The world at a glance . . . the Americas


Washington, D.C.

Gay-rights bill gains: The House last week passed landmark legislation banning employment discrimi­nation against homosexuals. The Employment Non-discrimi­nation Act, passed on a 235–184 vote, would be the first federal law protecting gays, lesbians, and bisexuals against employment discrimination. But the bill’s prospects in the Senate are dim, and President Bush has vowed to veto it if it passes, citing concerns that the bill could spawn extensive litigation and that it tacitly endorses same-sex marriages. The measure has stirred controversy in the gay community because a provision protecting transgendered workers was cut from the final draft. The nation’s largest gay-rights group said that it nonetheless supported the bill as “a step forward for all Americans.”

San Francisco

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San Francisco Bay blues: San Francisco Bay suffered its worst oil spill in more than a decade, after a 900-foot-long cargo ship struck a tower supporting the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge last week. The collision tore a 212-foot-long, 12-foot-wide hole in the hull of the Hong Kong–registered Cosco Busan, and sent 58,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel into the bay. About 200 seabirds were killed and much of San Francisco’s waterfront was coated with oil. The U.S. launched a criminal investigation into the incident, focusing on the crew’s initial accident report.

Los Angeles

Muslim map raises hackles: The Los Angeles Police Department caused a furor last week after it said it was “mapping” the city’s Muslim communities in the hope of finding hotbeds of Islamic extremism. The tracking effort by the department’s anti-terrorism unit, using census and other demographic data, is not an exercise in ethnic profiling, said Police Commissioner William Bratton. “It is an effort to understand communities,” he said, explaining that the information would be used to help the department reach out to the city’s Muslims. But that explanation didn’t mollify critics. “This is anti-Semitism reborn as Islamophobia,” said Shakeel Syed, director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California. “We will fiercely resist this.” Civil-liberties groups threatened to go to court to try to block the initiative.

Washington, D.C.

FBI faults Blackwater: The FBI has concluded that Blackwater security guards shot and killed 14 Iraqis “without justification” during a September incident in which 17 Iraqis died, The New York Times reported this week. The FBI report found that at least five Blackwater guards opened fire on a crowd with automatic weapons during a traffic stop in Baghdad. Contrary to Blackwater’s claims that the shootings were in self-defense, investigators found no evidence that Iraqi civilians fired at the guards. Three of the killings may have been justified, the FBI said, because the guards had some reason to feel menaced in those cases, though all the Iraqis turned out to be innocent civilians. The findings pose a dilemma for new Attorney General Michael Mukasey, because U.S. law may not cover the actions of private security contractors overseas, making prosecution problematic. Several members of Congress have demanded that Blackwater be held accountable.

Buenaventura, Colombia

Diving for drugs: Hounded by Colombian and U.S. authorities, drug traffickers in Colombia are resorting to exotic methods to transport their goods. Colombian Coast Guard personnel recently stumbled upon two homemade submarines in a swamp near the Pacific coast city of Buenaventura, the Los Angeles Times reported this week. The two 55-foot-long fiberglass vessels, each powered by a 350-horsepower diesel engine, can hold 5 tons of cocaine, a crew of four, and enough fuel to reach Mexico. Authorities suspect the subs are the work of the FARC, a guerilla group heavily involved in drug trafficking. About 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the U.S. originates in Colombia.

Chimpay, Argentina

A church first: The Vatican this week for the first time beatified an indigenous Argentine, a step that could eventually lead to sainthood for Ceferino Namuncura. A member of the Mapuche Indian tribe, Namuncura died in Rome in 1905. Since his death, he has developed a worshipful following among Argentina’s poor. In 2000, the Vatican credited Namuncura with a miracle after a woman who prayed to him was cured of uterine cancer. The church requires two documented miracles before bestowing sainthood. Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, who led the beatification ceremony in the poor mountain town of Chimpay, called Namuncura “a role model for many, many young people.”

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