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MondayApril 30, 2012

Latino Daily News: Bringing You the Latest Hispanic Current Events and News Stories 24/7

To reflect the dynamic interests of our audience, Latino Daily News is an online daily news source and virtual cultural center for and about Latinos. We offer the latest news headlines, as well as innovative and insightful Hispanic current events stories, photos, videos, and commentaries from a Latino perspective, 24/7.

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Costa Rican Company President Guilty of Massive Fraud in U.S., Spends Money on Soccer Team

Costa Rican Company President Guilty of Massive Fraud in U.S., Spends Money on Soccer Team

Photo: Costa Rican Fraud by Minor Vargas Calvo

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The president of a Costa Rican company that sold reinsurance bonds to life settlement companies was found guilty by a federal jury in Richmond, Va., for carrying out a half-billion-dollar fraud scheme that affected more than 2,000 victims throughout the United States and abroad.

Minor Vargas Calvo, 60, a citizen and resident of Costa Rica, owner of Provident Capital Indemnity (PCI) Ltd., an insurance and reinsurance company registered in the Commonwealth of Dominica and doing business in Costa Rica.  He was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, three counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud and three counts of money laundering.  He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on each fraud count and up to 10 years in prison on each money-laundering count when he is sentenced on Oct. 23, 2012.

According to court records and evidence at trial, PCI sold financial guarantee bonds to companies selling life settlements, or securities backed by life settlements, to investors.  These bonds were marketed to PCI’s clients as a way to alleviate the risk of insured beneficiaries living beyond their life expectancy.  The clients, in turn, typically explained to their investors that the financial guarantee bonds ensured that the investors would receive their expected return on investment irrespective of whether the insured on the underlying life settlement lived beyond his or her life expectancy.

Evidence at trial showed that Calvo and PCI’s purported independent auditor for PCI, Jorge Castillo, 56, of New Jersey, used lies and omissions to mislead PCI’s clients and investors regarding its ability to pay claims when due on the financial guarantee bonds that PCI issued.  Calvo caused Castillo to prepare audited financial statements that falsely claimed that PCI had entered into reinsurance contracts with major reinsurance companies.  The pair issued fraudulent financial statements PCI distributed showing significant assets and relatively small liabilities.

From 2004 through 2010, PCI sold at least $485 million of bonds to life settlement investment companies located in various countries, including the U.S.

Evidence at trial showed that Vargas sent more than $23 million of his ill-gotten gains to fund his professional soccer team in Costa Rica, to his unrelated companies, to his family and to himself. 

Castillo, who was a PCI employee prior to becoming PCI’s “outside auditor,” pleaded guilty on Nov. 21, 2011, to conspiring to commit mail and wire fraud.


 

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Border Agent that Shot Mexican Teen Faces No Criminal Charges, Being Sued by Family

Border Agent that Shot Mexican Teen Faces No Criminal Charges, Being Sued by Family

Photo: Border patrol kills Mexican teen.

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The lawyer of the family of a 15 year-old Mexican boy killed by a U.S. Border Patrol Agent in 2010 says plans of a lawsuit are still underway despite the fact that U.S. prosecutors decided not to criminally charge the officer with any offense.

The Mexican family insisted that by no means it will drop their charges.  The clearance by the Department of Justice means they do not believe the agent broke the when he shot the teen.

Robert Hilliard, attorney on the case, said that there is no evidence that the boy Sergio Hernandez-Guerca threw rocks at agent Jesus Mesa Jr. Mesa shot the boy who he claims was throwing rocks at agents, while trying to arrest illegal immigrants crossing the Rio Grande, and the whole shooting was caught on video.

The Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas announced also said there is insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal charges against the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.

Under the applicable civil rights statutes, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right, meaning with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. And since the case is so poorly evidenced, the Department concluded that no civil rights charges could be made without any proof.

The Department of Justice interviewed 25 witnesses. 

A Texas judge dismissed the wrongful death lawsuit against the U.S. government but did allow the lawsuit against Mesa to proceed.

Read more by HS News Staff →

Dayana Mendoza Told ‘Adios’ on Celebrity Apprentice

Dayana Mendoza Told ‘Adios’ on Celebrity Apprentice

Photo: Dayana Mendoza off Celebrity Apprentice

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The last standing Latina, former Miss Universe Dayana Mendoza, was told ‘Adios’ Sunday on Celebrity Apprentice.  The other Latina contestant was former Miss Venezuela Patricia Velasquez who was booted off March 25th. 

The Donald fired Mendoza after her team disappointed him with their 90-second jingle promoting Good Sam’s Roadside Assistance Program.  Five contestants remain including comedienne Lisa Lampanelli that clashed with Mendoza going as far as calling her “retarded” for never having a good idea on the Apprentice.

Lampanelli also called Mendoza a ‘spic’ that was going to get knocked up very soon.  Mendoza called her on it and said “she is not only targeting myself but degrading an entire Hispanic culture.”

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With 538 Dead Pelicans and Hundreds of Dead Dolphins, Peruvian Gov’t Orders Investigation

With 538 Dead Pelicans and Hundreds of Dead Dolphins, Peruvian Gov’t Orders Investigation

Photo: With 538 Dead Pelicans and Hundreds of Dead Dolphins, Peruvian Gov't Orders Investigation

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The Peruvian Sea Institute, or Imarpe, will investigate the deaths of hundreds of seabirds in northern Peru, the Production Ministry said.

Imarpe personnel have conducted a preliminary inspection along a 70-kilometer (43-mile) stretch of beaches around San Jose Bay, located in Lambayeque region, counting 538 dead pelicans and 54 dead boobies.

“These birds were in different stages of decomposition, with the majority recent,” the ministry said.

“They did not show evidence of having been washed up dead by the sea. The mortality appeared to have occurred on the beach,” the ministry said in a statement.

Tests will be conducted on the dead birds “to reassure residents and fishermen along the coast,” the ministry said.

Peruvian media reported Saturday that hundreds of dead seabirds had been found along a 200-kilometer (124-mile) stretch of beaches in the Piura and Lambayeque regions over the past few days.

The reports prompted fishermen and environmentalists to call on officials to investigate the deaths of the pelicans and other seabirds.

Hundreds of dolphins have been found stranded in northern Peru since January for unknown reasons, environmentalist Heinz Plengue said.

A number of possible causes, ranging from a virus to mining exploration in the Pacific Ocean, may be responsible for the deaths of the animals, experts said.

The initial results of the tests done on the dolphins have been received, but further “different studies must still be done” to determine what killed the marine mammals, the Production Ministry said.

Read more by HS News Staff →

LATINO BLOTTER: Chilean Suspected for Killing Boss and Associate with Wooden Mop

LATINO BLOTTER: Chilean Suspected for Killing Boss and Associate with Wooden Mop

Photo: Jose Rojas confessed partially to the violent crime of beating two to death.

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Jose Rojas (43), a native Chilean, and the prime suspect in a double homicide in Coral Gables, Florida confessed his plans to kidnap and extort the victims.

Rojas also told detectives that he couldn’t explain why the two victims were found in dead in a pool of blood, or why he also had blood stains on him. The suspect only admitted to beating his business partner and another person with a wooden mop stick when they yelled for help.

The conflicting statements are apparent from his arrest affidavit, which was released after his first day in court in Miami.

Rojas told police of how he premeditated the attack stating that he stopped to pickup items for torture before work on Friday, and his planned method to extort money from his business partner. However, the attack resulted in the bludgeoning and death of both of the victims.

The violence spilled into the street next to the second-floor of the victim’s office at 801 Monterrey, where police closed several blocks to chase Rojas. He was soon after caught in a Sedano’s supermarket, located in a strip mall.

His business partner now identified as Frances Venezia (59) was engaged in a business transaction with Rojas. Although no motive for the murder was described, officials suspect that it was tied to her struggling business (Professional Public Insurance Adjusters) and her business with Rojas (Certified Inventory Services, LLC).

Read more by HS News Staff →

With Unemployment in Spain at 24%, Grandma Gets Evicted and Chains Herself to Bank

With Unemployment in Spain at 24%, Grandma Gets Evicted and Chains Herself to Bank

Photo: Spanish economic crisis

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A 76-year-old grandmother who lost her home to debt chained herself to the gate of Spain’s central bank here Monday and asked Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to address the “injustices” affecting many people in the Iberian nation.

Angeles Belmonte was evicted five months ago from her home in the southern town of Nijar when her son fell behind on a loan she co-signed.

Belmonte and another of her children, Miguel Angel Navarro, 55, spent around two hours chained to the entrance gate of the Banco de España, relenting only when police arrived to warn them they would be subject to fines if they stayed.

With no money “to buy bread,” Belmonte said she couldn’t afford another fine on top of the 90 euros ($119) in penalties she already faces for two earlier protests at a bank branch.

The septuagenarian currently devotes her small widow’s pension to supporting her eight grandchildren, as all three of her children are out of work.

One of Belmonte’s offspring, Miguel Angel Navarro, became famous in Spain as the “trucker without a truck” after appearing outside a courthouse in diapers as part of protest.

Navarro says he lost his truck - and is on the verge of losing his house - because an employer failed to pay him.

The economic woes that have pushed Spain’s unemployment rate to 24.44 percent have also led to a wave of mortgage foreclosures and evictions.

Read more by HS News Staff →

LATINO BLOTTER: Manuel Carranza Only Has a 6th Grade Education, Practices Dentistry

LATINO BLOTTER: Manuel Carranza Only Has a 6th Grade Education, Practices Dentistry

Photo: Manuel Carranza Only Has 6th Grade Education, Practices Dentistry

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A Honduran-born man living in New York has been accused of not only practicing dentistry without a license, but without any formal medical or dental training whatsoever.

Manuel Carranza, 46, who has been living on Long Island, was reportedly caught after police received word that a man was practicing dentistry out of his home in an unsterile environment.

Detectives discovered the man with just a 6th grade education was operating an unlicensed dental facility out of his New Cassel home.

ImageHis equipment, which was purchased online, was not sterilized, only cleaned using dish soap, and was mostly second-hand tools.

As for the fillings he was putting in people, Carranza used melted down gold jewelry.

The cash-only operation brought in the big money with dentures, which Carranza charged $150 to $300 for. He is also said to have had a chart indicated fillings were $20-30 and root canals were $50.

Det. Lt. Ray Cote told CBS New York, “Our concern is that there are people that are not in good health as a result of his services.”

Police believe that over the last 18 months, Carranza has treated more than 100 people.

Carranza’s attorney told police his client was not practicing dentistry and was simply a collector of the tools and other pieces. However, along with the tools, prescription medications were also found in his home.

To protect the cash he kept from the business, Carranza is said to have been in possession of a stun gun, should anyone attempt to rob him.

He is currently out on $2,500 cash or bond after he pled not guilty to charges of unauthorized practice of a crime, possession of a forged instrument, possession of a dangerous weapon, and criminal diversion of a prescription. He was reportedly due back in court on Monday, April 30.

Read more by HS News Staff →

Did Selena Gomez and The Scene Steal Another Band’s Song? (VIDEO)

Did Selena Gomez and The Scene Steal Another Band’s Song? (VIDEO)

Photo: Did Selena Gomez and The Scene Steal Another Band's Song?

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Selena Gomez and The Scene are among those named in a lawsuit filed claiming their song “A Year Without Rain” was a rip off another band’s song.

Tom Luce, Brian Kroll, Matt Blackett and Lawrence Riggs of the band Luce, the plaintiffs in the case, say Gomez and her band (along with song writers Lindy Robbins and Toby Gad) ripped off their song “Buy A Dog”.

According to the lawsuit, Luce’s song was often played on Sirius/XM radio and various other outlets in 2005, long before Gomez and her band were even created. The plaintiffs state “A Year Without Rain” and “Buy A Dog” have melodies in the chorus that are nearly identical.

The lawsuit alleges that Gomez’s song, with was the title track off her second studio album, infringes on their copyright and are suing for $1 million.

Listen to the songs below. What do you think? Does Luce have a case?


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UPDATE: Yvonne Baldelli’s Ex-Marine/Ex-BF Named Person of Interest in Her Disappearance in Panama

UPDATE: Yvonne Baldelli’s Ex-Marine/Ex-BF Named Person of Interest in Her Disappearance in Panama

Photo: Baldelli, 41, Missing After Trying to Start New Life in Panama

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UPDATE:

Sunday, Panamanian police said they are looking to missing American, Yvonne Baldelli’s former boyfriend, ex-Marine Brian Brimager as a person in their case to find her.

However, neither the U.S. nor Panama officials have officially named Brimager as a suspect. Still, Panama national police official Alexis Muñoz said Brimager had raised investigators’ interest
___________________________________________________________
ORIGINAL STORY:

The FBI has now joined the search for an American woman who went missing 5 months ago shortly after moving to Panama with her boyfriend.

After being laid off from her job at Proctor and Gamble, 41-year-old Yvonne Baldelli moved to Panama’s Bocas del Toro islands with her boyfriend for a fresh start.

Baldelli moved down to Panama in September 2011 and by her family’s accounts, she and her former U.S. Marine boyfriend, Brian Brimager, were happy. However, in December, Brimager returned to California saying Baldelli had broken up with him. According to his Facebook profile, Brimager left Bocas del Toro on December 10, with stops in Costa Rica (two day stop) and Atlanta (layover) en route to California. Within weeks of returning to the U.S. he was both engaged and married to another woman.

When Baldelli’s family had not heard from her in some time, particularly regarding a reunion planned for January, members of the family traveled to Panama.

Neither the U.S. embassy nor local authorities have any record of the missing woman leaving the country, though Brimager claims Baldelli left Panama with another man and they heading to Costa Rica.

Police believe Brimager and Baldelli had a violent relationship and say they have not ruled out a crime of passion.

Baldelli’s King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, GeorgiaMae, is also missing.

A Facebook page called “Find Yvonne Baldelli” has been created by her family. Photos of her and her dog have been posted, along with photos of a Tiffany & Co. necklace she always wore. The page also includes ways to contact authorities with any information that may help in finding her.

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Check Out Boyce Avenue’s Acoustic Cover of The Wanted’s “Glad You Came” (VIDEO)

Check Out Boyce Avenue’s Acoustic Cover of The Wanted’s “Glad You Came” (VIDEO)

Photo: Check Out Boyce Avenue's Acoustic Cover of The Wanted's "Glad You Came"

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Boyce Avenue have released their acoustic cover of The Wanted’s hit “Glad You Came”.

The Manzano brothers, YouTube favorites, will soon be heading across the pond for their European tour which kicks off with supporting acts Alex Groot and Megan Nicole on June 4 in Brussels.

For more information about Boyce Avenue’s European tour click here.


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Chicago Bears Add Evan Rodriguez to Roster at 2012 NFL Draft

Chicago Bears Add Evan Rodriguez to Roster at 2012 NFL Draft

Photo: Chicago Bears Add Evan Rodriguez to Roster at 2012 NFL Draft

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The 6’2, 244-lb tight end/fullback from Temple, Evan Rodriguez, was chosen on the third and final day of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears.

The Bears chose Rodriguez in the fourth round of the draft as their 16th pick. The

Rodriguez transferred from West Virginia to Temple after only one semester, and has been described as “true tweener” due to his size being neither just that of a tight end or fullback.

While with Nevada’s Temple Owls, Rodriguez caught 69 passes for 871 yards and 7 touchdowns in 27 games. Two of those touchdowns being scored in his last game with Temple.

Though his playing record on the field has landed him a place on the Bears roster, the 23-year-old’s off-field record is something that could have scared other teams away a bit.

In 2007, Rodriguez was charged with misdemeanor disturbance and misdemeanor trespassing while at West Virginia. The in 2009, he was arrested for disorderly conduct.

However Bears general manager Phil Emery has vouched for Rodriguez’s character, telling ESPN Chicago, ‘I know he has had past issues, It’s precisely why we brought him in and it’s precisely why we had [Tim] Spencer (Bears running backs coach) work him out and spend some time with him. Everybody in this building has spent quality time on him.

‘He’s a very tough, physical football player that we are very excited to have.’

Rodriguez was born in the Bronx, but grew up in New Jersey, attending North Bergen High School. He was a criminal justice major in college. Though it may not transfer to the Pros, his nickname is E-Rod.

Read more by HS News Staff →

Colombian Prostitute in Secret Service Scandal in Playboy? or Hustler?

Colombian Prostitute in Secret Service Scandal in Playboy? or Hustler?

Photo: Dania Suarez is only waiting to tell her story.

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Dania Suarez, the prostitute who blew the lid off the Secret Service scandal, said in a statement to the press that she plans to sell her story to the highest bidder.

The 24 year-old, is jumping at the chance to reach fame and riches by releasing information about the Secret Service member who denied paying her for the night of sex.  Rumors are circulating in Spanish-language media that Suarez will pose for Playboy or Hustler.

A spokeswoman for Playboy told the press that none of their editors have contacted Suarez and there are supposedly no plans to include her photos in the magazine.

However editor from Hustler, Larry Flynt, said he had photos of Suarez but has yet to write an article explaining her side of the Secret Service incident.

An assistant to Suarez’s lawyer, Marlon Betancourt, said that neither of the parties wanted to make any declarations. Betancourt later stated to the press that Suarez was “in her right” to sell her story and photos to “whoever”.

Colombian officials also predicted, “Events are going to turn out this way, she will pose naked for Playboy, and from there a reporter will interview her for an exclusive story.”

Read more by HS News Staff →

Bolivian Sex Workers Go on Hunger Strike to Demand Solution to End Doctors’ Strike

Bolivian Sex Workers Go on Hunger Strike to Demand Solution to End Doctors’ Strike

Photo: Bolivian Sex Workers Go on Hunger Strike to Demand Solution to End Doctors' Strike

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Bolivian sex workers, both male and female, are currently on a hunger strike at a health center in El Alto demanding a solution be found to the doctor’s strike that has forced the closure of a number of Bolivian hospitals.

The sex workers have stated that their health and that of the community are at risk because they are not receiving their regularly-scheduled weekly check-ups due to the doctors’ strike. They state that without the check-ups, everyone is at risk of spreading and/or contracting sexually transmitted diseases and even AIDS/HIV.

One of the country’s 45,000 registered sex workers told Aljazeera, “You can’t play with health. It’s a time bomb that is going to explode at any moment. The lives of the entire population is at stake here.”

Those on the hunger strike at were reportedly shouting chants aimed at Health Minister Juan Carlos Calvimontes, saying, “Useless minister, we want a solution!”

Read more by HS News Staff →

Costa Rican President Comes to the Rescue of Hit and Run Victims

Costa Rican President Comes to the Rescue of Hit and Run Victims

Photo: Laura Chinchilla becomes heroine.

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Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla became the heroine of a tragic hit and run accident injuring three people last night when her security detail arrived on the scene.

The security team chased after the hit and run driver and detained the dark colored Hyundai. The driver, who was later identified by the last name Ordonez, was apparently under the influence and was immediately brought into custody.

The President noticed the accident around 9 p.m. when one of the vehicles hit a guard rail near the National Gymnasium in Sabana Park, which coincided with statements by officials.

She then immediately came to the aid of the three injured victims while ordering other members of her security team to block the road so that the victims wouldn’t get run over.

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LATINO BLOTTER: Zachary P. Ramirez Drives 111 MPH En Route Sex

LATINO BLOTTER: Zachary P. Ramirez Drives 111 MPH En Route Sex

Photo: Zachary P. Ramirez Drives 111 MPH en Route Sex

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An Illinois man was caught driving over 100 miles an hour through a forest preserve. When understandably stopped by police and asked why he was traveling at such a high speed, he stated he was rushing “to go have sex with a girl he liked.”

Naperville’s Zachary P. Ramirez was caught driving his 1994 Honda Prelude at a top speed of 111 mph through the Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve.

The 21-year-old was ticketed for driving 40+ mph over the speed limit, and was also charged with disobeying a traffic light (ran a red light), disobeying a stop sign (never stopped) and drug possession for having .2 grams of marijuana in his car.

He is now out on $200 bond after being released by the Naperville Police Department.

Read more by HS News Staff →

Top Ranking Latino in EPA Forced to Resign by Republicans for 2-Yr Old Comment

Top Ranking Latino in EPA Forced to Resign by Republicans for 2-Yr Old Comment

Photo: Al Armendariz Resigns from EPA

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Thanks to Republicans in Congress, a top ranking Latino in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was forced to resign over comments he made two years ago.

The comments were made by Al Armendariz in his role as EPA official for the South and Southwest regions.  He used the word ‘crucify’ when describing his vigilance over oil companies and when describing his enforcement strategies on behalf of the Clean Air Act or the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws. 

When those comments surfaced in a Congressional report from a 2010 speech, Republicans used this as an example of EPA’a anti-energy stance.  The request for Armendariz to quit did not quite down even after he apologized for his comments.

Republican Congressional members wanted Armendariz to be fired because the EPA, according to them, should be policy impartial. 

“Over the weekend Dr. Armendariz offered his resignation, which I accepted. I respect the difficult decision he made and his wish to avoid distracting from the important work of the agency. We are all grateful for Dr. Armendariz’s service to EPA and to our nation,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in a statement Monday.

Armendariz was appointed by President Obama on November 5, 2009, as the Regional Administrator for EPA’s Region 6 office in Dallas.  He is a graduate of MIT and is officially known as Dr. Alfredo Juan “Al” Armendariz. 

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Jordan Ramos Says She Was Discriminated Because of Size and Wants Human Rights Investigation

Jordan Ramos Says She Was Discriminated Because of Size and Wants Human Rights Investigation

Photo: Jordan Ramos was discriminated against because of her weight in an Iowa bar.

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Jordan Ramos (21), a University of Iowa student, said she was discriminated against because of her weight in Union Bar in Iowa City, Iowa during an outing with some friends.

Self described as “plus sized”, Ramos said that the bouncers stopped her when she tried to get onto a platform to dance with several of her friends.

The bouncer claimed that it was at capacity, so Ramos waited till a few other girls stepped off the platform. Again, the bouncer stopped Ramos when she approached. Ramos then asked, “What is the difference between the other girls up there and myself?”

Ramos then proceeded to talk to the manager who refused to talk to her about the incident. After discussion with a social worker at the university, Ramos returned to the bar where she was again denied access to the platform.

The bar’s bouncer allegedly stated that Ramos was “obviously pregnant” and “not pretty enough” to dance on the platform. Ramos approached the Human Rights Commission in Iowa City, which denied her request because size discrimination is not illegal by law.

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Nicaragua Crowns its Miss Gay 2012

Nicaragua Crowns its Miss Gay 2012

Photo: Lavelesk Dredish crowned as Miss Gay 2012 in Nicaragua.

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The gay community in Nicaragua crowned its Miss Gay, the queen of the transvestites in its annual Miss Gay Nicaragua competition held at the Ruben Dario National Theater.

This was the first time that the theatre opened its doors to such a sexually diverse event according to the director of the Institute of Nicaraguan Culture, Luis Morales. ““The National Theatre is now open to this spectacle that displays such a strong sense of sexual diversity which has conquered new spaces,” said Morales.

The 13 contestants showed off their sculpted bodies,  faux bust and butts in both tiny swimsuits and lavish evening gowns for the finale of the annual competition. In the exotic night of choreographed dance and catwalks, the competitors stepped into the spotlight with their best smiles and their exquisite headdresses.

The judges who included President Daniel Ortega’s stepdaughter, Zoilamerica Narvaez, and four other members declared Laveleska Dredrish the winner.

Dredrish, a 22 year-old designer, donned her aqua-marine mermaid style dress which hugged her toned body. She promised to open new spaces for the gay community and said she would continue to fight for their rights.

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First Meeting of “Cubans Living in U.S.” Held in Cuba

First Meeting of “Cubans Living in U.S.” Held in Cuba

Photo: Cubans Living in U.S. Meeting

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The Cuban government this weekend broached the issue of immigration reform on the island during a videoconference held between Cuba and the United States as part of the first Meeting of Cubans Living in the United States.

From the island, Foreign Relations Vice Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez on Saturday discussed the “updating” of immigration policy that the government is working on and said that the changes are aimed at “reducing prohibitions and regulations” established at other times since the revolution.

“We know that many await with impatience the announcement, but we all must understand that this is about complex issues that imply multiple changes and legal arrangements,” said Rodriguez, the top Cuban official participating in the videoconference.

Some 118 Cuban-Americans went to the Swiss Embassy building in Washington where the Cuban Interests Section conducts its work in the United States, while in Havana a room at the Foreign Relations Ministry was made available with access for the press.

The Swiss Embassy building, with three floors and large rooms allowed the participants to spread out and hold multiple conversations that the spokesperson for the diplomatic mission described to Efe as “an internal meeting.”

During the videoconference, which lasted a little over an hour, the emigrants also received an explanation of the economic reforms the government of President Raul Castro is pushing forward with on the island and also a discussion of the five Cuban agents sentenced to prison in the United States for espionage.

They also had the opportunity to pose questions about the issues that were discussed, several of those questions dealing with the possibilities of investing in Cuba, something that would open up the so-called “updating” of the Cuban socialist model.

The press official at the Interests Section, Juan Jacomino, said that the first meeting of Cubans living in the United States with diplomats of his country, convened as part of the effort to push for the normalization of the relations between the island’s government and the exiles, would not be a meeting open to the press, but he did not rule out that at the end of it some kind of declaration of communique might be issued.

Cuban-American lawmaker and president of the U.S. House Foreign Relations Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen questioned the State Department for authorizing a visa to participate in the meeting to the director for North America of MINREX, Josefina Vidal.

In Havana, Vice Minister Rodriguez called the chance to address “such a select group of Cubans” an “honor” and recalled that not all those who wanted to participate could do so due to personal reasons or space considerations.

Rodriguez emphasized the importance of this initiative for continuing the “ongoing, fluid and respectful” dialogue of the Cuban government with the exiles, and he reviewed the historical circumstances of the political dispute between the island and the United States and how they have impacted the exile community.

“Each one has its own experiences in this long, painful, controversial process,” said Rodriguez, but he emphasized that the process of normalization in relations “has advanced a lot.”

He also said that all dialogue must be based on the “common decision” of defending values like the independence and sovereignty of Cuba and fighting against the economic blockade that Washington has been enforcing against the island for more than 50 years.

He went on to say that in 2011 some 400,000 exiles traveled to Cuba to visit relatives and undertake cultural, academic or business activities.

The Cuban Interests Section sent invitations to some 150 Cubans living in the United States for what it called “the first National Meeting for Unity and Policy Change toward Cuba.”

The invitation letter, which doubled as a unique ticket to attend the meeting in the building on 16th Street in Washington, some two kilometers (1 1/4 miles) north of the White House, makes reference to “more than half a century of arbitrary policy of the United States toward Cuba,” including the “criminal economic embargo.”

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Mexican Swimmer Laura Vaca Win 2011 Jean Borotra World Fair Play Trophy

Mexican Swimmer Laura Vaca Win 2011 Jean Borotra World Fair Play Trophy

Photo: Mexican Swimmer Laura Vaca Win 2011 Jean Borotra World Fair Play Trophy

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Mexican swimmer Laura Vaca Hernandez has received the 2011 Jean Borotra World Fair Play Trophy from the International Fair Play Committee in recognition of her more than 40-year career, a Hungarian Olympic Committee spokesman said.

The 59-year-old Vaca, who competed in the 1968 Mexico City and 1972 Munich Olympics, received the prize in Gödöllö, located northeast of Budapest.

Vaca, the first Mexican woman to win the honor, received the prize at the Gödöllö Royal Palace, Hungarian Olympic Committee spokesman Oliver Török told Efe.

Vaca shared the award, named for the French tennis great, with German table tennis player Walter Kilger.

The Pierre de Coubertin World Fair Play Trophy went to Turkish jockey Erhan Yavuz, while German athlete Katrin Green, Venezuelan fencer Antonio Leal Piña, Luxembourgian cyclist Andy Schleck and late Russian ice hockey player Ivan Tkachenko received diplomas.

Hungarian opera singer Erika Miklosa and Hungarian fencer Pal Szekeres received the Willi Daume World Fair Play Trophy for promoting fair play.

Vaca was a world masters champion and broke two world records, one in the 400 meters in 2008 and the other as part of a relay team that crossed the English Channel in August 2007.

The Paris-based International Committee for Fair Play, which was founded by UNESCO in 1963, has the mission of promoting fair play around the world.

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LATINO BLOTTER:  Five Men Tortured and Strangled in Guatemalan Auto-Repair Shop

LATINO BLOTTER:  Five Men Tortured and Strangled in Guatemalan Auto-Repair Shop

Photo: Murder in Guatemala

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The bodies of five strangled men were found Saturday inside an auto-repair shop on the southeast side of the Guatemalan capital, emergency workers said.

The victims were discovered with their hands and feet bound and with signs of having been tortured, a Volunteer Firefighters spokesman told local radio.

The slain men included the shop owner, identified as 50-year-old Walter Rolando Valle Castillo, the spokesman said, adding that the other four unidentified individuals were apparently his employees.

The federal Attorney General’s Office and the National Police have launched an investigation to determine the circumstances of the multiple homicide and who was responsible.

An average of 14 people are murdered every day in Guatemala, most by gunfire, according to official figures.

President Otto Perez Molina, a retired army general who was inaugurated on Jan. 14 for a four-year term, came to power on pledge to reduce soaring violent crime rates.

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Colombia to Provide 100,000 Residents Free Homes, To Spend $738 Million on Housing

Colombia to Provide 100,000 Residents Free Homes, To Spend $738 Million on Housing

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Colombia plans to invest 1.3 trillion pesos (about $738.13 million) in housing programs “for the poorest of the poor,” which it is adding to the plan to provide 100,000 homes free to the most vulnerable among the population, President Juan Manuel Santos said.

The president explained his housing strategy in his so-called “Agreement for Prosperity” No. 70, on Saturday in Inirida, capital of the jungle province of Guainia, which borders Venezuela and Brazil.

The announcement made last Monday to build the 100,000 free homes within 24 months is in addition to his plan to subsidize the construction programs for 1 million of the so-called “social homes,” Santos said.

To date, the Housing Ministry has built 246,000 homes in accord with that plan, which Santos called the “push” for the investment of $738.13 million approved in recent days by the Finance Ministry because it will guarantee the continuation of that program in the coming years.

The government is now seeking to give priority to housing as a tool in its strategy to reduce the inequality that causes so much “embarrassment” to the president, and that is the reason for the implementation of the plans and the recent change made by Santos at the head of the Housing Ministry.

Santos last Monday made public the replacement of Beatriz Uribe with German Vargas Lleras, who was the interior minister up until this time, calling him an “official of high quality.”

These announcements came days after a survey revealed that the Colombian president’s approval rating had fallen to 58 percent and is 15 points below the level he attained three months after assuming power in August 2010.

In that regard, Santos said that he is not paying any attention to the results of such surveys because “political capital is to be invested and he who lives by the surveys winds up making a mistake.”

Although he admitted that some of the “alerts” that the polls cause disturb him, he concluded that “I musn’t worry if my popularity is up or down.”

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MondayApril 30, 2012