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of APRIL  2018

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April  30, 2018

COLOMBIAN EX-REBEL LEADER IVAN MARQUEZ "RELOCATES" AMID TALK OF ARREST

      BOGOTA, COLOMBIA   --   The former chief peace negotiator for Colombia's FARC rebel movement has decided to relocate to a rural camp for ex-guerrillas amid speculation he could soon be arrested as part of a U.S. drug investigation. The rebel leader known as Ivan Marquez alerted the Colombian government of his plans in a letter Thursday. He said he was resettling temporarily in a rebel transition zone in his native Caqueta province "until there is more clarity and certainty about what comes next." Marquez didn't specify what he meant but said he remains committed to the 2016 peace deal that saw almost 7,000 guerrillas turn over their weapons and form a political movement.

     Earlier this month, Colombian authorities arrested a top FARC ideologue known by the alias Jesus Santrich on U.S. charges of conspiring to smuggle 10 tons of cocaine into the U.S. in cahoots with Mexico's Sinaloa cartel. The arrest made Santrich the first high-ranking leader in the peace process to be charged with criminal activity, unsettling rank and file rebels already concerned about the slow pace of implementation of the historic accord. Also arrested in the U.S.-led sting was Marquez's nephew, Marlon Marin, who has since been taken to New York and is cooperating with prosecutors overseeing the case.

     Marquez has suggested he could be captured next and has accused the U.S. and Colombia of orchestrating the arrests to sabotage the peace process. "They took the first one away already," Marquez told a group of former rebels on April 12. "And Santrich told me 'Ivan, you'll be next.'" For now, Colombia's government is trying to downplay speculation surrounding Marquez's surprise decision to abandon the capital, where he had been living for the past year. Interior Minister Guillermo Rivera said Marquez told him that he wanted to engage with some of the 7,000 former fighters living in the rural camps.

NICARAGUAN PROTESTERS DEMAND DANIEL ORTEGA'S RESIGNATION

      MANAGUA, NICARAGUA --    Unrest in Nicaragua continues with thousands marching against President Ortega a day after he scrapped pension reforms. Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in the capital of Nicaragua demanding the resignation of President Daniel Ortega after days of demonstrations in which nearly 30 were killed. The demonstrators marched in Managua on Monday evening, a day after Ortega backed down on controversial pension reforms that sparked the deadly protests.

     Protests broke out on Wednesday, two days after the Nicaraguan government approved a resolution that would increase contributions by workers and employers into the Nicaraguan Institute for Social Security (INSS), while reducing payouts by five percent. Police were criticised for their heavy-handed response to the protests, and accused of using live ammunition against demonstrators. Hundreds were injured, while dozens of shops in Managua were looted amid the unrest. In a televised meeting on Sunday evening, Ortega cancelled the reforms. But people continued their protests which for many have now grown into demonstrations against Ortega himself, as well as last week's crackdown.

     On Monday police were kept back from demonstrators, who reportedly shouted "Murderers! Murderers!" and called for the release of the more than 100 protesters who had been arrested in the days prior. The protests are the biggest since Ortega, 72, was re-elected in 2007. The leftist leader is on his third consecutive term and has been accused of nepotism - his wife Rosario Murillo is the vice president - and for undermining democratic institutions to tighten his grip on power.

VENEZUELAN REFUGEE CRISIS COULD ECLIPSE SYRIA'S, ECONOMIST PREDICTS

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --  Syria's civil war has resulted in what's been dubbed the world's largest refugee crisis, but another humanitarian calamity may soon surpass it. The millions of Venezuelans fleeing their turmoil-hit nation could eventually overshadow the number of Syrian refugees, according to an economist. "The next refugee crisis is not being driven by a violent war but by a socioeconomic disaster of magnitudes hardly seen before," Dany Bahar, a fellow at think tank the Brookings Institution, said in a Monday note, referring to the South American nation. About 4 million Venezuelans — over 10 percent of the population — have left the country in search of better living conditions in the last two decades, Bahar said, citing others' estimates.

     In comparison, "the estimates of refugees who left Syria during the war account for about 5 million individuals," he noted. The latest United Nations data indicates there are currently 5.5 million Syrian refugees. Bahar said he expects Venzeula's figure to increase "very rapidly" and eventually exceed that of the Middle Eastern state. "The situation on the ground is deteriorating by the minute and the lack of food and medicine in Venezuela will probably get much worse," he said. Venezuelans first began leaving the country in droves under the late President Hugo Chavez, but the situation intensified once President Nicolas Maduro took power in 2013.

     Corruption and authoritarianism under his watch have thrown the country into economic free fall. These have resulted in political persecution, a cash crunch and hyperinflationthat hit the purchasing power of ordinary citizens. Around five hundred thousand Venezuelans have left since 2016, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. "A sharp deterioration in food supply, an epidemic, or an explosion of violence" could transform human outflows into a major crisis, the Washington-based group said in a recent report, echoing Bahar's views. A Venezuelan refugee calamity would have security consequences for the world's largest economy.

April  29, 2018

THE OAS WILL MEET ON MONDAY TO DISCUSS THE VENEZUELAN CRISIS

      WASHINGTON, D.C.   --   The Organization of American States (OAS) will meet this Monday to discuss Venezuela, according to a call published by the same entity. The Permanent Council of the OAS will hold an extraordinary session on April 30 to deliberate on "the complex situation that Venezuela is experiencing," the organization reported. The meeting, which will be held at 3:00 p.m. (7:00 p.m.) at the OAS headquarters in Washington, was scheduled at the request of the delegations of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, the United States, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru.

     All these countries make up the Lima Group, a critical block of the government of Nicolás Maduro. The Group of Lima and the United States signed in mid-April a document considering illegitimate the presidential elections that will be held on May 20. The statement was issued on the sidelines of the recent Summit of the Americas in Peru due to a lack of consensus among the 33 participating countries, among which are allies of the Venezuelan government, such as Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

    The same lack of consensus on Venezuela has occurred within the OAS, where Cuba is not, but Caracas also has the support of Bolivia and Nicaragua and Caribbean countries. The last General Assembly of the OAS, in April 2017 in Cancun, failed to issue a statement on Venezuela. One day after the Assembly ended, Maduro affirmed that Venezuela "never" will return to the OAS. However, the process of leaving the organization takes two years and will be finalized in April 2019.

VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION LEADERS MET WITH REPRESENTATIVES OF THE EUROPARLAMENT IN BRUSSELS

      BRUSSELS, BELGIUM  --    The president of the National Assembly, Omar Barboza, the ex- president of the Parliament Julio Borges, the political coordinator of Voluntad Popular, Carlos Vecchio, the deputies of Acción Democrática Edgar Zambrano; and of a New Time Elias Mata, met in Brussels with important MEPs to denounce the lack of conditions and guarantees for presidential elections scheduled for May 20.

     The MEPs, Esteban González, Javier Nart, Ranon Jauregui and the vice-president of the Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament, Beatriz Becerra, were part of the high representatives who met with the leaders of the opposition delegation who insisted on demanding strong pronouncements against the upcoming electoral process in Venezuela, thus supporting the political, economic and social crisis that our country suffers. During the meeting the president of the AN, Omar Barboza, made an x-ray of the social problem caused by the shortage of medicines and food, while reiterating the urgency of achieving the opening of the humanitarian channel to prevent Venezuelans from falling because of the hunger and treatable diseases.

     For his part, the deputy, Julio Borges, took the opportunity to ask the MEPs, the non-recognition of the election results of May 20. "They expressed their concern about the crisis that Venezuela is going through, which leads to the materialization of ignorance of elections that do not meet minimum guarantees for a fair, free and balanced election. In these meetings the countries of the European Union showed on several occasions their concern about the lack of democracy and legality in Venezuela; They also called for the release of political prisoners and disqualified prisoners and for the Government to comply with the provisions of the Constitution and the laws of the Republic with regard to electoral issues and impartial compliance with justice.

BORDER CRISIS FORCES ECUADOREAN INTERIOR AND DEFENSE MINISTERS TO RESIGN

       QUITO, ECUADOR  --  Ecuador’s Defense Minister Patricio Zambrano and Interior Minister Cesar Navas presented their resignations to President Lenin Moreno due to the crumbling of security on the Colombian border, the government said on Friday. The announcement was made by Communications Secretary Andres Michelena, who has lately been the most visible spokesperson of the Ecuadorean government. Confirmation of the resignations comes a day after the time Moreno had set for both ministers to oversee the capture of alias “Guacho,” a FARC dissident believed responsible for a dozen attacks in the northern part of the country that began with a car-bomb explosion last Jan. 27.

     Guacho is also accused of kidnapping and murdering in captivity a team of jounalists from the Quito daily El Comercio. Last week Moreno demanded that the ministers of defense and the interior assume their responsibilities, and announced that if they didn’t bring in Guacho within 10 days, he would expect them to “step aside.” The National Communications Secretariat (Secom) said Friday that the replacements for Navas and Zambrano will be announced almost immediately. Since last March 26, when the team of journalists was abducted, Navas has been leading the case, which ended in tragedy with the assassination of journalist Javier Ortega, press photographer Paul Rivas and driver Efrain Segarra.

     Furthermore, a scant four days after the murder of the press team was confirmed, Navas reported another kidnapping, this time of an Ecuadorean couple, Oscar Villacis and Katty Velasco, also on the border with Colombia. Upon confirming the kidnapping of Velasco and Villacis, Navas presented a video of the couple, sent by their captors, in which they pleaded that the government help set them free. The video reached the government through an open communication channel with Guacho, according to Navas, who this week said there has been no contact with the Ecuadorean couple’s kidnappers for several days.

April  28, 2018

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 'KOREAN WAR TO END' BECAUSE 'GOOD THINGS ARE HAPPENING IN MEETING' ON THE KOREAN PENINSULA

      WASHINGTON, D.C.   --    President Donald Trump tweeted Friday morning that good things are happening on the Korean peninsula and that the Korean war is coming to an end. The tweets come after news that South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met to further discuss denuclearization of the peninsula and strengthening ties between the two countries. "After a furious year of missile launches and Nuclear testing, a historic meeting between North and South Korea is now taking place. Good things are happening, but only time will tell!" Trump tweeted.

     "KOREAN WAR TO END! The United States, and all of its GREAT people, should be very proud of what is now taking place in Korea!" Trump tweeted. The leaders of North and South Korea agreed to officially end the war between the two countries, according to CNN. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong Un, signed the "Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification on the Korean Peninsula," at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that has divided the two countries for more than six decades.

      Following the signing ceremony, the two leaders clasped hands and hugged in a symbolic act of togetherness after a full day of meetings, including a 30-minute private conversation beamed live around world. Former CIA Director and now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea and met with Kim to prepare for the planned upcoming summit between the North Korean leader and Trump. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released photos on Twitter showing Pompeo and Kim standing together shaking hands. The summit between the two leaders is expected to take place sometime in the next two months.

A COLLAPSED  VENEZUELA GOES TO ELECTIONS WITHOUT OPPOSITION, SAYS CRISIS GROUP

      WASHINGTON, D.C.   --    An economically and socially collapsed Venezuela is heading for elections in which the opposition is vetoed and with more than 10% of citizens outside the country, warns the Crisis Group, a center of thought and analysis International (ICG). In an article published today in EFE, analyst Phil Gunson, of ICG, affirms that although the Government of Nicolás Maduro assures that "the worst of the Venezuelan crisis has already happened (?.), In the real world, the situation has gone from bad to worse to simply become intolerable. "

     "Monthly inflation is around 80% (?). The essential medicines have disappeared from pharmacies and hospitals, which lack even the most basic equipment. Half of the operating rooms are out of service ", remarks Gunson, adding that" diseases such as measles and diphtheria, which had been eradicated, have returned due to lack of vaccines; and infant and maternal mortality has skyrocketed. " "The economic collapse is unprecedented in a country that is neither at war nor has suffered a natural disaster. And nothing indicates that it will stop, "he adds.

     This situation has led to "more than 10% of the population already 'voted with their feet', causing a migration crisis that is affecting virtually the entire continent," says Gunson, referring to Venezuelans who have left the country and they will not be able to vote in the presidential elections that Maduro has advanced to May 20 instead of celebrating it in December. Elections in which Maduro "took the precaution of disabling the most popular opposition politicians and canceling the legal registration of many parties," the analyst points out, to make it clear that the president of Venezuela "controls the National Electoral Council and the Supreme Court "and" has put all the resources of the state at the service of his re-election. "Some elections, according to the expert of Crisis Group, that much of the international community considers "illegitimate".

THE CUBAN REGIME TAKES A HISTORIC BLOW AT THE UNITED NATIONS

       GENEVA, SWITZERLAND  -- Today, Cuban diplomats were conspicuously absent as the Cuban government was strongly condemned for its treatment of human rights defenders and, particularly, for preventing two activists from traveling to Geneva to speak at the pre-session to Cuba's third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the UN Human Rights Council.

     Diplomats representing eleven missions to the United Nations in Geneva (Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States) took to the floor to denounce Cuba’s arbitrary decision. Delegates of 30 countries and many members of international NGOs witnessed a highly unusual diplomatic clobbering of the Cuban dictatorship. Germany's representative was especially poignant in stating it was time for the international community to stop paying lip service to protect human rights defenders in Cuba and do something about it.

     Mona M'Bikay, the Executive Director of UPR-Info.org who moderated the session, opened the forum by explaining that the empty chairs (three out of the five expected speakers) spoke clearly of the arbitrary nature of the Cuban government's action. State delegations rely greatly on the pre-sessions to assess the human rights situation on the ground and prepare questions and recommendations for the state being reviewed by the United Nations Human Rights Council. In the history of UPR pre-sessions, only three other states, Bahrain, Sudan, and South Sudan have prevented scheduled speakers to travel. The organizers, who have coordinated over 163 of these these forums, indicated that they had never witnessed such a strong condemnation of any state in a UPR pre-session.

April  27, 2018

SENATE CONFIRMS MIKE POMPEO AS SECRETARY OF STATE

  WASHINGTON, D.C.  - A sharply divided U.S. Senate on Thursday voted 57-42 to confirm U.S. President Donald Trump's pick for secretary of state, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, with all Republicans backing the nominee and all but six Democrats and one independent opposed. “That he [Pompeo] has both the character and the credentials required to be a successful secretary of state is absolutely clear," Republican Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said moments after the vote. “The man has what is takes for the job." Pompeo replaces Rex Tillerson, who was fired last month by Trump. His confirmation allows him to attend a NATO meeting in Brussels Friday as America’s top diplomat.

     While Senate Republicans were united behind Pompeo, most Democrats bemoaned what they saw as the nominee's history of warmongering rhetoric and antipathy to Muslims and gay people. As an example, Menendez noted key American allies are absorbing millions of refugees, and asked, "What will he [Pompeo] credibly say as this administration slashes our own refugee program, once a crown jewel of our foreign policy?" Republicans, meanwhile, hailed Pompeo's resume and life accomplishments, from graduating at the top of his class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to studying law at Harvard to years representing Kansas in the House of Representatives.

    Trump recently dispatched Pompeo to hold discussions with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ahead of a planned Trump-Kim nuclear summit. Montana Republican Steve Daines said Pompeo already proved his worth as part of an administration that helped engineer what could prove to be a historic diplomatic opening. Republicans repeatedly urged strong bipartisan backing for Pompeo, pointing out that only two of their members voted against former President Barack Obama's first secretary of state nominee, Hillary Clinton, in 2009, and only three Senate Republicans voted against John Kerry for the post in 2013.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO REQUESTS NICOLAS MADURO EXIT AND MARSHALL PLAN FOR VENEZUELA

      WASHINGTON, D.C.   --    US Senator Marco Rubio on Wednesday called for the departure of Nicolas Maduro, whose government called "dictatorship", and called to rebuild the country with a multilateral initiative similar to the Marshall Plan. "While the United States and our partners have repeatedly condemned the Maduro regime and demanded the end of the crisis, we must now accompany our words with decisive actions," said the Republican senator.

     "It is time for the democratic nations of the region to work together and hasten Maduro's exit from power," he added. Rubio, an opponent of Maduro, said the Venezuelan government is a "danger" to its neighbors and to the security of the United States, but did not mention the possibility of military intervention in that country, something that exhorted the United States to persuade other countries of the continent to "increase the pressure against the Maduro regime", "to alleviate the extreme humanitarian crisis", and "to lay the foundations of international initiatives that reconstruct a free and democratic post-Maduro Venezuela".

    Rubio, president of the subcommittee on International Relations of the Senate for the Western Hemisphere, proposed to establish in Venezuela, plunged into acute recession, shortage of goods and hyperinflation, an equivalent of the Marshall Plan, the program with which the United States rebuilt Europe after the Second World War. "This plan should include investment from the Inter-American Development Bank, to which the United States contributes, and from other international economic organizations aligned with our interests," he said.

MAURICIO MACRI WITH SEBASTIAN PIÑERA AT HIS SIDE, DEMANDED THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT IN VENEZUELA

       BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA  -- The president of Argentina, Mauricio Macri and the Chilean president Sebastian Pinera held a meeting at the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on April 26, 2018. The president of Argentina pleaded today in an appearance before the press together with his Chilean parliament, Sebastián Piñera, that "what is happening in Venezuela must comes to an end" and "a democratic government with transparent elections" must be restored.

    To ratify our commitment to help democracy to reign in the entire region and, therefore, what is happening in Venezuela must have to come to an end by reestablishing a democratic government in a transparent elections, "Macri in the joint statement after the bilateral meeting that the two presidents held in Buenos Aires. In this sense, Macri advocated to continue the debate around what is being "talked about" in the Lima Group to see how to help the "Venezuelan brothers".

     For his part, Piñera, although he did not speak on the subject during his speech, remarked that Argentina and Chile, in addition to the past, are united at the present, by sharing "values and visions", and emphasized the value of " democracy, freedom, respect for human rights and the rule of law ." Venezuela's presidential elections, scheduled by the Caribbean country's executive for next May 20, will be carried out without the participation of the bulk of the opposition, which refuses to attend a vote that they consider will be carried out fraudulently.

April  26, 2018

CONOCO-PHILLIPS: WINS $2 BILLION RULING AGAINST VENEZUELAN OIL COMPANY PDVSA

   NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK --  ConocoPhillips won a $2 billion arbitration against Venezuela's state-controlled oil company over the 2007 expropriation of two oil projects, though the Houston-based oil producer faces obstacles collecting the award. The ruling on Wednesday, by a tribunal representing the International Chamber of Commerce, will have to be confirmed by the U.S. District Court in New York. It is among the biggest so far against Venezuela's national oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela SA, or PdVSA.

      The company has defaulted on more than $2.5 billion in debt and isn't expected to make any payments to ConocoPhillips or other firms that are suing for assets taken by Venezuela's socialist government. The government of President Nicolás Maduro stopped paying most creditors last fall when debts were $150 billion. The country has a scarcity of dollars and its main source of hard currency, oil ConocoPhillips is also locked in arbitration against Venezuela itself at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, where dozens of similar cases against Venezuela have been filed by companies with assets that were seized under the socialist government.

     At the time the assets were taken, the two oil projects were bringing in $1 billion a year in net profits for the firm and producing 300,000 barrels of oil a day, according people familiar with the matter. ConocoPhillips said in a statement that it will "pursue enforcement and seek financial recovery of its award to the full extent of the law." A PdVSA spokesman didn't immediately respond to calls seeking comment. A committee of Venezuela's largest bondholders has formed and hired financial adviser Millstein & Co. to prepare for eventual negotiations with a new government. Under U.S. sanctions, bondholders are forbidden from negotiating a new debt agreement with the current government.

FORMER CHAVEZ OFFICIALS ARRESTED IN MADRID FOR CORRUPTION: OTHER LEADERS IN SIGHT

      WASHINGTON, D.C.   --    The Unit of Economic and Fiscal Crime (UDEF) of the National Police has deployed this Wednesday in Madrid an operation against former high officials of the Venezuelan Executive Hugo Chávez. Under the device agents are searching several buildings in the capital, at least one of them owned by two people linked to the Chavez government and who are accused of alleged involvement in a corrupt plot. Both defendants have been arrested, El Confidencial confirmed sources of the case.

     One of them is Claudia Patricia Díaz, the former personal nurse of Chávez who was appointed by the director of the National Treasury Office and the Secretariat of the Development Fund (Fonden) between 2011 and 2013. The second researched is her husband, Adrián Velásquez, a retired military officer who took over the security of the Miraflores Palace during that same period and later became the personal escort of one of the president's sons.

     The operation, coordinated by the Central Court of Instruction 4 of the National Court, is open and could affect other ex-leaders of the Bolivarian regime and similar businessmen who would have chosen Spain to hide funds of supposedly irregular origin. According to sources close to the case consulted by El Confidencial, the investigations would focus on an alleged money laundering scheme that would have obtained large sums of money through the irregular sale of Venezuelan bonds and also with prohibited foreign currency exchange operations in which He took advantage of the difference between the real price of the dollar and the one officially set by the regime.

HENRY FALCON DENOUNCED BREACH OF THE ELECTORAL GUARANTEES AGREEMENT BY DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- The candidate for the Presidency of the Republic for Advanced Progressive (AP), Henri Falcón, denounced on Wednesday before the National Electoral Council (CNE) that DICTATOR Maduro, who seeks re-election in the elections scheduoed next May 20, is not complying with the electoral guarantee agreement signed before this instance on March 1st. Falcón sent a formal request to the authorities of the electoral body, in which he referred to the use of children in the campaign by Maduro, which not only violates the electoral laws but his own law of Social Responsibility of Radio and Television.

     In turn, he said that the official candidate for re-election has also made use of public resources, in addition to using logos of mayors and governorates to promote their electoral campaign. He reminded the media posted on the outskirts of the CNE's headquarters that the institutions "must act in accordance with the interests of the great majority", emphasizing the responsibility of the electoral entity before the country.

     Despite these alleged violations of the agreement, the opposition candidate confirmed that he will remain in the race until the end assuring that "he will not leave aside the expectations of change and transformation demanded by the majority of the Venezuelan people." Finally, Falcón took advantage of the occasion to call on the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) to support his candidacy, stating that "it is time to take a step forward" and listen to the sentiment of the Venezuelan people who advocate a change of government to be able to start the process of "salvation and reconstruction of Venezuela".

April  25, 2018

COMMUNIQUE OF THE CENTRAL BANK OF VENEZUELA (BCV)  WORKERS TO THE VENEZUELAN PUBLIC OPINION

   CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --  The workers of the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) assigned to the different vice-presidencies, inform and warn again the country of the following:

1- As a result of the hyperinflation that the country suffers and the consequent salaries lag, an authentic labor stampede is taking place in the BCV, expressed in resignation and massive retirements in the core areas of the bank such as the Vice Presidents of Studies, National and International Operations. Added to this is a hostile work climate due to the fact that Ramón Lobo has transformed the BCV into a subsidiary of the PSUV, which translates into persecution of employees who are suspected of not agreeing with the communist ideology. In this manner, managements and sensitive departments are being left empty and dismantled in view of the fact that with the current salary levels it is impossible to attract new qualified personnel.

     2- The monetary reconversion that advances the government is totally unfeasible in the established terms. This situation has already been noticed in various instances by qualified technicians who still remain in the institution. Collect more than fifteen billion pieces of money and at the same time put into circulation by June 4 at least five billion new pieces is impossible.

     Therefore, we warn the country that the government may have in mind to create a monetary chaos after the elections to accuse the bank of this and in this way proceed to the nationalization of some banks. This fits perfectly well with the recent actions of the government against several banking entities to which it imputes the lack of cash and the manipulation of the parallel dollar, when the truth is that there is no cash due to the lack of printing of sufficient bills, due to the hyperinflation while that the depreciation of the bolívar obeys to the financing that the BCV does of the fiscal deficit.

US OFFICIALS ADVISE US CITIZENS NOT TO GO TO NICARAGUA, AFTER EVACUATING THE EMBASSY AMID VIOLENT PROTESTS

      WASHINGTON, D.C.   --    The government of the United States evacuated almost all the personnel of its embassy in Nicaragua until arriving at practically no type of operations on Monday. The measure was taken after five days of bloody protests throughout the national territory, despite the efforts of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega to calm the tempestuous tempers that are living in the country. On Monday, the State Department ordered the employees whose work is not essential and all the relatives of the diplomats to leave Nicaragua.

     In a public statement, the State Department also warned travelers to "reconsider travel to Nicaragua due to the wave of crime and the serious civil conflicts tmat the country is experiencing." "The demonstrations have provoked a violent response from the authorities, including the use of tear gas, pepper vaporizers, rubber bullets, and real bullets against demonstrators," said a US spokesman.

     The Central American nation has been shaken by violent demonstrations for much of last week. As part of a growing wave of demonstrations against Ortega's proposal to raise taxes on social insurance, the president promised new negotiations with those opposed to the increase in taxes and the corresponding cut in the pensions of retirees. In any case, the order to evacuate US personnel from his embassy is an absolutely extraordinary indication that Washington views the situation as dangerous and unstable. The violence reached such a magnitude that the vast majority of stores in Managua, the country's capital were closed during the weekend. Many reopened on Monday, but with the shelves almost empty, since no deliveries could be made during the weekend.

THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY DECLARED AN ELECTRIC EMERGENCY IN THE STATE OF ZULIA, VENEZUELA, AND IN THE SOUTHWEST OF THE COUNTRY

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --   The National Assembly (AN) unanimously approved Tuesday the declaration of emergency power service in the state of Zulia and in the southwestern zone of the country, due to the electrical failures that the region has experienced in recent days. In this regard, Deputy Nora Bracho urged the national government to take immediate action to correct the emergency situation. "Enough to lie to the people. Mr. Motta Domínguez, do not blame the opposition parties of New Time or First Justice responsible for the debacle that exists in the state of Zulia. Assume your responsibility, "he said.

     Likewise, the parliamentarian José Luis Pirela indicated that the electricity system in Venezuela "is collapsing", as a result of "the negligence of ministers who have not solved the problems". He also warned that "Venezuelan lights have began to go out and it is happening first in the state of Zulia" and the Deputy further questioned that the Minister of Electric Energy, Luis Motta Domínguez, is not dismissed from his position, because in his opinion "in a normal government" this It would have happened already. "We are living in Zulia the effects of blackouts, transportation paralyzed because gas pumps do not work, stores are paralyzed because there are no groceries, not counting the lack of cash.

     It exist a great school dropout because the boys do not sleep affected by the blackouts and the plague. The Government's response is false announcements and lying accusations, "said Pirela. He denounced, meanwhile, that the governor of that entity, Omar Prieto, "acts like a henchman of the dictatorship in arise of repression", and at the same time, he says "there is a significant number of detainees, including local deputies." "This henchman, instead of building solutions, is dedicated to persecuting the people and accusing the leadership of the opposition, of all the problems he has not been able to solve," he said.

April  24, 2018

ANTI-MADURO PROTESTS PERSIST IN VENEZUELA, DOZENS JAILED

   CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- President Nicolas Maduro's government kept dozens of student protesters behind bars on Friday as unrest still rumbled across Venezuela following this week's violence at political rallies that killed three. Demonstrators gathered again in various cities, blocking roads and burning tires in some cases, to denounce the repression of protests and make a litany of complaints against Maduro ranging from rampant crime to shortages of basic products. "We're going to stay out in the streets for the same reasons as yesterday and the day before: inflation, insecurity and a repressive state that refuses to release our colleagues," student Marcos Matta, 22, told Reuters, in Caracas.

     Defying the president's prohibition of demonstrations, about 500 people gathered in Caracas' Altamira Square, a heartland of past opposition protests, to chant slogans and wave banners. Maduro, a 51-year-old former union activist and bus driver, accuses his foes of seeking a coup against him similar to one that briefly toppled his predecessor Hugo Chavez in 2002. However, there is no sign the street demonstrations threaten to oust him, nor that the military, whose role was crucial to Chavez's 36-hour unseating, will turn against Maduro.

     The protests might in fact give him a chance to unite competing factions within the ruling Socialist Party, divide the opposition where many moderates oppose the street tactics, and distract Venezuelans' attention from economic problems. Maduro has called supporters onto the streets of Caracas for Saturday and insisted unauthorized rallies will be stopped. "This is not Ukraine," he said, in reference to months of anti-government protests there in which six people have died. Opposition activists say about 150 protesters have been arrested in the last two weeks, most after Wednesday's violence, with most due to face charges of violence and about 90 still behind bars on Friday.

ARMY DEPLOYED IN NICARAGUA AFTER 25 KILLED IN PROTESTS

      MANAGUA, NICARAGUA   --    The armed forces of Nicaragua said on Saturday soldiers have been deployed across the country as anti-government protests that until now have killed at least 25 people continued to roil the country. The army issued a statement saying its soldiers have been deployed across the country to protect “strategic targets,” and called for dialogue to address the growing unrest in the country over a set of new social security measures. Official media reported that the army was deployed early morning on Saturday outside the city hall of Managua to protect the municipal office, while other sources reported that soldiers were deployed in the city of Esteli, 149 kilometers north of the capital, to protect government institutions.

    While the government is yet to update the death toll from Saturday when it had said around 10 people had died in the protests and around a 100 have been injured, the Nicaraguan Initiative of Human Rights Defenders and the Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights said 24 people were killed in the protests. Apart from the 24 deaths, a reporter with the El Meridiano newspaper, was also shot dead in the city of Bluefields – in the Caribbean coast of the country – on Saturday evening while covering the protests. According to the nonprofits, 10 people were killed in Managua, 4 in Sandino City, 3 in Masaya, 2 in Leon, 2 in Esteli, 2 in Tipitapa and 1 in Sebaco.

     They also reported that 67 students had been injured, 43 were missing and 20 have been arrested, while one TV station was torched and a few communication systems were blocked. In his first statement since the crisis erupted, President Daniel Ortega said the government was open to amending the social security reforms – that raised the percentage of salaries that employees and employers had to contribute to the Nicaraguan Institute of Social Security – and had called for dialogue. The Superior Council of Private Enterprise responded saying that the government would have to stop cracking down on protesters, as a precondition to talks.

THE VENEZUELAN CHURCH:"THE ELECTIONS OF MAY 20 CAN AGGRAVATE THE CRISIS AND LEAD TO A HUMANITARIAN CATASTROPHE

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --   The Venezuelan Episcopal Conference (CEV) issued a statement in which the Venezuelan bishops pronounce themselves before the political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. For the Church, the elections convened by Chavez, "as they are conceived, without sufficient guarantees that identify any free, reliable, transparent electoral process, with innumerable disqualifications of possible candidates, far from providing a solution to the crisis that could aggravate it and lead it to an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe. " And they demand: "Its postponement is urgent for the last quarter of the year".

    The bishops, in addition, assure that "hyperinflation has increased the general impoverishment of the population, with the decomposition of the quality of life of all." The general lack of public services of electricity, water, gas, throughout the country that It makes life more difficult, all of this in the face of the surprising indifference of government officials in these areas to solve these problems. "

      In addition, they warn about "the unhealthiness due to the uncontrollable appearance of epidemics and diseases in the most vulnerable populations, with the aggravation of the lack of medication for treatments." All this problem is generating a large number of protests throughout the length and breadth of the country, which, although silenced by the media, are growing ".

April  23, 2018

MIGUEL DIAZ-CANEL MEETS WITH VENEZUELA'S DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO AT CUBA'S PALACE OF THE REVOLUTION

    HAVANA, CUBA  --  Cuba’s new president Miguel Diaz-Canel met with his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro on Saturday at Havana’s Palace of the Revolution, representing the first official visit of a head of state to the island since former-President Raul Castro handed over power on Thursday. Maduro, who landed in Havana on Friday night, is visiting Cuba to congratulate the new president, to ratify their two countries’ close relationship and to meet with Raul Castro, who will continue to be the head of Cuba’s ruling Communist Party until 2021.

      Maduro was accompanied by Venezuela’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Jorge Arreaza and by the country’s Education Minister Elias Jaua. Speaking to the press before meeting with the Cuban president, Maduro said that Cuba and Venezuela “have all the potential to continue collaborating and cooperating on numerous issues to help develop Latin American and Caribbean nations.”

     This was Diaz-Canel’s first official event as president, two days after being sworn-in. It comes as no surprise that Maduro was the first head of state to meet with Diaz-Canel, as Venezuela is Cuba’s main political ally and an important trading partner. Cuba is particularly reliant on Venezuelan oil, which the island buys at a preferential price in exchange for services provided by Cuban professionals in Venezuela, especially in the health and education sectors.

VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION TO DECIDE ON STRATEGY TO COUNTER  THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS OF MAY 20

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --     Opposition politicians and other members of the Broad Front for a Free Venezuela met on Saturday in several Venezuelan cities to analyze proposals to counter the May 20 presidential elections. The Broad Front is an umbrella group formed by several oppositions parties and other organizations that is calling on Venezuelans to boycott the election, which it considers to be “fraudulent.” One of the meetings was held in Bolivar square in the municipality of Chacao, an opposition stronghold.

      “The Broad Front’s perspective is that we should meet to express our ideas and decide on a strategy,” Chacao city councilman Robert Garcia said during the meeting. In Caracas, the Justice First (PJ) party, headed by Henrique Capriles, organized a congress with its youth leaders, in which the issue of how to counter the election was also discussed. During the event, PJ congressman Alfonso Marquina referred to former-governor Henri Falcon, who ignored calls to boycott the election and decided to run against President Nicolas Maduro, who is seeking reelection.

     Marquina recalled that Falcon failed to be reelected as governor of the state of Lara in October’s gubernatorial elections and said that Falcon himself had denounced electoral irregularities. Many opposition parties and politicians have called on Falcon to withdraw from the race, insisting that the elections are “fraudulent” and that Maduro will inevitably win.“The civilized and democratic world has already announced that it will not recognize the election results ... and that it will not recognize Nicolas Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela,” Marquina said.

82 VENEZUELANS DEPORTED TO THEIR COUNTRY FROM THE REPUBLIC OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO

       PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO.  The repatriation of 82 Venezuelans has come under scrutiny as the Ministry of National Security claims the group volunteered to return to their homeland while relatives are claiming they were forced to sign documents they did not fully understand. According to a media release from the ministry, the 82 – 53 men and 29 women – were processed on Friday after visiting the Venezuelan Embassy in Port of Spain.

     Sunday Newsday visited the embassy on Friday and saw some of the men being taken in to be processed. The presence of the Venezuelans at the embassy raised another issue, this time with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) which claimed that 13 of the 82 Venezuelans were asylum-seekers and 19 others were in the process of becoming asylum-seekers.

      According to the UNHCR, this breaches the Article 31 of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention), which instructs signatories “not to impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence” to people who are in need of international protection. UNHCR, in a statement, added that the mere presence of the Venezuelans at the embassy was a further breach as their request was no longer held in confidence. Sources say that some Venezuelans were arrested after they had applied for asylum and alleged their documentation was destroyed by officials before they were taken to the IDC.

April  22, 2018

MESSAGE OF LUIS ALMAGRO, OAS SECRETARY GENERAL, ON VENEZUELA

    WASHINGTON, D.C.  --  The Venezuelan people are today experiencing an involuntary exodus, forced upon them by the growing economic and institutional degradation of the country. The data speaks for itself. According to the International Organization for Migration, in 2015 some 698,000 Venezuelans lived outside of Venezuela. At the end of 2017, there were already 1.6 million. It is very likely that this situation will worsen if the fraudulent elections of May 20 are finally held and, as expected, consolidate the dictatorial power of the current regime.

     The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) already estimates that this year the figure could more than double, even surpassing 3 million people, 10 percent of the total Venezuelan population. This is already a humanitarian crisis of proportions never seen before in the Americas. It is a moral obligation of all the rest to help the Venezuelan brothers and sisters in this aspect as well. We know that migrating is not an easy process. That is why we support UNHCR's efforts to promote the protection of and assistance to Venezuelan refugees.

    That is why we also applaud initiatives of other Venezuelans outside their country, such as the Tú País Foundation and the CDEI Foundation to create a space for migrants to adapt in the best possible way to their new situation. At the OAS we are working on several initiatives. We are supporting a refugee resettlement program in cities in the interior of Brazil, analyzing legal regularization options in Ecuador, Colombia and Peru. Likewise, we are developing a guide for those who migrate by bus to the south and preparing a study on how support initiatives from different countries can be complemented. Know that you are not alone. We know what Venezuelan migrants are suffering. I want to convey to you all my solidarity and support for the drama you are experiencing and the forced exodus that many are going through.

AT LEAST EIGHT DEAD, INCLUDING POLICE OFFICERS, IN NICARAGUA PROTESTS AGAINST THE LEFTIST GOVERNEMENT OF DANIEL ORTEGA

      MANAGUA, NICARAGUA   --    Protests in Nicaragua over changes to social security have led to the deaths of at least eight people, including a police officer, the Red Cross said on Friday, heaping pressure on the leftist government of President Daniel Ortega. Nicaraguans have been protesting for three straight days against government changes to social security, signed into law earlier this week, that increase worker contributions and lower pensions. On Thursday, the police officer and a young protester were shot dead in the Nicaraguan capital, Managua, while another youth was shot in the city of Tipitapa, northeast of Managua, the nation's Red Cross told Reuters on Friday.

     "We're not sure what happened. It's unclear. We don't know whose side (the victims were on), whether they were in favor or opposed," said Lisseth Guido, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross of Nicaragua. Guido said some 48 people had received medical attention on Thursday for varying injuries due to the protests. Violent protests continued into Friday as anti-riot police used tear gas, but it was not immediately clear if there were further casualties. A former leftist guerrilla leader who critics accuse of trying to set up a family dictatorship, Ortega has been president since 2007, delivering solid growth by fusing socialist policies with an embrace of free markets.

     But moves to increase worker contributions to social security and reduce pensions, which the government argues are fiscally necessary, has sparked a violent backlash. The wave of protests is the biggest since Ortega took power, placing him alongside other Latin American leftists who have come under pressure after failing to consolidate economic gains. Protesters on Friday held signs saying: "no more repression" and "we are not scared." Since the protests began, at least three local television stations that were broadcasting the protests live had their signals abruptly cut.

SIX INFLUENTIAL LATIN AMERICAN COUNTRIES SUSPEND MEMBERSHIP IN UNASUR REGIONAL BLOC

       LA PAZ, BOLIVIA.     A South American bloc created a decade ago to counter U.S. influence in the region has temporarily lost half its members after six countries suspended their memberships amid differences over who should lead the group. Bolivian Foreign Minister Fernando Huanacuni said Friday that Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru had decided to temporarily leave the Union of South American Nations, or UNASUR, given differences over choosing the secretary general of the group.

     “We have received a note from the six countries saying they will not participate in UNASUR meetings for a period of one year” until the leadership issue is resolved, Huanacuni said by telephone from Ecuador to state television Boliviatv. Paraguay’s foreign ministry said in a statement that the impossibility of electing a general secretary for UNASUR affects the bloc and that the six countries that will remain outside it until they see “concrete results that guarantee its operation.” Huanacuni announced a meeting in May to discuss the matter.

     Likewise, the note send by the sixc countries consider "alarming the situation of indiscipline that has been presented to the interior of the General Secretariat and in particular the serious denunciations and demands among the directive personnel from February of 2017". The document explains that this could not be solved "because, in the absence of a Secretary General, there is no disciplinary instance in Unasur to deal with them". UNASUR was promoted by late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Surinam, Uruguay and Venezuela remain in the bloc.

April  20, 2018

CASTRO'S HEIR, MIGUEL DIAZ-CANEL,  BLASTS PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP AS HE PREPARES TO TAKE POWER IN CUB A

    HAVANA, CUBA  --  Hardline Communist Miguel Diaz Canel, the new President of Cuba, says the nation is 'offended' by the Donald's administration. Along with millions of Cubans, 57-year-old vice president Miguel Diaz-Canel voted on Sunday to ratify a government-approved list of members of the National Assembly, which convenes April 19.

     Diaz-Canel, who assumed Raul Castro's seat as president yesterday, on Sunday took the final political step before a promised transition from the founders of the Communist state to a younger generation of officials. Speaking to reporters in Santa Clara, he lamented the downturn in relations with the United States under President Donald Trump, saying 'the reestablishment of relations has been deteriorating thanks to an administration that has offended Cuba.

     Diaz-Canel is expected to assume Raul Castro's seat as president today, April 19 But he said Cuba's next government will be more responsive to its people, saying that 'the people will participate in the decisions that the government takes.' 'The people can also recall someone who doesn't fulfill their responsibilities,' Diaz-Canel said. 'There has to be a focus on ties to, links with, the people, to listen to the people, deeply investigate the problems that exist and inspire debates about those problems.' In a bit of political theater that may prove to be a shift in style from Castro's, Diaz-Canel waited in line to vote alongside other citizens.

CUBA'S NEW PRESIDENT: WHAT TO EXPECT OF MIGUEL DIAZ CANEL

      HAVANA, CUBA --    Cuba’s National Assembly has elected Cuba’s First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel to replace 87-year-old Raúl Castro, who took over as Cuba’s leader in 2006 after his brother Fidel Castro fell ill. Raúl Castro stepped down in observance of the two-term limit for senior government and party officials that he himself mandated in 2011. In so doing, he opened the door not just for a new president but for a generational transition in Cuba. This is one of the most important moments I’ve seen in 40 years of studying and writing on Cuba.

     Canel faces real challenges. Cuba’s economy is weak, relations with Washington are deteriorating and internet expansion on the Communist island has produced a growing chorus of domestic critics. The political rise of 57-year-old Díaz-Canel represents the final stage of a transfer of power away from the “historic generation” that waged Cuba’s 1959 revolution. The charisma of Fidel Castro, who died in 2016, was for decades a pillar of Cuba’s regime. Díaz-Canel – a trained engineer who worked his way up from local party leader to first vice president – will have to earn his authority through performance.

     Those who have followed his career say Díaz-Canel is a seasoned, pragmatic politician. As a Communist official in his home province of Villa Clara in the 1990s, when Cuba suffered a prolonged economic depression, he rode his bicycle to work rather than take a car and driver. He appears ill at ease with large audiences but relaxed and congenial in small groups – much like his mentor, Raúl Castro. As president, Díaz-Canel will still benefit from Raúl Castro’s experience and authority. Castro remains first secretary of the Communist Party – Cuba’s only party – until 2021. This is arguably a post more powerful than the presidency. The party leadership makes all major economic, social and foreign relations policies, which the president is obliged to carry out.

VENEZUELA POLICE ATTACK PATIENTS AND DOCTORS AT HOSPITAL SHORTAGES PROTEST

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA     -Police charged against patients and doctors protesting outside the headquarters of the Health Ministry in Caracas Wednesday to the shout of ”Genocidas!”. That’s “genocide perpetrators” in Spanish. Minister Luis Lopez refused to meet with a delegation of demonstrators. Similar events took place all over Venezuela, in what seems to signal the beginning of a new cycle of protests against the rule of unpopular leader Nicolas Maduro. Already, local social conflict NGO “OVCS” reports there has been a 93% increase in the number of protests recorded, year on year, with 26 anti-government demonstrations being held every day nationwide. “OVCS” said that, on Wednesday, there were protests regarding the health crisis in all of Venezuela’s 23 states.

     National Police had to act to prevent demonstrators from entering the building, getting into a shoving match with a mob that included HIV positive and Parkinson’s disease patients, according to Colombian all-news TV station NTN24. “Health Ministry” was the top trending topic in Venezuelan Twitter for several hours Wednesday. Transplant patients have not received their government-provided medication since last year, while AIDS and HIV stricken patients began noticing scarcity in 2009, but say it has grown far worse over the last few months. The ministry distributes the drugs for critical patients.

     Venezuela is experiencing a severe shortage of regular (let alone critical) medication, including antibiotics and blood pressure drugs. Local health issues NGO “Medicos Por la Salud” estimates that between 80 to 95% of all medication is impossible to obtain in country at any given time. There are shortages of even alcohol, aspirin and cleaning and disinfectant products. Maduro has repeatedly refused to open a humanitarian aid channel, citing fears that the measure would hide a military intervention in disguise. The opposition-held National Assembly okayed criminal procedures against the unpopular Maduro Tuesday, but the embattled head of state is not expected to comply voluntarily. “We will have to go to Miraflores to demand solutions from President Nicolas Maduro”, Valencia added. “Enough with all of the deaths! The government has the solution in its hands by activating international cooperation mechanisms.”

April  19, 2018

CUBA'S FIRST VP MIGUEL DIAZ-CANEL NOMINATED AS ONLY CANDIDATE FOR PRESIDENT

    HAVANA, CUBA  --  The Cuban government says First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel is the only candidate nominated for president, a move that guarantees he will be the communist country's first president outside the Castro family for the first time in nearly 60 years. The nomination must be approved by the Cuban National Assembly, which has historically approved nominations. In an unusual two-day procedure, the legislature will choose a new president on Wednesday and announce the replacement for Raul Castro on Thursday. The two-day process is a departure from the past, when the legislature has generally chosen the president and made the announcement the same day. The votes are almost always done in secrecy, in keeping with the will of the country's top leadership.

      A session of the National Assembly takes place in Havana, in this handout photo released to Reuters on April 18, 2018. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the transition is "of great concern" to the Trump administration because it is not democratic. "We would like citizens to be able to have a say in their political outcomes and this certainly does not seem like regular folks will have a say. They basically don't have a real and meaningful choice because it's not a democratic process. Nauert said the administration would like to see "a more free and democratic Cuba" but is "not overly optimistic." The new president will succeed 86-year-old Raul Castro, who is resigning after two five-year terms. His late brother Fidel served as prime minister and president after the armed Cuban Revolution in 1959 until he became ill in 2006.

     Diaz-Canel appears to be socially liberal and is considered an acceptable successor to the retiring elderly leaders who fought in the revolution. Congress will select leaders of the legislature before choosing the president and other members of the Council of State, Cuba's top government body. The process will usher in a new group of younger leaders who face pressure to bring greater prosperity to the country and revitalize its economy, which is smaller than it was in 1985 when it was supported by the former Soviet Union. While the assembly promotes younger leaders, Castro and other older revolutionaries are expected to retain their power due to their hold on the Communist Party. Castro will remain party leader. "We will see how things turn out within the medium term, but I do not see a big groundswell of support within the Cuban government for expanding human rights, for instance," said Andrew Otazo, executive director of the Cuba Study Group

THE US SAYS IT WILL NOT CHANGE ITS POLICY TOWARD CUBA UNDER CASTRO'S SUCCESSOR

      WASHINGTON, D.C.  --    The White House said it would not change its policy of restricting trade with Cuba under Raul Castro's successor and expressed skepticism about any change on the island, once the current Cuban president leaves office. "The United States has no expectation that the Cuban people will see greater liberties under Castro's handpicked successor," a spokesman for the White House National Security Council told agencies.

     "We will continue to show solidarity with the Cuban people in their petition for freedom and prosperity, so we are not expected to change our policy of directing funds to the Cuban people and away from Cuba's military, security and intelligence services," he added. the spokesperson.

    US President Donald Trump, last year expressed his support for the trade embargo on Cuba and announced several measures that, in practice, have frozen the process of normalization of relations with the island initiated by former President Barack Obama. Trump has banned the vast majority of US transactions with the Cuban Army, which controls much of the hotels and retail on the island, and has restricted the type of travel that Americans can make to Cuba.

MARCO RUBIO WANTS MORE CUBAN MILITARY COMPANIES UNDER U.S. SANCTIONS

        WASHINGTON, D.C.     -- Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio told el Nuevo Herald he expected the State Department to expand a list of sanctioned entities controlled by the Cuban military. “In my opinion, the list issued by the State Department under [Rex] Tillerson of entities under sanction was not enough,” Rubio, who helped the Donald Trump administration to shape its policy toward Cuba and draft the new restrictions on military companies that are part of the Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A. (GAESA), said during an interview in Lima on Saturday. “I have a lot of confidence that Mike Pompeo, who I know very well, who supported me when I ran for president, will adjust that list so that it really includes all the corresponding entities, which should be on that list as entities controlled by the Cuban military,” he added.

     Experts estimate that GAESA, led by Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, son-in-law of current Cuba ruler Raúl Castro, controls 60 percent of the Cuban economy. The current blacklist includes 180 companies, including hotels, factories, stores and other businesses controlled by the Cuban armed forces. Rubio, who was in Peru to attend the eighth Summit of the Americas, also said he expected the region to reject the new government within the framework of the Organization of American States (OAS).

     According to the Florida senator, the new U.S. ambassador to the OAS, Carlos Trujillo, has plans to propose a vote on a resolution rejecting the new government. “We are going to see if an organization that was created to defend democracy is willing or not to criticize what is not a democracy. I hope there is a vote on that as soon as possible, after what happens in Cuba in terms of a fraudulent transition,” said Rubio. Following calls from OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro and about 30 Latin American and Spanish former leaders “to reject the Cuban dictatorship,” it remains unclear if the governments of the region have an appetite to impose new sanctions on Cuba or to isolate it politically. During the Summit held in Lima, few heads of state referred to Cuba directly, while the focus of attention was on Venezuela.

April  18, 2018

BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY, DIES AT 92

     HOUSTON, TEXAS  --  Barbara Bush, the matriarch of a Republican political dynasty and a first lady who elevated the cause of literacy, died Tuesday, a family spokesman said. She was 92. Only the second woman in American history to have had a husband and a son elected President (Abigail Adams was the first), Bush was seen as a plainspoken public figure who was instantly recognizable with her signature white hair and pearl necklaces and earrings. She became a major political figure as her husband, George H.W. Bush, rose to become vice president and president. After they left the White House, she was a potent spokeswoman for two of her sons -- George W. and Jeb -- as they campaigned for office.

    The mother of six children -- one of whom, a daughter, Robin, died as a child from leukemia -- Barbara Bush raised her fast-growing family in the 1950s and '60s amid the post-war boom of Texas and the whirl of politics that consumed her husband. She was at his side during his nearly 30-year political career. He was a US representative for Texas, UN ambassador, Republican Party chairman, ambassador to China and CIA director. He then became Ronald Reagan's vice president for two terms and won election to the White House in 1988. He left office in 1993 after losing a re-election bid to Bill Clinton.

    Barbara Pierce was born June 8, 1925, in New York and raised in the upscale town of Rye. She attended a prestigious boarding school in South Carolina, where she met her future husband at a school dance when she was only 16 and he was a year older. A year and a half and countless love letters later, the two were engaged just before George Bush enlisted in the Navy and went off to fight in World War II. Bush, who was the youngest fighter pilot in the Navy at the time, would return home a war hero, after being shot down by the Japanese. He had flown 58 combat missions and received the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery. By that time, Barbara had dropped out of Smith College and the pair were married in January 1945.

'IT IS NULL AND ILLEGITIMATE,' SAYS VENEZUELAN PROSECUTOR OF SESSION IN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY ON IMPEACHMENT TO DICTATOR MADURO

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --       Venezuela's Attorney General, Tarek William Saab, said that the Supreme Court's (TSJ) exile acts are "null" and that therefore the request made to the National Assembly to submit Nicolás Maduro to a political trial to separate him from the post "lacks legitimacy". Saab was dispatched Monday night on his Twitter account against the TSJ, after he introduced a week ago an arrest warrant for the Venezuelan president for his alleged involvement in a corruption scandal that cost the country more than $ 1,700 million.

    "The 'show' done for a few months in foreign territory (US-Colombia) 'meeting' criminally outside the home jurisdiction to illegally claim actions against the Venezuelan Democracy and the President @NicolasMaduro: #HOY ARRIVE AT HIS END" , wrote. The National Assembly, with an opposition majority, discussed this Tuesday at 10 a.m. "Consider the request for authorization to continue the process to the citizen Nicolás Maduro", without mentioning expressly that it is a political trial.

    The Venezuelan prosecutor said in his Twitter that that session in the Assembly "lacks legitimacy" and "does not exist" and was convened in an act "bufo and immoral" of citizens "fugitives from justice." The session to discuss a possible merit foreclosure against Maduro is based on the indictment of the Attorney General in exile, Luisa Ortega Díaz, who presented evidence documenting how Maduro received bribes from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, in exchange for obtaining construction contracts for works that were not supervised by the State. Saab was appointed by Maduro as Attorney General of Venezuela after the National Constituent Assembly dismissed Ortega last August.

BASIC FAMILY BASKET OF MARCH FOR A VENEZUELAN FAMILY PLACED IN MORE THAN 75 MILLION BOLIVARS

     CARACAS, VENEZUELA     -- The price of the Basic Family Basket (CBF) of March 2018 is Bs. 75,446,014.83. Increased 22,765,113.85 Bolivars (58 minimum wages), 43.2% compared to February 2018 and 6,960% between March 2018 and March 2017, as indicated by the Documentation and Social Analysis Center of the Venezuelan Federation of Teachers (Cendas-FVM). The monthly variation of the CBF is due to the price increase of all the groups that comprise it.

     First, the health item increased 126.5%, from 484,933.33 to 1,098,333.33 bolivares, education rose 81.3%, from 3,399,494.81 to 6,164,841.97 bolivars, the items of personal hygiene and household cleaning went up from Bs. 5,647,333.33 to Bs. 9,028,333.33, that is, 59.9%. Food, meanwhile, rose 14,525,311.15 Bolivars, from 37,517,912.13 to 52,043,223.28 Bolivars, which is equivalent to 38.7%. The item of clothing and footwear increased 1,411,055.55 bolivars, from 3,980,611.11 to 5,391,666.66 bolivars, that is, 35.4%. The rental of housing increased 8.8%, from 285,000.00 to 310,000.00 bolivares, reported a press release of Digital Finance.

     The basic public services item rose from 1,365,616.26 to 1,409,616.26 bolivars, equivalent to 3.2%, due to the increase in the urban transport rate by 100%, which rose from 1,000 to 2,000 bolivars in the transport lines of the Libertador de Caracas municipality. The average cost of a lunch for a worker is 122,000 bolivars. The amount of the food ticket is 30,500 bolívares per day, 61 times the value of the current tax unit, of 500 bolívares.

April  17, 2018

THE WHITE HOUSE: PRESIDENT TRUMP WANTS US FORCES OUT OF SYRIA AS SOON AS POSSIBLE

     WASHINGTON, D.C.   --   The White House says President Donald Trump remains determined to pull out U.S. troops deployed in Syria, a message that comes after French President Emmanuel Macron said he convinced Trump to keep U.S. forces there. "The U.S. mission has not changed — the president has been clear that he wants U.S. forces to come home as quickly as possible," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement late Sunday. She added that the United States wants to "complete crush" the Islamic State militant group and work to prevent it from coming back. Syrian government supporters wave Syrian, Iranian and Russian flags as they chant slogans against U.S. President Trump during demonstrations following a wave of U.S., British and French military strikes.

     Macron spoke earlier Sunday to France's BFM television, saying: "Ten days ago, President Trump was saying 'The United States should withdraw from Syria,' We convinced him it was necessary to stay for the long term." However, on Monday, Macron sought to clarify his comments, saying both countries were committed to finishing the battle against the Islamic State group and helping the peace process in Syria. France joined the United States and Britain in airstrikes against Syrian chemical weapons sites on Saturday. Macron also said he told Trump that it was necessary to limit the airstrikes in Syria, suggesting Trump wanted to go further. "We also persuaded him that we needed to limit the strikes to chemical weapons sites after things got a little carried away over tweets,"

    Macron told reporters. The French leader said there is proof the Syrian government used poison gas in Douma and that missile strikes were necessary to give the international community credibility. He also said Syrian ally Russia is complicit. French President Emmanuel Macron (C) poses on the TV set before an interview with BFM journalist Jean-Jacques Bourdin (R) and Mediapart investigative website journalist Edwy Plenel (L), at the Theatre National de Chaillot across from the Eiffel Tower. "They have not used chlorine themselves but they have methodically built the international community's inability to act through diplomatic channels to stop the use of chemical weapons." Macron told BFM that France has not declared war on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but it was necessary to show Assad that using poison gas on civilians will not go unpunished.

CANADA RECALLS FAMILIES OF DIPLOMATS IN CUBA IN RESPONSE TO UNEXPLAINED SYMPTOMS AFFECTING SOME STAFF

      MONTREAL, CANADA  --   The families of Canadian diplomats serving in Cuba are being recalled as a response to mysterious incidents which have plagued some staff and dependents. The move comes after 10 Canadians continue to show unexplained brain symptoms, officials say. That number includes an unknown number of children and nondiplomat family members, but government officials are giving no further breakdown, citing privacy concerns. Government officials, who briefed journalists on the condition of anonymity, say the ongoing problems are raising concerns about a new type of acquired brain injury, the cause of which remains a mystery. Officials say the cause could be human-made.

    Spouses, children, or even parents of Canadian diplomats currently accompanying them in Havana will begin leaving the Cuban capital immediately. Havana has now been declared an “unaccompanied post” in the Canadian foreign service – a designation Cuba now shares with Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and South Sudan. Cuba is a favourite tourist destination for Canadians, with more than one million visiting the Caribbean island annually, but Global Affairs Canada says there is no evidence of any related ailments among Canadian travellers. Canada is working with the United States – many of whose personnel in Havana also took ill – and Cuban authorities to try to solve the mystery.

     Cuba says it is not responsible for the unexplained incidents, but the fallout has led the U.S. to recall many of its diplomats and expel Cuban representatives from Washington. Global Affairs Canada said the new status of the Havana mission is the result of an environmental assessment of its staff housing completed in March that failed to turn up a cause. The decision is also being taken after the troubling findings of a University of Pennsylvania study of U.S. diplomatic staff. “According to these specialists, medical information raised concerns for a new type of acquired brain injury. Additional research is needed to better understand this,” said a statement Monday from Global Affairs Canada. “The cause remains unknown, but could be human-made.”

CUBAN PARLIAMENT TO ELECT DICTATOR RAUL CASTR'S SUCCESSOR DURING TWO-DAY SESSION

     HAVANA, CUBA     -- The National Assembly of Cuba will elect the successor of Raul Castro during a two-day session, according to reports on Monday both the official press and Parliament itself. Although the initial meeting was called only for Thursday, April 19, it will begin on Wednesday, the 18th. The decision to advance the start of the Constituent Session of the IX Legislature of the National Assembly is adopted "to facilitate the development of the steps required a fact of such transcendence. "

    It is expected that on Wednesday, the 18th deputies of the new National Assembly will be sworn in, elected in March, and the Board of Directors of the Parliament will be formed. Meanwhile, the election of the deputies that will make up the Council of State - whose president will succeed Raul Castro - should take place on Thursday 19. The members will be proposed by a committee of candidates and the vote of the deputies will be secret. The date of April 19 chosen for this historic event corresponds to the 57th anniversary of the victory at the Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón), when they defeated anti-Castro troops who were trying to take control of the island. Cuba considers it as "the first defeat of Yankee imperialism in Latin America" in 1961, according to the government.

    Raúl Castro, 86, will end an era in Cuba by handing over power to a younger successor, 12 years after succeeding his elder brother Fidel Castro, who died in 2016. If there are no surprises, the Assembly should choose as Raul's successor to the government's number two, Miguel Diaz-Canel, 57, a civilian of a new generation that was born after the triumph of the revolution in 1959. The youngest of the Castros does not relinquish all their functions. He will continue as general secretary of the powerful Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) until 2021.

April  16, 2018

SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS: ALL LATIN AMERICAN COUNTRIES AGAINST DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO

      LIMA, PERU  --   The plenary session of the VIII Summit of the Americas in Lima (Peru) focused its attention on Venezuela, a country whose president was not invited to the meeting and that except Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba, does not have many allies in the region. This Saturday was a clear example of this, when Argentina and Chile called to ignore the results of the upcoming Venezuelan presidential elections. Mauricio Macri pointed out that "we can not look the other way, we are going to ignore any election that arises from such a process, because it is not a democratic election" and showed its concern for the humanitarian crisis, calling Nicolás Maduro to "stop denying reality and accept international collaboration. "

     In the same vein, his Chilean counterpart Sebastián Piñera said that Caracas "is condemning hunger and death" to many of its citizens. "There is no independence of powers, respect for human rights or democracy, there are political prisoners," said the Chilean president, who denounced the lack of legitimacy of the presidential elections convened next May by Maduro. Therefore, he called to ignore the results that come out of those votes. The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, asked to work to restore democracy in Venezuela. "The violation of human rights and the lack of respect for the rule of law by the Government of Venezuela is completely unacceptable," he said.

     The president of Brazil, Michel Temer, meanwhile, asked to rediscover a democratic solution to the Venezuelan political crisis with the support of the Lima Group and the Organization of American States (OAS). Enrique Peña Nieto, for his part, said that Mexico hopes that Venezuelans themselves will be able to "resolve in a peaceful manner" the crisis facing their country and that they see with great concern the situation in Venezuela. More tough was his Colombian counterpart, Juan Manuel Santos, who assured that his government will be "implacable" with the "oppressive regime" of Nicolás Maduro. Santos, who also announced that he will not recognize the May elections because they are "designed to make up a dictatorship." The vice president of the United States, Mike Pence, warned that his country is determined to "impose the full force of our diplomatic and economic power until liberties and democracy are restored in Venezuela."

OMAR BARBOSA, PRESIDENT OF AN SUSPENDS IMPORTANT TRIP TO EUROPEAN UNION FOR SESSION ON MADURO TRIAL

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA   -- Omar Barboza, together with a parliamentary delegation, had planned to present to the High Commissioner of the European Union, Federica Mogherini, and the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, several cases of alleged corruption, violation of human rights and lack of electoral guarantees for the presidential election that is scheduled for May 20. The President of the National Assembly (AN), Omar Barboza, emphasized that he does not have any other option that suspend his trip to Europe.

     The president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, who would have been also present at the meeting, be present, the Venezuelan delegation was ready to present several cases of alleged corruption, violation of human rights and lack of electoral guarantees in the May 20 elections. Barbosa explained that next Tuesday, the plenary of the AN will evaluate a proposal on the appointment of a commission that will be integrated by the heads of the parliamentary fractions, to discuss a report that will serve as a base on a possible decision on whether to begin a preliminary trial against President Nicolás Maduro, as it has been requested by the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) in exile.

    "It will be a very sensitive issue for our country, and therefore, together with the delegation that had already been selected, we will not be able to leave Venezuela during the scheduled," says a communication sent directed by Barboza to Mogherini, as publized by the AN. Mogherini on Wednesday urged President Nicolás Maduro to "seriously commit himself" to work for reliable elections on May 20 according to the Venezuelan Constitution, meet the demands of the opposition and international standards.

FORMER FARC LEADER ARRESTED IN COLOMBIA ON U.S. DRUG WARRANT

     BOGOTA, COLOMBIA     -- Colombian authorities have arrested a former peace negotiator for the rebel group FARC on a warrant seeking his extradition to the U.S. on cocaine smuggling charges. The former rebel commander and top peace negotiator known as Jesus Santrich is accused of conspiring to smuggle $15 million worth of cocaine into the U.S. Seuxis Hernandez, also known by the alias Jesus Santrich, was taken into custody at his residence in the capital, Bogota, on an arrest warrant issued by the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York charging him with conspiracy to smuggle $15 million worth of cocaine into the U.S., according to an Interpol notice quoted by The Associated Press.

     Colombia's government signed a peace treaty with FARC in 2016 and the rebel group subsequently disarmed and formed a political party. As part of the peace deal, the FARC party was given 10 seats in Congress until 2026. Santrich, who is blind, was set to take one of those seats in July. "This is the worst moment that the peace process has gone through," the former rebel leader and chief peace negotiator known as Ivan Marquez said, according to the AP. "The government has to act to prevent judicial set-ups like these from spinning out of control and generating a great deal of mistrust among all of the guerrillas."

     The AP writes: "According to an Interpol notice, Santrich met with cocaine buyers at his residence on Nov. 2, 2017, a day after one of his co-conspirators delivered a 5-kilogram sample of the narcotic to them at a hotel lobby in Bogota. During the meeting and subsequent negotiations, he and his co-conspirators allegedly discussed plans for a 10-ton drug shipment to the U.S., boasting they had access to cocaine laboratories and U.S.-registered planes to produce and move the drugs inside Colombia, the world's largest producer of the illegal narcotic." Santos said his "hand won't shake" in signing off on the extradition.

April  15, 2018

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP CALLS ON LATIN AMERICA, CARIBBEAN 'TO DO MORE' ABOUT THE VENEZUELAN CRISIS

       WASHINGTON, D.C. --   The Trump administration challenged partners in Latin America and the Caribbean to do more to address the economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela during this weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru. Vice President Mike Pence delivered the message on behalf of President Donald Trump during his speech Saturday before more than 30 heads of state. The Trump administration says the message is part of the U.S. government’s vision moving forward as it deals with the crisis in Venezuela.

     Pence gave a taste Friday of that message when he met with Venezuelan opposition leaders to announce $16 million in additional humanitarian aid and promised that the United States would push for additional sanctions against the regime of Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro. “Under President Donald Trump, we want one message to be clear: We are with the people of Venezuela,” Pence said. “We oppose the tyranny, the repression, the dictatorship, the corruption. But we are with the people of Venezuela, and we'll continue to do everything in our power to provide sustenance and support to those who have fled this tyranny.”

     Trump has taken a very aggressive posture toward Venezuela, leading efforts around the world to isolate the Maduro regime that has allowed the once-mighty oil rich nation to deteriorate to life-threatening levels. The Trump administration has slapped more than 20 sanctions against Venezuelan officials and restricted U.S. investment and financial transactions, including those involving Venezuela’s new digital currency. The United States has also galvanized the Europeans, Canadians, Panamanians and other members of the hemisphere to denounce Caracas and issue their own measures, including freezing Venezuelan leaders’ assets or warning banks against dealing with Maduro and his officials.

RUSSIA FAILS IN UN BID TO CONDEMN US-LED STRIKES ON SYRIA

      UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK   --    A Russian bid for the United Nations Security Council to condemn U.S., British and French air strikes on Syria over a suspected chemical weapons attack failed on Saturday after only China and Bolivia joined Russia to vote in favor of a draft resolution. The 15-member council met on Saturday, at Russia's request, the fifth time it has met on Syria since a suspected deadly poison gas attack in the Syrian town of Douma a week ago. The United States, France and Britain fired 105 missiles overnight in retaliation, targeting Syria's chemical weapons program.

    "Why didn't you wait for the outcome of the investigation you called for?" Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said after the vote. He accused the United States, France and Britain of "demonstrating a blatant disregard for international law." International investigators from the global chemical weapons watchdog are in Syria and were due to start their inquiry on Saturday into the suspected toxic gas attack. Russia and Syria have said there was no evidence of a chemical weapons attack. The United States, France and Britain defended their military action as legal during the Security Council meeting.

    "We are confident that we have crippled Syria's chemical weapons program. We are prepared to sustain this pressure, if the Syrian regime is foolish enough to test our will," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said. "If the Syrian regime uses this poison gas again, the United States is locked and loaded," Haley said. During an address to the Security Council, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all states "to show restraint in these dangerous circumstances and to avoid any acts that could escalate matters and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people."

THE US ASKS LATIN AMERICA NOT TO RECOGNIZE THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS IN VENEZUELA ON MAY 20

     LIMA, PERU    -- The new US ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Carlos Trujillo, recalled on Friday that his country does not recognize the elections convened in Venezuela next May and called on Latin American countries to adopt that same position, EFE reported. "It's a lie that they are democratic elections," Trujillo told the media on his arrival at the press center of the 8th Summit of the Americas that began yesterday and in which the US is represented by its vice president, Mike Pence, after President Donald Trump's last minute decision not to attend.

    Trujillo, a Cuban-American, origin who was confirmed for his post last March, insisted that one can not speak of democratic elections "without candidates" and without the presence of international observers, and stressed that "the Venezuelan people have to decide who their next president will be." The Government of Nicolás Maduro and the elections are not recognized by the US and "neither should they be recognized by Latin America," he snapped. He also indicated that the US delegation in Lima has held meetings with members of the Venezuelan opposition and noted the violations of human rights that are taking place in that country, of which he blamed not only Maduro, but "other people of the regime" that "they must be brought to justice."

    "We hope that Latin American countries impose individual sanctions and not only against Maduro, but against other people of his regime who violate human rights," he added. Regarding the recently announced shipment of US humanitarian aid to Venezuela, he ruled out that it is an attempt to "invade" the South American country and recalled that it is expected that this aid will be delivered by Red Cross doctors and religious organizations. "We are not going to hand over the aid to Maduro's government because he's going to steal it, he's a tyrant," the senior official said. For the US it is "unacceptable" that the Venezuelan authorities want to administer the aid, which in Trujillo's opinion must be managed by the Red Cross, the OAS and the United Nations to assure that it geso "directly to the people.

April  14, 2018

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP ORDERS STRIKES ON SYRIA IN RETALIATION FOR ASSAD'S CHEMICAL ATTACKS

       WASHINGTON, D.C. --   The United States, France and the United Kingdom on Friday conducted a wave of coordinated airstrikes in Syria in response to a deadly chemical weapon attack Saturday in the town of Douma. President Donald Trump announced the operation in a Friday night address from the White House and said that the military campaign hit targets associated with the chemical weapon capabilities of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. “The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons. We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” Trump said.

    “The fact of this attack should surprise no-one,” British Prime Minister Theresa May added in a statement. “The Syrian Regime has a history of using chemical weapons against its own people in the most cruel and abhorrent way.” “The red line established by France in May 2017 was crossed,” French President Emmanuel Macron said. Syria claimed early Saturday morning that it intercepted “most” of the 110 missiles launched. Assad said the strikes made his regime even more determined to “fight and crush” terrorism. The operation started around 9 p.m. EDT and focused on three targets associated with the Syrian regime’s chemical weapon program, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later confirmed in an evening news conference:

    The U.S. military detected Syrian surface-to-air missile activity in response. There was no indication of U.S. losses in the strikes Friday evening, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis noted. Friday evening’s actions were a response to a chemical weapon attack on the town of Douma, in eastern Ghouta, last Saturday. The attack killed at least 70 people and rebel fighters were forced to relinquish control of the town to forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad shortly after. Trump had called the weekend attack “sick” and “atrocious,” and said Syria and its allies Russia and Iran would “pay a price.”

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: 'NO ALTERNATIVE TO THE USE OF FORCE'

      LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM   --    British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Saturday the British military had joined the United States and France in carrying out an attack on Syria to target its chemical weapons capability. Here is the full text of her statement: "This evening I have authorised British armed forces to conduct co-ordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability and deter their use. "We are acting together with our American and French allies. In Douma, last Saturday, a chemical weapons attack killed up to 75 people, including young children, in circumstances of pure horror. "The fact of this attack should surprise no-one. The Syrian regime has a history of using chemical weapons against its own people in the most cruel and abhorrent way.

     "And a significant body of information including intelligence indicates the Syrian regime is responsible for this latest attack. "This persistent pattern of behaviour must be stopped – not just to protect innocent people in Syria from the horrific deaths and casualties caused by chemical weapons but also because we cannot allow the erosion of the international norm that prevents the use of these weapons. "We have sought to use every possible diplomatic channel to achieve this. "But our efforts have been repeatedly thwarted. Even this week the Russians vetoed a Resolution at the UN Security Council which would have established an independent investigation into the Douma attack.

     "So there is no practicable alternative to the use of force to degrade and deter the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Regime. This is not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change. "It is about a limited and targeted strike that does not further escalate tensions in the region and that does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties. "And while this action is specifically about deterring the Syrian Regime, it will also send a clear signal to anyone elsewho believes they can use chemical weapons with impunity. "At this time, my thoughts are with our brave British servicemen and women – and our French and American partners – who are carrying out their duty with the greatest professionalism. "History teaches us that the international community must defend the global rules and standards that keep us all safe. That is what our country has always done. And what we will continue to do."

FRANCE PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON TAKES HARDER LINE ON SYRIA, ASSERTING 'PROOF OF CHEMICAL ATTACK'

      PARIS, FRANCE   -- French President Emmanuel Macron sharpened his stance Thursday on possible intervention in Syria, claiming that France has “proof” of a chemical attack last week and insisting that regimes must be held accountable for their abuses. Macron’s comments were widely interpreted as moving France closer to joining the United States in a possible military strike despite critics’ worries about a reprise of France’s participation in a 2011 NATO intervention in Libya, which helped bring down ruler Moammar Gaddafi but left Libya in deep chaos. Macron’s tough statement contrasted with remarks by major European partners — as well as his own assessment four months ago.

     German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that her country would not join a military operation in Syria. Meanwhile, Britain has called for international chemical detection teams to visit the site of Saturday’s attack, the former rebel stronghold of Douma east of Damascus. In December, Macron urged dialogue with the Syrian president. “We have to talk to everybody. We have to talk to Bashar al-Assad and his representatives,” he said then in a television interview. “Afterward, he must answer for his crimes before his people, before international justice.” “We have the proof that chemical weapons — at least chlorine gas — were used by Assad’s regime,” Macron said on France’s TF1 network as he made the case for holding the regime accountable.

     Macron gave no details on France’s analysis of the attack. In Washington, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the United States did not have complete information about what occurred in Syria. “I cannot tell you that we have evidence, although we certainly have a lot of media or social media indicators that either chlorine or sarin were used,” he told the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday. Mattis said he hoped that experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons would soon be granted access to Douma, but he noted that any possible inspection would not be able to establish who was responsible for the incident.

April  13, 2018

W.H.O.: 500 PEOPLE EXPOSED TO CHEMICAL TOXINS IN ATTACK ON SYRIA'S DOUMA

       GENEVA, SWITZERLAND     -The World Health Organization corroborated on Wednesday earlier estimated made by local experts that some 500 people had suffered symptoms of exposure to chemical toxins during a recent attack on an opposition-controlled city near the Syrian capital that killed 70 people. In a statement, the WHO said its medical partners in Douma, Eastern Ghouta, recorded around 500 cases of patients being treated for symptoms consistent with exposure to chemical toxins in the aftermath of Saturday’s attack.

    “In particular, there were signs of severe irritation of mucous membranes, respiratory failure and disruption to central nervous systems of those exposed,” the statement said. “More than 70 people sheltering in basements have reportedly died, with 43 of those deaths related to symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals,” the statement added. “Two health facilities were also reportedly affected by these attacks.” Peter Salama, WHO Deputy Director-General for Emergency Preparedness and Response said the events in Douma should be met with universal outrage.

    “WHO demands immediate unhindered access to the area to provide care to those affected, to assess the health impacts, and to deliver a comprehensive public health response,” he said. Douma is a rebel-held city outside Damascus that has become increasingly encircled by forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad, whose is backed by Russia, Iran and sympathetic regional militias. Both Russia and Syria have vehemently denied responsibility for the alleged chemical attack. Moscow vetoed a United States-proposed resolution at the United Nations for an independent investigation into the Douma attack, but earlier invited the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to begin an inquiry in the region.

SECRETARY MATTIS: STILL NO EVIDENCE ON SYRIA CHEMICAL ATTACK, BUT I BELIEVE THERE WAS ONE

      WASHINGTON, D.C.    --   US Secretary of Defense James Mattis waits to testify to the House Armed Services Committee on "The FY2019 National Defense Authorization Budget Request from the Department of Defense" on Capitol Hill in Washington. US Secretary of Defense James Mattis reiterated that the Pentagon still has no independent evidence to confirm that there was a chemical weapons attack in Syria last week, but said he personally believes there was one. “I believe there was a chemical attack. We are looking for the actual evidence,” the secretary told lawmakers on Thursday.

    He added that the fact-finding mission by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) may arrive at the site of the alleged attack in the town of Douma “within a week,” but stressed that the inspectors’ mandate would be limited to establishing whether chemical weapons were used at the location or not. He accused Russia and Syria of obstructing the probe, despite Syria inviting the OPCW inspectors there in the first place. “As each day goes by – you know it’s an impersistent gas – it becomes more and more difficult to confirm it,” he said. Douma at the time of the alleged attack was the under control of the Islamist group Army of Islam, and was only this week captured by the Syrian government forces.

    The security there remains fragile, as evidenced by a surprise militant attack, in which three Russian journalists were injured on Wednesday. The OPCW is understandably reluctant to send its people to unsafe areas, and never conducted an on the ground investigation at the site of last year’s alleged chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun due to safety concerns. Mattis said the US may use military action again, as it did after the last year’s incident, but has to consider the wider picture in its reaction. “We are trying to stop the murder of innocent people. But on a strategic level it is how do we keep this from escalating out of control, if you get my drift on that,” he explained.

 FReNCH PRESIDENT MACRON: WE HAVE PROOF Syria used chemical weapons

      paris, france  -- French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday that there is evidence that the Syrian regime of Bashar Al Assad used chemical weapons "We have proof that... chemical weapons were used, at least chlorine, and that they were used by the regime of Bashar Al Assad," Macron said during an interview on France's TF1 television on Thursday. Macron said he would respond "at a time of our choosing, when we judge it to be the most useful and the most effective." He indicated the response would come once all of the necessary information had been gathered and verifications carried out. Mr Macron did not supply the source of his information.

    "France will not allow any escalation that could harm stability in the region… regimes that think they can do everything they want, including the worst things that violate international law, cannot be allowed to act," Mr Macron said. France is poised to join punitive strikes on Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons. The president set a "red line" on the use of such weapons last May. US President Donald Trump is still weighing options for military action against Syria. Pentagon chief Jim Mattis and Mr Trump’s national security team met on Wednesday after the president warned Russia to expect a missile strike on Syria, tweeting missiles "will be coming." Mr Trump rowed back on that threat on Thursday, however, tweeting "Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!"

    Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our “Thank you America?” British Prime Minister Theresa May summoned her Cabinet back from vacation to discuss military action against Syria. Mrs May has indicated she wants Britain to join in any US-led strikes as the use of chemical weapons "cannot go unchallenged." Ministers are expected to back Mrs May's call to join military action but some opposition politicians and Tories want the prime minister to allow MPs to vote on the plan before proceeding. European Council on Foreign Relations senior policy fellow Julien Barnes-Dacey said it was difficult to see how the west could produce a wider strategy for Syria that allows for meaningful impact and limits escalation.

April  12, 2018

MISSILES 'WILL BE COMING' TO SYRIA, PRESIDENT TRUMP WARNS RUSSIA

       Washington, d.c.     -- U.S. President Donald Trump warned Russia on Wednesday of imminent military action in Syria over a suspected poison gas attack, declaring that missiles “will be coming” and lambasting Moscow for standing by Syrian President Bashar al-Assa Trump was reacting to a warning from Russia on Tuesday that any U.S. missiles fired at Syria over the deadly assault on a rebel enclave would be shot down and the launch sites targeted. “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’,” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter. “You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!” Trump tweeted, referring to Moscow’s alliance with Assad.

     In response, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a Facebook post that “smart missiles should fly towards terrorists, not towards the lawful government”. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said any U.S. missile strike could be an attempt to destroy evidence of the reported gas attack in the Syrian town of Douma, for which Damascus and Moscow have denied any responsibility. In Damascus, the foreign ministry accused the United States, which has supported some rebel groups in the Syrian civil war, of using “fabrications and lies” as an excuse to hit its territory. “We are not surprised by such a thoughtless escalation by a regime like the United States regime, which sponsored terrorism in Syria and still does,” the state news agency SANA cited an official source in the ministry as saying.

     After the Douma attack, the insurgent group dug in there - Jaish al-Islam - finally agreed to withdraw. That sealed a major victory for Assad in the war, crushing a protracted rebellion in the eastern Ghouta region near the capital Damascus. White House officials did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for more detail about Trump’s remarks. The U.S. Defense Department said it “does not comment on potential future military actions”. Trump’s decision to disclose his decision to strike as well as the kind of weaponry to be used in a future military operation is likely to frustrate military planners, who hold such information closely. He had repeatedly said he would not telegraph military moves toward foes, including North Korea and Islamic State.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO TO TRAVEL WITH VICE PRESIDENT PENCE TO THE SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS IN PERU

      WASHINGTON, D.C.    --   President Donald Trump on Tuesday dropped out of a planned trip to South America, but in his absence, Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) will be taking a larger role at the 8th Summit of the Americas in Peru. The White House announced early Tuesday morning that Trump would no longer be going to Latin America this week so he could remain in the U.S. to oversee the "American response to Syria and to monitor developments around the world." Rubio will also be traveling to the summit, according to the Miami Herald. While Rubio had already intended to make the trip to Peru before the White House announcement, his role will be elevated to help Pence, who does not have as much experience dealing with the area.

     Rubio has dedicated his Senate career to the subject, so he can tell world leaders of the continued U.S. interest and commitment to Latin America. But as a single member of the U.S. Senate, Rubio’s influence has its limits. Rubio is expected to discuss with Pence the importance of U.S. leadership and commitment to working with regional and international partners to provide more humanitarian aid through nongovernmental organizations to the suffering Venezuelan people. On Cuba, he’ll urge the administration to increase efforts to support the country’s movement on democracy and human rights, and stress the importance of meeting and engaging with Cuba’s pro-democracy civil society.

     Rubio downplayed his role at the summit compared to Pence's, and he said policies related to Venezuela will take precedence at the event. "It’s to obviously focus on the Venezuela situation, but also on some of the issues that other nations in the region are ready to work together and confront," Rubio said. Rubio also estimates that economic engagement will be an important issue at the summit. "The more economic engagement we have with these countries going both ways is mutually beneficial, the easier it will be to get policy makers in the United States to care about the Western Hemisphere because they’ll have economic constituencies in the United States who care about the future of the region," Rubio said.

 VENEZUELA'S OIL INDUSTRY TEETERS ON A PRECIPICE

      WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- The Trump administration is threatening to embargo Venezuelan oil, a potentially ruinous blow to the Saudi Arabia of South America. But here in the home of the world’s largest crude reserves, Venezuela is killing its largest industry all on its own. Speculators once joked that all it took to strike oil on the vast plains of eastern Venezuela was a guy with a shovel. But these days, the socialist government cannot seem to make the industry work. This vast extraction site near the eastern town of Punta de Mata, which once churned out 400,000 barrels of oil a day, is now a tableau of hungry, idle workers and broken rigs.

     The site about 180 miles east of Caracas has been partly paralyzed since last summer. Of its 30 drills, only six work, in large part because of a lack of maintenance and spare parts. With time on their hands, many oil workers are functioning as security guards. And with good reason. In decline for the better part of 15 years, Venezuela’s oil industry has entered a free fall in recent months, contributing to the nation’s economic and social chaos. The crude-heavy countryside is now a lawless, bandit-ridden land.

    Three hours south of this industrial town, a gang of thieves recently raided another drilling site run by PDVSA, the state-owned oil giant. They tied up work crews and stole their cellphones before swiping air conditioners and kitchen appliances from company trailers. “PDVSA is in ruins,” said Luis Centeno, a rig operator and union leader at the Punta de Mata site. He lazed in the morning sun near a pack of skeletal dogs and a broken rig lying on its side. “It’s dying.” In Venezuela, corruption, a lack of investment and a flight of expertise in the all-important oil sector have finally come to a head. The sharp fall in output here, experts say, is exacerbating the global rise in oil prices, which has meant hikes at gas pumps in the United States and elsewhere. In Venezuela, chronic production problems have forced the government to start importing gasoline.

April  11, 2018

CITING DEVELOPMENTS IN SYRIA, TRUMP CANCELS TRIP TO SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS IN PERU

       Washington, d.c.     - President Trump has canceled a planned trip to the Summit of the Americas in Peru, the White House announced Tuesday, citing a need to remain in the United States to monitor the U.S. response to a suspected chemical attack in Syria. Vice President Pence will travel to the gathering instead, according to a statement by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “The President will remain in the United States to oversee the American response to Syria and to monitor developments around the world,” Sanders said Tuesday.

     The three-day trip, set to begin Friday, would have been Trump’s first visit to Latin America since taking office. After traveling to Peru for the gathering of Western hemisphere heads of state, Trump planned to go to Colombia to meet with President Juan Manuel Santos. Trump vowed Monday that the United States would take swift action in retaliation for the suspected chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria, which has been blamed for the deaths of at least 49 people in the opposition-held town of Douma, outside the Syrian capital Damascus.

    “It was an atrocious attack. It was horrible,” Trump said at the start of a Cabinet meeting that was one of several White House gatherings Monday where possible military action was discussed. Options include the sort of largely symbolic airstrike Trump ordered a year ago in response to a similar chemical attack blamed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, or a wider and riskier assault. Trump oversaw that response from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla. In addition to managing the potential U.S. response to last weekend’s attack in Syria, Trump has been monitoring what he fears may be a migrant crisis at the U.S. border with Mexico. The cancellation of Trump’s trip took some aides by surprise.

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE WILL TRAVEL TO LIMA, BUT NOT BOGOTA

      WASHINGTON, D.C.    --   U.S. President Donald Trump, who has disparaged Latin American countries over immigration, narcotics and trade, heads to the region this week for a summit that diplomats say is likely to be awkward and tense.Trump will arrive in the Peruvian capital, Lima, on Friday for the Summit of the Americas with an agenda of encouraging commercial ties and urging allies to take a hard line on Venezuela, according to U.S. officials who briefed reporters on the trip.

     But the U.S. president’s divisive rhetoric and fraught relationships with leaders such as Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto make it unlikely he will make big strides toward his goals, experts said. “He is going in profoundly unpopular in the region, and that obviously complicates the ability of leaders to work with him,” said Mark Feierstein, who managed hemispheric issues for President Barack Obama’s White House, and is now an adviser with the Albright Stonebridge Group. The visit is stirring nostalgia for Obama, the Republican president’s Democratic predecessor, a Peruvian diplomat said. The diplomat added, however: “Nobody has lost any sleep over Trump,” saying: “We all know how to smile and nod along, so we’re not too worried.”

     Trump has complained about U.S. job losses to Mexico, threatened to rip up the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada and began his presidential bid with a speech describing Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and drug dealers. Trump has also taken aim at migration from Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and other Latin American countries and threatened to cut off aid to Colombia and Peru over the drug trade. As he prepares for his trip, which includes a stop in Colombia after the summit, Trump has ramped up his rhetoric on illegal immigration with a plan to send National Guard troops to the U.S. border with Mexico.

FORMER GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS CLOSE TO THE LATE HUGO CHAVEZ ARRESTED IN SPAIN, VENEZUELA SAYS

       Madrid, Spain  -- The former chief of security at the Presidential Palace, Adrián Velásquez, and his wife Claudia Díaz, the nation’s ex-Treasurer, featured in the Panama Papers scandal involving the law firm Mossack Fonseca. They are suspected of embezzling public funds and stashing money in tax havens. Two former Venezuelan officials, Claudia Diaz Guillen and Adrián Velásquez, who were named in thePanama Papers financial corruption scandal have been arrested in Spain, the Venezuelan government announced late Monday.

     The pair served in the government of the late president Hugo Chávez and were linked to an allegedembezzlement and money laundering scheme exposed by Univision Noticias as part of the Panama Papers investigation coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Venezuela's Attorney general Tarek William Saab, made the announcement on his Twitter acount. Velásquez was Chávez head of security and his wife, Díaz Guillén, his wife, was his nurse before being named the country's Treasurer and also led the National Fund for National Development (FONDEN). It was shown that they opened accounts in Swiss banks and tax havens and moved from Venezuela.

    After the Panama papers revelation, Venezuelan officials raided their home in Caracas as well as other properties and arrested some of their relatives. In another tweet, the prosecutor explained that "innumerable" financial transactions had raised suspicions of illicit enrichment that required them to explain their actions to Venezuelan officials. "We ask Spain for the immediate delivery of both citizens so that they are finally prosecuted in our country according to our current legislation," he added. Spanish officials have not responded to a request from Univision for confirmation of the arrests.

April  10, 2018

"THROW THAT GARBAGE OUT THE WINDOW," THE SCANDALOUS AUDIO OF THE PLANE THAT MOVED LULA DA SILVA TO PRISON

       SAO PAULO, BRAZIL    --A few hours after the arrest of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, on Saturday night in Brazil, an audio came from the plane that moved the PT from San Pablo to Curitiba. In the widespread conversation, one of the voices refers to the transfer of the Brazilian leader: "We are going to do only what is necessary," he says. "I respect that but throw that garbage out the window down," replies another of the voices on the radio of the aircraft. Moments later, a woman's voice informs her the conversation is being recorded and asks them please to keep cordiality since this could be used against her.

     The Brazilian Air Force confirmed that it is a communication from an aircraft of its fleet although they have not yet informed whether it was the pilot or the operators. "Take it and do not bring it anymore" is another of the controversial audios that this Sunday spread the R7 portal in Brazil and that was replicated by other means. However, the FAB assured that the frequencies for aeronautical communications are "open" and, as they were used in an "inappropriate mode by some users" that did not identify themselves, they have no way of knowing who was responsible.

    "We can affirm that the references to the former president were not issued by flight controllers," the FAB merely said. The institution corroborated that the two audios, in which two different men are heard addressing the pilot, occurred on the frequencies of the Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo, from where the former president took off in a Federal Police plane, and in Curitiba , where he is now imprisoned. Lula, the favorite to win the October elections and a figure that deeply divides Brazil, began serving his sentence to 12 years and one month in prison for corruption, by order of Judge Sergio Moro of Curitiba, the so-called capital of the Lava Jato operation.

SYRIA, RUSSIA SAY ISRAEL STRUCK A CENTRAL SYRIAN AIR BASE

      MOSCOW, RUSSIA   --   Syria and Russia say two Israeli war planes operating in Lebanese air space carried out an attack early Monday on an air base in central Syria. Israel's military did not comment on the strikes against the T4 base in Homs province. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 14 people were killed, including Iranian forces. In February, Israel accused Iranian forces of using the same site to send a drone to Israeli territory. It responded by attacking Syrian air defense and Iranian military targets within Syria, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to "continue to harm anyone who tries to harm us."

    Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow, Russia, March 9, 2017. Initial Syrian state media reports Monday blamed the United States, which along with France denied responsibility. "However, we continue to closely watch the situation and support the ongoing diplomatic efforts to hold those who use chemical weapons, in Syria and otherwise, accountable," Pentagon spokesman Christopher Sherwood said in a statement. Syria has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons throughout the conflict that began in 2011, including the most recent suspected chemical attack Saturday in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus that killed at least 40 people.

    Late Sunday, the White House said President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron strongly condemned chemical attacks in Syria and agreed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government "must be held accountable for its continued human rights abuses." "They agreed to exchange information on the nature of the attacks and coordinate a strong, joint response," the White House said about a phone call between the two leaders. Macron's office added that the two sides "exchanged information and analysis confirming the use of chemical weapons."

PRESIDENT TRUMP BLAMES PUTIN, IRAN FOR SYTIRAN CHEMICAL ATTACK VOWING 'BIG PRICE TO PAY'

       WASHINGTON, D.C.  -- U.S. President Donald Trump blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran on Sunday for a "mindless chemical attack" in Syria that killed at least 40 people, vowing there would be a "big price to pay." In a rare direct condemnation of the Russian leader, Trump declared, "President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible" for their support of "Animal Assad," Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. "Big price to pay," Trump said in one of a string of Twitter comments.

     "Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!" This photo released by the Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows smoke rising after Syrian government airstrikes hit in the town of Douma, in the eastern Ghouta region, east of Damascus, Syria, Saturday, April. 7, 2018. Trump did not say how the U.S. might respond. But Homeland Security and counterterrorism adviser Thomas Bossert told ABC News,

     “I wouldn’t take anything off the table,” leaving open the possibility of a new missile strike like the one Trump ordered a year ago after another Syrian chemical weapons attack. The United Nations Security Council will meet Monday about the alleged attack, after nine countries demanded an urgent session. The European Union said "evidence points toward yet another chemical attack" by the Syrian regime. Trump described the area where the "atrocity" occurred in Douma near the Syrian capital, Damascus, as "in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world."

April  9, 2018

PRESIDENT TRUMP TWEETS CONDEMNATION OF SYRIA CHEMICAL ATTACK, SAYING VALDIMIR PUTIN SHARES THE BLAME

      WASHINGTON, d.c.  The likelihood of a military strike against Syria after a suspected chemical weapons attack increased Sunday as President Trump said there would be a “big price to pay” and officials in France vowed the country would “do its duty” in responding. France called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council Monday to discuss the weekend attack, and eight other nations joined in the request, including the United States and Britain.

    In reference to a warning by President Emmanuel Macron last month that France would strike unilaterally if Syria used chemical weapons again, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Sunday the nation would assume its responsibilities. Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) suggested Trump change his mind about withdrawing troops from Syria, place more sanctions on Russia and consider targeted attacks on Syrian facilities, similar to one he ordered a year ago after a chemical attack on civilians.

    Even before the lawmakers spoke, Trump himself hinted that a military strike may be at hand if the use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces is verified. As grisly images emerged, showing bodies of babies in basements and bloodied survivors at hospitals in Eastern Ghouta, Trump made a rare direct criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said Putin shared blame for the deaths through Russia’s support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay,” Trump said in back-to-back tweets. “Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever.

US CONGRESSMAN PAUL COOK: U.S. SHOULD CRACK DOWN HARDER ON CUBA

      WASHINGTON, D.C.   --The Obama administration’s unwarranted concessions to the Castro regime failed to bring about democratic change. Cuba remains a Communist dictatorship that violates the rights of its people regularly. Unfortunately, this month’s power succession is unlikely to change much. The new president will be selected without input from the Cuban people who only rubber stamped the Community Party list for the National Assembly last month. That is not democracy.

     The United States must support a democratic Cuba, because free people build stronger, more stable nations. Moreover, we have serious national-security concerns with the Cuban regime’s actions in the region. Today, as in 1959, Cuba is the primary sponsor of authoritarianism and anti-American sentiment in Latin America and the Caribbean. Nowhere is this negative influence clearer than in Venezuela where Cuban intelligence and military services violently suppress dissent and undermine democratic institutions. Cuban influence is also evident in Bolivia and Nicaragua where autocratic governments sympathetic to the Cuban and Venezuelan dictatorships are entrenching themselves against the will of their citizens.

    The Cuban threat is not limited to influence operations in the region. In 2013, the Cuban regime attempted to smuggle weapons to North Korea. In 2015, Cuba reportedly had paramilitary and military special forces units in Syria, and in 2016, news reports surfaced that Russia was expanding its presence in Cuba and seeking to reopen a military base. Most recently, we learned that 24 U.S. diplomats suffered attacks in Havana that resulted in serious health repercussions. We should further restore the Cuban Medical Parole Program, prioritize justice for the thousands of U.S. victims with property claims against the Cuban regime, and do more to address the illicit ties between Cuba, China, Iran, North Korea and Russia.

VENEZUELA HAS LOST 75% OF SEATS ON INTERNATIONAL ROUTES

       Caracas,  venezuela  -- The director of the Venezuelan Association of Tourism Representatives and Wholesale Companies (Avemarep), Julio Arnaldes, indicated that with the suspension of Copa Airlines, the frequency of flights is reduced since the airline covered 37% of the market. Losses in the airline sector in terms of the proportion of seats in the domestic market, amounts to 75% with the suspension of Copa Airlines, which adds to the airlines that ceased their operations in the country.

     This was stated by the director of the Venezuelan Association of Wholesale and Tourism Representation Companies (Avemarep), Julio Arnaldes, who explained that the Venezuelan market has a total of 1,200,000 annual seats in Latin America and the US. Of this figure, the availability of Copa represented 255 thousand seats per year, that translates into 21% "this is almost a quarter of the seats that Venezuela had at the international level, that percentage from one day to the next has disappeared".

     In the region that corresponds to Central America and the countries of South America (not including Brazil), "the figure goes up much more, (the country) had the availability of 718,000 seats and we return to the same number, these were supplied by Copa , (255 thousand) that represents 36% lost "quantified Arnaldes. He expressed that "they are worrisome numbers. In the region there were 5,100 frequencies (flights) and of this figure Copa covered about 2,000 flights, that translates into 37%, "he said. In this sense, it can be deduced that the loss of frequencies shows rupture of connections of destinies of the country abroad. According to estimates from the sector, 17 international airlines have stopped operating in Venezuelan territory.

April  8, 2018

US APPLAUDS PANAMA'S ACTIONS AGAINST VENEZUELA'S DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO REGIME

      WASHINGTON, d.c.  -The United States says it welcomes the measures taken by Panama to expose and block Venezuelan money laundering, as the government of President Nicolas Maduro has intensified its attempts to circumvent international sanctions.

     The White House press secretary said in a statement that the U.S. urged “the international community to follow Panama’s example and stand together against the Maduro regime’s corruption and illegitimate rule.” The U.S. State Department also issued a statement saying that it applauded Panama’s March 27 announcement that “it will tighten financial oversight of 55 Venezuelans and 15 Venezuelan entities, and support other efforts in the region to fight the abuse of financial systems by corrupt actors.”

     The U.S. statements reiterated that Venezuela must restore democracy and end the repression and suffering of the Venezuelan people. Earlier this week, Venezuela responded to Panama’s measures by halting commercial relations with Panamanian officials and companies, including regional airline Copa, and raising counter-allegations of Panamanian involvement in money laundering activities. The suspensions prompted a diplomatic crisis, with both countries recalling their respective ambassadors.

BRAZIL'S LULA DA SILVA IN POLICE CUSTODY AFTER TENSE SHOWDOWN

      SAO BERNARDO DO CAMPO, BRAZIL   --Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was taken into police custody Saturday after a tense showdown with his own supporters, the capstone of an intense three days that underscored raw emotions over the incarceration of a once wildly popular leader who has been engulfed by corruption allegations. Just hours earlier, da Silva told thousands of supporters that he would turn himself in to police, but also maintained his innocence and argued his corruption conviction was simply a way for enemies to make sure he doesn’t run — and possibly win — re-election in October.

     When he first tried to leave to turn himself in, however, dozens of supporters blocked a gate where a car carrying da Silva was trying to exit. “Surround, surround (the building) and don’t let them arrest him,” chanted supporters. After a few minutes of tense words between guards and supporters, the former president got out of the car and entered the metal workers union headquarters where he had been holed up. Police vehicles surrounded the union that was the birthplace of da Silva’s rise to power, raising the fears of clashes. Da Silva emerged a second time shortly after nightfall, this time surrounded by bodyguards who pushed back scores of supporters who tried to stop his advance.

     The dramatic scene was the latest development in a whirlwind series of days, which began when the Supreme Federal Tribunal, the country’s top court, ruled against his petition on Thursday to remain free while he continued to appeal his conviction. Judge Sergio Moro, who oversees many of the so-called “Car Wash” cases, then ordered an arrest warrant for da Silva, giving him until 5 p.m. Friday to present himself to police in Curitiba, about 260 miles (417 kilometers) southwest of Sao Bernardo do Campo, and begin serving his 12-year sentence. His jailing marks a colossal fall from grace for a man who rose from poverty to power against steep odds in one of the world’s most unequal countries.

US SENATOR MEETS WITH VENEZUELAN DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO, JAILED UTAH MAN

       Caracas, venezuela  -- An influential U.S. senator pressed for fair elections and the release of a jailed American during his private meeting with Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro, the senator said Saturday before departing the turbulent country. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, told The Associated Press that he urged Maduro to uphold democratic rights ahead of Venezuela’s upcoming presidential election, but doubts any changes will be forthcoming His four-day trip made at Venezuela’s invitation included a visit with Joshua Holt, who has been jailed in Caracas for nearly two years on what the U.S. considers trumped-up weapons charges.

     Durbin, the author of a recent Senate resolution condemning Maduro’s use of food as a “tool of political coercion,” said he took time to walk through parts Caracas, seeing the downtrodden faces of residents struggling to feed themselves. He also talked with doctors not able to get enough medicine to treat patients. “I was heartbroken by what I saw and heard, particularly regarding the collapse of the country’s ability to feed and medically care for its people and children,” he said in an interview Saturday at the conclusion of his trip. The government has yet to comment on what was discussed during Durbin’s visit, or that of another lawmaker, Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, who met with Maduro earlier in the week in a privately-funded trip that wasn’t organized by the State Department.

     But the rare visits came as the Trump administration weighs an embargo on Venezuela’s oil shipments on top of sanctions already imposed on dozens of top officials, including Maduro, for decimating the country’s economy, spurring a humanitarian crisis and straying away from democratic practices. Oil-rich Venezuela is in the throes of a five-year economic and political crisis causing dire shortages of food and medicine, while drawing condemnation from the U.S., as well as many Latin American and European countries. “This isn’t a matter of Yankee imperialism,” said Durbin, the No. 2 Senate democrat. “He was not happy with my conclusion on that.”

April  7, 2018

VENEZUELA CUTS COMMERCIAL TIES WITH PANAMA OFFICIALS AND 46 FIRMS

    CARACAS, VENEZUELA   -- Venezuela said on Thursday it was halting commercial relations with Panamanian officials and companies, including regional airline Copa, for alleged involvement in money laundering, prompting both countries to recall their ambassadors. The resolution names Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela and nearly two dozen Cabinet ministers and top-ranking officials, and says that Panama's financial system had been used by Venezuelan nationals involved in acts of corruption.

     The statement came a week after Panama declared Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and some 50 Venezuelan nationals as "high risk" for laundering money and financing terrorism. Venezuela's civil aviation authority said in a statement that inbound and outbound Copa flights were suspended for 90 days, effective Friday, "as a measure to protect the Venezuelan financial system." Copa, a crucial provider of international flights following a sharp reduction in airline services to crisis-stricken Venezuela, did not respond to a request for comment. Panama announced it was recalling its ambassador to Venezuela and asked that Caracas follow suit, which it did several hours later.

     Panama's Varela, in brief comments to reporters on Thursday, described the Venezuelan announcement as nonsensical. "We have not heard anything about breaking relations but rather about a set of supposed sanctions - it's gibberish," Varela said. Venezuela has been hit with sanctions by Canada, the United States and a number of other countries over issues ranging from human rights violations to corruption and drug trafficking. Maduro says the country is victim of an "economic war" led by his adversaries with the help of Washington, and says the sanctions are part of foreign countries' efforts to undermine his government.

PANAMA PULLS ITS AMBASSADOR FROM VENEZUELA AMID RISING TENSIONS


 
        PANAMA CITY, PANAMA      --
  Panama pulled its ambassador from Venezuela on Thursday, retaliating after the South American nation banned key Panamanian businesses from operating within its borders. Tension between the two countries began escalating in recent days when Panama put President Nicolas Maduro on a list of Venezuelan officials as being at "high risk" for laundering money.

     Venezuela on Thursday announced a temporary ban for a group of Panamanian businesses and leaders. That included President Juan Carlos Varela and Copa, one of the few airlines still operating within Venezuela. ++++In announcing the withdrawal of its envoy, Panama's government described the Venezuelan move as being "a political reaction lacking substance." Panama also asked Venezuela to call home its ambassador from Panama, officials said. The dispute comes as Venezuela is mired in economic and political crisis and finds itself increasingly isolated from the global community.

     The 90-day ban restricts commercial activities within Venezuela by 22 business leaders and 46 companies in Panama. Caracas justified the suspension by saying it adds a "measure of protection of the financial, economic and commercial system." Panama has named 16 Venezuelan companies and 55 individuals suspected of money laundering. The list also includes Venezuela's vice president, socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello and Attorney General Tarek William Saab. The United States has sanctioned Maduro and dozens of top officials, accusing the country of human rights abuses and sliding into a dictatorship. The European Union has also imposed economic and travel sanctions on seven senior Venezuelan officials accused of breaching the rule of law.

VENEZUELA SUSPENDS FLIGHTS BY PANAMA'S COPA AIRLINE FOR THREE MONTHS

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- 
  Venezuela has announced a three-month suspension of flights by Panamanian airline Copa amid a deepening diplomatic row between the two Latin American nations. All Copa flights "to and from the country are suspended as of April 6, 2018, as a measure to protect the Venezuelan financial system," Venezuela's National Civil Aviation Institute (INAC) said on Thursday. Copa, a crucial provider of international flights following a sharp reduction in airline services to crisis-stricken Venezuela, did not respond to a request for comment. Earlier on Thursday officials in Panama said the country was withdrawing its ambassador in Caracas.

      In a statement issued on Thursday evening, Panama said the move was a response to Venezuela's decision to halt commercial relations with a host of Panamanian officials and companies, including Copa and President Juan Carlos Varela, for alleged involvement in money laundering. The resolution names Varela and nearly two dozen Cabinet ministers and top-ranking officials, and says Panama's financial system had been used by Venezuelan nationals involved in acts of corruption. The individuals named in the resolution "present an imminent risk to the (Venezuelan) financial system, the stability of commerce in the country, and the sovereignty and economic independence of the Venezuelan people," Venezuela said.

     The statement came a week after Panama declared Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and some 50 Venezuelan nationals as "high risk" for laundering money and financing terrorism. Varela, in brief comments to reporters on Thursday, described the Venezuelan announcement as nonsensical. "We have not heard anything about breaking relations but rather about a set of supposed sanctions – it's gibberish," he said. Venezuela has been hit with sanctions by Canada, the United States and a number of other countries over issues ranging from human rights violations to corruption and drug trafficking.

April  6, 2018

BRAZIL'S TOP COURT RULES THAT EX-PRESIDENT LULA DA SILVA CAN BE JAILED

    BRASILIA, BRAZIL  --  Brazil'sSupreme Court early on Thursday rejected former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's plea to avoid prison while he appeals a corruption conviction, in a vote that likely ends his political career and deepens divisions in the country. The pivotal vote was cast by Justice Rosa Weber against Lula's request to avoid jail and begin serving his 12-year sentence for accepting bribes. Weber was seen as the only swing vote and her decision sealed Lula's fate. He may be jailed within a week.

     The decision against Lula is a serious blow to the political survival of Brazil's first working-class president whose career from a factory shop floor to high office is sinking in the corruption scandals that have rocked the political establishment and especially his Workers Party, which held power from 2003 until mid-2016. Brazilian society remains deeply divided after Lula's successor, President Dilma Rousseff, was impeached and removed from office amid a corruption scandal and economic crisis.

     Lula's conviction was upheld on a first appeal. Under Brazilian electoral law, a candidate is forbidden from running for elected office for eight years after being found guilty of a crime. Some exemptions have been made in the past, and the ultimate decision in Lula's case would be made by the top electoral court if and when Lula officially files to be a candidate. Lower court judges, the country's top prosecutor and business groups urged the court to abide by its own 2016 ruling that defendants can be jailed if a conviction is upheld on a first appeal, as Lula's was earlier this year.

BRAZIL ARMY COMMANDER 'REPUDIATES IMPUNITY' ON EVE OF LULA RULING

 
        BRasilia, brazil       --
  The commander of Brazil's army ratcheted up tension on the eve of a Supreme Court decision on whether former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva should be allowed to exhaust his appeals process before being sent to jail for a corruption conviction. General Eduardo Villas Boas wrote on his verified Twitter account on Tuesday evening that the army was "attentive to its institutional missions" and that the military, along with "all good citizens, repudiates impunity and respects the Constitution, social peace and democracy." The commander added that "in Brazil's current situation, it is up to the institutions and citizens to ask who is really thinking of the well-being of our country and its future generations and who is only concerned about personal interests."

     Villas Boas did not elaborate. Calls to the army's press office were not answered. Army representatives confirmed to Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paulo that the tweets were written by the general. The comments came as thousands of Brazilians rallied in cities around Brazil to both support and decry Lula, who has said he wants to run for the presidency again in October. He leads polls by a wide margin, but may be barred from running after his bribery conviction was upheld on appeal. The words of Villas Boas were splashed across the websites of Brazil's major news outlets and drew support on Twitter from active army generals, but others bristled, warning of lessons learned from Brazil's 1964-85 military dictatorship.

    Lula's detractors say he was the ringleader of a sprawling political bribery scheme that saw billions of dollars in kickbacks paid to politicians by the executives they appointed at state-run companies in return for lucrative contracts. Supporters of Lula, who faces six separate graft trials in addition to the one in which he was already convicted, say he was wrongly found guilty by a partial judge who wants to block him from regaining the presidency. Lula was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison in his first trial. He has asked the top court to allow him to remain free until his appeals are exhausted, despite a law allowing judges to imprison those found guilty of a crime once the ruling is upheld on appeal. Lula's conviction was upheld in January.

PERU TO DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO: YOU'RE STILL NOT WELCOME AT THE SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS

      LIMA, PERU -- 
  PERU'S new foreign minister said on Tuesday that Venezuelan DICTATOR Nicolas Maduro was still not welcome to attend a regional summit in Lima next week, upholding a decision by Peru's disgraced former president. U.S. President Donald Trump and heads of state from across the Western Hemisphere plan to travel to Peru for the Summit of the Americas, which will celebrate the theme "democratic governance fighting corruption" from April 13-14.

    In his first speech as Peru's foreign minister, Nestor Popolizio said Peru's decision not to invite Maduro to the event reflects the view of a dozen countries that have been pressuring Venezuela to hold free and fair elections. Maduro's refusal to heed calls for democratic reforms "negates even the slightest notion of democracy and represents an insurmountable impediment to taking part in the Summit of the Americas," Popolizio said before a crowd of diplomats and journalists in the foreign ministry.

     "This is a firm decision that is not up for revision," Popolizio said. Maduro has vowed to attend the Summit of the Americas despite Peru's ban, which the center-right government of former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski announced in February. Maduro says Latin America's right-leaning governments are part of a U.S.-led international conspiracy to topple him and take control of Venezuela's oil resources. Kuczynski had been one of Maduro's most outspoken critics, calling him a "dictator" and demanding he step down. But Kuczynski resigned after a scandal last month and was replaced by his vice president, Martin Vizcarra. Vizcarra declined to weigh in on Maduro and the summit last week, saying he would leave it up to the foreign ministry.

April  5, 2018

PERUVIAN CONGRESS CLEARS 500-STRONG PRESIDENT TRUMP SECURITY DETAIL FOR SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS

LIMA, PERU  --  Peru's Congress has authorized the entry of more than 500 US military personnel as security for President Donald Trump who will attend next week's Summit of the Americas in Lima. The body voted in a late night session Tuesday by 80 votes to 17 to authorize the arrival of the security personnel as well as two helicopters.

    "The military corps is made up of 114 troops and 454 members of the Air Force, who will enter with military equipment, weapons and two helicopters and will remain for 18 days," the legislature said in a statement. Deputies of the minority leftist Frente Amplio party voted against the measure, saying that the security provided by Peru's armed forces would be "sufficient." Trump's visit is the first of his presidency to South America and will also include a two-day visit to Colombia. The summit, which is to include heads of state and government from the Western Hemisphere, takes place April 13-14.

    Representatives of the minority left-wing Frente Amplio party voted against, stating that the Peruvian armed forces "are sufficient." Peru, which opens new president with Martin Vizcarra after the resignation of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, has not yet reported how many leaders will attend the Summit of the Americas, after the controversy that caused the decision of Lima to exclude from the event the president of Venezuela, Nicolás Mature. The new Peruvian chancellor, Néstor Popolizio, reiterated on Tuesday that Maduro was left out for "preventing free and fair elections (in Venezuela), which have legitimacy and credibility."

FRENCH PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON RILES VENEZUELA WITH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CRITICISM

 
   PARIS, FRANCE      --
  Venezuela's government on Wedneday hit back at French President Emmanuel Macron after he claimed its presidential election in May would not be free and fair. Macron made the claim after meeting Venezuelan opposition leaders on Tuesday "President @EmmanuelMacron, on 20 May millions of Venezuelans will democratically elect the president with the most secure and democratic system in the world," Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Azzeara tweeted. "We demand respect for Venezuela's internal affairs."

     In further tweets, he accused Macron of being "subordinated to warmongering schemes of @realDonaldTrump" and exploiting Venezuelan politics to deflect attention from his problems in France, posting reports of the current rail strike to underline his point. After meeting Venezuelan opposition leaders in Paris on Tuesday, Macron threatened to push for new European sanctions against President Nicolas Maduro's government "if the Venezuelan authorities do not allow democratic elections". Present conditions do not make a "fair, free and transparent poll" possible, he said.

    The former speaker of Venezuela's National Assembly, Julio Borges, former Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma and Antonio Ledezma of the People's Will party started a European tour with a visit to France's Elysée presidential palace on Tuesday. They called on the "international community" to refuse to recognise the results of the 20 May vote, which they are boycotting on the grounds that they will be "rigged" with the aim of winning Maduro a second six-year term. French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called for "fair and transparent elections" after meeting his Argentine counterpart, Jorge Faurie. He, too, warned of "additional measures" if the EU judges there has been no progress on democratic rights in the Latin American country.

VENEZUELA'S REBEL PROSECUTOR, LUISA ORTEGA, ASKS FOR DICTATOR MADURO'S ARREST IN SYMBOLIC SHOWDOWN

      BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- 
Venezuela’s former top prosecutor on Tuesday accused President Nicolás Maduro of “orchestrating” massive acts of corruption, including delivering bags full of cash and receiving at least $35 million in bribes as he helped Brazilian construction firms fleece the nation for hundreds of millions of dollars.

     Luisa Ortega — a one-time ally of the Venezuelan president — also said that Maduro had personally handled tens of millions of dollars in illicit campaign contributions for the 2012 reelection of his former mentor and boss, Hugo Chávez, who died from an undisclosed form of cancer. Ortega made her case in a surreal setting: in neighboring Colombia, before a panel of judges who consider themselves Venezuela’s legitimate Supreme Court. Adding realism to the proceedings, the “pretrial hearing” was held in Colombia’s ornate and vaulted congressional building, and when Maduro didn’t appear for the session, he was assigned a public defender.

     Ortega said she was providing the judges with bank documents, immigration records and audio recordings to prove her sweeping claims. Those files, however, are under seal, and weren’t provided to the press. And the court said it would decide on April 9 if a trial is merited. In a fiery speech, Ortega also asked Venezuela’s armed forces to detain Maduro and urged Interpol to issue an arrest warrant due to the “seriousness of the charges.” By most accounts, none of that will happen. The Maduro administration considers Ortega and the judges criminals and usurpers, and all are facing arrest warrants in Venezuela.

April  4, 2018

PRESIDENT TRUMP: WE'RE GOING TO BE GUARDING OUR BORDERS WITH THE MILITARY UNTIL THE WALL IS COMPLETED


 
  WASHINGTON, D.C.   - -
President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he's calling on the military to guard the US-Mexico border until his long-promised border wall is complete. "I told Mexico, and I respect what they did, I said, look, your laws are very powerful, your laws are very strong. We have very bad laws for our border and we are going to be doing some things, I spoke with (Defense Secretary James) Mattis, we're going to do some things militarily. Until we can have a wall and proper security, we're going to be guarding our border with the military. That's a big step," he said during a luncheon with leaders of the Baltic states.

     He continued: "We cannot have people flowing into our country illegally, disappearing, and by the way never showing up for court." Asked to clarify his comments during a joint news conference, Trump said he is "preparing for the military to secure our border" and he would be attending a meeting on the topic of border security with Mattis and others "in a little while." Trump has privately floated the idea of funding construction of a border wall with Mexico through the US military budget in conversations with advisers, two sources confirmed to CNN last week. His remarks Tuesday come on the heels of multiple days of hardline immigration rhetoric from the Trump White House, with the President calling on Congress to pass strict border laws in a series of tweets beginning Sunday.

    This isn't the first time there's been talk of sending US troops to the border. President George W. Bush, a border deployment of the National Guard known as Operation Jump Start started in 2006 and lasted two years. The operation sent more than 6,000 troops to California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to repair secondary border fence, construct nearly 1,000 metal barriers and fly border protection agents by helicopter to intercept immigrants trying to enter illegally. In 2010, the Obama administration deployed National Guard troops as part of a border protection plan.

ARGENTINE PRESIDENT MAURICIO MACRI TAKES THE VENEZUELA CASE TO THE LIMA SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS

 
   BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA     --
The institutional crisis in Venezuela will once again be the protagonist of an international forum that will seek, once again, to enable a way for free elections and the humanitarian situation to stop being so delicate. President Mauricio Macri will once again prioritize the issue on his agenda during the Summit of the Americas, which will take place between the 13th and 14th of this month in Lima, Peru, a meeting in which a bilateral meeting with the president of the United States will be held.

    Although the agenda is not yet defined, within the Government they rule out that in the meeting of leaders the conditions are generated to "evaluate with the rest of the region mechanisms that can make Venezuela return to the path of democracy and respect for human rights ", As indicated by the Foreign Ministry. The regime of Nicolás Maduro is the target of claims, for months, by many countries in the region to ensure institutionality and allow the enter in the country humanitarian aid.

    From the Lima Group (composed of Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru, among other nations) to the Organization of American States (OAS), strong positions were adopted and statements were issued that failed to force the Chavez government to accept the changes, partly because Maduro still has the support of some small Caribbean states that receive subsidized oil. Given this scenario, at the Summit of the Americas will address new ways to strangle the Chavez regime, this time with the presence of Trump, who already provided sanctions against government officials, in what will be his first visit to Latin America.

PRELIMINARY TRIAL BEGINS AGAINST THE DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO IN COLOMBIA

      BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- 
The Supreme Court of Justice in exile makes the preliminary hearing of merit against President Nicolás Maduro Moros on Tuesday. According to the agreement, this court will investigate cases of human rights violations and crimes against humanity in Venezuela. This preliminary hearing of merit counts on the presence of the general prosecutor dismissed by the National Constituent Assembly, Luisa Ortega Díaz, who was the Venezuelan who requested this judicial act. When not making an appearance, the TSJ granted a public defender as defense of the president who will be tried, and who will have a lapse of one hour to know the necessary documentation on the case.

    Ortega Díaz said that Maduro is being tried due to investigations carried out by the Public Prosecutor's Office, where his responsibility in corruption and capital legitimacy is evident. "On behalf of the Venezuelan State, we are here to prosecute President Maduro, since in the preliminary investigation there were serious elements that compromise his responsibility in corruption and capital legitimacy," said the deposed Prosecutor. "As admitted by Odebrecht workers, the construction company distributed 788 million dollars between Brazil and 11 countries in the region. Between 1 and 2% of Odebrecht's payments were destined for illicit payments ", said Ortega Díaz regarding the complaints made by the Brazilian company.

    Of those 788 million dollars, "Odebrecht charged 407 for the pilings in the lake of Maracaibo, which is so expensive!" She said. According to what was investigated by the Public Prosecutor in charge of Ortega Díaz, "Nicolás Maduro would be guilty of the crimes of corruption and money laundering in the case of Odebrecht, because the whole corruption scheme started with an agreement signed by Maduro" . In addition, it consigned all the points of sale, and also accused Elias Jaua, Marcos Torres, Rafael Ramirez, Haiman El Troudi of having endorsed the corruption scheme in Venezuela concerning the aforementioned case. She also accused González López and Diosdado Cabello of signing contracts with the company, and despite being informed that the process was fraudulent, they never reported it.

April  3, 2018

COSTA RICA'S RULING PARTY DEFEATS EVANGELICAL OPPONENT OF SAME-SEX MARRIAGE IN PRESIDENTIAL RACE


 
  SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA    -
Voters gave a resounding no to an upstart evangelical pastor who rose to political prominence by campaigning against same-sex marriage, allowing Costa Rica’s governing party to win an easy presidential victory. While polls had indicated Sunday’s runoff would be tight, it was not even close. Carlos Alvarado, a novelist and former Cabinet minister running for the ruling Citizen Action Party, won by a wide margin. The Supreme Electoral Council said that with 95% of ballots counted late Sunday, Carlos Alvarado had 60.8% of the votes, and evangelical Fabricio Alvarado of the National Restoration party had 39.2%. The two men are not related.

     Fabricio Alvarado had been viewed as political also-ran when he entered the presidential contest, though he enjoyed high name recognition for his evangelism and for working on one of Costa Rica’s main TV newscasts. But then he spoke out strongly against a call by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for Costa Rica to allow same-sex marriage and he finished first in the election’s first round in February. Carlos Alvarado, who finished second to get the final spot in the runoff, spoke in favor of letting gays wed.

     The victor wrote in his Twitter account, “Let’s celebrate our 200 years of Independence with a government worthy and up to date with the times.” “Today, the world is watching us and we sent a beautiful democratic message.” In a speech to supporters, Fabricio Alvarado conceded defeat but said he raised the banner of “principles and values.” “We are not sad, because we made history, because our message touched the country’s deepest nerves,” he said. The two candidates shared similarities beyond their family name. Both candidates also had economic advisers who take a conservative approach to economics, favoring the free market and calling for a reduction in the size of the government.

CUBAN DISSIDENT GROUP DENOUNCES 319 POLITICAL ARRESTS IN MARCH

 
   HAVANA, CUBA     --
At least 319 arbitrary arrests of Cuban opponents, almost all of short duration, were documented throughout last March, IT WAS denounced on Monday by the Cuban dissident Commission on Human Rights and the National Reconciliation (CCDHRN). The most recent monthly report of the Commission, the only group that records this type of incident within the Caribbean country, states that the current number of political prisoners registered on the island remains above a hundred.

     Among the new prisoners for political reasons in Cuba, the opposition group mentions Aracelis Fernández, Martha Sánchez, Freddy Martín Fraga and Edel Peralta Rus, who were arrested in March. The CCDHRN also reported "33 cases of harassment and outrage, and 9 physical aggressions," among which was highlighted what happened to former prisoner of conscience, union activist and one of the dissidents of the "Black Spring" of 2003, Hernández Carrillo. He was "brutally attacked and also fined" by police officers on March 25, and, in addition, his mother, a member of the opposition movement "Damas de Blanco", Asunción Carrillo, was also "arrested, mistreated" and fined, according to the dissident organization.

    Furthermore, the group denounced the "systematic" weekly arrests of the Ladies in White in several provinces of the country, under "inhuman and degrading" conditions, as well as the prohibition of traveling abroad of opponents who tried to respond to invitations from various international organizations. The Cuban government does not recognize internal dissent it calls them "counterrevolutionaries" or "mercenaries" who are at the service of foreign interests, the government denies that in the prisons of the island there are any political prisoner and argues that all of them are only common criminals.

PRESIDENT TRUMP SAYS DACA DEAL IS OFF THE TABLE, CALLS FOR TOUGHER IMMIGRATION LAWS


      WASHINGTON, D.C.  -- 
US President Donald Trump said on Sunday that there will be no deal to regularize the status of young undocumented migrants protected from deportation under the DACA plan and urged Republicans to use their congressional majority to approve “tougher” migratory laws. This change in tone clashes with Trump’s past claims to want a solution for these “Dreamers,” blaming Democrats for the gridlock in negotiations on the subject. “Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW,” he said on Twitter. “NO MORE DACA DEAL!”

    The so-called “nuclear option” that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may invoke, allows the Senate to approve bills by a simple majority of 51 votes, rather than the 60-vote majority normally required to end debate. On several occasions, legislators from both sides of the aisle have presented Trump with proposals to solve the Dreamer situation once and for all. However, the president has not accepted any of them, either because they do not include enough funds for his wall with Mexico or because they fail to end the current family reunification system.

     The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was created in 2012 by former President Barack Obama to shield more than 800,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation, but Trump’s decision to rescind it was due to be implemented in early March, although that move was temporarily blocked by a federal court. On Sunday morning, Trump also threatened to end NAFTA, which the US is currently renegotiating with Mexico and Canada. “Mexico is doing very little, if not NOTHING, at stopping people from flowing into Mexico through their Southern Border, and then into the US,” he said on Twitter. “They laugh at our dumb immigration laws. They must stop the big drug and people flows, or I will stop their cash cow, NAFTA. NEED WALL!”

April  2, 2018

TEN OF THE 16 COMPANIES ON THE LIST PUBLISHED BY PANAMA FOR MONEY LAUNDERING BELONG TO CELIA FLORES' NEPHEW


 
  CARACAS, VENEZUELA    -
There are 16 Venezuelan companies registered in Panama that appear in the list published by the National Commission against Money Laundering in the country. Ten of those companies were registered in that country in a week and among its directors are the sister and brother-in-law of First Lady Cilia Flores, according to a journalistic investigation of the El Pitazo, Runrunes and Armando Info portals, reviewed by Venepress. But the mention of such companies is not a novelty. In an investigation of El Pitazo, in conjunction with Runrunes and ArmandoInfo, the names of Maritime Tanker Services, SA, Marine Investment Group, Inc. or Technical Support Trading, are only three of the 16 immersed or created from money laundering , Venepress reported.

      But it is the identities of its presidents, managers or administrators that have impacted, especially because they mention mainly Carlos Erick Malpica Flores, nephew of the First Lady of the Republic and who also served as Treasurer of the nation. There are 16 companies created and registered in Panama between 2014 and 2015 during the mandate of President Juan Carlos Varela, according to the Venezuelan journalists 'investigation, in which Malpica Flores' parents, Carlos Malpica, also participate as part of the board of directors. Torrealba and Eloisa Flores, and her aunt Evelyn Malpica Torrealba.

     According to the migratory movements and the Public Registry of Panama, two of these companies were created in September 2014, three in 2015 -between March and August- and, subsequently, in October 2015, with a capital of 10 thousand dollars. Most of these companies are engaged in maritime transport, one of the services offered by the Venezuelan state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela. Companies such as Seaside Services, Maritime Crews Inc., Oceans Investors Corp. and Marine Administration Panama, whose names appear in the list published recently. According to the investigation of El Pitazo, Carlos Erik's sister, Iriamni Malpica, participates in all these companies; the paternal aunt, Evelyn Milagros Malpica; and the father, Carlos Evelio, with positions of president, director, subscriber and treasurer.

IT'S OFFICIAL: THE STATE OF FLORIDA WILL NOT DO BUSINESS WITH DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO COLLABORATORS

 
   MIAMI, FLORIDA     --
Rick Scott, governor of Florida, signed on Wednesday the law that prohibits the state and all its agencies from negotiating with companies that collaborate with the Nicolás Maduro regime. Scott said the rule "puts even more financial pressure on the Maduro regime," following US sanctions against more than 50 Venezuelan officials in recent months.

     "I am proud to sign this legislation that prohibits all state agencies from investing in the oppressive government of Venezuela," he said in his Twitter account. Scott signed the rule two weeks after the Florida Senate approved bill SB 538 / HB 359, which was promoted by state senators José Javier Rodríguez and René García, among others.

     The bill was presented in the Senate in June 2017, in response to the purchase of $ 2,800 million made by Goldman Sachs in bonds of the Venezuelan oil company, PDVSA, and which caused rejection and repudiation by the Venezuelan community in United States. Governor Scott has become a strong critic of the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela and has reiterated that measures like this will serve to "end" his "dictatorship." Florida has a similar measure against the regime of Cuba that was signed by Scott in 2012 and that prohibits the state government and locals from doing business of $ 1 million or more with companies that operate on the island.

GUYANA FORSEES SANCTION IF THE VEREDICT OF THE HAGUE IN DISPUTE WITH VENEZUELA IS BREACHED BY ANY OF THE PARTIES INVOLVED


      GEORGETOWN, GUYANA  -- 
Guyana Foreign Minister Carl Greenidge warned that his government and that of Venezuela will have to accept the verdict issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) of The Hague or face UN sanctions if they violate the decision on the border dispute over the Essequibo region, media reported today. The Government of Guyana submitted this week a request to the ICJ, asking the court to validate the Arbitral Award of 1899, related to the border dispute with Venezuela in the Essequibo region. According to local media reports, Greenidge told reporters Saturday that once this dispute is discussed and the UN tribunal makes a decision, the States cannot rule it out.

     Likewise, he considered that the Secretary General of the UN, António Guterres, will be able to appeal to the General Assembly or the Security Council to take action in case of breach of the ruling. Greenidge said that if any UN decision is violated, "there will be a variety of options" available to the international body. The official said that other countries that initially ignored the ICJ's determinations, then accepted the court's decisions. Greenidge's statements took place after the Venezuelan government considered "unacceptable" to resort to a "judicial settlement" in the ICJ. La There is to resolve the border dispute over the Essequibo region with Guyana, a country that has just brought the case before that court, as suggested by the UN.

     Guyana introduced a request last week before the ICJ to "confirm the legal validity and binding effect of the 1899 arbitration award with respect to the border between Guyana and Venezuela." At the end of January, Guterres decided to refer the territorial dispute to the ICJ, considering that this was the best route for the two countries, a decision rejected shortly after by Venezuela. The decision of the head of the UN came after his predecessor, Ban Ki-moon announced that if by the end of 2017 there were no significant progress, the matter would be brought before the Court based in The Hague. The Essequibo region is under UN-mediation since the signing of the Geneva Agreement in 1966, but the territorial dispute has worsened in recent years after the US Exxon Mobil discovered oil deposits in waters in the litigation area.
 

April  1st., 2018

ISMAEL GARCIA ASKS PANAMA TO PUBLISH LIST OF PROPERTIES LAUNDERED BY 55 HIERARCHS OF DICTATOR MADURO REGIME


 
  CARACAS, VENEZUELA    -
Ismael García, deputy to the National Assembly, congratulated the decision of the government of Panama, to sanction 55 Venezuelan officials immersed in money laundering, including the President of the Republic Nicolás Maduro, at the same time as he requested the Central American country, to present in the next hours a list of the properties laundered by the hierarchs of the regime. This decision of the Panamanian government, should not remain as a scandal in Venezuela, as happened with the Odebrecht case, where its owner claimed to have given Nicolás Maduro around 50 Million Dollars and nothing happens here; while presidents of Latin American countries such as Luis Inacio Lula Da Silva and Pablo Kuczynski, have been dismissed and prosecuted, and officials and intermediaries are in jail.

    In this order of ideas, he extended that the request to the government of Panama to present the list of properties laundered by those who are currently disobeying Venezuela, does not obey a mere caprice. "The country must know where the public money was diverted, which brought as a consequence the terminal state in which our country is now subject; and secondly, once this list is presented to the world, from the Comptroller's Commission of the National Assembly, we will open a more exhaustive investigation to present it to the plenary of the National Assembly, because these crimes can not continue being unpunished, "he said.

     Also, the leader of the democratic unit warned that the Attorney General of the Republic, Tarek William Saab, should be inhibited in the investigation, because he can not act as an accuser in a case where he is sanctioned by the government of Panama. Finally, he said that the results of the investigation of money laundering in Panama will be presented by the National Assembly before the international authorities so that they can take action on the matter. "As much as the government rejects and ignores the legitimate National Assembly for these and other reasons such as the patrimonial damage caused to the nation by more than 300 Billion Dollars; sooner than later in Venezuela there will be justice, and those assets will be confiscated, and that ill-gotten money will be repatriated, and it will be reversed to solve this deep humanitarian crisis, once the regime has come out of power, "he said.

EX-VENEZUELAN TREASURER CLOSE TO CHAVEZ IS TARGET OF FLORIDA MONEY-LAUNDERING PROBE

 
   MIAMI, FLORIDA     --
Federal authorities in South Florida are building a massive money laundering case against a former high-ranking Venezuelan official close to late President Hugo Chávez in a probe that also targets other former senior officials and financial figures who collaborated with them. Alejandro Andrade, a former bodyguard to Chávez who rose to the rank of national treasurer between 2007 and 2010, is suspected of laundering millions of dollars stolen from the Venezuelan government to invest in real estate, show horses and other assets in South Florida and elsewhere, according to sources in Miami and former Venezuelan government officials familiar with the investigation.

     Andrade’s acquisitions in South Florida and other parts of the United States don’t show up in public records because the purchases were made through shell companies that allow him to keep his ownership hidden, sources said. Andrade and several other associates in Venezuela’s government, banking and business sectors are suspected of enriching themselves by selling billions of dollars in bonds, capitalizing on fluctuating exchange rates and hiding their profits in Swiss bank accounts and U.S. investments, they said.

     The latest investigation stands out among the several federal criminal cases brought against former Venezuelan officials in recent years because Andrade was one of the most trusted members in Chávez's inner circle. The socialist leader died in 2013. Andrade, 53, has traveled frequently on his private jet between Caracas and South Florida since leaving public office eight years ago, according to sources familiar with his activities and published reports. He is a fixture in the affluent Palm Beach County community of Wellington, known for its horse-riding competitions and high-society polo matches. He owns a home in Wellington and his son has competed in major equestrian jumping events there, Venezuela and other parts of the world, according to the promotional company, Starting Gate Communications.

BEING THE EX-PRESIDENT DAUGHTER PAYS OFF: HUGO CHAVEZ'S AMBASSADOR DAUGHTER IS VENEZUELA'S RICHEST WOMAN


      CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- 
The daughter of Hugo Chavez, the former president who once declared 'being rich is bad,' may be the wealthiest woman in Venezuela, according to evidence reportedly in the hands of Venezuelan media outlets. Maria Gabriela Chavez, 35, the late president's second-oldest daughter, holds assets in American and Andorran banks totaling almost $4.2billion. The figure would make Gabriela Chavez wealthier than media mogul Gustavo Cisneros, whom Forbes named the wealthiest Venezuelan earlier this year with $3.6billion in assets. The daughter of Hugo Chavez may be the wealthiest woman in Venezuela, according to evidence reportedly in the hands of Venezuelan media outlets.

     Maria Gabriela Chavez, 35, the late president's second-oldest daughter, holds assets in American and Andorran banks totaling almost $4.2billion, Diario las Americas reports. The Miami-based newspaper did not detail what evidence there was outlining Chavez's assets, though there have long been rumors she held a sizable fortune. Last year, reporter María Elvira Salazar displayed what appeared to be a receipt showing millions in a bank account belonging to Gabriela Chavez withdrawn in the United States.The receipt displayed the name Frabz Federal Bank, a fictitious bank used in a meme of fake ATM receipts.

    Alejandro Andrade, who served as Venezuela’s treasury minister from 2007 to 2010 and was reportedly a close associate of Chavez, was discovered to have $11.2billion in his name sitting in HSBC accounts in Switzerland, according to documents leaked by whistleblower Hervé Falciani. During his lifetime, Hugo Chavez denounced wealthy individuals, once railing against the rich for being 'lazy.' 'The rich don't work, they're lazy,' he railed in a speech in 2010. 'Every day they go drinking whiskey - almost every day - and drugs, cocaine, they travel.' After her father's death in 2013 and until her appointment to the United Nations as alternate ambassador, Chavez continued to live in the presidential mansion, forcing the current president Nicolas Maduro to remain at the vice presidential home.


 

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