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The world at a glance . . . Americas

Americas

Mexico City
Legal abortion is upheld: Mexico’s Supreme Court last week upheld the capital city’s abortion-rights law, dismissing a challenge brought by the conservative federal government. The law, which has been in effect for about a year, requires Mexico City health services to provide abortion free to any woman in the first trimester of pregnancy. The court rejected arguments by abortion opponents that the Mexican constitution protects the rights of fetuses. “Human-rights systems cannot require states to defend a right to life from conception,” Justice Genaro Gongora Pimentel said. “It would mean imposing ideologies and subjective values that could sacrifice other rights.” Mexico City is among the few places in Latin America where women can legally terminate pregnancies apart from rape and incest cases.

Caracas, Venezuela
Fury at U.S.: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatened this week to expel the U.S. ambassador because of American assertions that Venezuela is lax on cocaine smuggling. Chavez was responding to a statement by the Bush administration’s drug czar, John Walters, who said that the flow of Colombian cocaine through Venezuela had quadrupled over the past four years. Speaking on his weekly radio program, Chavez called Walters “stupid,” asking in English, “Are you a donkey?” It was the first time the ambassador, Patrick Duddy, had been threatened with expulsion since he arrived in Caracas a year ago. Chavez frequently threatened to kick out Duddy’s predecessor, William Brownfield, although he never followed through.

Brasilia, Brazil
Spy scandal: Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva suspended the country’s top intelligence officials this week after a magazine reported that the agency had spied on high-ranking officials. Veja magazine said that the agency, Abin, tapped the phones of numerous officials, including the presidential chief of staff, the chief justice, and the head of the senate. The magazine published a transcript, obtained from intelligence sources, of a phone conversation between the chief justice and a politician. Illegal wiretapping is common in Brazil, where transcripts of conversations frequently appear in the papers. But the high positions of those spied upon make the new revelations more shocking. “There is a complete lack of control in the state apparatus,” said Chief Justice Gilmar Mendes.

Ottawa
The perils of jargon: Canadian agencies can’t adequately prepare for natural disasters because they can’t understand one another’s bureaucratic jargon, a government report said this week. The report, titled “Emergency Preparedness in Canada: How the Fine Arts of Procrastination and Bafflegab Hobble the People Who Will Be Trying to Save You When Things Get Really Bad,” said that little had been learned from past disasters. “Bafflegab is a peculiar kind of language that is unique to public servants who are trying very hard to justify their existence,” said Sen. Colin Kenny, one of the authors. In many cases, he said, the agencies’ jargon serves merely to mask the fact that nothing has been done.

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