The week at a glance ... Americas


Queretaro, Mexico

Politician disappears: A former presidential candidate and prominent member of President Felipe Calderón’s National Action Party (PAN) was declared missing this week, and officials fear he was kidnapped or murdered by drug lords. Authorities found Diego Fernández de Cevallos’ Hummer abandoned near his ranch with his belongings still inside; blood was found on the seats. His disappearance comes amid increasing attacks on law-enforcement officials and politicians belonging to Calderón’s party. Last week, gunmen killed the PAN candidate for mayor of Valle Hermoso, a town near Brownsville, Texas. Nearly 23,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since Calderón took office in 2006 and launched an all-out war on drug cartels.

Tomé-Açu, Brazil

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What’s in a name? A Brazilian man has gone to court, demanding the right to name his daughter after Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Czech tennis star Martina Navratilova. Last week, authorities in the Amazonian town of Tomé-Açu refused to register the birth certificate of Walter Carvalho de Almeida’s daughter Isabelle Nahvratinovski, on the grounds that her name was too strange and would subject her to embarrassment. But it’s hardly unusual in the Brazilian context, where parents strive to outdo one another in creating hybrid names that combine those of celebrities and of historical figures. There are Brazilians named Waterloo, Napoleao, James Dean, Jorge Washington, and Maicon Jackson, while Rio de Janeiro’s samba scene boasts a musician named Isaac Newton.

São Paulo, Brazil

Snake collection up in smoke: A fire at a renowned biomedical research center this week destroyed the world’s largest scientific collection of venomous animals. Brazil’s Instituto Butantan housed some 80,000 snake specimens and nearly half a million preserved spiders and scorpions. Scientists used the collection for research that helped produce vaccines and antivenoms. The curator of the snake collection, Francisco Luís Franco, compared the fire to the one that destroyed the Library of Alexandria, the ancient world’s greatest repository of knowledge. “It’s a tremendous loss to humanity,” he said. “Thousands of scientific papers were published based on this collection, and thousands more will now be lost to us.” The fire was ruled an accident.

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