Archive for June 12th, 2010
The Cuban government has freed a jailed dissident and moved six others to jails closer to their homes.
Senior Catholic clergymen had urged Cuban president Raul Castro to release Ariel Sigler, 47, on humanitarian grounds.
Mr Sigler became paraplegic in jail and his family had serious concerns for his health.
He was arrested in 2003 as part of a government sweep on dissidents, and found guilty of treason.
The BBC's Michael Voss in Havana says Mr Sigler's release is the latest in a series of minor concessions following talks between Cuban officials and Catholic church leaders.
The move comes just days before the Vatican's Foreign Minister, Dominique Mamberti, is due to travel to Havana.
Our correspondent says there are still about 180 political prisoners in Cuba, and almost 30 of them are said to suffer serious health problems.
Arriving in his home town of Pedro Betancourt, Mr Sigler told reporters he felt a mix of happiness and sadness. “I'm sad because I can't share this moment with my mother, who died five months ago and because more than half of our companions are still in prison,” he said.
His arrest in 2003, along with that of 74 other dissidents, became known among opposition groups as “black spring”.
The six prisoners being transferred were among those arrested in 2003. One of them is Hector Maceda, whose wife Laura Pollan leads the pressure group Ladies in White.
The group has been holding protest marches to demand the dissidents' release.
Ms Pollan said the Ladies in White were pleased about the transfers but pointed out that their ultimate goal, the release of their relatives, had not yet been achieved.
The transfer is the second this month, bringing the number of those moved to 12.
Members of Alcoholics Anonymous are marking its 75th anniversary, but what really goes on inside the group's meetings?
David looks, in a word, respectable.
Bespectacled, and in a polo shirt and khaki shorts, he could be any respectable middle-aged man.
He sits in a circle of other respectable-looking people in a church hall in a well-to-do part of Washington. Without knowing the context, as he prepares to speak, one might guess that this was a heritage group, ready to save a historic warehouse, or a meeting of concerned residents, demanding traffic-calming measures.
Instead, when David opens his mouth, he starts to talk about his first use of drugs at the age of 12.
Later he talks about his conscious decision to drink himself to death.
There is the revelation of small-time drug smuggling trips to South America and a life of profound lows.
But he has an easy eloquence.
“I have fond memories of the moronic quality of being drunk,” he says. “My story is getting far away mentally. It is almost like the Peloponnesian War now.”
The others in the group also speak enthusiastically, talking of trials and tribulations, of their relationship to drink and how they came to be part of AA.
One gum-chewing, room-dominating woman contrasts life as a high-powered sober Washingtonian with her previous pre-AA life in a series of expansive arm gestures. Another man quietly and movingly recounts his son's troubles with the law.
It's impossible to say whether these individuals were always raconteurs or whether their storytelling matured as they took the 12 Steps.
Certain lines provoke laughter in the group.
“The only thing I knew for sure about my problem was it wasn't a drinking problem,” deadpans one man. “I knew you had to drink too much to have a drinking problem and I could never drink enough.”
There are other phrases that are reverentially repeated. Life became “unmanageable” and a “higher power” has been at work.
A 70-year-old salesman talks about a life where money was made in computers but years were lost to vodka.
A woman talks of her travels and a reassuring fact. “There are rooms like this all over the world where crazy people get to talk.”
Of the 11 men and three women in the room, eight have been sober for more than 20 years.
And their meeting is in a long tradition that stretches back to 10 June 1935, to the day Robert Smith – better known as Dr Bob – had his last drink. He had been working with AA co-founder Bill Wilson, now usually referred to as Bill W.
The organisation they created has helped millions give up drinking and rebuild their lives.
And the meetings, with the 12-Step Programme that is at the heart of AA, are familiar even to those who have had nothing to do with the group. Countless depictions on film and television have familiarised people with what goes on at the meetings and the familiar formulation “I'm X and I'm an alcoholic”.
The organisation has its critics. There are those who disagree with the founding idea that alcoholism is a disease, a compulsion that the individual can do nothing about.
Others dislike the Christian nature of the group. The 12 Steps talk of God “as you understood him”.
Jack Trimpey, who runs his own programme Rational Recovery, is a trenchant critic.
“We do object that it is a bad religion, one in which people profess powerlessness against their bodily desires. We are not powerless. We have a moral duty to cease and desist once it is shown.
“It has been a massive inversion of public thinking that has entered the mainstream media.
“People do feel shame and guilt when they do things that are bad. In AA you learn to be shameless and guiltless.”
He prefers to call himself a former “bad drunk” and speaks of an alternative approach that calls for “zero tolerance in the family”.
Having been sober for many year, he dislikes the typical AA attitude towards that.
“It's not an accomplishment – common decency is no accomplishment.”
But for the people at the AA meetings, common decency – and everything else good in life – is an accomplishment.
Jonathan speaks of the single day in 1987 when he first had a moment of happiness. And he knows how it must be maintained.
“I pray and I meditate, and I couple that with working with other alcoholics.”
People at the group seem to have no problem with the varied application of the religious element of AA. There are atheist and agnostic groups, but it's hard to get away from the references to God in the 12 Steps that are at the heart of AA.
The softly-spoken Stan explains: “The higher power is not just the god of your understanding, it is the people in the room.”
And those other people are the key, one woman admits.
“It works because everything I attempted to do about drinking by myself never worked.
“By coming into AA I was able to get support to not drink – people who think exactly like me, that common bond.”
If you want to eat ceviche, and find yourself in the Mexican city of Culiacan, Los Arcos restaurant is the place to head for.
But the recommendation comes with a health warning.
There is a story that is heard around Culiacan often enough for there to be at least some truth to it.
It is said that on occasion the richest and possibly most powerful drugs lord here chooses to dine in Los Arcos.
Twenty minutes before “El Chapo” arrives, the waiters go around collecting the customers' mobile phones. They are told to stay in their seats and are not allowed to leave.
Then “El Chapo” arrives (perhaps for the ceviche – a dish of raw fish marinated with lime and chillies), dines, and finally pays for the entire restaurant – to make up for the inconvenience.
Twenty minutes after he's left, you'll get your phone back, and – if you need to – finally be allowed to leave your table and go to the loo.
Talk to people here about the “narcos” – as those involved in the drugs trade are known – and most will tell you that Joaquin “El Chapo” (Shorty) Guzman is in charge of this city, and much of the surrounding state of Sinaloa.
Mexico's drugs problem is growing, and not for want of trying by the federal government. Three and a half years ago, Felipe Calderon was sworn in as president and immediately declared “war” (his word) on drugs.
Since then, about 23,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence, and a majority of Mexicans – according to surveys – believe their president is losing that war.
That is despite the huge number of federal forces sent into the cities where the cartels are operating.
It is despite the social programmes set up to try to combat the poverty that encourages many to enter the lucrative drugs trade. And it is despite the eradication attempts the military here carry out almost every day.
In a small field, half an hour by military helicopter from Culiacan, soldiers are uprooting bright green marijuana plants from the soil. They toss them on to a fire. The sweet smell of the drug wafts across on the breeze.
The soldiers giggle that they sometimes get the “munchies”, as some smokers call the hunger-inducing effects of cannabis.
What is not funny though, for Col Augustin Reyna Mendoza and his men, is that their efforts to eradicate marijuana will come to nothing.
“It's one of the main things people do here,” the colonel says. “One of the main sources of income for them. It's a way of life. So it's a cycle. They grow and we destroy it. Grow and destroy.”
In two months' time, they predict, there will be another field of the drug growing here.
The army hierarchy insists its eradication efforts are bearing fruit. So far this year in this area they say they have destroyed exactly 28,321 marijuana plants and a total of 10,466 poppy plants. In a warehouse, soldiers display plastic cool-boxes full of the acrid semi-liquid/semi-solid chemical mixture that would be sold on the streets as crystal-meth. Plastic buckets hold 17m (11.7m) worth of opium. Here, too, the smell is somewhat overwhelming.
Such seizures, though welcome, represent just a tiny part of the multi-billion dollar drug industry. Tackling that industry is proving to be very difficult indeed.
“As the government itself has said, the drug cartels are probably more powerful than anybody thought,” says Jorge Castaneda, a former foreign minister.
On the bookshelves in his living room in Mexico City stand photos of him with the likes of Hillary Clinton, George W Bush and others.
As far as Mr Castaneda is concerned, the president's self-titled war on the cartels is ill-conceived.
“The issue is really to determine whether you want to take them on at the same time, and in all of their activities,” he says.
“What is it you're after, what kind of a war is this? And that's never been clear in the government's mind and certainly hasn't been made clear to Mexican society.'”
So far, the war has been fought by pumping troops and police into cities like Juarez, which sits on the main smuggling route into the United States. It could be seen as a “shock and awe” attempt by the president to bring down the murder rate.
It has – officials say – forced the drug cartels to find other smuggling routes.
Even so, the mayor of Juarez, Jose Reyes Ferriz, still uses a heavily armoured vehicle.
More than 1,000 people have been killed in drugs-related violence in this – Mexico's murder capital – this year alone.
“We've already lost a generation. About 60 to 70% of those being killed right now are between 14 and 24 years old,” Mayor Ferriz says.
The reason, says Mr Ferriz, is “all social”. Unemployment has been rising.
Assassins are paid 45 a week by the local drug gangs, he says, “not to become rich, simply to put food on the table”.
The Mexican government insists its approach is working, and that programmes to curtail corruption among the police and army are working.
But there seems to be a growing realisation here that perhaps defeating the drug cartels is too ambitious a goal.
Mr Ferriz says the approach in Juarez is simple: try to move the cartels elsewhere, to other cities in Mexico, even outside the country. Make it someone else's problem.
And he has a warning.
“If Mexico is successful in moving the flow of drugs, especially cocaine, into the US, into other countries, it's going to affect many small countries, like Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, who don't have the economics of Mexico and are very likely not going to be successful in stopping the flow of drugs through their places.”
Soccer is still dwarfed by other sports in the US, but the 2010 World Cup may be about to change that, writes the BBC's Katie Connolly, in Washington.
In 2001, no English language television network in the United States wanted the rights to broadcast the 2002 Fifa World Cup.
So the marketing division of America's professional soccer league bought them and reached an agreement with sports channel ESPN to show the matches for free.
For the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, ESPN and US Spanish language broadcaster Univision paid 425m (294m) between them for the broadcasting rights.
These days, that's pretty good value for money.
Football is a growing sport in the US, played, according to sports author Andrei Markovits, by more than 20 million Americans.
Nonetheless, in financial terms, US soccer is still dwarfed by other American sports and international football leagues.
David Beckham is by far the highest paid player in Major League Soccer (MLS), the US professional football association, earning 6.5m a year on his contract with LA Galaxy.
MLS created a new rule – colloquially called the Beckham rule – to allow Beckham to shatter the league's 2.6m per team salary cap.
But compared to his contemporaries in other US sports, Beckham is paid peanuts.
Baseball player Alex Rodriguez, of the New York Yankees, earned a massive 33m in 2009, while San Diego Chargers star quarterback Philip Rivers pocketed almost 26m that year.
Beckham's salary is also surpassed by European giants like Wayne Rooney of Manchester United (estimated 8.8m), Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid (estimated 13.9m) and Kaka, also of Real Madrid (estimated 13.9m).
Fortunately for Beckham, he is paid handsomely by sponsors, bringing his 2009 earnings to an estimated 33.5m.
But even there his earnings pale compared with golfers Phil Mickelson, who reportedly earned 46m from sponsors in 2009, and the beleaguered Tiger Woods who, in spite of personal turmoil, pulled in an astonishing 92m in sponsorship 2009.
After Beckham, MLS's next highest earning player is Cuauhtemoc Blanco of Chicago Fire at 2.9m.
Indeed the median salary of the top 25 MLS players – while 10 times the median income in America – is miniscule compared with the other major US sports of basketball, baseball, American football and ice hockey.
But with the US again in the football World Cup finals – it is one of only eight teams that have qualified for every World Cup since 1990 – the sport may be poised for transformation.
Although football has oft been considered a foreigner's pastime in the US, the sport has had a long history in America, dating back to a famous match between Princeton and Rutgers University in 1869, if not earlier.
But professionally, the sport developed in fits and starts, hampered by disorganisation.
Franklin Foer, author of How Soccer Explains the World, points to the 1920s as a critical missed opportunity for football.
At that time, America's diverse and disparate culture was cohering into a national identity, aided significantly by the development of radio and Hollywood movies.
“At that moment when the national culture was emerging the soccer leagues in the country were horribly managed,” says Mr Foer.
“They tended to be organised around ethnicity and were completely ill equipped to take advantage of that moment when baseball and the other football cemented their place in the national consciousness.”
Football experienced a resurgence in the 1970s, catalysed by Brazilian soccer legend Pele signing with the New York Cosmos, a team in the North American Soccer League (NASL).
Considered an enormous coup for Cosmos, the deal with Pele was nudged along by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, himself a football fan, who told Pele in a telegram that the US-Brazil relationship would benefit enormously if the famous footballer were to sign it himself.
But NASL collapsed in 1984 amid financial turmoil, and US professional soccer remained in the wilderness for over a decade.
It was reborn in 1996 with the establishment of Major League Soccer (MLS).
After a rough start plagued by financial problems, MLS has emerged as a viable enterprise in the US.
The growth is exemplified by joining fees. Two teams joined MLS in 2005, each paying 7.5m for the privilege.
By contrast, the fee for the newest team, Montreal, which will enter the competition in 2012, was 40m.
“That's a good illustration of the belief in Major League Soccer among owners and potential owners of professional sports clubs in the United States,” says MLS spokesman Dan Courtemanche.
Mr Courtemanche says David Beckham's move to LA Galaxy in 2007 was an enormous boost.
“David transcends sport and brings Major League Soccer into mainstream Americana,” says Mr Courtemanche.
“That was significant. We went from a niche sport to a professional sports league, and David's presence has helped elevate the credibility of MLS.”
MLS now attracts high-profile sponsors and advertisers like Panasonic, Visa, Volkswagen and American Airlines. Game console Xbox pays 4m per year to have its name displayed on the jerseys of the Seattle Sounders.
Pepsi was a founding partner of the MLS. Mark Rooks, director of Pepsi Sports Marketing, sees MLS as a valuable tool to reach America's rapidly growing Hispanic community, more of whom watch soccer than any other sport.
He says that MLS teams have highly localised and dedicated communities of followers who feel that they have a very personal relationship with the team.
“Our involvement says a lot to those teams in the local markets – that we care, that we get it,” says Mr Rooks.
Football in the US also tends to attract cosmopolitan, internationally minded audiences. Fans are younger, and more affluent and educated than the average US sports fan, making them enormously attractive for brands like Pepsi.
Those demographics are particularly evident in Seattle – a trendy city that's home to Starbucks and Microsoft – where over 36,000 fans regularly turn out for home games.
“It's a phenomenal audience for us,” says Mr Rooks.
“It's really the perfect combination of the ability speak to a very targeted Latino audience and the evolving soccer fan we are starting to see in markets like Seattle. They complement each other very nicely.”
Meet Generation 1.5.
They were brought to the US at a young age by the parents, first generation immigrants who often still have close ties to their home countries.
Younger brothers and sisters were born in America, second generation immigrants who enjoy the status of US citizens.
Not Generation 1.5. Despite having lived most of their lives in the US and speaking fluent English, many cannot legally work, vote or drive in most US states.
They are subject to arrest and deportation just like any other undocumented migrant.
“They fear being deported but many of them don't know (anything) other than English, so they have no idea what awaits (them) in their countries of origin, said Ruben Rumbaut of the University of California in Irvine, who coined the Generation 1.5 term.
There are no official figures of how many undocumented children live in the US, but the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that 7% of all Hispanic children are unauthorised immigrants.
This suggest there are 1.1 million Latino children who are not US citizens.
Children can attend primary and secondary school without being asked about their immigration status, but getting through higher education can be more difficult.
It is estimated that approximately 65,000 undocumented students – both Hispanic and non-Hispanic – graduate each year from high school.
In all but 11 states, they cannot qualify for in-state college fees or student loans, meaning they have to pay the higher rates demanded of international students.
Life after university can also be complicated, as finding a legal job may be difficult.
“I held the very American view that if you work hard for your dreams you can achieve them,” said Gabriel, 28, an undocumented student who lives in California.
“The only way is through marriage, which is frustrating for someone who was taught to be successful using their own ways,” he said.
Gabriel is a trained industrial engineer but can only find jobs in minimum wage jobs like fast food or construction.
Even if a company sponsors him in order to get a green card, he will have to wait at least eight years because he does not have the right papers.
“It makes no sense. The government has invested in my education for 12 years, so why would they want me to leave now?” he said The threat of deportation also looms.
Andrea Huerfano moved with her family to the US when she was 14. Her father applied for political asylum but died while the application was under review.
This meant Andrea was left without immigration status; as she was over 18 her mother could not apply on her behalf.
She was arrested last year when she went to pay a ticket after passing a red light. After pressure from campaign groups, she was released 10 days later and given six months to assemble her case to be allowed to stay.
If she can't prove her case, she will be put back in detention.
Walter Lara lived through a similar situation. He was detained last year when he was trying to board a ferry to Fisher Island in Miami as the immigration authorities couldn't find his name on a database. He was taken to the Broward Transition Center in Pompano Beach.
“Once inside, I didn't know what to expect or when I was going to get out. They had to explain what this place was. I saw lots of people there, the uniform was orange,” he said.
He got out 20 days later after signing a paper in which he agreed to voluntarily leave the country by July 2010.
After campaigning and visiting many senators in Washington, he has now been granted permission to stay for one year.
Walter says that going to Argentina, the country where he was born, would be like going to a whole new country.
“I came here when I was three and never went back. My whole life pretty much has been in Miami. I don't have any memories of that place other than the stuff that my family talked about and showed me in books.”
Both Andrea and Walter were granted temporary permission to stay after very active and visible campaigns on their behalf by fellow immigrant students.
But they are hoping that the Congress pass a bill known by the supporters as the “Dream Act”.
Under this, people who arrived in the US when they were under 15 and who have lived in the country for more than five years would be granted a six-year temporary residence permit.
After that, they can only apply for permanent residency if they have spent at least two years in higher education or served in the US military for two years.
They would not be eligible for federal funding or benefits and have to show they are of what is termed “good moral character”.
Different versions of this act have been introduced three times in Congress but to date not advanced.
Opponents of the bill argue that it promotes illegal immigration and it might affect the labour market.
“In the current economic climate, the half-million amnestied illegal young adults would compete for scarce jobs,” said Roy Beck, executive director of the Numbers USA organisation which favours reduced immigration, says that
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which also calls for tighter controls on immigration, says he is in favour of addressing the plight of these students who grew up in the US.
But he believes the Dream Act should include the mandatory checking of workers' legal status ” because this is why families are able to come here and bring their children.
“And it shouldn't reward the parents who put them in this situation by granting them immigration rights”.
Barack Obama supported the Dream Act while he was campaigning for president. He said that he didn't want “two classes of citizens” in the country and that he wanted “everybody to prosper.”
But few think he will be able to address the subject of immigration soon.
“I would be surprised if he's able to pull out immigration reform after the enormous political capital he spent on the healthcare reform”, said Gregory Rodriguez, a Los Angeles Times columnist.
Meanwhile, the people who are campaigning for the act to be introduced are adopting more visible ways of protest.
In May, three undocumented students were arrested and detained for staging a sit-in at the Arizona senator John McCain's office in Tucson. They are now facing deportation.
Canada may be better known for its brightly-attired policemen and love of ice hockey, but its example of successful budget-cutting is suddenly all the rage with the UK government.
As Prime Minister David Cameron warns of the need for extensive spending cuts to bring down the UK's substantial public deficit, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition is aiming to follow the achievement of the Canadian government between 1993 and 1996.
During those four years, the then Canadian administration of prime minister Jean Chretien managed to turn a deficit of 9.1% or 39bn Canadian dollars (37bn; 25bn) into a small budget surplus.
While the UK government faces a tougher challenge – a deficit of 11.5% or 156bn – what lessons can it learn from Canada?
Canadian economists say the first success of Mr Chretien's government was to secure widespread public support for what would be deep and painful spending cuts. Scott Reid, a former adviser to the Canadian government, told the BBC's Today programme that the administration was greatly helped by the widespread coverage given to a story in the Wall Street Journal that described Canada as a “Third World banana republic”.
Given most Canadians' dislike of all things American (think sibling rivalry), this insult by a US newspaper was enough to make them realise they had to get their national finances in order, whatever the misery along the way.
The Canadian government then pledged that cuts would be fairly distributed across the country's provinces and territories, and in all sectors of society.
Barring a similar scenario in which a damning French newspaper editorial makes the UK headlines, Mr Cameron is going to have to continue with a more straightforward public relations campaign to explain why it is vital that the UK cuts its deficit.
If this is successful will depend on whether the British public's response to deep spending cuts is stoically Canadian, or riotously Greek.
The Canadian government determined from the start that no departmental budget would be protected from spending cuts.
Mr Chretien used the phrase “nothing off the table”.
By contrast, Mr Cameron has already pledged to ring-fence the education, health and international aid budgets.
With extensive cuts to healthcare and education spending at the very centre of Canada's deficit reduction work, many Canadian economists argue that it could not have been successful if they had been excluded.
The impact was, however, severe.
The length of hospital waiting lists shot up, thousands of nurses lost their jobs and some hospitals even had to close.
The hospitals that remained open suffered from overcrowding and infection rates rose as a result.
In schools, average class sizes shot up from 25 children to 35, as fewer new teachers were taken on. And separate special needs classes were abolished.
In the UK, many people may moan about the treatment they get from the National Health Service, but at the same time, it is not an exaggeration to say it is a much-loved and strongly defended institution.
It would take a very brave or even foolhardy UK government to cut health spending – and the same goes for the education budget.
If you are doing something deeply unpleasant, then do it quickly – that was the argument of the Canadian government.
“It is preferable to move expeditiously, it creates hope at the end of the tunnel,” said Jocelyne Bourgon, the then cabinet secretary for the Canadian civil service.
And move quickly Ottawa certainly did, as it cut 40,000 public sector jobs – between 11% and 12% of the total civil service workforce – in one stroke.
Overall, it trimmed government spending by 20%, with the Canadian budget of one year alone – 1995 – described even by ministers as the “bloodbath budget”.
It is not yet clear how quickly the UK government will act.
To co-ordinate the cuts centrally, the Canadian government set up a special committee, chaired by the prime minister and finance minister, before which departmental ministers had to appear to defend their budget plans.
Mr Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne are proposing to do the same here, with a so-called “Star Chamber”.
The idea is that ministers are challenged to come up with more spending cuts.
The focus of the Canadian government was firmly on spending cuts rather than tax rises, arguing that taxes had to be kept low to enable the private sector to grow and aid the economy.
As a result, the tax burden in Canada rose by only 0.3% between 1992 and 1997.
The Conservatives view themselves as intrinsically a low-tax party.
However, with today's UK deficit being substantially higher than that in Canada back in 1992, the jury is still out on whether the coalition government can resist the temptation – or even the need – to raise some taxes.
If taxes do rise, VAT is considered the leading candidate, with speculation that it will increase from the current 17.5% to 20%.
The UK government has yet to rule out a rise in VAT.
When Canada started on its spending cuts in 1992, the country was still mired in an economic downturn.
And despite the Canadian economy not firmly picking up until 1996, Ottawa still continued with its extensive deficit reduction work.
The problem for the UK government is that our financial services sector is much larger than that in Canada, and therefore the UK is significantly more affected by any woes in the global financial markets.
Canada, by contrast, is a substantial exporter of oil, timber and other raw materials, plus agricultural products.
This enabled it to weather the worldwide financial crisis of recent years.
Further helped by much tougher banking regulation, not one major Canadian bank needed to be rescued by the Canadian government – markedly unlike the situation in the UK.
As a result, the UK government has to pay closer attention to the global financial system, which could make its spending cuts move at a significantly slower pace.
The despair in Roy Vanderhoff's eyes says it all. He is a commercial fisherman in Louisiana and his business has been shut down because of the BP oil spill.
“What's hurting me is we're uncertain about our future,” he says. “It's like a death in the family and I don't know which way to go now. I'm scared.”
Roy's wife, Ladonna, sits with him and begins to cry.
“Fishing is his life, without it he doesn't know anything else,” she says.
“He's depressed. He's angry at times. He's not the same. It's hard to see him this way.”
Roy and Ladonna have come to the St Bernard Project, a charity in the small town of Chalmette, Louisiana. The organisation offers free counselling to fishing families who have been affected by the oil spill. The project was set up by Zack Rosenburg and his partner Liz McCartney nearly five years ago.
After seeing TV pictures of the devastation from Hurricane Katrina, they left their jobs in Washington DC and moved to Louisiana.
“We originally started the project to help people rebuild their homes after Katrina,” says Liz.
“But, once we started working on homes, we noticed something: people were alive, but they weren't living.
“They were missing this richness in their life. And so we decided, if we were going to rebuild people's homes, we also have to make sure we're rebuilding their lives.”
The idea of creating a mental wellness centre was born.
Just over a year ago, the St Bernard Project began by offering therapy to families still trying to cope with the devastation of the hurricane.
“But then the oil spill happened,” says Liz. “Now we're seeing lots of families trying to cope with that.”
Mostly it is the wives of fishermen who come seeking help. On this occasion there is a focus group of women and children at the clinic talking about the impact the oil spill is having on their family lives.
Yvonne Landry is also married to a fisherman. She says her husband is depressed, but would never speak to a psychologist.
“I'd never get him to talk to anybody – no way,” she says. “I don't think you'd get many of the fishermen to come and talk. The wives – maybe, but the husbands – I doubt very much.
“If they did, it would be in secret. They wouldn't want anybody else to know.”
It is for that reason that Liz wants to expand the project's efforts and take counselling into remote fishing communities.
“Our goal is to open up a centre out where they are and to hire men and women to be peer counsellors and go out into the community,” she says.
“We want to help people that are struggling realise they are not alone, and to give people a sense of normalcy and dignity, to make sure they are self-sufficient and contributing members of their community once again.”
Roy says opening up his heart to people at the St Bernard Project has helped.
“I've never been much of a talker, but at home, I see the way I'm acting.
“I don't know what to do with myself. But talking to different people, it just helps me.”
It was a daunting task, even for an experienced beekeeper.
A huge colony of feral bees had set up home in the loft of a house on the outskirts of Los Angeles and they had to be removed.
A previous attempt to kill the nest failed because the honeycomb, which contains honey and bee larvae, was left intact.
But Keith Roberts had no intention of exterminating the colony. Like many beekeepers, he is battling the worst crisis to hit the beekeeping world in decades.
For the fourth year in a row, about a third of honeybee hives in the United States died off during the past winter. Worker bees are succumbing to a mysterious phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which scientists are still struggling to understand. So when Mr Roberts comes across a thriving nest of feral bees, his company views it as an opportunity to replenish the dwindling populations of commercial honeybees.
Our mission statement is: “Save the buzz, one hive at a time,” he explains.
“We are passionate about bee relocation and the importance of identifying hives and their colonies that are located in structures.
“Instead of having the owner eliminate them, exterminate them, we take the time to put them into proper hives and take them out to the orchards where they can work properly and still continue on their happy lives.”
There is evidence that despite CCD, there are thriving colonies of feral honeybees still intact in the wild. Enthusiasts believe that they could play a pivotal role in developing disease resistant stocks.
“My experience has been that the feral colonies are survivors,” explains Mr Roberts.
He says that because the bees have not been “pampered in apiaries and given the best of the best” they have more hygienic hives
“And they're exposed to a natural selection that enables them to be stronger,” Mr Roberts continues.
“They may be the solution to the crisis because we're able to get those genetics and save them, hopefully utilise them and try to isolate why they are so much better, why they are stronger and increase their lineage to other hives.”
The feral hive in the loft in Los Angeles, a thriving, buzzing mass of bees, presented a perfect opportunity to put the theory into practice.
The bees had entered the house through a tiny hole in the wall, under the eaves. Their nest, which had been in place for about three years, fit into a space approximately a metre square.
“It was by far the largest hive, feral colony, I have ever come across,” says Mr Roberts.
“We removed a total over 80lbs (36kg) worth of honey.”
An estimated 80,000 bees were removed from the loft. The bees were strongly defensive and flying around erratically when they were disturbed.
Their aggressive behaviour suggested they were partially Africanised or killer bees, as they are sometimes described.
Africanised honeybees are the result of interbreeding between European bees and bees from Africa. They are common in southern California and may not always be suitable for commercial honey production.
The rescued feral bees proved to be extremely strong and a colony that had clearly managed to survive CCD. They have been moved to hives so that their behaviour can be monitored.
“Just because they are a little more lively when I open up the hive doesn't mean that they are beyond hope,” Mr Roberts explains .
“I can take a lot of time to save the good genetics, the good things about them and try to weed out the bad, like their aggressiveness.
“Hopefully [I can] produce queens that produce strong amounts of honey and a healthy hive without having to spend a lot of money and a lot of chemicals to medicate and treat my bees.”
Bee enthusiasts around California are trying to convince communities to befriend feral bees.
The city of Santa Monica is currently re-evaluating its longstanding policy of exterminating swarms of bees and a law prohibiting the keeping of bees within city limits may be overturned.
Local advocates have urged the city to capture the swarms, re-house them in temporary hives on city land, and then transport them to agricultural areas in California where the bees are needed by farmers to pollinate crops.
“They're extremely healthy bees, strong producers and obviously very resistant to the varroa mites and the pathogens that are wiping out our bees across the country,” says Mr Roberts.
“So these bees might very well hold the key to healthier bees in the general pool and I hope to put them to work.”
The headlines scream the names of defeated incumbents. Both parties are losing senior members of Congress across the country. Every primary election night brings a higher toll.
Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) falls, then Senator Arlen Specter (D-Pennsylvania) – and Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas) only just survives despite the avid support of the only Arkansas native ever elected president, Bill Clinton.
Longtime incumbent Representative Alan Mollohan (D-West Virginia) is now a lame duck, and so is Representative Parker Griffith (R-Alabama).
And don't forget Governor Jim Gibbons (R-Nevada), badly defeated in his bid for a second term.
Will there be more victims during the long American primary season that doesn't end until September? Of course. Is the total of four incumbent congressmen and one governor unusual? Not at all.
Over the past 40 years, the average number of representatives and senators defeated in primaries has been between six and seven per election year.
The politicians defeated so far in 2010 were juicy targets for one reason or another.
Mr Specter and Mr Griffith are party-switchers. When a politician changes his party label, he is hated by his old party and distrusted by his new one.
Mr Mollohan and Mr Gibbons have been investigated for corruption.
Mr Bennett was a victim of internal party fissures – regarded as too moderate by the party ideologues who voted. Ms Lincoln faced the same problem.
Quietly, while the media have understandably focused on the fall of a handful of powerful legislators and executives, fully 200 members of Congress have been re-nominated by their parties so far.
Many were unopposed and most didn't break a sweat to gain their berth on the November ballot. It doesn't take a seer to predict that this pattern will continue all season.
We are talking here about party primaries (and a few party conventions). The turnouts are quite low compared to a general election, and the participants are usually the most dedicated party activists who know the incumbents, have supported them previously, and mainly approve of their stances on the issues.
It is true, on the Republican side at least, that Tea Party backers are participating in GOP nominating contests, and this adds a new element of potential surprise.
Yet the Tea Party is seriously contesting only a small portion of the Republican nominations for Congress and governorships, and in many cases Tea Party devotees are friendly to the sitting incumbents.
Many polls show that enormous majorities of Americans of all stripes are dissatisfied with Congress and give it an unfavourable rating.
But voters do not cast a ballot for “Congress”.
Instead, they vote for or against their own senators and representatives. People often exempt their members of Congress from the condemnation of the institution, either because they like the legislators personally or appreciate the pork they bring home.
None of this is to say that major changes aren't coming in November.
In fact, Republicans are nearly guaranteed to pick up two to three dozen seats in the House of Representatives, and with a few breaks, they could actually gain the 39 seats needed to take control.
In the Senate it is unlikely the GOP will win the 10 seats they need for a majority, but a sizeable addition of five to seven seats is quite possible – leaving the Democrats with a minimal majority in the unruly upper chamber.
In addition, Republicans will probably pick up six or seven net governorships out of the 37 on the ballot.
The Republican Party will have a good autumn because the economy is bad and President Obama's approval rating is hovering below 50%.
Plus, Democrats have won more than 50 seats in the last two elections, in substantially Republican territory. There will inevitably be giveback, just as there usually is in mid-term elections.
But you won't be able to predict the magnitude of November change from looking at the primaries.
The most significant mid-term election in modern US history was in 1994, when Republicans picked up 52 House seats and nine Senate seats to win both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years.
In that cataclysmic political season, exactly how many congressional incumbents lost in all primaries taken together? Four House members and no-one in the Senate.Dr Larry J Sabato is director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia and editor of .
Venezuela's biggest beer producer, food and drink giant Polar, is also the country's largest company still in private hands after President Hugo Chavez's nationalisation drive.
But that may not be the case for long.
Last week, Mr Chavez stepped up his attacks on Polar's billionaire owner, Lorenzo Mendoza, whom he has previously accused of pushing up food prices by hoarding products to cause artificial shortages.
For its part, Polar has called the allegations “absurd” and “senseless”.
But that did not stop the authorities seizing 114 tonnes of food which they said had been illegally stored in Polar warehouses in the city of Barquisimeto last month.
In his latest broadside, Mr Chavez said he was declaring an “economic war” on Venezuela's “stateless bourgeoisie” and made it clear that Mr Mendoza was in the firing line.
“I'm not afraid to nationalise Polar, Mendoza, so be careful,” he said.
“Let's see who lasts longer – you, with your Polar and your riches, or me, with my people and the dignity of a revolutionary soldier.”
One of Polar's business associates recently described the firm's products as “icons of Venezuelan society”, and no-one who has spent time in Venezuela could disagree with that.
Harina PAN maize flour, Chiffon margarine, Efe ice creams and Toddy chocolate milk are just some of the brands produced by Mr Mendoza's conglomerate.
Polar also has distribution rights for Pepsi-Cola products in Venezuela, ensuring that Pepsi is easier to find and a bigger sales success in the country than its global rival, Coca-Cola.
In another sign of growing government pressure on Polar, the company was ordered last month to remove a giant globe-shaped Pepsi sign from the top of a skyscraper that it owns in the centre of the capital, Caracas.
The mayor of the Libertador municipality in which the building stands, Jorge Rodriguez, who formerly served as vice-president under Mr Chavez, fined the firm 77,000 bolivares (18,000; 12,400), saying it had no permits for the sign and had breached city planning rules.
The authorities also swiftly sent workmen in to begin dismantling the globe.
However, Polar said it had all the necessary permits for the sign and vowed to fight the decision, which it described as “arbitrary”.
But of course, of all Polar's products, it is their eponymous beer that most deserves the status of national icon.
For me, just seeing the label brings back memories of a scorching evening in Venezuela's oil capital, Maracaibo.
After a taxi ride from the airport through the parched outskirts of one of the hottest cities on earth, I was extremely grateful when my hotel's barman produced endless semi-frozen bottles of the stuff from an enormous refrigerator.
It has to be said, though, that Polar is a beer that does not travel well outside Venezuela's borders, as the country's immediate neighbours can attest.
Colombia is the only major Latin American export market in which Polar beer has managed to gain a foothold, despite trade pacts that link Venezuela with the region's other big economies.
Efforts to sell it in nearby Trinidad and Tobago were undermined by a local “spoiler” product called Pola Beer, while in Guyana, its public image was tarnished last year when 15 people, including former Customs employees, were charged in connection with a fraudulent multi-million dollar scheme to import it without paying duty.
If Mr Chavez does fulfil his threat to nationalise Polar, he will be extending his already significant control over Venezuela's food production.
Venezuelan economist Angel Alayon, of food industry body Cavidea, says that the government now controls 75% of coffee production, 42% of maize flour, 40% of rice, 25% of cooking oil, 52% of sugar and 25% of milk.
The government says it has a duty to secure food supplies and to prevent what it sees as “economic sabotage” by private companies.
But so much of the economy is now in state hands that businessmen such as Fernando Morgado, head of the National Council of Commerce and Services (Consecomercio), have called on the government to take responsibility for Venezuela's economic decline and stop blaming the private sector.
The country's economy contracted 5.8% in the first quarter of this year compared with a year earlier.
The International Monetary Fund predicts that its GDP will shrink by 2.6% in 2010, making it the only Latin American economy, and the world's only oil exporter, to see a contraction for this year.
Mr Chavez believes that a bigger economic role for the state is the only way to ensure the effectiveness of his price controls and stave off stagflation – the deadly combination of economic stagnation and high inflation that is currently assailing the country.
Venezuela's consumer inflation rate is currently the worst in Latin America, reaching an annual rate of 27% last year and expected to rise to 29.7% in 2010, according to the IMF.
However, there are doubts over the government's effectiveness in securing food supplies after the discovery last week of thousands of tonnes of rotting food that had been imported by state-run retailer Pdval, but never distributed.
And Ismael Perez Vigil, executive president of the Conindustria employers' organisation, points out that most of the companies nationalised by the government have seen no improvements in productivity.
The coffee industry is certainly a case in point. At the start of the 20th Century, Venezuela was the world's second-biggest coffee exporter, but it is now importing significant amounts of the stuff for the first time in its history.
Coffee producers say price controls imposed by Mr Chavez meant the price they were getting for their crop did not cover production costs.
They found they could get twice as much for their crop in neighbouring Colombia, giving some of them the incentive to smuggle out as much as they could.
At the same time, those price controls took away the incentive to invest in the industry, so new trees were not planted in response to the shortage.
In August last year, the government acted by taking over the coffee roasting plants of Fama de America, which had a 30% share of the market.
However, the plants do not have enough locally-grown raw material to operate at full capacity, so imports are still necessary.
Venezuela's beer drinkers are doubtless hoping that a nationalised Polar would not lead to a comparable shortage of their favourite national beverage.
Mr Chavez is proud of his Bolivarian revolution. But if the beer ever ran out, he might have a real uprising on his hands.
Europe's debt crisis will only have a “modest” impact on the US economic recovery, the chairman of the Federal Reserve has told Congress.
Ben Bernanke said he was confident the US would avoid double-dip recession – despite woes in Europe and worries at home about jobs and the housing market.
The US faced a slow recovery, he said, adding it would take time for the jobless rate, now 9.7%, to reduce.
The Fed predicts that the US economy will grow by 3.5% this year.
“The economy… appears to be on track to continue to expand through this year and next,” Mr Bernanke told the House Budget Committee.
Meanwhile, the US Beige Book – a monthly snapshot of economic performance in 12 regions – suggested that economic activity had picked up in all the areas studied.
It is the first time this has happened since December 2007, just before recession began.
Manufacturing and retail sales improved while tourism also grew. However the commercial property market remained weak and job market conditions improved only “slightly”.
And White House economic adviser Paul Volcker has told a conference in Canada that the US economy faces a “considerably long slog” to return to normal growth patterns.
“In the United States we have had now, or are approaching, a year of recovery,” he said.
“But by past standards, it hasn't been much of a recovery.”
There have been worries that the US recovery could be derailed, with one perceived threat being that if the debt crisis in Europe spread, this could limit lending around the world, including in the US.
But Mr Bernanke said he was confident the US would emerge relatively unscathed from the problems in Greece, Portugal and elsewhere in Europe.
If markets continue to stabilise, then the effects of the crisis on economic growth in the United States seem likely to be “modest”, he said.
While accepting it might have an impact of US exports and so “leave some imprint on the US economy”, he said the US would benefit from lower prices for oil and investors turning to the safety of US government bonds, amid volatile stock markets.
A report last week suggesting that jobs created by private US companies had slowed sharply in May has also added to worries.
The Fed chief also urged Congress and the White House to begin planning to trim the US budget deficit – which hit 1.4tn (962bn) last year.
Not doing so could dent the economy in the long term, Mr Bernanke said, adding that Europe's debt problem was a reminder of the need for countries to get their finances under control.
US authorities should have done more to avoid a taxpayer rescue of troubled insurer AIG, a report has said.
The Congressional Oversight Panel said the bail-out was “poisonous” and the market now expected other big financial firms facing collapse to be rescued.
The panel criticised Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for his role in the 2008 bail-out, which he oversaw as head of the New York Federal Reserve.
The report questioned whether taxpayers would ever recover their money.
The US authorities have provided a total of 182bn (125bn) to save the insurance giant since it nearly went bust in September 2008.
Reacting to the panel's findings, US treasury spokesman Andrew Williams said the criticisms “overlook the basic fact that the global economy was on the brink of collapse and there were only hours in which to make critical decisions”.
The report attacked the New York Fed's decision at the height of the crisis to rely on just two banks – JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs – to examine the possibility of a private sector rescue.
Those banks decided within hours that private money would not be available, meaning that a taxpayer rescue was the only option.
However, the panel said the banks had “severe conflicts of interest as they would have been the largest beneficiaries of a taxpayer bail-out”.
The rescue allowed AIG to settle existing financial contracts with these same banks, paying them the full amount owed. Goldman Sachs was by far the biggest such beneficiary.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that taxpayers will lose 36bn on the rescue.
“We want a profit,” the panel's chair, Elizabeth Warren, told reporters. “We are holding the Treasury's feet to the fire.”
The panel also described as “optimistic” the valuations of AIG provided by the US Treasury Department and the insurer's management.
The report comes a week after AIG's planned sale of its Asian subsidiary to the UK's Prudential fell through.
The deal would have been one of a series of sales by AIG intended to raise funds to repay US authorities.
A surprise drop in US retail sales in May was followed by a jump in June consumer confidence.
Sales were down 1.2% compared with April – the first drop in eight months. Economists had expected a 0.4% rise.
But a consumer confidence index rose to 75.5 in June versus an expected 74.5.
The two data releases came in quick succession, and puzzled stock markets, which fell on the sales data, then bounced right back after the consumer report was announced.
The Dow Jones Index had opened 0.8% down, and European markets giving up gains from a morning rally, after the retail sales data were announced by the Commerce Department.
But shortly after New York trading opened, Reuters and the University of Michigan produced their latest consumer confidence report, showing the highest level since 2008.
Despite the monthly fall in retail sales in the Commerce Department data, total sales in May were still 6.9% higher than the recession lows of a year ago. However they remain well down on pre-recession levels.
Car and gasoline sales led the monthly falls, down 1.7% and 3.3% respectively, although the lower value of gasoline sales was largely explained by lower fuel prices.
Consumer spending contributes 70% of demand in the US economy, making it a key driver of growth.
The news comes in the wake of weak US jobs data for May released last Friday.
Markets fear that with US households still heavily indebted, the recovery in consumer spending may prove to be anaemic.
A US woman convicted of offering sex for baseball World Series tickets has been sentenced to one year's probation.
Susan Finkelstein, 44, was convicted in March of attempted prostitution. She was also sentenced to 100 hours of community service.
Last year, she placed an online ad on Craigslist seeking tickets for a Philadelphia Phillies game.
She was caught after meeting an undercover policeman who responded to the ad.
Judge Albert Cepparulo called Finkelstein's crime “incredibly stupid”, saying her ad could have left her vulnerable to a predator, the Associated Press news agency reported.
The judge suggested she spent her community service speaking to groups of women about the dangers of the internet.
Finkelstein said she had wanted to get tickets to take her husband to the opening game of the World Series – in which the Phillies beat the New York Yankees 6-1.
Some US shares face new trading restrictions after regulators approved measures to avoid a repeat of the plunge in share values on 6 May.
Then, the market fall quickly spread out of control, so the Securities and Exchange Commission has implemented so-called “circuit breakers”.
These will halt trading in some stocks for five minutes, if they fall more than 10% in five minutes.
The new trading breaks will apply to selected stocks from Friday.
It will eventually be rolled out across all those listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
The trading pause is designed to draw attention to an affected stock, establish a reasonable market price and then resume trading “in a fair and orderly fashion”, the SEC said.
SEC chairman Mary Schapiro said the plan would help prevent volatility.
“By establishing a set of circuit breakers that uniformly pauses trading in a given security across all venues, these new rules will ensure that all markets pause simultaneously and provide time for buyers and sellers to trade at rational prices,” she added.
The unexpected crash on 6 May drove the Dow Jones down some 700 points within minutes.
An investigation into the mysterious plunge found no single cause was to blame.
The US trade deficit widened to a 16-month high in April, as both imports and exports fell slightly.
According to the Commerce Department's data the total monthly deficit was 40.3bn (27.5bn), up 0.6% from March.
Exports fell 0.7% from the previous month to 148.8bn, slightly faster than the 0.4% drop in imports to 189.1bn.
The figures also showed that the trade deficit with China widened by 14.3% to 19.3bn, which is the highest level since November last year.
Earlier, China had reported a higher-than-expected trade surplus for May, which was seen as giving ammunition to those in the US who argue the Chinese yuan is undervalued.
US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, speaking on Thursday to the US Senate Committee on Finance, said global economic reforms were being impeded by China's refusal to revalue its currency.
He told the US Senate Committee on Finance that distortions caused by China's stance were “an impediment to the global rebalancing we need”.
The latest US trade data showed that despite the small monthly fall in exports and imports, total trade volumes in April were much higher than the lows reached a year ago, when international trade collapsed in the wake of the financial crisis.
Exports were up 19.9% from April 2009, while imports were up 23.9%.
However, trade levels still remain well below the pre-crisis levels.
Drug enforcement officers in the US say they have arrested more than 2,200 people in an investigation targeting Mexican trafficking rings.
The joint operation lasted almost two years and culminated on Wednesday with more than 400 arrests across 16 states.
Officers also seized considerable amounts of methamphetamine, marijuana and heroin.
US Attorney General Eric Holder said Project Deliverance had been a significant blow to Mexican cartels.
He said the arrests and seizures would disrupt their operations but also warned that it was only one battle in an ongoing war.
The investigation focused on the infrastructure used to distribute illegal drugs across the US and smuggle guns and cash back to Mexico.
During the 22 months the operation lasted, officers seized more than 150m (103m), 2.2 tonnes of cocaine, half a tonne of methamphetamine and 62 tonnes of marijuana.
Mr Holder said it had been the most extensive and most successful law enforcement effort to date targeting Mexican drug cartels.
A recent report by the US justice department suggested Mexican criminal groups had expanded their activities in the US with heroin production doubling in 2008.
In its National Drug Threat Assessment, the justice department said trade in marijuana, ecstasy and methamphetamine had also grown.
The report found that Mexican groups were active in every region of the US.
Michele Leonhart, acting head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, said Project Deliverance had not been just about cutting off the supply of drugs entering the US, but also shutting down the flow of drug profits and guns to Mexico.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon told a joint session of the US Congress in May that Mexico needed help from its northern neighbour to tackle organised crime.
More than 22,000 people have been killed in Mexico since Mr Calderon came to power, most of them in drug-related gun battles.
Mr Calderon has blamed the lifting of a ban on US assault weapons ban in 2004 for an increased flow of guns across the border.
He said that he was confident his country would win its fight against drug gangs with US cooperation.
Attorney General Holder praised the role of Mexican law enforcement officers in Project Deliverance and the arrest by Mexican officials on 30 May of Carlos Ramon Castro-Rocha.
Mr Castro-Rocha has been indicted on drug trafficking charges and US officials accuse him of being the leader of the Castro-Rocha cartel.
Four severed heads and two beheaded bodies have been found in the capital of Guatemala.
The bodies were left in the open around Guatemala City, including in front of Congress and at a shopping centre.
Messages to the interior minister and the director of prisons were pinned to them, leading police to blame drug gangs for the killings.
So far only two bodies have been found and none of the victims have been identified.
Interior Minister Carlos Menocal said the first head was found in front of Congress, the second at a shopping centre, another in front of a fire station and the fourth in a residential neighbourhood.
Police spokesman Donald Gonzalez said the killings were linked to drugs, and came after a string of arrests of alleged high-profile drug traffickers.
“They [the killers] left them in strategic places where there's a lot of foot traffic so everyone could see them,” Mr Gonzalez said.
He said he believed the killings were in revenge for new restrictions imposed in the country's prison system.
One of the messages read “no more impunity”.
Earlier this year Guatemala introduced stricter prison rules, including more frequent transfers to different jails, to prevent convicts from continuing to run criminal enterprises from behind bars.
Interior Minister Carlos Menocal read out one of the messages, which had been written on cardboard and propped up against the remains.
“This is happening because of the mistreatment and the injustices in the country's jails,” the message read.
“If you don't do anything about these mistreatments, what happens from now on will be the fault of the government and the prison system, who are the ones abusing their authority.”
The killings come three days after the resignation of the director of a United Nations-backed commission to combat links between organised crime and the Guatemalan state.
Carlos Castresana stepped down saying that the Guatemalan government had not kept its promise to reform the justice system.
He also urged President Alvaro Colom to sack the recently-appointed prosecutor general, who he accused of having links with criminal gangs.
Mr Gonzalez, the police spokesman, said criminal gangs were taking advantage of a vacuum left by Mr Castresana's resignation “to wreak havoc”.
Decapitation is used by Mexican drug gangs to spread fear among their rivals and the security forces but has not yet widely spread from Mexico.
But one of Mexico's most powerful and violent drug cartels, Los Zetas, is believed to be active in Guatemala, and a number of violent shoot-outs in 2008 were attributed to them.
Guatemala is seen as an ideal transit point for cocaine smuggled from Colombia through Guatemala to Mexico and on to the US.
A group of well-known Cuban dissidents has urged the US Congress to pass legislation which would allow American citizens to travel to Cuba freely.
American nationals are currently not allowed to spend money in Cuba without securing special permission.
In an open letter, the 74 dissidents said Cuba's isolation played into the hands of what they called Havana's most inflexible interests.
Cuba has been under a wide-ranging US embargo since 1960.
The letter supports a proposal brought by Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson which would bar the US president from banning travel to Cuba or blocking transactions required to make such trips.
Among the signatories are Cuba's well-known blogger Yoani Sanchez, Elizardo Sanchez, the head of Cuba's most prominent human rights group, and Guillermo Farinas, a journalist who has been on hunger strike for three months demanding the release of the country's most seriously ill political prisoners.
The BBC's Michael Voss in Havana says it is the first time that so many Cuban dissidents have joined forces in supporting a single piece of US legislation.
Mr Peterson's bill must pass the House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture before it can go to a vote by the full House.
Similar proposals to ease travel restrictions have in the past died in the committee stage, never even making it to the House or the Senate.
Diplomats in London and Washington have raised the stakes over Saturday's US-England World Cup clash by wagering a meal over the game's outcome.
The bet was brokered in cables between aides to US Ambassador Louis Susman and UK Ambassador Sir Nigel Sheinwald.
“We will understand if you decline, given the outcome of the last such encounter,” a US aide wrote, referring to the US defeat of England in 1950.
A UK aide said Sir Nigel took his steak like that win – “somewhat rare”.
“Even for such an exceptionally optimistic nation as the United States, I am struck by the confidence with which your ambassador proposes this wager,” Martin Longden, press secretary to Sir Nigel, wrote to Philip Breeden of the US embassy in London in an exchange first reported by Politico.com.
“It is testament, I assume, to the generosity of your great nation, since the British ambassador does not anticipate paying out.”
Mr Breeden replied: “It is true that our soccer (a fine English word we have kindly preserved for you) history is not as long and illustrious as yours.
“However, as your generals noted during World War II, we have a unique capability for quickly identifying and advancing talent.”
British embassy staff, their families and some US acquaintances will be watching the game on a big-screen television at the embassy in Washington.
Roughly one quarter of the embassy staff are American nationals, “so it should make for a lively crowd”, an embassy official told the BBC.
“We're not doing anything more grand,” the official said. “We'll leave that to the final.”
UN climate talks have ended, with delegates speaking of an improved mood but with major gulfs remaining between various blocs.
A last-minute spat between Russia and Japan and the G77 bloc of developing countries showed the differing goals in play at the talks in Bonn.
But six months after the fractured Copenhagen summit, some were relieved that the process remained alive.
Many delegates played down prospects of a new UN deal by the end of this year.
The last day saw publication of a new document covering many of the most contentious issues, which may eventually form the basis of a negotiating text going forward to the next UN climate summit, to be held in Cancun, Mexico, at the end of the year.
“Fifty-fifty is what I'd give this last week,” said Grenada's delegation chief, Dessima Williams, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). “We really revived a spirit here of wanting to work, of rebuilding confidence and trust,” she told BBC News.
“But the [new] text did not accommodate sufficient views, and is very imbalanced in favour of developed countries.”
Many other developing country delegates agreed; while on the other side of the coin, the US said some elements were “unnacceptable”.
Yvo de Boer, the outgoing executive secretary of the UN climate convention (UNFCCC), made one last plea to Western nations to raise their game.
“The fact remains that industrial country pledges fall well short of the 25-40% range [from 1990 levels by 2020] that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said gives a 50% chance to keep the global temperature rise below 2C,” he said.
“It's essential that current pledges grow over the next few years, otherwise the 2C world will be in danger, and the door to a 1.5C world will be slammed shut.”
The meeting was prolonged many hours by a dispute concerning a proposed workshop to examine further emission cuts under the Kyoto Protocol, which involves all developed countries except the US.
Russia, with Japanese support, argued that the workshop should cover emission cuts by all countries.
What might appear a minor issue became a major sticking-point, with developing countries insisting that the rich countries had a historical duty to review and increase their emission pledges.
Such issues have dogged the UN climate process for years, and led Artur Runge-Metzger, the European Commission's chief negotiator, to ruminate on what might transpire in Cancun.
“The worst case is we would not see an outcome, we would not be able to conclude on the many items we are discussing,” he said.
“What the chances are of this is hard to say, but there many be things that are pointing not to convergence [between blocs] but to divergence.
“We heard demands for example that 6% of our GDP should be transferred from rich countries to poor – these are extreme demands and… we only have two weeks negotiating time left before we meet in Cancun.”
On Wednesday, there was an unusually public disagreement between developing countries over whether to commission a technical review of options for meeting the AOSIS-favoured target of keeping the global average temperature rise below 1.5C – a move that the Gulf states blocked.
“The discouraging news is that even as the BP oil disaster continued to unfold in the Gulf of Mexico, some oil-exporting countries – including Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar – were so desperate to protect the oil industry that they blocked efforts to expand studies of the climate change problem,” said Annie Petsonk, international counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund.
Mystery surrounded a subsequent incident in which Saudi Arabia's nameplate was apparently broken and placed inside a toilet bowl.
The Saudis demanded an investigation, a request to which the UNFCCC agreed, with delegations of all flavours condemning a serious breach of diplomatic etiquette.
But who was behind it remains unclear; and photos that are heavily rumoured to exist were kept under wraps.
The UN process reconvenes in August for a week-long meeting in Bonn; there is likely then to be another preparatory meeting in China in October before eyes turn to the Cancun summit.
Nearly 40 people have died in gun attacks by gangs in two Mexican cities, police say.
Gunmen stormed a rehabilitation centre in the northern city of Chihuahua, killing 19 and wounding four others.
Another 20 people were killed when armed men launched multiple attacks in the city of Ciudad Madero in Tamaulipas state.
Both cities have been caught up in turf wars between drugs gangs fighting over lucrative smuggling routes.
Chihuahua state police spokesman Fidel Banuelos said the attackers there had left messages accusing the victims of being criminals.
The raid took place on Thursday night, but was only reported on Friday.
A police official told AFP news agency that “more than 30 gunmen arrived aboard six trucks”.
They moved to the second floor of the Templo Cristiano Fe y Vida (Christian Faith and Life Temple) and fired large-calibre weapons at patients and employees before fleeing, the official said.
Rehabilitation centres in Mexico have been the target of previous attacks.
Correspondents say such shootings are blamed on drug traffickers, who accuse the clinics of protecting dealers from rival gangs.
In Ciudad Madero, violence began on Thursday and several gunmen were then involved in a series of gun battles and murders that lasted into Friday, officials said.
At the end of it, the bullet-riddled bodies of 18 men and two women were found in five different locations in the city, police said.
Correspondents say Tamaulipas is a battleground for the Gulf drug cartel and its former ally Los Zetas, a criminal group set up by former elite military personnel.
An alleged leader of Los Zetas, Hector Raul Luna Luna, was arrested on Wednesday in the north-eastern city of Monterrey, Mexico's third largest city.
In retaliation, gunmen hijacked cars and temporarily set up at least 10 roadblocks in Monterrey. Armed men also attacked police stations, according to local reports.
President Felipe Calderon, who has deployed thousands of troops to the worst-affected regions along the US-Mexico border, issued a statement condemning the latest shootings.
“They are outrageous acts that reinforce the conviction of the need to fight criminal groups who carry out such barbaric acts with full legal force,” he said.
The top court in Guatemala has dismissed the country's attorney general amid allegations of corruption and links to drug traffickers.
The Constitutional Court annulled the selection of Conrado Reyes, who has been in the post for less than a month.
The court's decision comes days after a judge heading a UN-backed commission investigating corruption in Guatemala accused Mr Reyes of having links with criminal gangs.
Mr Reyes has denied the allegations.
The allegations against Mr Reyes were highlighted on Monday by Spanish judge Carlos Castresana, who heads the International Commission against Impunity (CICIG).
Mr Castresana said the Guatemalan government had not kept its promise to reform the justice system, and announced he was resigning as a result.
He accused Mr Reyes of having links with “illicit organisations” and urged President Alvaro Colom to dismiss him.
President Colom said that in a meeting on Thursday, Mr Castresana had presented him “firm evidence” supporting the allegations against Mr Reyes.
The president did not give details of the alleged evidence, but said it showed that people around Mr Reyes had links to “parallel organisations”.
President Colom, who had appointed Mr Reyes, said he was satisfied with the court's decision.
In its ruling, the court did not address directly the accusations levelled against Mr Reyes.
The head of the constitutional court said the judges had made their decision in order “to overcome the institutional crisis” which had engulfed the judiciary.
The Guatemalan parliament will now have to convene a commission to select six new candidates from which President Colom will choose a new attorney general.
The International Commission against Impunity says 98% of crimes committed every year in Guatemala go unpunished becausethe justice system is too weak or too corrupt.
The Venezuelan authorities have issued an arrest warrant for the owner of a private television channel fiercely critical of President Hugo Chavez.
Prosecutors accuse Guillermo Zuloaga, who owns the Globovision channel, of business irregularities.
Mr Zuloaga's supporters say the warrant is an effort to silence him. The government says all due legal procedures have been followed.
Opposition groups accuse Mr Chavez of trying to control the media.
The BBC's Will Grant in Caracas says members of the national intelligence police are searching for Mr Zuloaga, a millionaire businessman who is one of the highest profile opposition figures in Venezuela.
A warrant has also been issued for his son.
So far neither of the two men have been found or arrested but their home in Caracas has been cordoned off by the police.
A lawyer for Mr Zuloaga denounced the arrest order as “completely irregular”.
Mr Zuloaga's supporters say the warrant is politically motivated, after President Chavez recently referred to comments made by Mr Zuloaga at an international press forum earlier this year.
At the conference, Mr Zuloaga suggested that Mr Chavez was responsible for most of the deaths which occurred in April 2002 during a short-lived coup.
“How is it possible that he can accuse me of such things and still walk free?” the Venezuelan leader asked during a recent televised address.
But the state prosecutor, Luisa Ortega, said on state television that the men were being sought over alleged irregularities in two car dealerships of which they are the main shareholders.
The government has repeatedly denied any persecution of Mr Zuloaga for his political views.
Our correspondent says it insists that crimes have been committed within the car dealerships and both Guillermo Zuloaga and his son must answer the charges against them.