April 21, 2006 [LINK]

Garcia likely to reach Round 2

In Peru, 95 percent of the votes have been counted, and Alan Garcia now has a lead of 93,000 votes over Lourdes Flores in the race for second place, more than a full percentage point. Hopes by conservatives for a chance to run in the second round election are dwindling fast. The very real possibility that Ollanta Humala will be elected president next month is causing great anxiety among many Peruvians. In a press conference yesterday, he sought to ally fears by promising to respect freedom of the press. See El Comercio of Peru (in Spanish). Of course, Hugo Chavez has said similar things. Older Peruvians remember what happened the last time a government tried to take over the press and television, under the military dictatorship of Juan Velasco in July 1974: violent protests and intensified repression of dissent, undermining stability and respect for authority.

Coincidentally or not, a volcano erupted in southern Peru today, spewing huge clouds of ash. See CNN.com.

Hostage crisis in Bolivia

On Wednesday, three Bolivian cabinet ministers were rescued by police and set free after being taken hostage by protesters a day earlier. They were on a visit to the town of Puerto Suarez in the eastern part of the country, trying to explain to local residents why a proposed steel mill to be built by a Brazilian firm would violate regulations prohibiting foreign ownership of property within 30 miles of the border. There are also environmental concerns, because the steel mill would use charcoal as fuel. See BBC. Mineral coal is very scarce in South America, and large-scale production of charcoal would intensify the problem of deforestation in the Amazon basin. This bizarre incident illustrates the fragile hold on power by the new government of President Evo Morales, and the underlying resentment by the economically progressive province of Santa Cruz, which is culturally distinct from the rest of Bolivia and which has considerable sentiment in favor of secession.

Brutality, hypocrisy in Mexico

As the national elections approach, there are a variety of disturbing signs that something has gone terribly awry in Mexican society. The decapitated heads of two police officers were left in front of a government building in Acapulco (CNN.com), police seem unable to control the exploitive "coyotes" who smuggle people across the U.S. border (CNN.com), and a priest confessed to murdering and dismembering his pregnant girlfriend after she confronted him following mass on Easter Day (CNN.com). Respect for the basic norms of civilization is in rapid decline. And we want them to lecture us on how to treat human beings?

The mainstream media is starting to pick up on the Mexican government's hypocritical attitude regarding immigration. It demands unfettered access to the United States for its people, but refuses to accommodate economic refugees from Central American. See CNN.com.