Tag Archives: Latin America

Photographs of Tropicalísimo reflect beauty and resiliency

John Sevigny, Two Transvestites with Dog
John Sevigny’s “Two Transvestites with Dog.”

“Heat, humidity, salty air, and frequently conditions of poverty, cause things and people to fall apart south of the Tropic of Cancer.” Such are the musings of photographer John Sevigny, whose new exhibit at Latino Arts comprises 40 digital photographs taken in Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador between 2012 and 2014. Titled Tropicalísimo, the photos “look at people and things as they corrode, and yet, remain bound by rust, wire, string and the sheer force of human will.

These 40 works are mostly color prints of moderate size, tacked directly to the wall. As simple as the curatorial presentation may be, the order of their placement creates a sense of rhythm and, at times, direct dialogue between the pictures. Many images suggest ripe short stories, where the narrative of daily life is filled with beauty and resiliency.

One of the strengths of Sevigny’s work is his manner of photographing people. Regardless of their surroundings, whether sprawled on a tattered couch on the pavement or secluded in a dark interior room, something has been chosen in that photographed moment. They are lifted out of the flotsam and jetsam of the everyday grind, calling out to the essential dignity of each person. The photographer’s talent in this is innate, but also seems to recall something of art historical predecessors.

One of the first pieces in the exhibition is labeled simply “Two Transvestites with Dog.” The heat is palpable. A woman is slouched in a chair, her short skirt exposing legs while an arm draped over her head pulls hair back from her damp brow. Her companion fusses with a small white dog who pants atop a table. The shadows conceal her face and it takes a moment to see the cigarette dangling from her lips. The realness of the picture, and the deep shadows that linger on the sides and behind the two main figures, employ the dynamics of Baroque painting — Caravaggio, in particular, comes to mind.

Perhaps this is not accidental. Sevigny has written about Caravaggio in the past, and the Italian artist was notorious for depicting his subjects in stark realism. Even in religious paintings, Caravaggio would use ordinary men and women from the street as models, a move that shocked viewers who deemed this as a transgression on propriety. Today, we hold no such strictures, but what Sevigny does is present the people of his photographs in a manner that conveys a similar sense of gravity.

Sevigny also references Caravaggio’s fellow 17th-century artist Diego Velázquez, who explored the picture plane as a deep, multi-dimensional world. Sevigny’s Juke Box and Pooh is similarly dense, although it doesn’t appear so at first. We look into a seemingly deserted bar, decorated with a poster for the football team Real Madrid and the eponymous jukebox with a large cut-out of Winnie-the-Pooh on top. But our eyes travel back, behind a half-curtained wall to the area beyond. A clothesline is strung with laundry, a note on the domestic necessitates that lie just out of reach of the public space.

John Sevigny, Mancar.
John Sevigny, Mancar.

Texture and color are rich notes in Sevigny’s photographs, offering a lush surface from which to contemplate the scenes and subjects he portrays. “Mancar,” with its tightly cropped focus on a man driving a rusted yellow automobile, feels like a claustrophobic traffic jam, no matter the time of day. To cite a more modern comparison, this seems a cousin to work by the Indian photographer Ragubir Singh, who also fixated on visual color and the vibrance of his native culture in pictures combining documentation and poetry.

There are some weighty stories in these works. Sevigny, in his exhibition introduction, notes that violence was part of many places he lived and worked. This is at times less obliquely referenced. In a poignant curatorial pairing, pieces called Crib and Coffin are placed side-by-side. The photographic prints are the same size, but they upend assumptions. Crib shows a man lying in a baby’s crib on the street, scrunched in a fetal position behind its blue painted bars. Coffin is a close-up view of the pleated fabric on the inside. It is not entirely clear which part of the coffin we see, nor the source for the discoloration and speckles of color on the pale surface.

Sevigny’s work is currently on view at Latino Arts, a center for education and arts in the Hispanic community. Sevigny grew up in Miami and his work has taken him far field as a news photographer for the Associated Press and other major organizations. While Latino Arts’ exhibition may seem modest in execution, the center for education and the arts in the Hispanic community is in fact presenting an artist whose work has been shown internationally. In this context, the show’s intimacy is an excuse to be more fully engaged in Sevigny’s Tropicalísimo.

Tropicalísimo by John Sevigny continues through June 3 at Latino Arts, 1028 S. 9th St., Milwaukee. Admission is a $1 donation. For more information about this and other Latino Arts programs, visit latinoartsinc.org.

Gay couples celebrate civil unions for first time in Chile

Dozens of same-sex couples in Chile began celebrating civil unions earlier this week, taking advantage of a new law that gay advocates say is a clear sign of change in a country long regarded as one of Latin America’s most socially conservative.

The civil union law was debated in Congress for over a decade until it was passed and signed into law by the president in April. As it went into effect, couples began arriving at civil registry offices early to officially validate their unions.

“It was beautiful. It was such a nice ceremony. It was all very emotional. Our families were here, everyone was shedding tears,” Virginia Gomez told reporters after she registered her union with her partner, Roxana Ortiz.

“History changes today,” Ortiz said, showing the blue passport-like document that validates their union. The couple had married in Spain but their union was not recognized in Chile. “Now we can make decisions together like a couple. We’re thrilled.”

Civil union gives same-sex and unmarried couples many of the rights granted to married couples. Partners can inherit each other’s property, join one another’s health plans and receive pension benefits. They have been recognized in several South American countries, though only Argentina and Uruguay allow formal gay marriage. Gay advocates in Chile are celebrating the right to same-sex civil unions as a step toward full rights.

“The civil union doesn’t end our struggle. We’re demanding same-sex marriage. We’re going to request for the measures stuck in congress to be revived,” said Rolando Jimenez, president of the Gay Liberation and Integration Movement.

Chile decriminalized gay sex in 1999 and it was one of the last countries in the world to legalize divorce, in 2004.

The killing of a gay man in 2012 set off a national debate that prompted Congress to pass a hate crimes law.

Cuban musician González to lead UW-Madison residency

The first thing Juan de Marcos González wants American music fans to understand is that Cuban music is too often mislabeled as simply another form of Latin American jazz.

“Cuban music is not properly Latin jazz,” says González, leader of the Afro-Cuban All Stars and its spinoff, the Buena Vista Social Club. “It’s jazzy because we do improvise a lot, but the accent of the music is in a different place. Overall, it’s really pretty different.”

Musicologists agree that the syncretic nature of Cuban music and its many genres makes it one of the world’s richest regional styles. The music’s son Cubano foundation, which merges Spanish guitar, melodies and harmonies with West African percussion and rhythms, has made it one of the most popular and influential forms of music in Latin America and beyond.

González, along with a full ensemble of fellow Cuban musicians, will explore Cuban music’s influence this season as an interdisciplinary artist-in-residence at UW-Madison. 

Supported jointly by the UW School of Music and the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives operating within the Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement, González will teach a lecture course called “Afro-Cuban Music: Roots, Jazz, Hip Hop” and a production course, “Music Production: Afro-Cuban and Hip Hop Music.”

But it is the wealth of González’s public lectures and musical performances with various ensembles that will find Wisconsin’s capital city awash in a season of Cuban rhythms. Festivities begin with a Sept. 15 public welcome reception at Madison’s Cardinal Bar, 418 E. Wilson St., and extend through a Dec. 8 lecture and student Afro-Cuban music performance at the Frederic March Play Circle in the UW Memorial Union, 800 Langdon St.

Also, the Cuban String Ensemble led by Gliceria González Abreu, one of Juan de Marcos González’s two daughters, will offer a six-week performance workshop for budding musicians. The workshop, which begins Sept. 13, will introduce the classical side of Cuban music to student players of bowed string instruments, including violin, viola, cello and bass.

“The repertoire will cover her own compositions, arrangements of other Cuban Composers and music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, who was the first great artist in close relationships with my island,” Juan de Marcos González says. “He wrote contradanzas exactly as if he were a Cuban, sometimes mixing in proto-ragtime elements.”

Clarinetist Laura Lydia González, Gliceria González’s sister, will also participate in the classical workshops.

Juan de Marcos González will sit in with Pellejo Seco, a San Francisco-based Cuban fusion ensemble, when it appears at the Madison World Music Festival on Sept. 18 and Sept. 19, with performances held on both the UW campus and in conjunction with Madison’s Willy Street Fair.

The residency program also features performances by the Afro-Cuban All Stars on Oct. 2 at Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts, on Oct. 3 at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts in Milwaukee’s Brookfield suburb, and at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. 

González also is bringing in Cuban spoken word artist Telmary Diaz to Madison. She will appear at three “Passin’ the Mic’” open microphone sessions Oct. 22–24 at the Overture Center’s Promenade Hall. 

From professor to artist

Born in 1954 in Havana, Juan de Marcos González is the son of Marcos González Mauriz, a vocalist who performed with prominent Cuban bandleader Arsenio Rodriguez. The elder González stressed a non-musical career for his son, who earned a Ph.D. in agricultural engineering from the Universidad de la Habana and taught there for 12 years.

But González was always interested in music, citing the influence of U.S. pop, rock and jazz traditions on the early part of his musical education. He finally launched his musical career in 1990 following his father’s death.

“I was a rock and roller as a kid,” he says. “I played the Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Grand Funk Railroad and others.”

González studied Spanish classical guitar, eventually picking up the tres, a Spanish guitar with three sets of double strings, as a way to better explore the music that had evolved in his homeland. Cuban music is the result of multiple influences, he says, including American big bands that have contributed to the full, almost orchestral sounds of many Cuban ensembles.

“Cuban music has evolved over the years and we have kept it alive even during those periods when we were unable to play the drums,” says González. “We were not able to play the congas until the late 1940s, because they were considered primitive instruments for second-class citizens. But we were able to preserve our music and it’s even stronger today than ever before.”

González adds, “The most important thing for anyone who wants to perform Cuban music to remember is to understand the two bar-pattern called clave, because we don’t use beats. They also have to put their spirit into the music to transmit to listeners, and they should dance, if not on stage then inside of themselves, to feel the taste and flavor of the music.”

The recent warming of relations between the United States and Cuba gives González and other Cubans confidence that things will improve. But the musician sincerely hopes that Cuba will be able to retain its culture and not suffer from homogenization as more and more U.S. citizens and corporations take an interest in the island nation.

“I hope we can preserve our spirit, our nationality and our freedom,” González says. “People are waiting for change, but it doesn’t really matter who sits at the top because Cuban politicians are a social class. I predict that Mariela Castro, Raúl Castro’s daughter, will take over when Raúl and Fidel are gone.”

Change is definitely in the wind, González says, but most Cubans have a wait-and-see attitude. How life on the Caribbean’s largest island will change is a frequent topic of discussion, but one thing most expect not to change is the music, which González calls one of Cuba’s most important exports to the world. It’s a spirit he hopes to pass along to his UW students.

On Stage

Juan de Marcos González will perform multiple times during his residency, including at the Overture Center and Sharon Lynne Wilson Center with the Afro-Cuban All-Stars Oct. 2 and Oct. 3, respectively, and a final performance at the Memorial Union Dec. 8. Visit artsinstitute.wisc.edu/iarp or afrocubanallstarsonline.com for a full schedule.

Frustration with Latin America’s left on the rise

Venezuela’s socialist government is struggling to put food on the shelves amid runaway inflation. Brazil’s president is facing calls for impeachment. And even Cuba’s communist government, an iconic touchstone for generations of leftists, is embracing closer ties with the U.S.

Whether it’s because of corruption scandals or stagnant growth, the popularity of the crop of leftist Latin American governments that have been running the region since the start of the millennium appears to be waning. Voters who embraced what became known as the pink tide that swept away the pro-Washington, free-market policies dominant in the 1990s are increasingly turning against the populist firebrands they once rallied behind. 

Across the region, polling numbers are tanking and street protests are on the rise. 

Triggering the growing disenchantment are some serious economic headwinds. Most leaders came into power just as China’s economy was soaring and with it demand for South America’s abundant natural resources. Now that the world’s second-largest economy is cooling, the commodities boom that allowed governments to spread the wealth and endear themselves to the poor is ending.

“It’s not easy to govern in Latin America right now,” said Raul L. Madrid, co-editor of a 2010 book on leftist governments in the region. “Many of these governments rode frustration with high levels of inequality and corruption to power. But you can’t rail against the establishment as effectively as you once did when you are the establishment at this point.”

No leader has been harder hit than Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

When his mentor, the late Hugo Chavez, took power in 1999, the international price of oil — which funds the bulk of spending in the oil-rich nation — was under $10 a barrel, and its rise to $100 created a boom that lasted several years. But prices have plunged by nearly half since July, exacerbating shortages and the world’s fastest inflation as the government tight-fists dollars needed to pay down debt and import basic goods.

Maduro’s approval ratings have tumbled to 28 percent, near the lowest in 16 years of socialist rule, and while there’s no sign the sometimes violent street protests that overwhelmed the country a year ago will return anytime soon, polls indicate that the opposition will coast to victory in legislative elections expected to take place by year end.

Perhaps sensing the troubles of his closest ally, Cuban President Raul Castro in December agreed to talks with the U.S. aimed at normalizing relations, a move expected to fuel growth in the communist-run economy. Currently, Venezuela provides Cuba with the bulk of the oil it consumes at subsidized prices.

A string of headline-grabbing corruption scandals are also exposing the ethical breaches that befall many parties after more than a decade in power. 

In Chile, the region’s best-managed economy but one highly dependent on copper exports, President Michelle Bachelet reshuffled her Cabinet recently to stem the fallout from revelations that her son used his influence to secure a favorable loan. It’s one of the scandals that have prompted widespread outrage at the sway of money over politics, both for her Socialist Party and the opposition.

When Bachelet, who served as president previously, left office for the first time in 2010 she enjoyed a whopping 84 percent approval rating. But now support has plunged to around 30 percent, a record low, and analysts say an ambitious agenda including a proposed constitutional reform and overhaul of the university education system are at risk. 

“When the economy is growing nobody pays attention to corruption,” said Patricio Navia, a political scientist who teaches at New York University and Chile’s Diego Portales University. “But when the pie stops growing, and voters see others profiting, they start to ask `where’s my piece?”’

The first major test of the shifting public mood will take place in October, when Argentines head to the polls in the region’s only major presidential election this year.

President Cristina Fernandez’s Peronist party is facing a tough battle to elect her successor as 30 percent inflation and a restriction on dollar purchases erode support. The president’s credibility has also been tainted by her sometimes erratic response to the shocking death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman as he was investigating an alleged cover-up deal between her government and Iran to shield the Islamic Republic from prosecution in the 1994 bombing of Jewish center. Several courts have questioned the probe. 

To be sure, it’s not just leftists. Incumbents across the ideological spectrum are facing the heat.

In Colombia, Harvard University-educated President Juan Manuel Santos’ approval rating is at the same level as Maduro’s as frustration builds over the slow pace of peace talks with leftist rebels. Mexico’s Enrique Pena Nieto has also seen his pro-business agenda derailed by allegations of corruption and the disappearance of 43 students after they were handed over by police to local drug traffickers.

The growing frustration with the left could prompt several leaders to moderate their policies and pivot toward the center. 

Already in Brazil, the region’s biggest economy, President Dilma Rousseff is starting to roll out a more conservative message of austerity, including cuts in unemployment and welfare benefits, to tame a record budget deficit widened by the biggest economic slowdown in 25 years.

With approval rating in the low teens just five months into her second term, Rousseff’s also struggling to win back the public trust amid Brazil’s biggest corruption investigation, an inquiry into a massive kickback scheme at state-run oil company Petrobras. Rousseff served as chairwoman of Petrobras’ board as the graft took place, though there has been no evidence to show wrongdoing on her part. 

Navia says moderate governments that are more flexible will have an easier time attracting foreign investment and boosting savings while those pursuing a more transformative, ideology-driven agenda, like Argentina and Venezuela, will face a rougher time making adjustments.

Still, it may be too early to write the left’s political obituary, according to Madrid. While fatigue with the left is on the rise, many of the region’s charismatic leaders have a connection with voters that their right-wing opponents, who so far have failed to present an alternative vision of the future, are hard-pressed to replicate, he says. 

Mario Toer, a professor of Latin American studies at the University of Buenos Aires, says many of the scandals are being hyped by opposition-leaning media and that corruption, long rampant in Latin America, has actually been on the decline in the past decade. However he recognizes that the left is at a crossroads.

Popular frustration “is something inherent to the process,” says Toer. “But the global crisis and media offensive add a dimension that goes beyond the real difficulties governments are facing.”

AP writers Peter Prengaman from Buenos Aires and Bradley Brooks from Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.

Reaction to the president’s new policy toward Cuba

The 53-year-old U.S. policy of isolating Cuba is a failed attempt to promote democracy and freedom, say the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus — U.S. Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona and Keith Ellison of Minnesota — and its Peace and Security Task Force Chair, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee of California.

The Democrats, responding to President Barack Obama’s new policy toward Cuba, said in a joint statement, “Isolating Cuba separated the people of Cuba and their Cuban-American family members, and impaired our ability to build constructive relationships in Latin America.

“By restarting diplomatic relations and establishing a new embassy, the U.S. can start conversations on issues like commerce and human rights that have been dormant between our nations for too long. We applaud President Obama for his bold new approach and welcome news that, for the first time, both the U.S. and Cuba will attend the Summit of the America’s in 2015.”

The statement continued, “The president has laid out a promising path forward and now it is up to Congress to act. Congress must lift the trade embargo and normalize travel between our two nations, which are only 90 miles apart. The Congressional Progressive Caucus looks forward to working with President Obama and members of Congress who want to stabilize relations between the U.S. and Cuba.”

Other reaction to Obama’s announcement made on Dec. 17, on the eve of International Migrants Day:

• From the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities: “As Latino immigrant leaders, NALACC salutes the president for this clear-eyed and brave action. In his speech, the president noted that the policy of isolation that the United States has pursued for the past 50 years has failed to advance US interests and has harmed ordinary Cubans. We welcome these first steps toward normalizing relations with Cuba and harnessing the “power of people to people engagement,” as the president mentioned in his speech…

“Unfortunately, many of the punitive and isolating measures that continue to pose a barrier to normal relations with Cuba have been enshrined in U.S. Law. This is another instance, similar to immigration reform, where Presidential actions can move the debate forward, but eventually, Congress must act. We hope that a bi-partisan spirit will pervade and the necessary legislative steps to end the embargo will be taken very soon.”

• Inaugural poet Richard Blanco, whose mother fled Cuba while she was seven months pregnant. “There’s a whole sense of what it means to be a Cuban in Miami and what it means to be a Cuban in Cuba. And now we can have a dialogue and talk about what experiences we have in common and what things we can share.”

• U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Thomas J. Donohue: “We deeply believe that an open dialogue and commercial exchange between the U.S. and Cuban private sectors will bring shared benefits, and the steps announced today will go a long way in allowing opportunities for free enterprise to flourish.”

• U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee: “I am hopeful that the Cuban government’s decision to release Alan Gross portends a desire to move toward democracy, openness, engagement, rule of law, and a free civil society.”

• U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, a Democrat from Wisconsin: “I support normalizing relations with Cuba that will ease restrictions between our countries and put an end to 50 years of failed policy. It doesn’t make sense to have economic relations with a Communist nation like China, yet stay closed off to a nation just 90 miles off our coast.

“Now, Congress needs to act to end the embargo altogether and fully open up this new market to U.S exports. For years, farmers in Wisconsin have wanted to lift economic sanctions on Cuba and with today’s news we can look forward to new economic growth and job creation in agriculture, manufacturing and other sectors of our economy.”

• U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, a state with a substantial Cuban-American population: “This is going to do absolutely nothing to further human rights and democracy in Cuba.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois: “Opening the door with Cuba for trade, travel and the exchange of ideas will create a force for positive change in Cuba that more than 50 years of our current policy of exclusion could not achieve.”

Editor’s note: This report will be updated.

Pope urges UN on ‘legitimate redistribution’ of wealth

Pope Francis has called for governments to redistribute wealth and benefits to the poor in a new spirit of generosity to help curb the “economy of exclusion” that is taking hold today.

Francis made the appeal during a speech to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the heads of major U.N. agencies meeting in Rome.

Latin America’s first pope has frequently lashed out at the injustices of capitalism and the global economic system. Most recently, Francis called for the United Nations to promote a “worldwide ethical mobilization” of solidarity with the poor.

He said a more equal form of economic progress can be had through “the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the state, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society.”

Francis urged the U.N. to promote development goals that attack the root causes of poverty and hunger, protect the environment and ensure dignified labor for all.

His audience came just days after the Holy See was battered in a second round of grilling by a U.N. committee over its record of handling priestly sex abuse. Neither the pope nor Ban spoke of the issue. Francis did refer to another topic at the U.N. hearings: the church’s opposition to abortion, which U.N. committee members have criticized as an impediment to women’s access to reproductive health care.

Francis called for respect for life “from conception to natural death” and his denunciation of the “culture of death” echoed previous papal exhortations against abortion.

During the meeting, Ban invited Francis to speak to the United Nations. The Vatican hasn’t confirmed any such trip, but Francis is widely expected to visit the U.S. in September 2015 to participate in a church meeting on families in Philadelphia, making a U.N. stop likely. 

Pope Francis: ‘gay lobby’ exists at Vatican

Pope Francis lamented that a “gay lobby” was at work at the Vatican, according to a report from The Associated Press.

The pope apparently made the remarks during a private audience with the leadership of a Latin American church group.

The Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Religious – the regional organization for priests and nuns of religious orders – confirmed on June 11 that its leaders had written a synthesis of Francis’ remarks after their audience with the pope last week.

The group said it was distressed that the document had been published and apologized for released information.

In the document, Francis is quoted as saying that while there were many holy people in the Vatican, there was also “corruption:” “The ‘gay lobby’ is mentioned, and it is true, it is there… We need to see what we can do…”

Last year, there were rumors of a “gay lobby” in connection to a series of embarrassing leaks to the Italian press.

Uruguay poised to legalize same-sex marriage

Uruguay’s Senate on April 2 voted to legalize same-sex marriage by approving a single law governing matrimony.

Senators voted 23-8 in favor of the bill, which was passed by the lower house in December. It must now return to the lower chamber of Congress with changes.

If approved, the law would make Uruguay the second nation in Latin America and the 12th in the world to legalize gay marriage. Argentina legalized same-sex marriage in 2010.

“It goes beyond homosexuality, it’s about a law where everyone shares the same rights and obligations,” said Federico Grana, a lawmaker in the ruling Frente Amplio coalition and a member of the Black Sheep Collective, a gay rights group that presented the bill’s first draft.

The bill lets couples, gay or straight, decide whose surname goes first when they name their children. It also clarifies rules for adoption and in-vitro fertilization, and eliminates the words “husband and woman” in marriage contracts, referring instead to the gender-neutral “contracting parties.”

“This is an issue of liberty, of people’s choice and justice,” said Sen. Rafael Michelini.

“Liberty because the state should not meddle in who you should marry; of justice because if you marry abroad with someone of the same sex and later return to Uruguay, your marriage should be recognized.”

The Roman Catholic Church opposes the proposal, but the church has little political influence in secular Uruguay, which became the first Latin American country to legalize abortion last year.

President Jose Mujica has been pushing for liberal-leaning proposals in his mandate and says he plans to sign the marriage bill into law.

Uruguay’s lower house approves gay marriage law

Lawmakers in taboo-breaking Uruguay have voted to legalize gay marriage, approving a single law governing marriage for heterosexuals and gays.

The proposal now goes to the Senate, where the ruling coalition has enough votes for passage. President Jose Mujica plans to sign it into law early next year.

The proposal, which passed the lower house of Congress by a wide margin, would also let all couples, gay or straight, decide whose surname goes first when they name their children.

That breaks with a tradition that has held for centuries across Latin America, where in nearly every country, laws require people to give their children two last names, and the father’s comes first.

“It’s an issue that will generate confusion in a society that has forever taken the father’s name. But these changes in society have to be accepted,” said Deputy Anibal Gloodtdofsky of the right-wing Colorado Party, who told The Associated Press he planed to join the ruling Broad Front coalition and vote in favor.

The “Marriage Equality Law” also would replace Uruguay’s 1912 divorce law, which gave only women, and not their husbands, the right to renounce marriage vows without cause. In the early 20th Century, Uruguay’s lawmakers saw this as an equalizer, since men at the time held all the economic and social power in a marriage, historian Gerardo Caetano said.

“A hundred years later, with all the changes that have occurred in Uruguayan society, this argument has fallen of its own accord,” Caetano said. “It’s absolutely logical now that divorces can happen if either party wants it. And I really think it won’t have much of an impact.”

The projected law’s co-sponsor, Broad Front deputy Anibal Pereyra, said Uruguay’s civil code needs to be updated so that all the rights and responsibilities apply to anyone who wants to marry, straight or gay.

Uruguay became the first Latin American country to legalize abortion this year, and its Congress is debating a plan to put the government in charge of marijuana sales as a way to attack illegal marijuana traffickers.

The new proposal would make Uruguay the second nation in Latin America and the 12th in the world to legalize gay marriage, after The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina and Denmark.

The bill also would clarify rules for adoption and in-vitro fertilization, and eliminate the words “marido y mujer” (husband and woman) in marriage contracts, refering instead to the gender neutral “contrayentes” (contracting parties).

The Roman Catholic Church is opposed to the proposal, but the church has little political influence in secular Uruguay.

Judging from the congressional debate so far, giving gays and lesbians all the same rights and responsibilities of married straight couples seems to have been the easy part for most lawmakers. The naming change seemed to cause the most controversy as the measure came through legislative committees.

In the end, the legislators proposed to let all couples choose which surname comes first for their children. And if they can’t decide, the proposed law says a “sorteo,” such as the flip of a coin, in the civil registry office should decide the issue.

The law also sets out naming rules for adoptees and people born outside marriage. A child registered by a single parent would take that parent’s name as a first surname. And one whose parents are unknown altogether would be given “two commonly used names” selected by the civil registry office.

In the United States and many other countries, couples are free to decide what surnames to give their children. Even in many Latin American nations, some people already shun convention and use a mother’s name if family circumstances make use of the paternal name inconvenient or impossible.

Uruguay’s neighbor Argentina has been more rigid: When it became the first Latin American country to legalize gay marriage in 2010, its lawmakers said last names would go in alphabetical order for the children of same-sex couples, and they left the naming traditions of heterosexuals unchanged. 

While Uruguayans seem broadly in favor of legalizing gay marriage, the naming issue has led to some confusion.

“I really can’t understand the point of letting heterosexual couples choose the order of their surnames. In reality, I think it’s for political correctness, and the price is to lose information: Today when someone is presented, we know clearly who the father is and who the mother is. Not so in the future,” said office worker Daniel Alvarez.

Gloodtdofsky acknowledged that non-gays may not have realized yet why these changes are necessary, “but the reality is that gays have been living as couples for years, generating rights. These rights must be recognized and attention must be paid to this new version of marriage.”

Uruguay has had a civil unions law that covers gay couples, and Bishop Jaime Fuentes of the Roman Catholic Church’s Episcopal Conference of Uruguay said “It seems logical that two people of the same sex who care for each other and want to share their lives can have some kind of civil recognition, but it can’t be the same as what governs marriage.”

But Federico Grana of the Black Sheep Collective, a gay rights group that presented a first draft of the bill, said “society is much broader than just heterosexuals, so the law should reflect this, with everyone included, and no discrimination.”

Fox News apologizes for poll saying Jews killed Jesus

Fox Latin America has apologized for a poll on whether Jews killed Jesus Christ that one of its staffers put on a Facebook page promoting the National Geographic Channel’s Christmas special.

The poll asked readers who they think is responsible for the death of Christ: Pontius Pilate, The Jewish People or the High Priests.

The Simon Weisenthal Center in Buenos Aires calls it a defamatory reference to Vatican propaganda that “resulted in the persecution and murder of Jews for two millennia.”

The Jewish group says it’s outraged that Fox would perpetuate an idea that the Vatican annulled back in 1965.

Fox Spokeswoman Guadalupe Lucero apologized on behalf of National Geographic, saying the poll was removed immediately and measures have been taken to prevent such incidents in the future.

While there is no factual information that ties the Jewish population to the death of Jesus Christ, the belief is pervasive and has provoked persecutions, torture and massacres of Jews since the time of the Roman emperor Constantine. Throughout history, the Vatican has sought to demonize the Jewish faith by perpetuating that myth, along with the lie that Jews sacrifice Christian babies at Passover. Such propaganda has resulted in the execution of millions of Jews and set the stage for the Holocaust.

During the Middle Ages, the Vatican created two orders of monks expressly to disseminate anti-Semitic propoganda throughout Europe. The Roman Catholic Church remains the most influential faith in Latin America.