rights, the time for women,” said his former interior secretary, Sen. Olga Cordero.
~ While former President Jair Bolsonaro —the great Brazilian patriot, as he styles himself— was hiding in Florida in hopes of escaping prosecution for his attempts at destroying Brazilian democracy (among other things), Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party received the presidential sash from a young Black female garbage collector.
“The difference is clear,” as Ben Stein used to say in the old Clear Eyes commercials.
Brazil's far-right leader Bolsonaro fled to Florida before Lula's inauguration, fearing consequences for his extreme corruption
So instead Lula was given the presidential sash by leaders of social movements fighting for the rights of Indigenous, Afro-Brazilian, & disabled people pic.twitter.com/g3nutP5793
— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) January 2, 2023
~ “Lula ascended the ramp to the presidential offices with a diverse group of Brazilians, including a Black woman, a disabled man, a 10-year-old boy, an Indigenous man and a factory worker. A voice then announced that Mr. Lula would accept the green-and-yellow sash from ‘the Brazilian people,’ and Aline Sousa, a 33-year-old garbage collector, played the role of Mr. Bolsonaro and placed the sash on the new president,” wrote the New York Times’ reporters in Brasília.
“Under the winds of redemocratization, we used to say, ‘Dictatorship never again,'” Lula said. “Today, after the terrible challenge we’ve overcome, we must say, ‘Democracy forever.'”
~ In his monthly wrap-up of Brazilian affairs, LR contributor Raphael Tsavkko Garcia outlines the various acts of terrorism committed by Bolsonaro supporters in the run-up to Sunday’s inauguration.
“On Christmas eve,” writes Raph, “police defused explosives found in a fuel truck in the capital city, Brasília. One suspect, George Washington de Oliveira, was arrested with a large arsenal of guns and explosives. According to police, he has links to groups of protesters camping in front of the barracks in Brasília, and police believe he wasn’t acting alone.”
~ Among Lula’s cabinet members is the famed environmentalist Marina Silva, reprising her role as environment minister (the position she held during Lula’s first presidency), and Indigenous rights activist Sônia Guajajara, who is heading the newly created Ministry of Native People and is not only Indigenous herself but was born on Araribóia Indigenous Land in the Brazilian Amazon.
~ The Brazilian markets got off to a rocky start this week over fears that Lula’s plans to tackle inequality and protect the environment will mean a lot of government spending.
Rich people care way less about their own spending than the government’s, especially when the government is spending to lift up poor people.
~ Now why would Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood party side with the United States’ anti-statehood party, thereby constantly forcing Puerto Rico into a dead end?
~ How the International Crisis Group describes the current situation in Haiti following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021:
“Hundreds of gangs control more than half of the country. They suffocate the capital, Port-au-Prince, by blocking roads and imposing a reign of terror, including using rape to punish and intimidate people, sometimes targeting children as young as ten. The biggest coalition, the G9, is headed by notorious gang leader Jimmy ‘Barbeque’ Chérizier. Haiti’s gangs have existed for decades, often with ties to politicians. But their power has ballooned since Moïse’s murder.
“Things have come to a head over the past six months. In July, battles between the G9 and another gang over Cité Soleil, a slum near Port-au-Prince, killed more than 200 people in a little over a week. Two months later, Henry lifted fuel subsidies, sending prices spiraling and causing mass protests, which gang members joined. The G9 then seized a major oil terminal, leaving almost the entire country with shortages of fuel, which has, among other things, disrupted access to clean drinking water. Chérizier said he would only give the terminal back once Henry stepped down, though Haitian police forces were able to recapture it some months later.
“The result has been a humanitarian catastrophe. Half the population, 4.7 million people, faces acute hunger, and almost 20,000 are thought to be at risk of starving. Aid workers’ struggles to reach health clinics combined with clean water shortages have given rise to resurgent cholera. A recent World Health Organization report said there were more than 13,000 cases between early October and early December, with 283 recorded deaths—but these are likely huge underestimates.”
~ Gunmen shot up the Mexican Air Force plane that would carry El Chapo’s son out of Culiacán, Sinaloa on Thursday, and the entire city was basically on lockdown as the Sinaloa Cartel unleashed havoc following Ovidio Guzmán’s capture by Mexican security forces.
~ Mexico recorded its first attack on a journalist in 2023 on the very first day of the year. Omar Castro, who directs La Nota Prensa De Sonora, was driving his SUV with his daughter and nephew in Ciudad Obregon in southern Sonora when the vehicle was fired upon but an unidentified assailant who reportedly yelled out “I’m going to kill you!”
Castro and his family members were unhurt, but the attack comes after what was the deadliest year for journalists in Mexico in three decades, with at least 15 killed in 2022.
~ Ten prison guards and seven inmates were killed during a prison break in Ciudad Juárez in the early hours of New Year’s Day. Among the 25 escapees is the reputed leader of the city’s most infamous street gang, Los Mexicles, which was long associated with the Sinaloas but has recently been working with the Caborca Cartel, whose leader, narco legend Rafael Caro Quintero, was recaptured in July.
~ As with Puerto Rico, a wave of foreigner-fueled gentrification is plaguing Mexico City, where long-time locals, and those with dreams of living in the big city, are being priced out by better-paid remote workers from the United States and Europe.
~ In Venezuela, the opposition parties have voted to dissolve the shadow government of Juan Guaidó, who had been pretending to be president of the country since January 2019 and got the United States, Bolsonaro’s Brazil, Trudeau’s Canada, and most of Europe to go along with it—though France’s Macron caught hell for having a friendly chat with President Maduro on the sidelines of the recent COP27 climate summit in Egypt, even referring to Maduro as “Président” and saying he would call him to hash out a few things.
Macron addressing Maduro as ‘President’ during their meeting, despite not officially recognising Maduro as president. Macron is just giving Maduro legitimacy on the world stage, also Nicolas Maduro Jr in the background also attending COP 27#Venezuela pic.twitter.com/hV45HRPlUO
— CNW (@ConflictsW) November 7, 2022
~ A U.S. citizen was killed in the Central American country of Belize last Friday. J’Bria Bowens, a nursing student a Louisiana State University, was outside a nightclub in San Pedro on the island of Ambergris Caye when she was unintentionally shot by assault rifle-wielding gunmen looking to kill a local gang leader.
~ On New Year’s Eve, Colombian President Gustavo Petro announced a six-month ceasefire with five armed groups —the ELN, two dissident FARC groups, the Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombiam and the Self-Defense Forces of the Sierra Nevada— affecting an estimated 15,000 fighters.
The move is part of Petro’s goal of “total peace,” which more than 25 armed groups and gangs have expressed interest in joining—even while they keep their illicit operations (“sustained by violence,” as Jordana Timerman points out) up and running.
~ After reading the news of the ceasefire this week, the ELN denied it had made any such agreement with Petro and the Colombian government.
~ Speaking of Colombia, many of the United States’ former partners in the War on Drugs, including Colombia but also Mexico, have openly repudiated the decades-long campaign.
“It’s’ time for a new international convention that accepts that the war on drugs has failed,” Petro said in his inauguration speech back in August.
“There’s no war. There is officially no more war. We want peace, and we are going to achieve peace,” AMLO said in January 2019.
With demand for cocaine decreasing in the United States but increasing elsewhere —such as Australia, where a kilo sells for over $100K— the shift in policy across Latin America should result in a banner year for cocaine production in 2023. To put it in perspective, cocaine production in 2022 was somewhere around 2500 metric tons, over 2,000 of that in Colombia and Peru alone.
While still committed to the old coca eradication policy, Peru has been dealing with a political crisis that has bumped drug enforcement toward the bottom of its list of priorities, meaning the world’s second-largest cocaine producer will probably see a boost in production this year.
~ “The Mexican criminal organizations have seen their traditional earners —marijuana, heroin, and cocaine— battered: the first by legalization in several U.S. states; the second due to the changing consumption of opioids and regulatory efforts, from injection towards counterfeit pills; the third by lower consumption of cocaine in the world’s largest cocaine market, the United States,” says InSight Crime.
Ergo, if we want to weaken the drug trade —or at least eliminate the violence and corruption that goes with it— we needn’t attack the production and trafficking of drugs but instead address their consumption—and not by law enforcement either, which never works, but through healthcare policies.
The shift in strategy has yet to occur because there’s way more money in waging a war on drugs than in treating drug abuse as a disease.
~ The U.S. Embassy in Cuba reopened visa and consular services on Wednesday for the first time since those strange and unexplained medical cases known as “Havana Syndrome” forced the embassy to remove its staff in 2017.
~ “This year, the El Salvador government embarked on possibly the most ruthless gang crackdown ever seen in Central America, taking iron fist policies and mass incarceration to new heights. The campaign has helped drive murder rates to historic lows and has won overwhelming domestic support, despite widespread allegations of human rights abuses and unresolved questions about whether such aggressive policies can be sustained,” says InSight Crime.
The only problem is Bukele’s mano dura campaign is widely popular—and not only in El Salvador either (see: Mexico, Honduras, Jamaica).
My own suegro and his fellow juarenses are so worn out by the constant chaos and bloodshed inflicted by the gangs that they seem willing to give AMLO temporary dictatorial powers, like they did in ancient Rome, so long as they can commute to work or the grocery store without fear of being shot at, kidnapped, or decapitated.
~ Last week, police in Bolivia arrested far-right Gov. Luis Camacho on terrorism charges for his role in the protests that forced former socialist President Evo Morales to resign back in 2019. Camacho is a fierce opponent of Morales’ MAS party, which is now back in power under President Luis Arce.
“The arrest of a prominent Bolivian opposition figure has sparked criticism from human rights groups and thrown a spotlight on how both the country’s right and left have used a weak judicial system to go after opponents,” reads the lede from Reuters.
~ Thousands of Peruvians took to the streets of Lima and Arequipa this week demanding the resignation of new President Dina Boluarte, the release of jailed former President Pedro Castillo, the closure of Congress, and changes to the Constitution—is that too much to ask?
~ All that said, 2023 is looking marvelous for Latin America.
From Maurício Cardenas at Americas Quarterly: “With global powers increasingly focused on their own problems and rivalries, Latin American countries enjoy an autonomy to make their own decisions unlike any other moment in recent memory. In this atmosphere of reduced foreign influence (or ‘meddling,’ depending on your point of view), governments in the region have more room for maneuver. This can only be a good thing.
“The second trend is that the region is governed by a coalition of leftist leaders who share a common political project.”
~ Weed growers in Mexico are itching to start a cannabis revolution… if only the government would give them the green light.
“In anticipation of the long-delayed legalisation of cannabis —after a number of supreme court decisions decreed the right to cultivate and deemed unconstitutional the ban on recreational use— the war on weed in Mexico is winding down and the festival is just one of 20 marijuana-related events being held across the country,” the Guardian reports.
“More than 10 million people in Mexico are estimated to have used cannabis. A legal market could be worth more than US$3bn (£2.5bn) a year, and at least 101,000 hectares (250,000 acres) —primarily in the northern states of Sinaloa, Chihuahua, and Sonora— are already used for illegal production.”
~ Brazil on Fire host Michael Fox came back on Latino Rebels Radio this week to discuss the return of Lula.
~ On Friday’s episode of Latino USA, we dive into the history of nachos… and get very hungry in the process.
~ In Episode 5 of USA v. García Luna, Peniley and Hinojosa reveal the links between Mexico’s corrupt, narco-connected former secretary of public safety and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.