Yes, you’re adventurous, and yes, your bucket list includes driving the PanAmerican Highway, crossing Russia, and checking out the Angel Falls.

But you will do well to read the State Department’s travel alerts and warnings before you go travel abroad. Each country’s warning/alerts pages also link to additional information.

For instance, the Colombia travel warning starts by saying,

Security in Colombia has improved significantly in recent years, including in tourist and business travel destinations such as Bogota and Cartagena, but violence linked to narco-trafficking continues to affect some rural areas and parts of large cities.

Mexico’s travel warning has state-by-state details, and was updated on January 9. While the situation in some states is very dangerous, other areas are relatively safe.

The Venezuela travel warning is way more alarming, for good reason (since the country has the highest per-capita murder rate), and divides Caracas in yellow, orange, and red zones for all U.S. direct-hire personnel and their families assigned to U.S. Embassy in Caracas, who “are required to take an armored vehicle when traveling to/from Maiquetía Airport.” As a tourist (emphasis added),

U.S. citizens should be vigilant of their surroundings at all times and in all locations, especially when entering or exiting their homes, hotels, cars, garages, schools, and workplaces. Whenever possible, U.S. citizens should travel in groups of two or more persons; avoid wearing jewelry and carrying large sums of money or displaying cash, ATM/credit cards, mobile phones, or other valuables; and avoid walking at night in most areas of Venezuela or walking alone on beaches, historic ruins, and trails. Incidents of crime along inter-city roads, including carjacking and kidnapping, are common in Venezuela. Motorists should avoid traveling at night and always drive with their doors locked to deter potential robberies at traffic lights and on congested city streets.

Sadly, Monica Spear and her husband Henry Thomas Berry (who owned an adventure travel business) ignored these warnings.

Heed the warnings. It may save your life.

Fausta writes at Fausta’s blog on Latin America/US politics and culture.

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Olimometer 2.52

It’s Wednesday and January 2014 continues to be the worst month the Tip Jar has seen since I started using it toward the mortgage.

Yesterday the combined take from the since January 1st finally passed the goal for a single pay week.

As for this week, we are not even 22% of the way to a full paycheck on a Wednesday. and we are on the pace for our third consecutive shortfall.

Hopefully a late surge will change that, but it can only change with your help because if we fail to meet the weekly goal

Olimometer 2.52

Then the monthly goal and the Mortgage becomes in doubt. (don’t worry Fausta DaMagnificent Seven is always paid first.)

Now if we can get 57 1/4 more subscribers @ at $20 a month the bills the problem will be solved on a more permanent basis.

It won’t cover CPAC but it will do all the base bills and that’s what counts

Can you be one of them?




Venezuelan actress and former Miss Universe runner-up Mónica Spear was murdered, along with her ex-husband Henry Thomas Berry, in front of their five year old daughter on Monday, the Feast of the Epiphany, while on vacation

Thomas Berry – who moved to the South American country when he was seven – and Monica Spear Mootz were held up by a gang after their car broke down on a motorway.

The couple were attacked by a gang of five men as their vehicle was being loaded on to a recovery truck.

Daughter Maya Veliz was hit in the leg and is under police protection while being treated for her injuries.

Travel firm boss Thomas, 39, died after being shot several times in the chest. Monica, a 29-year-old soap star who was crowned Miss Venezuela in 2004, was hit in the armpit.

Maya’s cries eventually alerted other passerby on the unsafe, un-patrolled highway where the murder took place – a road the locals don’t travel at night.

We mourn the horrible crime, and the death of this beautiful couple on a religious holiday meant to celebrate the child Jesus Christ, but the fact is, 75 people have been murdered in Venezuela since January 1st. Venezuelan blogger Juan Cristobal Nagel names others who were murdered on Monday.

Venezuela’s official homicide rate last year was 39 per 100,000 inhabitants, but non-government organizations put the figure at nearly twice that for a total of 24,000 deaths. The murdered rate has quadrupled since the late Hugo Chavez took office in 1999 and embarked on his Bolivarian Revolution. By 2004 the interior ministry had stopped releasing official crime figures.

What is the government’s reaction to this tragedy? The Minister for Interior, Justice and Peace (yes, the guy heading the department that hasn’t released official crime stats in nearly ten years), after flying over the crime scene, declared that crime is a societal problem, and “we’re all guilty,” ignoring the deleterious decay of the justice system and its institutions.

Daniel Duquenal asks, asks,

Why is there such insecurity in Venezuela, roads or elsewhere? Because the regime does not care. Because the regime in fact wants it. Because the regime knows very well that people standing for hours in line for a few pounds of flour, or hidden at night at home after nightfall are not going to have much time or mood to be actively criticizing, and even less conspiring.

Opposition members are assaulted on the floor of the National Assembly; marauding motorcycle gangs climb over the body of a dying truck driver; beautiful families are assassinated on a dark road at night.

A country dies.

Fausta blogs on American hemisphere politics and culture at Fausta’s blog.

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Olimometer 2.52

DTG: It’s Wednesday. 2014 has been here a full year and the good news is I’ve noticed a solid increase in baseline (that is non instalanche) traffic.

The bad news however is that in terms of da weekly paycheck the same has not been true. While this week’s traffic has been fine the last 7 days of DaTipJar have been awful.

Last week we didn’t make payroll, this week we’re only at 13% and despite a good amount of traffic things didn’t move a single bit.

All the traffic in the world won’t make up for bills not paid. If you think this site is worth your time and you like what our Magnificent Seven bloggers like Fausta offer a please consider kicking in to Datipjar, $5 $10, $25 any amount will get us toward da weekly goal (Currently $239 short for this week)

It will be very appreciated.

Remember if we can get those 58 1/4 subscribers @ at $20 a month the bills will be paid every week. Help make sure this blog can fight without fear all year long.




By Fausta Rodriguez Wertz

My friends at New York Latin Culture have been doing a countdown of New Year’s traditions to celebrate the arrival of the new year around the world. Among the traditions, is

wearing yellow underwear at the moment when New Year arrives. According to beliefs, doing so brings wealth and prosperity in the coming year.

Colombians and Venezuelans both like to greet the New Year in yellow undies.

New yellow undies.

Colombia’s economy has been doing well lately

Annual inflation fell to its lowest rate since 1955 last month, even as the economy grew at the fastest pace in the Andean region.

Colombians can find a wide array of any yellow undies they need.

Venezuela’s economy, on the other hand, is a disaster, with the government hiding the numbers while claiming an official annual inflation rate of 54% when the implied annual inflation rate hits 261%. Additionally, shortages of consumer goods in Venezuela

stem from price controls meant to make basic goods available to the poorest parts of society and the government’s controls on foreign currency.

Yellow undies are no exception: Agencia Carabobeña de Noticias (News Agency of Carabobo, ACN) reported that this year, Yellow Underwear is Rare and Costly, with panty prices increasing by 73% and 185% (depending on the shop) since 2012. Bra inflation was worse, with prices increasing by 300% to 500%. Men’s underpants doubled in price (the article doesn’t specify jockeys or boxers). ACN also itemized the rise in prices in the foods traditionally served on New Year’s Eve, with similar results.

Is the underwear shortage and inflation a regional occurrence? El Siglo sent out its reporters, who came back not only saying there was a wide variety of styles and prices available in Maracay (without mentioning actual prices), they even found shoppers who swear by its effectiveness. El Siglo, on the other hand, bills itself as a Bolivarian newspaper, which I interpret as loyal to the ruling party.

In brief: Disastrous economic policy hit the New Year’s bottom line.

Wishing you a happy and prosperous 2014,
Fausta
.

pasteles

Christmas in my native Puerto Rico is an extended party. It starts around Thanksgiving week and ends after the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th. Of all the countries I’ve visited, only France has more work holidays than Puerto Rico.

In-between there are a lot of parties, and an endless array of delicious foods, most of which would be banned by Mike Bloomberg for their fat, sugar, and salt content.

First, the drink of choice for the entire season is coquito, the “very yummy creamy tropical coconut eggnog made with spices and white rum.” While all the men drink their rum straight, ladies disguise it in coquito. Salud!

Most people celebrate Christmas Eve with a huge dinner: lechón asado (roast pig) or pernil (pork shoulder), which must be marinated at least 24 hours in advance; arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), red beans, tostones (fried plaintains), and pasteles.

Oh, pasteles! Delicious, but such hard work that my mom once commandeered my sister and me for a full day of preparation (which included peeling and grinding yuca, a thankless task if ever there was one), wrapping the pasteles in plantain leaves, cooking, and clean-up (you must wash down the whole kitchen afterwards because of the lingering odor). It was such hard work, mom bought them from an acquaintance for many years after. “Lesson learned!” mom said.

Some may also include bacalao, salted cod fish with tubers.

All these foods are served at the same time, and washed down with rum, beer, wine, or soda.

A couple of hours later, it’s time for dessert: The table is cleared, and out come arroz con dulce (rice pudding – I like mine with raisins), flan, plátanos en almibar (ripe plantains in syrup), tembleque, majarete, and pineapple upside-down cake, which must have a perfect maraschino cherry in the center of each pineapple. Someone always brings cookies and pies, too.

Of course, high-octane fully caffeinated Puerto Rican coffee goes with the dessert, served in expresso cups.

By then it’s midnight Mass (if you go to church), and after that, you open your presents.

Merry Christmas!

in exchange for helping Brazil investigate American spying programs:

Edward Snowden asks Brazil for asylum
Edward Snowden writes open letter to Brazil saying he can help investigate spying claims – but for something in return

In an “open letter to the Brazilian people”, Snowden said he was willing to help the Brazilian government “where appropriate and legal” but said the US government would prevent him from acting unless he was granted asylum.

After making stops in China and Russia, and missing his flight to Cuba, Snowden’s Open Letter to the People of Brazil claims that

My act of conscience began with a statement: “I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded.

That’s not something I’m willing to support, it’s not something I’m willing to build, and it’s not something I’m willing to live under.”

Snowden may not be aware that Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff is proposing that the Brazilian government effectively control internet availability in the country.

Snowden’s asylum in Russia ends next summer. As “a condition of his stay there he cannot talk to the press or help journalists or activists better understand how the US global spying machine works,” according David Miranda, the partner of former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald. Putin probably figured a 12-month stay was all he (Putin) needs.

“Where appropriate and legal”, indeed.

UPDATE:
Well, don’t pack your bags yet, Edward: Thanks but no thanks — Brazil uninterested in giving Edward Snowden asylum: report
An unnamed Brazilian government officials said the nation wasn’t keen on investigating NSA spying in the country, potentially endangering vital ties with the U.S.

The facts so far: Snowden has not submitted an official request for asylum. A Brazilian government spokesman said that without a formal request, asylum will not be considered.

The Ukrainians are revolting, in a big way: After their president Viktor Yanukovych essentially sided with Putin and gave the European Union the raspberry by withdrawing from the EU association agreement just as it was due to be signed last month, hundreds of thousands of protestors gathered in Kiev, blocked and occupied government buildings, and took down a statue of Lenin.

While Yanukovych has said that government officials could visit Brussels this week to resume talks on the EU association agreement, the protestors are braving the snow and staying put.

Contrast that with Venezuela, with the government incarcerating small business owners in its latest move towards full Communism. Right now, in Venezuela, you will find:

Thousands of Venezuelans have fled the country (with some boosting Miami real estate prices). Following Sunday’s municipal election and its predictable results, a friend snarked, “What Venezuela needs is a few hundred thousand Ukranians.”

It’s unlikely that Venezuelans will rise en masse:

  • Chavismo is still popular among the larger number of uneducated, poor people who may actually believe that raiding electronics stores is a good idea. There’s no equivalent of Putin to hate or fear, in spite of the pervading Cuban presence.
  • Opposition leaders are demonized, de-humanized and physically attacked on the floor of the National Assembly.
  • There’s still a mindset of “every man for himself“.
  • The government controls all propaganda outlets – even using ambulances to post campaign materials.
  • Proceeds from oil still pay for a lot of “freebies”.
  • Venezuela is new to Communism.

And,

So don’t expect millions of Venezuelans to storm downtown Caracas anytime soon.

Yesterday marked the fourth anniversary of the imprisonment of Alan P. Gross, a subcontractor for the US government’s Agency for International Development. Humberto Fontova points out that,

In Cuba Alan Gross had worked closely with Cuban Freemasons and Cuban Jewish groups. His main contact José Manuel Collera Vento was in fact the “Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Cuba.” Collera was also–SURPRISE!!!–a KGB-trained agent of the Stalinist regime.

Alan Gross made a total of seven trips to Cuba and worked with Cuban Jewish delegations in Havana, Santiago and Camaguey. Every head of every Cuban Jewish group that Alan Gross worked with and befriended him testified against him in “court.”

The witnesses knew they had no choice; either they testified against Gross, or their lives were over.

Alan Gross, 64, has lost over 100lbs during the course of his jail term, and has a large lump growing on his back, which under the “excellent free healthcare” Cubans endure is considered one of the “chronic illnesses that are typical of his age.”

Gross wrote to Pres. Obama this week, asking for his personal intervention,

The State Department on Monday called on the Cuban government to release Gross. In late November, 66 senators, led by Senator Patrick Leahy, sent Obama a letter asking him to “act expeditiously to take whatever steps are in the national interest” to obtain Gross’ release. White House press secretary Jay Carney said in February that Obama has “followed Mr Gross’ case with concern and urges his release”.

Robert Menendez, Marco Rubio, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Mario Diaz-Balart have written to the White House on Gross’ behalf. Even Jimmy Carter and Jessie Jackson tried and failed.

As Mary O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal reported, Cuba wants “the release of several Cuban intelligence officers convicted in 2001 of spying on the U.S.” in exchange for Gross’ freedom, rather than a ransom.

But Gross is not the only foreigner in Cuba’s jails:

  • Panamanian businessman Nessin Abadi, in his early 70s and owner of the large Audiofoto chain of electronics stores, jailed without charges in Cuba for over a year.
  • Another Panamanian, Alejandro Abood, then 50, was arrested in Havana in 2001. Abood was released five years ago.
  • Stephen Purvis, a British businessman, was detained in Cuba for 15 months. His company, Coral Capital, was behind the Bellomonte Golf and Country Club development, which lost £10.6 million. Purvis spent 16 months in jail and was released last July, along with Amado Fakhre, who was the company’s executive director.
  • Canadians Sarkis Yacoubian, sentenced to nine years in a prison in June, and his cousin and business partner, Krikor Bayassalian, a Lebanese citizen, who was sentenced to four years in prison.
  • Still awaiting trial is another Canadian, Cy Tokmakjian, who was arrested in 2011.

Purvis asserts that “there are many more in the system than is widely known.” The businessmen’s crime? Trying to collect on the moneys they are owed.

Pres. Obama is calling for an updated US policy on Cuba, and has eased travel and remittance rules for Cuban Americans. In exchange for what?

Cuba’s Communist regime continues to oppress its people – with 761 political arrests just last month – it extorts and jails foreigners, and it’s our hemisphere’s go-to place for sex tourism with minors.

Any easement in relations with Cuba is a failure of Obama’s foreign policy.

The Canadian kid goes to Bogota, Colombia, indulges in misbehavior, gets away with it, and now the locals want to, too:  Justin Bieber’s visit to Bogota opened doors for Colombian graffiti artists. Well, pardon my old-fogieness, but “graffiti artist” is an oxymoron. Vandalism is what comes to mind. But, when you’re a celebrity who gets paid thousands of dollars, you get away with it,

The 19-year-old Canadian heartthrob gave a concert on an October night and then took to the streets of this capital, wearing a hoodie and spray-painting a Canadian maple leaf atop a marijuana leaf alongside a tribute to his dead hamster, Pac. It all happened under the watchful eye of the metropolitan police, whose officers served as security detail.

Now the Colombian authorities have to deal with hundreds of “street artists” doing their thing not only in Bogota, but also in Cali, Medellin and other big Colombian cities – with others in smaller cities sure to join in.

What happened next? For one, Bogota outlined sanctions for defacing public property.

And Justin, who was told that, when he returns to Colombia, he may have to give a free concert for children (so the little kids may get to see him up close as a role model?), went on to Brazil, where he spray-painted the walls of Rio de Janeiro’s Hotel Nacional:

At this rate, he may get a show at the Whitney Museum in New York.

Most of us don’t pay much attention to Latin American countries. The Europeans, the Middle East, China, and back in the 1980s, Japan, get most of the headlines.

I know this from experience since I have been blogging on Latin America for almost ten years; while my blog gets a nice amount of visitors and I have been invited to speak at conferences, Latin America is not a subject that draws much attention from the public at large, except when it comes to the subject of immigration.

But Latin American politics affects the USA, not only regarding immigration. When you have a formerly wealthy, oil-producing country bankrolling some of the extreme-left nations in our hemisphere, while at the same time heading head-first down the Communist abyss, it’s worth noting the change in geopolitics.

Things are bad in Venezuela right now. For instance,

By now you’re probably asking, how can things get worse? Marking the start of a new period of repression, 11 women were arrested on Monday for peacefully protesting the new enabling law:

Maduro also wants Interpol to arrest JJ Rendón (who is now living outside the country), the political strategist to opposition leader Henrique Capriles, and has proclaimed that he will deal “with an iron hand” with anyone who dare question the results of the upcoming municipal elections scheduled for December 8 (link in Spanish) – a day he has proclaimed Hugo Chavez day.

Threats, indeed.

The real crackdown is already starting: Maduro is now arresting small business owners. Their crime? Owning a business:

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday that authorities had arrested more than 100 “bourgeois” businessmen in a crackdown on alleged price-gouging since the weekend. “We have more than 100 of the bourgeoisie behind bars at the moment,” Maduro said in a speech to the nation.

In a country where corruption is the order of the day, my only theory is that Maduro may be seizing electronics stores, for instance, and handing them to members of the military as a means to keeping the military happy and paid off, since Cuban intelligence now is in charge of the military.

Where will the electronics and the appliances come from? China, perhaps.

Not that electric appliances represent a threat to the USA. A Communist country that has direct flights from Iran and Syria may, though. . . particularly after US Secretary of State John Kerry publicly repudiated the Monroe Doctrine.

Things will be getting a lot worse.

Call me old-fashioned, but isn’t Christmas meant to be a celebration of the birth of Christ our Savior? A season of fellowship and the sharing of blessings?

Then what the hey are the Unemployed Philosophers thinking?

Grant you, the Unemployed Philosophers are my source for Obamacare Mints (“Take two and call me a socialist in the morning”), and the ever-popular Obama Disappointmints (“Is this change?”) which keep selling out but will be back in stock on 11/18/2013.

So why are the Unemployed Philosophers selling Che Guevara dolls in their “Little Thinkers” series? Che is next to Socrates and Abraham Lincoln, but then, so is the devil, who is closer, much closer, to Che than the other two.

Should the Unemployed Philosophers be known instead as the Ignorant and Callous Philosophers? Let’s take a look at the Cuba Archive on Che Guevara’s Forgotten Victims:

Che played a leading or supporting role in the summary execution of at least 21 persons in the Sierra Maestra; at least one shot by his own hand.

This is the guy who, in January of 1957, wrote to his then-wife, Hilda Gadea, to tell her that he was “Here, in the Cuban jungle, alive and thirsting for blood.” Indeed he was – the Cuba Archive has documented 22 executions ordered by Che over a period of three days in 1959 in Santa Clara, and 88 at La Cabaña Fortress. There are 216 documented murders by Che.

In addition to being a murderer, Che was a racist, a homophobe and an anti-Semite.

Just the guy to bring in Christmas cheer.

But hey, Che is cool to the Unemployed Philosophers (which may explain why they’re unemployed), so let’s have the Che ornament join the 2009 White House Mao ornament. Yes, the Mao Zedong was on a Christmas ornament, too – and at the White House! The same Mao who Che admired and from whom he adapted his formulation of guerilla warfare,

Che published influential manuals Guerrilla Warfare (1961) and Guerrilla Warfare: A Method (1963), which were based on his own experiences and partly chairman Mao Zedong’s writings. Guevara stated that revolution in Latin America must come through insurgent forces developed in rural areas with peasant support. His international legacy of glorifying violence through an erroneous analysis of guerilla warfare, based on his experiences with the Batista army, which was too incompetent and corrupt to fight, and applying Zedong’s writings on the subject led to bloodbaths in Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chiapas, Congo, Angola and decades of military dictatorship and political violence.

Maybe Josef Stalin will drop by and join them to top the Christmas tree with a shiny red star.

(h/t Rare)