U.S. conditions talks with Cuba on end to authoritarianism


The U.S. government reaffirmed its willingness to "forge a new relationship" with Cuba, but it insisted that the Raul Castro regime must take various measures to clear the way for that to occur including releasing U.S. contractor Alan Gross.

"Our message is very clear to the Castro government: They need to begin to allow for the political freedom of expression that the Cuban people demand, and we are prepared to discuss with them how this can be furthered," Mike Hammer, assistant secretary for public affairs at the U.S. State Department, said.

Pointing to the brief detention of dozens of dissidents at this week's funeral of prominent opposition figure Oswaldo Paya, he said that "the authoritarian tendencies are very evident on each and every day in Cuba."

Hammer made his remarks in response to the proposal made on Thursday by Raul Castro to begin a dialogue with the United States in which all issues would be on the table, including freedom of the press and human rights.




Mexican hospitalized after crucifixion protest


A Mexican man who "crucified" himself for 17 hours in this Gulf coast port city to demand payment of an insurance claim was hospitalized after showing symptoms of a possible heart attack and signs of gangrene on his hands.

Red Cross spokespersons said medical personnel decided shortly after 11:00 a.m. to remove the nails from the hands of Sergio Manuel Vargas Mortera, who had begun his protest shortly before 6:00 p.m. Wednesday in Veracruz's main square.

The paramedics, who had been administering fluids to the man intravenously, said he showed pre-heart attack symptoms early Thursday and that an inspection of his hands revealed signs of gangrene.

Vargas was rushed to a Veracruz hospital despite his earlier vow not to end the protest until the insurance subsidiary of BBVA Bancomer - Mexico's largest financial institution - compensated him for damage caused to his home two years ago by Hurricane Karl.

Moments before lying down on a wooden cross and having his hands pierced with metal nails with the aid of another individual, Vargas said the firm had refused to cover the cost of the repairs and that he was opting for that extreme form of protest to call the attention of Veracruz state authorities.




Brazil's Olympic soccer team tested in 3-2 win over Egypt


Brazil had to work harder than most people expected to come away from their first match of the 2012 Olympics soccer competition with a 3-2 win over Egypt here.

The South American squad jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first 30 minutes of the Group C contest, but the Egyptians came back with two goals in the second half and were pressing hard for the equalizer at the end of regulation.

Brazil, with a record five World Cup victories, has never won Olympic gold in soccer.

After picking up a bronze medal at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, the Brazilians entered the 2012 tourney as co-favorites along with Spain and Uruguay.

Spain made its quest for Olympic gold more difficult with a 1-0 loss Thursday to an impressive Japanese squad.




4 Slain at festival in Mexico


Four people died after a man armed with an M1 rifle opened fire during a festival in the southern Mexican town of Huehuetan, the Guerrero state Attorney General's Office said.

The shootings took place after midnight Wednesday at a street dance that was part of celebrations of the feast day of the town's patron saint.

One person was declared dead on the spot and three others, one of them a 17-year-old girl, died later at a hospital, the state AG's office said.

Nine other people were wounded.




Lopez Obrador: Mexico gov't hiding info on PRI money laundering


Mexico's political left accused the federal government of hiding information about money laundering by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, in the lead-up to the July 1 elections, and challenged presumed President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto to a debate on alleged irregularities in the process.

In a press conference Wednesday in this capital, the runner-up in the balloting, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, said he and his supporters are providing ample evidence to the TEPJF electoral court to secure "the invalidation of the presidential election as clearly in violation of the constitution."

"We're talking about billions of pesos" of illicit origin directed to the PRI's campaign to buy at least five million votes, Lopez Obrador, the candidate of a coalition led by his Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, said.




Chicago Latino files suit after being labeled a gang leader


A young Hispanic man is suing the Chicago Crime Commission over its decision to include his name and photograph in a book of area gang members, the Chicago Tribune said.

Edward Arroyo's suit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, contends the commission's Gang Book erred in identifying him as a leader of the Spanish Gangster Disciples.

Insisting that he is not part of a gang or any other "criminal enterprise," Arroyo says the commission damaged his reputation.

"It's beyond the point where a simple retraction will correct the situation," one of Arroyo's attorneys, Lesley Pickering, told the Tribune.

She said her client has suffered extreme mental anguish and expressed fear that he could be targeted by rivals of the Spanish Gangster Disciples.