Latest News
of JANUARY  2018

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January  31, 2018

SECRETARY REX TILLERSON TO SPOTLIGHT CRISIS IN VENEZUELA ON LATIN AMERICA TRIP

       WASHINGTON, D.C.     --  Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is set to underscore U.S. concerns about the mounting crisis in Venezuela on a six-day trip across Latin America next week, the State Department said Friday. The tour will begin Thursday at the University of Texas at Austin, where Tillerson is expected to deliver a speech outlining the Trump administration's policy priorities in the Western Hemisphere, before leaving the country for Mexico City. There he's expected to meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray and other Mexican officials.

     The visit comes as President Trump prepares to unveil a sweeping immigration framework, which is expected to offer a path to citizenship for nearly 2 million young immigrants in the country illegally, but will also demand tens of billions of dollars for the construction of his long-promised wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Tillerson will then crisscross South America, making stops in Bariloche and Buenos Aires in Argentina, as well as in Lima, Peru, and Bogotá, Colombia, where he's expected to make a plea for increased regional attention to the crisis in Venezuela. The trip is set to end in Kingston, Jamaica, the State Department said.

    The secretary of State's focus on Venezuela comes on the heels of new U.S. sanctions against four Venezuelan military officials that the Trump administration has deemed corrupt and responsible for political oppression. Tensions between Washington and Caracas have soared in recent months amid concerns in the West over Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's efforts to consolidate power in the crisis-stricken country. The administration also imposed new sanctions on Venezuela in July after Maduro called for a vote to rewrite the country's constitution, a move widely seen as an attempt to consolidate power.

VENEZUELAN ARCHBISHOP DECRIES PLAN TO CHANGE ELECTION DATE

    CARACAS. VENEZUELA    -- Archbishop Diego Padrón of Cumaná, former president of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference, denounced plans to advance presidential elections in the country by more than seven months.  “In any country in the world, democracy operates with clarity, with transparency. Instead, [this] is a midnight ambush,” the archbishop told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister agency, Jan 24.

    The country’s National Constituent Assembly issued a decree on Jan. 23 to move up the elections that are usually held in December to no later than April 30, a measure that was “approved by acclamation” according to Delcy Rodriguez, the president of the assembly. The Archbishop of Cumaná said that “as a Venezuelan, it is my opinion that moving up the date for elections has no legal basis.” He added that the National Constituent Assembly “is very discredited because it is fraudulent in its origin and how it is run.” Venezuela is currently in the midst of a severe economic crisis, with hyperinflation and chronic shortages of food and medicine.

    The country’s socialist government is widely blamed for the crisis. Since 2003, price controls on some 160 products, including cooking oil, soap and flour, have meant that while the items are affordable, they fly off store shelves only to be resold on the black market at much higher rates. The International Monetary Fund has forecasted an inflation rate of 2,300 percent in Venezuela in 2018. Last July, contested elections led to the formation of a National Constituent Assembly, which has superseded the authority of the National Assembly, Venezuela’s opposition-controlled legislature. Mass protests against the Constituent Assembly were held, in which more than 120 people were killed by security forces.
 

SPAIN PRESIDENT MARIANO RAJOY SAYS HE WILL FIGHT IN DEFENSE OF THE "BROTHERLY PEOPLE" OF VENEZUELA

       MADRID, SPAIN       --  The president of the Spanish Government, Mariano Rajoy, assured on Tuesday that he is not willing to be silent about the situation in Venezuela and expressed his determination to "give the battle in defense of a brotherly people like the Venezuelan." In statements to Spanish Television picked up by Efe, This is how Rajoy responded when asked about the political relations of Spain and Venezuela once both countries had expelled their respective ambassadors.

    Last week, the government of President Nicolás Maduro declared the Spanish ambassador in Venezuela "persona non grata" for the "continuous aggressions and recurrent acts of interference" of the Spanish executive in the internal affairs of Venezuela, and Spain responded with a similar measure. In the opinion of Rajoy, what is happening in Venezuela "is a problem of democracy", a situation in which he will defend the same thing he defends for the Spaniards, "that there be democracy, freedom, human rights and economic and social progress" , He said.

     For the president of the Spanish Government, the problem in Venezuela is that dictator Maduro is not only "skipping the basic rules of democracy" - some facts for which the European Union has "rightly sanctioned" - but "it is taking people to a limit situation. " Thus, he noted that in the South American country there is an inflation rate above 1000% and a "spectacular" drop in GDP that leads citizens to have problems accessing medicines and food. "What is happening there is unacceptable and I am not willing to shut up my mouth and I am willing to fight in defense of a brotherly people like the Venezuelans," he concluded. Diplomatic relations between Spain and Venezuela have gone through several moments of tension in recent years, with obvious differences between Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro and the head of the Spanish Government, Mariano Rajoy.

January  30, 2018

VENEZUELA DIGITAL CURRENCY "PETRO": WHAT IS ITS REAL VALUE?

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA     --  The Venezuelan economy has undergone several changes that have been of great importance for the country. Especially, in the birth of the new digital currency implemented by dictator Nicolás Maduro. An important media outlet interviewed Alfredo Rincón, a Venezuelan professor and economist, an expert in finance. He provide a simple description that can describe the common reader of what the petro is all about. He remarked that there is not a simple answer because the definition of cryptocurrency is still being discussed by some specialists.

     For some people petro is a means of reserve, for others it is a stock exchange, but in general it is a non-physical currency that is handled in electronic media. He does not consider that the petro is a cryptocurrency, He believes that around this new currency there is a mixture of concepts. Crypto means something like secret, because it is not known who issued it, it is not seen in an electronic way and because it is not cashed by government or bank, it is based on the trust of the currency itself. That is why the petro by definition is not a cryptocurrency. The Venezuelan petro is the first electronic currency established by a State. Not even Saudi Arabia has done it officially.

     The petro was established by the national government of Venezuela. It is promoted by the media. Cryptocurrencies have no more support than their stability and the confidence they project, while the petroleum is backed by natural minerals such as oil, gold, gas and diamonds. So we find a currency promoted by the State of a country that is in crisis, it could be a successful exit to all the obstacles that have been confronted by the government or it could be a total failure in the absence of security that investors have to have in the national economy. The government announces that the petro guaranteed by minerals from Venezuela, but this promise is made in violation of the current Constitution that prohibits the use of state reserves to support something like petro.

COLOMBIA'S PRESIDENT JUAN MANUEL SANTOS SAYS HE WILL NOT RECOGNIZE VENEZUELAN PRESIDENTIAL VOTE

    BOGOTA, COLOMBIA   -- Colombia will not recognize the validity or the result of forthcoming presidential elections in neighboring Venezuela, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said on Thursday, adding he expected other countries would share the view that the vote is illegitimate. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is standing for re-election in the vote, which authorities announced this week would be held by April 30, and the ruling Socialists hope to prevail over a squabbling opposition despite an economic crisis and foreign sanctions.

    “My position is the same as expressed by the Lima Group,” Santos told journalists on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, referring to a regional group that said this week the vote would lack legitimacy. “Until there are sufficient guarantees for a transparent elections, I don’t think anyone will recognize the results of elections in Venezuela,” Santos said in comments broadcast on Colombia’s Caracol radio.

     “They don’t have any validity.” The Lima Group, whose members include Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Peru, Mexico and Colombia, has backed a peaceful solution to Venezuela’s crisis, negotiated between Maduro’s ruling party and the opposition. Opposition groups in Venezuela have accused Maduro of steering the country into a crippling economic crisis, turning Venezuela into a dictatorship and skewing the election system to perpetuate power. Government officials respond they are fighting a U.S.-led right-wing conspiracy bent on ending socialism in Latin America, hobbling Venezuela’s economy and stealing its oil wealth.

ELN REBELS CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY FOR COLOMBIAN POLICE STATION BOMBING

     BOGOTA, COLOMBIA      --  The Urban Warfare Front of Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas ostensibly claimed responsibility on Sunday for the bombing of a police station on the weekend in the city of Barranquilla that killed five police officers and wounded 41. “The ELN, in legitimate exercise of the right to rebellion, carried out the ... military action ... Police forces at the San Jose station, in southern Barranquilla, were attacked,” said the group in a communique, the authenticity of which has not yet been verified.

    The group added that it carried out the Saturday attack because it feels that the government “is refusing to give answers to the needs of the people, is inventing excuses for not guaranteeing their rights and is using the public (security) forces to repress the people.” The government and the ELN last year launched peace talks in Quito, but the dialogue has been suspended since Jan. 10 due to a wave of attacks by the rebel group after a bilateral ceasefire that had been in effect for 100 days ended. A 31-year-old man identified as Cristian Camilo Bellon Galindo was arrested in Barranquilla in connection with the attack and will be charged with five counts of homicide, along with 42 counts of attempted murder, aggravated terrorism and the use of explosives, according to Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martinez.

     Two other attacks were perpetrated on Sunday in Colombia’s Caribbean zone, the first in the Barranquilla metro area town of Soledad against an Immediate Action Command post injuring four police officers and a passerby and the second against a police station in Santa Rosa, in Bolivar province, in which two police officers were killed and two others wounded. “The violent ones have attacked again. Infamous and vile attack on our police in Santa Rosa del Sur. Bolivar mourns the deaths of two heroic policemen. We demand justice and the quick capture of these miserable bandits,” Bolivar Gov. Dumek Turbay said in a Twitter post. Investigators are trying to determine whether the attacks are related.

January  29, 2018

NICARAGUA PARALYSES ALL EXPORTS TO VENEZUELA FOR FEAR OF SANCTIONS BY THE US GOVERNMENT

       MANAGUA, NICARAGUA     --  Nicaragua's exports to its regional ally, Venezuela, have come to a halt this year amid fears of US retaliation, the manager general of the Nicaraguan Association of Producers and Exporters (APEN) said. "We had trade transactions until last October but everything changed by the end of this month. Exports have been paralyzed, there are no intentions of selling goods to Venezuela this year," Mario Arana Sevilla was quoted as saying by the NTN24 channel on Friday. Nicaragua relies on Venezuela for some 5 percent of its exports, including meat, dairy products, coffee, rum, tobacco, beans and corn, Sputnik reported.

    Sales of food, tobacco and rum stopped since October, after the United States imposed sanctions on the state-run oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), which owns 51% of Albanisa shares, the binational agency responsible for the commercial exchange between the two countries, Arana said. Washington imposed economic sanctions on PDVSA in August and prohibits US citizens or companies from maintaining commercial or financial relations directly or indirectly with the Venezuelan oil company. Washington also prevents money for PDVSA transactions from going through the US financial system.

    "To avoid any contamination of sanctions" to Nicaraguan companies or banks for having links with Venezuela, and "being prudent, (exports) were suspended from part of Albanisa," said Arana. Arana, former president of the Central Bank, mentioned that the sanctions against PDVSA affect trade financing, because whoever makes a loan to Albanisa may be subject to sanctions such as freezing assets and closing trade with the United States. Among the main products that Nicaragua sells to Venezuela are meat, dairy products, coffee, rum, tobacco, beans, corn. The specialist indicated that there will be no exports "until another mechanism is found that reduces any risk of sanctions," said Arana.

OMAR BARBOZA: NUD WILL PARTICIPATE IN ELECTIONS IF APPROPRIATE CONDITIONS EXIST

    CARACAS, VENEZUELA   -- The president of the National Assembly and leader of Un Nuevo Tiempo, Omar Barboza, pointed out that the Democratic Unity Table (MUD) is weighing its participation in the presidential elections advanced and convened by the constituent assembly. Barboza stressed that the opposition alliance is "doing that analysis in order to see if there are electoral guarantees for a transparent and free election, that it has an international observation that verifies it and demands the necessary time to organize that process".

    "So within the time framework we are analyzing it, but it is possible that within the last steps that can be made, the times can be extended and enough guarantees that the voter can vote freely and have no doubt the people of Venezuela who the MUD will come out united with a single candidate ". He stressed that the MUD is studying the possibility of making primaries or choosing the single candidate by consensus. "It is possible that they start a primary and end in a consensus but I can not advance a final criterion." He questioned that with this hasty decision, the government has ruined one of the issues that were raised within the agreement that seeks to seal in the Dominican Republic.

    "Jorge Rodríguez has said many false things unfortunately and of course the country will not believe that," he said, referring to what the government delegate pointed out in the dialogue that it was the opposition that proposed in the Dominican to advance the presidential elections for April. On the other hand, Barboza said that the best date for these elections is December of this year. It seems illogical to hold elections in April when the elected candidate will take office on January 10 of next year. "It could be given the circumstances that there is an elected president who has to be in the freezer for 7 months while the incumbent president continue to govern for 7 months. The principle of constitutional proximity should be applied in the sense that the dates of the elections should be close to the inauguration date of the president-elect. "

THE US ORDERED NOT TO ISSUE A VISA TO WORKERS AND RELATIVES OF VENEZUELAN STATE INSTITUTIONS

     WASHINGTON, D.C.      --   The US Embassy in Caracas has implemented presidential provisions prohibiting the granting of visas to officials of several public institutions of the Venezuelan State, in order to protect that nation from the entry of "foreign terrorists". The decision also prevents obtaining the document from direct family members of said employees. The restriction is framed in Presidential Proclamation number 9645, dated December 8, 2017. "Venezuela is on this list because the Government of Venezuela has not cooperated in verifying whether its citizens represent threats to national or public security.

    In addition, there are failures to provide adequate information on public safety and terrorism, and it has been negatively evaluated for not fully cooperating with respect to the eviction orders of citizens present in the United States, "a spokesperson for the embassy of the United States told Caraota Digital. United States in Caracas. According to the portal of the Office of Consular Affairs of the US Department of State, the measure affects officials of the Ministry of Interior and Justice, the Administrative Service of Identification, Migration and Immigration (Saime), of the Scientific, Criminal and Human Rights Investigations Body. Criminalistics (Cicpc), of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (Sebin) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

   "Visas of any type B -1, B -2 or B-1 / B-2 will not be issued for certain officers identified" from the designated government entities or for "immediate family members," the source confirmed. "We will continue working to identify countries with deficiencies in the provision of information that are recommended for travel restrictions," the spokesperson said. The measure is in addition to other sanctions adopted by the United States, Canada and the European Union (EU) against officials of the Government of Nicolás Maduro. The most recent were adopted on January 18 by the EU, which agreed to add to its list of sanctioned Diosdado Cabello, constituent and vice president of the governing party, the PSUV; the Minister of Interior and Justice, Néstor Reverol; and the Attorney General appointed by the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), Tarek William Saab, among others.

January  28, 2018

BELIEVE IT OR NOT! THE MUD RETURNS TO THE NEGOTIATING TABLE WITH THE VENEZUELAN GOVERNMENT

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA     -- The Democratic Unity Roundtable, MUD, issued a statement in which it says it will place the government in a final meeting in the Dominican Republic due to electoral conditions. For this, it will demand a balanced CNE, international observation, electoral conditions of 2015, the right to vote for Venezuelans abroad, removal of Red Points from polling stations, reversal of political disqualifications and fair rules for propaganda are part of the demands that the opposition delegation will present.

     The government has deepened its position of boycott at the negotiating table by proceeding to the illegalization of opposition parties and the MUD card, which we strongly reject, because it is an express, direct violation of the minimum standards of free political participation, as well as we strongly reject the establishment of an electoral date not agreed upon by the parties. These breaches by the Government are repugnant and only seek to dynamite a negotiation process in which they feel cornered.

    The opposition negotiating delegation will attend the Dominican Republic on January 29 "to demand the electoral guarantees that allow fair elections and thus propitiate a change for our people and, in the face of international public opinion, protest these latest decisions of the government and the advance of his totalitarian vision ". The Unit considers that "this meeting represents a definitive opportunity for the Government to review its recent decisions, and in this way prevent the country from entering into unmanageable chaos."

HENRIQUE CAPRILES PARTY REPLACES MUD OPPOSITION GROUP BARRED FROM VENEZUELA ELECTIONS

    CARACAS, VENEZUELA   -- Venezuela’s Primero Justicia (PJ) party of former candidate Henrique Capriles said on Friday that it will reregister with the National Election Council (CNE) this weekend in order to guarantee opposition unity following the exclusion of the MUD opposition alliance from the reregistration process, an obligatory step for permission to take part in the elections.

     The National Constituent Assembly, made up only of Chavistas, decreed in December that political parties that failed to take part in the last elections – the municipal balloting on Dec. 10 – but wish to participate in the upcoming presidential elections in the first quarter of this year, must reregister with the CNE or be barred from taking part. “We put the PJ ballot at the service of all Venezuelans...in order to put a containing wall around a dictatorship that is destroying the lives of millions of Venezuelans,” the secretary general of the party, Tomas Guanipa, told a press conference.The MUD, the country’s leading opposition coalition, had urged its supporters to take part in that election in support of its own ticket.

    However, this Thursday the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) ordered the exclusion of the MUD from the election to avoid “double support” from citizens. Lawmaker Jose Guerra, also a member of the PJ, accused the government of President Nicolas Maduro, who has already announced his run for reelection, of using the TSJ and the CNE to “make political parties illegal” so that those opposing the ruling Chavismo can be “attacked and suppressed more easily.” In a statement to reporters, Guerra said that Maduro is trying to get rid of political organizations that oppose his government “in order to hang onto power even though he’s obviously in the minority.”

VENEZUELA'S DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO STARTS PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN

     CARACAS, VENEZUELA     -- Nicolas Maduro started his reelection campaign for the April Presidential elections Thursday afternoon without separating himself temporarily from the office of the President or waiting for the CNE electoral board to announce the beginning of the campaign period, as mandated by Venezuelan law. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro on Friday morning reiterated that Presidential elections in Venezuela – with Maduro sitting in the Miraflores Palace and no noticeable changes to the electoral system – would be “a farce.”

     “Those are not elections! People will not get to elect! Maduro controls all and every electoral variable, like it has done in the last elections, like it will do again in the next Presidential elections in order to stay six more years,” Almagro said from the World Economic Forum in Davos. “Venezuela today has collapsed completely, from a political, institutional, economic and social standpoint, living the worst humanitarian crisis of any country in the world. The government is just imposing an authoritarian, tyrannical order on its people. This has actually driven the country further away from democracy,”

    Almagro concluded. His rival, Henrique Capriles, denounced Maduro’s victory as fraudulent. The court not only threw Capriles case away without hearing it, the Governor of Miranda state was banned in 2017 for running for any elected office for the next 15 years. The most voted party in Venezuelan electoral history, opposition coalition MUD, was banned from running by the Supreme Court on Thursday evening. The two big, surviving MUD members, the social democrat “AD” and center-right “Primero Justicia” parties, must collect enough signatures over the January 27-28th weekend so that the Maduro-controlled electoral board CNE decides that they can run in April.

January  27, 2018

VENEZUELA'S SUPREME COURT BLOCKS OPPOSITION ALLIANCE (MUD) FROM COMPETING IN NEXT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA     --  Venezuela's Supreme Court ordered the National Electoral Council (CNE) to exclude the opposition alliance Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) from the validation of ballots that will take place this weekend. "The CNE is ordered to exclude the MUD in the process of renewal, because its conformation is due to the grouping of various political organizations already renewed and others pending renewal that may participate in the national electoral process," the judgment of the Regime-appointed Constitutional Chamber ruled. That order rules that allowing the validation of the unitary card of the MUD goes against "the prohibition of double registration."

    However, the ruling authorizes the Electoral Power to reschedule for six months the re-registration of parties, including the coalition. The illegitimate Constituent Assembly on Tuesday decreed that the presidential elections, usually held in December, would be held by April 30 at the latest. Hours before, one of the Regime-dominated electoral directors Tania D 'Amelio informed that the opposition could not validate their united group in seven states of the country where a criminal complaint against the MUD was filed two years ago (by Regime governors).

    D'Amelio said that the opposition coalition weighs in those places an accusation for falsifying signatures when they requested the recall referendum in 2016, even though the CNE certified the signatures which were done in front of CNE officials. When the MUD "delivered the first signatures there were some deceased persons, minors, people who were in interdiction," something for which the ruling party introduced a lawsuit in the courts without there being a definitive judgment on the case until now. The Regime used the lawsuit to prevent the opposition from using its Opposition alliance in the election of governors on October 15 in the seven states where judicial appeals were lodged.

SPAIN KICKS OUT VENEZUELA AMBASSADOR IN TIT-FOR-TAT MOVE

    MADRID, SPAIN   --Spain on Friday ordered Venezuela's ambassador to leave in a tit-for-tat move, escalating a row a day after its top diplomat was kicked out by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's regime. "The government responds proportionally, and therefore has decided in the principle of reciprocity, to declare 'persona non grata' Venezuela's ambassador to Spain," government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo told a news conference.

    Venezuela's ambassador to Spain, Mario Isea, was on Wednesday summoned for consultations by his government and is not in Spain, he added. Spain and Venezuela have had tense diplomatic ties since the late Socialist leader Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999. He was succeeded on his death in 2013 by Maduro. Venezuela on Thursday declared Spain's ambassador to Caracas, Jesus Silva, persona non grata and accused Madrid of masterminding recent European Union sanctions on seven of Maduro's key allies.

    The move came a day after Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy defended the sanctions, saying in a radio interview they were "well deserved" given the "brutal decisions" and "the understanding of democracy that Mr Maduro has". The European Union on Friday condemned Venezuela's move and urged the Latin American country to reverse its decision. Spain was a colonial power in Latin American and remains a major trading partner. Thousands of Venezuelans fled to Spain during Venezuela's deepening economic and political crisis.

VENEZUELAN ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM SAAB SEEKS INTERPOL RED ALERT FOR OIL CZAR RAFAEL RAMIREZ

     CARACAS, VENEZUELA     -- Venezuelan authorities said on Thursday they were seeking an Interpol red alert for ex-oil czar Rafael Ramirez on corruption charges, heightening tensions between the former political heavyweight and the country’s socialist government. Ramirez, who headed the powerful oil ministry and state energy firm PDVSA [PDVSA.UL] for a decade, is a longtime rival of President Nicolas Maduro who has become more critical of his handling of the economy, now in its fourth year of recession. State prosecutor Tarek Saab said in a press conference that Venezuela was seeking the arrest of Ramirez for corruption tied to the period when he was commanding the world’s largest crude reserves.

     “No crying, citizen Ramirez ... You have been pointed out by all, including by national public opinion, as one of the main embezzlers and culprits of the ... breakdown of PDVSA,” Saab said. Ramirez’s whereabouts have been unknown since he fled the United States in December, a month after he was ordered to resign as Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations over an article he wrote that was seen as an attack on Maduro’s government. “I‘m going to keep saying what I think. They’re going to burn me like in the Inquisition. But I‘m going to continue,” Ramirez told Reuters in a text message.

     On Twitter, Ramirez said he was being singled out for putting himself forward for the ruling Socialist Party primaries ahead of a presidential election set to take place before April, in which Maduro is the leading candidate. “They want to impose a candidate through fear and force, silencing and criminalizing criticism.” Interpol did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it had been requested to arrest Ramirez and whether it would comply. Insiders say accusations against Ramirez stem from a turf war within the Socialist Party rather than a real desire to root out graft. The political opposition says Ramirez is a hypocrite who is also responsible for an economic meltdown marked by widespread shortages of food and medicine, the world’s highest inflation rate, and a surge in emigration. They say he destroyed PDVSA by filling the company with political loyalists and letting at least $11 billion go “missing” during his tenure.

January  26, 2018

COLOMBIA'S PRESIDENT JUAN MANUEL SANTOS SAYS HE WILL NOT RECOGNIZE VENEZUELAN PRESIDENTIAL VOTE

       BOGOTA, COLOMBIA    --  Colombia will not recognize the validity or the result of forthcoming presidential elections in neighboring Venezuela, President Juan Manuel Santos said on Thursday, adding he expected other countries would share the view that the vote is illegitimate. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is standing for re-election in the vote, which authorities announced this week would be held by April 30, and the ruling Socialists hope to prevail over a squabbling opposition despite an economic crisis and foreign sanctions.

     “My position is the same as expressed by the Lima Group,” Santos told journalists on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, referring to a regional group that said this week the vote would lack legitimacy. “Until there are sufficient guarantees for a transparent elections, I don’t think anyone will recognize the results of elections in Venezuela,” Santos said in comments broadcast on Colombia’s Caracol radio.

     “They don’t have any validity.” The Lima Group, whose members include Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Peru, Mexico and Colombia, has backed a peaceful solution to Venezuela’s crisis, negotiated between Maduro’s ruling party and the opposition. Opposition groups in Venezuela have accused Maduro of steering the country into a crippling economic crisis, turning Venezuela into a dictatorship and skewing the election system to perpetuate power. Government officials respond they are fighting a U.S.-led right-wing conspiracy bent on ending socialism in Latin America, hobbling Venezuela’s economy and stealing its oil wealth.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT!  THE ATROCIOUS PROPOSAL PRESENTED BY DEPUTY  LUIS FLORIDO OF THE VENEZUELAN "OPPOSITION" DURING THE DIALOGUE WITH THE DICTATORSHIP IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

    CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --Luis Florido one of the main leaders of the Voluntad Popular party and one of the representatives of the official "opposition" in the dialogue with the tyranny in the Dominican Republic. made an alarming confession to the agency EFE over a deranged proposal he made during the discussions: to dismantle the legitimate National Assembly, the last vestige of the Republic, together with the illegal Constituent, in order to choose a new "single Parliament". "Let both the Constituent Assembly (its members) and all the deputies of the National Assembly (Parliament) resign, and choose with the new presidential election a single Parliament, that Venezuela has only one Parliament," Florido told the agency, which interviewed him about the presidential elections.

    Fortunately it was a proposal raised in the dialogue with the regime in the Dominican Republic that was rejected. What the deputy suggested was that the legitimate National Assembly of the opposition majority be dismantled and, also, the illegitimate National Constituent Assembly of Chavismo. As a result, the Venezuelan people would have to choose another new Parliament, backed by an electoral process, in which both political forces could converge. In his Twitter account, the renowned Venezuelan writer, Ibsen Martínez, cataloged the proposal as "atrocious". He assured that it is an expression of the fundamentalism of the vote, "at the cost of whatever".

    Certainly, it is a deranged proposal, which also violates the 1999 Constitution. It is the complete abandonment of the last vestige of the Republic and the final consolidation of an unacceptable coexistence with dictator Nicolas Maduro. The same ones who hide behind the alleged defense of spaces, now intend to deliver the last in exchange for gifts and freedom to continue with their ruminations. Luis Florido confessed the betrayal to EFE, when he spoke about the presidential elections proposed by the dictator. Apparently there is still no agreement with the regime; however, his revelation clearly suggests that in the Dominican Republic they are capable of even the most unworthy, in exchange for a fairly free electoral process.

VENEZUELA GOVERNMENT DECLARES PERSONA NON GRATA TO THE AMBASSADOR OF SPAIN IN CARACAS

     CARACAS, VENEZUELA     -- Venezuela declared on Thursday "persona no grata" the ambassador of Spain in Caracas, Jesus Silva, considering that his country commits "continuous aggressions" against the government of dictator Nicolás Maduro. "Venezuela made it known to the international community that it has decided to declare persona no Grata to the ambassador of the Kingdom of Spain in Venezuela (...) by virtue of the continuous attacks and recurrent acts of interference in the internal affairs of our country," says a Communication from the Foreign Ministry.

     The Maduro government rejected the head of government of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, backing the European Union sanctions against seven Venezuelan officials, who have been he accused of human rights violations or "undermine democracy." Venezuela accuses Rajoy of having "received instructions" from the government of the United States to promote sanctions, which prohibit officials, including number two of Chavismo Diosdado Cabello, and the president of the electoral power, Tibisay Lucena, travel to the Union European and freeze all their bank accounts in EU countries.

    According to the Foreign Ministry, Rajoy undertook the leadership of the conspiracy in Europe, in order to arrange attacks on the sovereignty and independence of the Venezuelan people with its European partners, in exchange for inconceivable political and economic benefits." The organism promised to continue taking concrete actions to defend the "fundamental rights" and the "independence of the Venezuelan people". On Wednesday, Venezuela called for consultations to its ambassador in Spain, Mario Isea, after the sanctions of the European Union, which also affect the Interior Minister, Néstor Reverol, and the president of the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ), Maikel Moreno, reviewed AFP.

January  25, 2018

TWO US SENATORS WANT PROBE OF DRUG TRAFFICKING TIED TO VENEZUELA GOVERNMENT

       WASHINGTON, D.C.     --  Two U.S. senators called on the U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday to investigate allegations of drug trafficking by senior officials in the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, as the country struggles with economic crisis. In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions seen by Reuters, Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democrat Robert Menendez said they were concerned about possible connections between Maduro’s government and drug trafficking organizations and wanted an investigation “in order to better understand the nexus between criminal actors and members of Maduro’s inner circle.”

     Despite being a major oil producing country, Venezuela is undergoing a severe economic and social crisis, with millions suffering food and medicine shortages, hyperinflation and growing insecurity. Rubio is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s western hemisphere subcommittee, and Menendez is its ranking Democrat. Both lawmakers are vocal critics of the Venezuelan government. In their letter, they raised concerns that the situation in Venezuela could destabilize the region. The Venezuelan Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In the past, Maduro has dismissed accusations about drug trafficking links as a smear campaign by Washington, adding that the United States is to blame for the drug trade because it is such a large market for illegal narcotics.

     On Aug. 1, 2016, a U.S. District Court announced the indictment of Nestor Reverol, who is now Venezuela’s interior minister, on charges of participating in an international cocaine trafficking conspiracy. In February 2017, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions against Venezuelan Vice President Tareck el-Aissami for drug trafficking and other related crimes. And in December 2017, two nephews of Maduro’s wife, Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, were convicted in U.S. federal court for drug smuggling. Rubio and Menendez also asked Sessions to support efforts by the Organization of American States to address human rights concerns in Venezuela.

THE US STRONGLY REJECTS THE ELECTORAL CALL OF VENEZUELA DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO IN VENEZUELA

      WASHINGTON, D.C.    -- The United States on Tuesday expressed its rejection of the decision of the Venezuelan National Constituent Assembly (ANC) that the presidential elections be held before May of this year for considering it an "illegitimate" entity, and again asked "free and fair" elections. "We support a real, complete and fair election system and not the illegitimate Constituent Assembly that was made by (the dictator Nicolás) Maduro," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said today to a question from Efe about it.
    
      If there are elections in Venezuela, as corresponds this year, the United States demands a "free and fair" election and "the return of democracy", since it considers that with the current system "people are pressured to vote for a candidate". "We saw tthe last time, when were held those illegitimate elections, the government pressured people to vote for certain candidates," the spokesperson said at her Tuesday press conference, without specifying whether she referred to the last local, regional, the ANC, or all. Asked about Maduro's offer to his party to be a presidential candidate, the spokeswoman said: "I do not think it's a good idea." "It is the people of Venezuela who must choose and not receive pressures to vote for any particular candidate," she added.

     In response to a journalist who stated that the government actions could be considered part of a political campaign, the spokeswoman affirmed that "that was done in a very difficult way", "very different from what happens in the United States and in other free and fair countries" . Nauert stressed that "the humanitarian situation in Venezuela is extreme," because citizens can not get "the medicines and food they need" and are forced to cross the border to go to Colombia "for food." The ANC of Venezuela, composed only of pro-government, approved on Tuesday by decree that the presidential elections scheduled for this year will be held in the first four months of 2018, that is, before May. Maduro immediately placed himself "at the service" of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and the Grand Patriotic Coalition (GPP) as a candidate for those elections, which elected the country's president for the period 2019-2025.

COLOMBIA GOVERNMENT CALLS FOR AN EMERGENCY PLAN FOR VENEZUELA

     BOGOTA, COLOMBIA    -- Colombia's finance minister called on Wednesday for an emergency plan to help neigbouring Venezuela after what he said will be its imminent collapse. "The collapse of the (Venezuelan) economy is close," minister Mauricio Cardenas told AFP on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "The idea is to have ready an economic plan for Venezuela for the day after," he added. "We do not know when that day will come but it will happen quickly due to the seriousness of the crisis."

     He called for a plan involving the Internatonal Monetary Fund or regional lenders to help provide medicine and other essential supplies. Venezuela is in a desperate economic and political crisis that has caused hunger and deadly violence. The Colombian government says more than half a million Venezuelans have fled onto its territory. Venezuela's governing Constituent Assembly, loyal to Socialist President Nicolas Maduro, said Tuesday the country will hold a presidential election by the end of April.

    "All this is done with a great feeling of solidarity but if this situation escalates it will generate great fiscal difficulties and great problems," the minister warned. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, elected in 2013 after the death of Hugo Chávez, faces a record unpopularity due to the deep economic crisis of the oil country, which suffers hyperinflation and shortage of food and medicine. On Monday, the National Constituent Assembly, which governs Venezuela with absolute power, announced before April 30 the presidential elections in which Maduro will once again seek reelection. Maduro hopes to triumph over a divided opposition and win a second term. The opposition says he has turned into a dictator. Colombia's Nobel Prize-winning President Juan Manuel Santos was attending the Davos business summit along with other world leaders.

January  24, 2018

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO CALLS FOR SANCTIONS AGAINST VENEZUELA'S DIOSDADO CABELLO

       WASHINGTON, D.C.     --  Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is calling for sanctions against one of Venezuela’s most powerful leaders. Rubio, one of the most outspoken critics of the Caracas regime, is pressing President Donald Trump to hold Diosdado Cabello accountable for human rights abuses and undermining democracy in Venezuela. Rubio’s call comes after the European Union included the former leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly in sanctions against seven senior Venezuelan officials. "While the United States has imposed its own sanctions against almost all of these senior officials in the Venezuelan government, it has not yet designated Cabello," Rubio wrote in a letter to Trump Tuesday. "I therefore respectfully urge your Administration to join the European Union in imposing sanctions against Diosdado Cabello."

     The United States has slapped sanctions against more than 20 current and former Venezuelan government officials in recent months, including President Nicolas Maduro. The White House has prohibited U.S. banks from purchasing new Venezuelan debt, a deep blow to the country’s finances. But, so far, Washington has stopped short of issuing sanctions against Cabello, a former military chief, who maintains strong influence over the Venezuelan military. Cabello, 54, a longtime ally of late President Hugo Chavez and a leader within the ruling Socialist party, is often referred to as Maduro’s second in command.

    The Florida lawmaker has publicly feuded with Cabello. Rubio has also been forced to take extra security precautions after receiving death threats that may have come from Cabello, according to intelligence obtained by the Miami Herald. In his letter to Trump, Rubio cited Cabello’s "long, extensive, and publicly-available record" of criminal activity, including international narco-trafficking, money laundering, and human rights abuses against the Venezuelan people. "I believe your Administration can — and should — take stronger actions to support the Venezuelan people’s struggle to reclaim their democracy from the Maduro regime’s dictatorship and restore their country’s constitutional order."

VENEZUELAN CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY APPROVES PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS BEFORE APRIL 30

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA   -- Deputy Diosdado Cabello in the ordinary session of the National Constituent Assembly read on Tuesday an agreement in which - prior to the end of the first four months of 2018, that is, before April 30, 2018 - is convened to carry out the presidential election. "Considering that imperial powers have been conducting a campaign of hate through media “lynching” and psychological warfare to generate anxiety among the pop[ulation, we propose to this National Constituent Assembly “to convene for the first four months of 2018 the election of the President of Venezuela.”

    That is to say, before April 30 there must be elections in Venezuela to choose the president, "read Cabello Rondón. He clarified that, because it is a proposal to the Electoral Power "corresponds to the National Electoral Council (CNE) to set the corresponding date for this decree that is obligation to be fulfilled." He assured that "the only presidential candidate for the PSUV will be the current head of state Nicolás Maduro." "They will not come to teach us lessons. Let the people decide, because we respect the rest of the countries and demand full respect for our decisions, "he emphasized.

     Cabello, who was visibly affected by the recent sanctions imposed by the European Union, insisted that "if the world wants to apply sanctions, we will counterattack with elections (...)" and insisted that "the United States and the European Union seek a change of government and our development model in Venezuela "as well as" that the opposition withdrew from the dialogue table, disregarding more than 400 calls for Maduro's dialogue ". Immediately afterwards, Rodríguez asked the attendees to get up and "unanimously" and "with the usual hand signal" the document was approved to forward the formal request before the CNE.

DIOSDADO CABELLO: WE WILL HAVE A NEW PRESIDENT THIS YEAR AND WILL BE A CHAVISTA

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA    -- On Monday, January 22, the first vice president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Diosdado Cabello, made a statement, saying that on Tuesday there will be a march that will depart from Plaza Morelos to Plaza O'leary. He also indicated that the country will have a new president this year. "Tomorrow we are going to make a great march that will begin from Plaza Morelos to Plaza O'leary, and from ten o'clock in the morning all of our people are called to participate," said Cabello.

     Also, he indicated that said event will have the participation of motorized gangs, "the organizers of people". As well as "all the organizations that support the Bolivarian Revolution." On the other hand, he also reported that he will simultaneously hold a session in the National Constituent Assembly (ANC). "It will be a very interesting session, it should not be missed because of the great news that will be announced there. "This is in commemoration of January 23. Cabello also pointed out that regarding the sanctions of the European Union" that it should be made very clear, this is not a personal sanction, it is a sanction to Venezuela ".

    Likewise, Cabello rejected the sanctions imposed upon him and other six top government officials and said that "they are aimed to neutralize, isolate Venezuela." "These immoral people want to declare that Venezuela violates human rights, where are the million people who were killed in Iraq, Libya, in Syria," Cabello said. "I believe that these sanctions really harm them, the Venezuelan opposition because within our people there is an immediate reaction, because here there may be people who are not Chavez but who are nationalists who do not accept that anyone be involved in Venezuela’s internal affairs," he affirmed. In this regard he said that "this is like throwing a bomb to the dialogue, a giant detonator to the dialogue." Finally, the first vice president of the Socialist Party of stated that “this year we will have a new chavist president.”

January  23, 2018

EUROPEAN UNION CONFIRMS NEW SANCTIONS ON SEVEN SENIOR VENEZUELAN OFFICIALS

       BRUSSELS, BELGIUM    --  The European Union sanctioned seven Venezuelan leaders on Monday, each of them accused of undermining democracy in one way or another. The EU already banned weapons sales to Venezuela in November. The financial assets of all seven leaders will be frozen in Europe, although it's not clear that they have any.
Among the seven are Diosdado Cabello, a congressman who has held high government roles for the last two decades. Cabello is believed to have the ear of President Nicolas Maduro and to be respected by the military.

     World leaders have condemned Maduro for shredding democracy in Venezuela. Severe shortages of food and medicine have gotten worse and hyperinflation has set in as the government slips further into default and crisis. Isolation couldn't come at a worse time. Venezuela owes $141 billion to bondholders, other nations and a long list of companies, according to Moody's Investor Service. Another estimate published by Harvard Law School puts the figure at $196 billion. Venezuela has less than $10 billion in its central bank reserves, a cushion of cash for dire times.

     Others sanctioned include Tibisay Ramirez, the head of Venezuela's election council, and Gustavo Gonzalez, who leads Venezuela's secret police, known for detaining and beating government critics. The Trump administration has sanctioned many of the same leaders, but not Cabello. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has declined to explain why not. The EU has not sanctioned Maduro himself, but Mnuchin did in July. Only five other sitting leaders have been sanctioned by the United States: Syria's Bashar al-Assad, North Korea's Kim Jong Un, former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, and Manuel Noriega.

ELITE OF DICTATOR MADURO REGIME IS SUBJECTED TO INTERNATIONAL ISOLATION BECAUSE OF THEIR CRIMES

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --  At least forty Venezuelans occupying the highest public offices in the country, including the head of state, Nicolás Maduro, have been sanctioned by other governments in the last two years, which has left the elite of national political power isolated in the international scene. The European Union (EU) announcement this Monday is in line with the restrictive actions already applied by other governments against the so-called Bolivarian revolution by approving sanctions for the "repression" in Venezuela against seven officials, including the "number two" of the ruling Chavismo, Diosdado Cabello.

    This decision, which involves the freezing of assets and the prohibition to enter 26 nations of Europe, also fell on the president of the Supreme Court, the interior minister, the head of intelligence, the president of the Electoral Council, the attorney general and the former commander of the militarized police. Some of them have already been sanctioned by the United States and Canada, whose governments first denounced Maduro's "undemocratic behavior" and now head a policy in international forums against the Chavez "dictatorship."

    The United States publicly called Maduro "dictator" for the first time on July 31, a day after the Caribbean nation elected the members of the Constituent Assembly, a body made up only of Chavistas and not recognized by numerous governments for not having counted with a previous referendum as indicated by the Constitution. The US Treasury Department then decreed that the assets that Maduro had in territories under US jurisdiction would be frozen, and he prohibited people and institutions of that country from making transactions with the Venezuelan president. Before, during the first month of the Administration of Donald Trump, USA. He accused the Venezuelan Vice President, Tareck El Aissami, of playing "a significant role in the international narcotics trade," for which the US blocked his assets in the country and prohibited his citizens from making any type of transactions with him.

CUBA IS A LOT POORER THAN THE COMMUNIST GOVERNMENT REPORTS

      WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- Cubans suffered near-famine and almost daily power blackouts, and tens of thousands took to the sea aboard homemade boats during the economic crisis in the 1990s known as the “Special Period.” The government eventually acknowledged that after losing all Soviet subsidies and trade with the former socialist bloc, its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dropped by 35 percent during the crisis. Cubans who have long suspected that the crisis was actually much worse than the government admitted appear to have been right.

     A new study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) shows that Cuba's GDP, in fact, dropped by “more than 50 percent” during those years, and that the impact of the crisis is still being felt. “The Cuban GDP stands at 23 percent below the pre-crisis level of 1989 and 35 percent below the 1985 level,” says the study conducted by a team directed by Pavel Vidal, a Cuban economist teaching at Javeriana University in Colombia. The study also shows that Cuba is much poorer than its government's data would indicate, because it overestimates the value of the Cuban peso by artificially making it equal to one U.S. dollar.

    The government issues two currencies – the Cuban peso and the Cuban Convertible Peso (known as CUC) – and uses different rates of exchange depending on the type of economic activity. One dollar could be roughly counted as one peso or 24 pesos, depending on the sector. Vidal created a formula that tries to calculate an average exchange rate based on the size in the GDP of each sector of the island's economy that handles CUCs or pesos. The study estimated per capita GDP for 2014, the last year calculated, at “$3,016, much lower than the $7,177 that could be derived directly from the Cuban national accounts using the official exchange rate.” The official figure brought Cuba close to the GDP of Colombia that year, while Vidal's estimate places Cuba with a GDP similar to Bolivia, El Salvador and Guatemala.

January  22, 2018

VENEZUELAN OFFICIALS BURY OSCAR PEREZ GAINST FAMILY'S WISHES

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA    - Hardly any family members of a rebel police officer killed in a shootout with Venezuelan security forces were allowed to attend his burial Saturday, relatives said. Just two of Oscar Perez’s relatives were allowed to see the early morning interment at a Caracas cemetery after authorities denied relatives’ demands that they hand over the body of Perez and six others killed. The cemetery was surrounded by National Guard officers. “They arbitrarily decided to carry out the controlled burial without granting permission to observe him, much less allow him to be moved with his family,” Perez’s widow, Danahis Vivas, said on Twitter.

    Vivas is out of the country with the couple’s children. Perez’s aunt, Aura Perez, confirmed that the military allowed her and her daughter into the cemetery to see Perez before he was buried. Perez and six in his rebel group died Monday fighting against police and soldiers in a small mountain community outside of Caracas, ending a manhunt for the former policeman that began after he led a helicopter attack on government buildings in June and called for an uprising against the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

     Officials have called Perez and his group a “terrorist cell,” and blamed them for instigating the violent shootout that killed two police officers. Authorities have not commented on the burial. The government has been accused of unlawfully killing the group after video clips Perez posted during the shootout showed him calling out that the rebels wished to surrender. Perez was the last of the seven to be buried by the military over the weekend. The families received death certificates showing that he and five others had each died of a gunshot to the head. Alfredo Romero, director of the Caracas-based human rights group Foro Penal, told local media that he’s demanding a thorough investigation to determine whether the deaths were acts of “intentional homicide.”

COFAVIC: EXTRAJUDICIAL EXECUTIONS AND TORTURE ARE HUMAN RIGHTS CRIMES

       PARIS, FRANCE   --   "Extrajudicial executions and torture are the most serious crimes of human rights that enshrine international law and universal jurisdiction," said Liliana Ortega, representative of the NGO Cofavic, in relation to the Óscar Pérez case. Through his account on Twitter, he explained that "in a presumed massacre where alleged extrajudicial executions and torture occurred, if the evidence is destroyed everything is no longer presumed, according to international law."

     He recalled that when the "Caracazo" many victims were buried without the consent of their relatives, in order to destroy and hide the evidence. However, he stressed that this was condemned by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In the same way, he affirmed that all people, without exception, have the right to bury their loved ones, according to their religious beliefs and in the place of their preference

    It is worth remembering that this Saturday it was rumored that the bodies of Óscar Pérez and his murdered companions were transferred to the Eastern Cemetery without the proper authorization of their relatives. Likewise, he added that "the relatives of the murdered persons never lose their rights, even if the crimes that their loved ones may have committed have been extremely serious." On the other hand, from the Cofavic account they assure that "the States must carry out, ex officio and without delay, serious, impartial and effective investigations on alleged extrajudicial executions".

RUSSIAN SPY SHIP OPERATING NEAR U.S. COAST

      WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- The Viktor Leonov, a Russian spy ship, is operating near the U.S. roughly a year after it popped up off the coast of Connecticut. On Thursday, Fox News reported that unnamed officials said the Russian vessel was in the Caribbean and heading north toward the Florida coast. During a phone call on Friday, a spokesman for U.S. Southern Command confirmed to Newsweek the Viktor Leonov is in the region. "We have a general awareness that it's in the area," the spokesman said, but could not confirm an exact location.

     In a statement provided to Newsweek, U.S. Southern Command added, "We are aware of Russian naval activities in our hemisphere. We work closely with our interagency partners to be aware of maritime contacts of interest, while recognizing the right of sovereign nations to freely navigate in international waters and visit countries they have agreements with. Freedom of the seas applies to all maritime nations, all navies, everywhere—so long as they understand and comply with internationally-recognized responsibilities that come with that freedom."

      Separately, a spokesman for the Pentagon said via email he could not "specifically" confirm whether the military was tracking the Russian spy ship, but did say, "The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Fleet Forces track all vessels, foreign and domestic, and we're well aware of what is in the area." Russian spy ship the Viktor Leonov is operating near the U.S. roughly a year after it popped up off the coast of Connecticut. Here, the Leonov arrives at Havana's harbor on February 27, 2014. Last February, as the Viktor Leonov patrolled near Connecticut, President Donald Trump described the situation with Russia as "not good" when questioned by reporters.

January  21, 2018

WITH A SHOT IN HIS HEAD: DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO ORDERED HIS SOLDIERS TO MURDER OSCAR PEREZ AND HIS GROUP OF INSURGENTS

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA    - It seems to be a firing squad. They continue to show evidence of the horror committed in The Massacre of El Junquito. Several journalists had access to the death certificates of the group of rebels massacred on January 15 in El Junquito, on the outskirts of Caracas. The documents reveal that Óscar Pérez, the leader of the insurgents, and the other members of the movement, were killed by a bullet in the head. Another test of the dantesca execution that ended up being called "The Massacre of El Junquito."

     "I was able to see the death certificate of Óscar Pérez that was delivered to the family in the morgue of Bello Monte. In the official document it is indicated as the cause of death 'severe cranial encephalic trauma due to a gunshot wound to the head,' wrote the journalist and CNN reporter, Osmary Hernández. The relatives of the murdered ones have remained firm in front of the Morgue de Bello Monte to demand that they deliver the corpses to be able to bury them. The regime has not done it. However, due to the behavior assumed by the workers of the morgue, the relatives, first, were allowed to recognize the corpses. And now, on the afternoon of January 19, they gave them the death certificates of those who were murdered by the State last Monday.

    "The death certificate of Abraham Agostini Agostini, part of Óscar Pérez's group, registered under number 3368757, identifies as the cause of death 'subdural hemorrhage, fracture of the skull, wound by firearm with single projectile to the head' ", Continued Hernández. The same is the case of two brothers, Lugo, and Daniel Soto, who accompanied Óscar Pérez. The woman who was killed, Lisbeth Ramírez, also died due to the impact of a single projectile by firearm on the head. In total, there were seven rebels; and all were murdered in the same way: the regime of Nicolás Maduro shot them in the head. Executed

THE DICTATOR OF VENEZUELA SURPASSED SADDAM AND AL ASSAD, HE BOMBED DEFENSELESS PEOPLE, EXECUTED THEM AND KIDNAPPED THEIR CORPSES

       BOGOTA, COLOMBIA  --   Former Bolivian President Jorge Quiroga strongly criticized the crisis Venezuela is going through and assured that the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro surpassed that of Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad. He said that the Maduro regime bombarded Óscar Pérez and his group, executed them extra-judicially and also kidnapped his corpses. "They deny them wake and Christian burial; relatives cry without being able to dismiss them, "he said. In addition, he criticized that Maduro has inveighed against the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference.

    This Saturday, José Alejandro Díaz Pimentel and Abraham Agostini Agostini, were buried in the Eastern Cemetery without the consent of their relatives, by order of the national government. Brothers Abraham and Jairo Lugo Ramos were transferred to Maracaibo, Zulia state, while Lisbeth Ramírez to San Cristóbal, Táchira state. While the whereabouts of Ósca Pérez's body is still unknown, relatives and citizens moved to the Bellos Monte morgue to demand that his mortal remains be delivered.

    Pérez, who was 36 years old, rose up against Maduro last June, when he flew over Caracas in a helicopter belonging to the scientific police - to which he belonged - and fired shots at two public buildings without causing injuries. The inspector - who recorded from underground several videos in which he expressed his intention to overthrow the Chavista "tyranny" - returned to action in December to lead with his men the assault on a military barracks, in which he took weapons after submitting the soldiers without causing any physical harm to them and recriminated their unconditional loyalty to Maduro.

VENEZUELAN EXILE CALLS FOR HUMANITARIAN CAMPS ON BORDERS WITH COLOMBIA AND BRAZIL

      MIAMI, FLORIDA  -- Groups from the Venezuelan exile, accompanied by the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, asked this Saturday at a US event to the Governments of Colombia and Brazil to install humanitarian camps for displaced Venezuelans on the borders.

     The leader Pablo Medina, of the International Coalition for Venezuela, Una Sola Voz (CIPV), told Efe today that the idea is to organize and formalize the camps that already exist on both borders with Venezuela to improve the supply and distribution of aid by governments, charitable groups and international institutions. The coalition and some twenty groups, including the Humanitarian Aid Program, have joined the initiative, with the collection of aid and signatures to urge both governments to help displaced people in this way.

     At the event in Doral, a city near Miami attended by a large number of Venezuelan residents, they publicly requested assistance from the governments of the presidents of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, and Brazil, Michel Temer. Medina explained that last December they had presented the initiative to the secretary of the OAS, who promised to address the issue, something that he will accomplish tomorrow in Doral. The activist lamented that there are Venezuelans sleeping in the streets and public squares on the border with Colombia and that many of their compatriots are left defenseless crossing the jungles to the Brazilian territory.

January  20, 2018

U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS NIKKI HARLEY: MADURO IS ONLY CONCERNED ABOUT MAINTAINING POWER

       UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK   -  The United States Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), Nikki Haley, spoke Friday on the actions taken by the Venezuelan government against representatives of the Catholic Church.

    In the statement posted on Twitter, Haley argues that "by targeting religious leaders, who promote peace and provide hope to believers, the regime continues to demonstrate that it only cares about preserving its power and does not concern itself with basic human rights and the welfare of its citizens. "

      The representative of the United States to the UN, pointed to the Maduro government as a "violent" and "corrupt" regime that continues to pressure the Venezuelan people, and reiterated her support for Venezuela in its "struggle to recover democracy."

MORE THAN 550,000 VENEZUELANS LIVE IN COLOMBIA, MOST OF THEM IN AN IRREGULAR WAY

       BOGOTA, COLOMBIA  --   The number of Venezuelans who were in Colombia at the end of 2017 rose to 550,000, an increase of 62 percent compared to the previous six months, as a result of the economic and social crisis that the oil nation is experiencing, reported on Friday immigration authorities. Colombia has become a place of destination and transit for thousands of Venezuelans who flee in search of work, food or medicine that they do not find in the middle of the recession in their country.

     Of the 550,000 only 126,000 were on a regular basis with a temporary stay permit or with some type of visa. "The increase is the result of the situation that has been going through the neighboring country, which has not only forced thousands of nationals to return to Colombia, but also to Venezuelans see our country as an alternative to make transit to other destinations, to settle or to buy products of first necessity, "the director of Migration Colombia, Christian Krüger, said in the report.

    The study revealed that more than 1.3 million Venezuelans used a Border Mobility Card (TMF) at the end of last year to enter Colombia, mainly to supply basic food or medicine needs in the border area. According to the report, more than 652,000 Venezuelans left Colombia last year to return to their country or to other destinations such as Ecuador, Peru, Chile, the United States, Panama, Mexico, Spain, Argentina, Brazil and Costa Rica.

FORMER COLOMBIAN PRESIDENT ALVARO URIBE: "THE DICTATORSHIP IN VENEZUELA HAS CAUSED A HUMANITARIAN CRISIS" IN COLOMBIA

       BOGOTA, COLOMBIA   -- The former president and now senator Álvaro Uribe visited Cúcuta on Thursday and published several photographs of the "humanitarian crisis" that thousands of Venezuelans are going through in Colombian territory, many of them sleeping on the floor, and which has had a direct impact on the Colombian city.

     The 60 percent of Venezuelans entering through the Norte de Santander Department, on the border with Venezuela, do so to continue to other cities, while the remaining 40 percent remain in Cúcuta, according to the Colombian Foreign Ministry. Only in the Seville park are nearly 500 Venezuelans living. Many of those who arrive have no money to pay even a hotel night. Uribe, who a few days ago had called the Venezuelan military to overthrow Nicolás Maduro, referred to this situation and said that if the "dictatorship" continues, the crisis will be of the same magnitude in Cúcuta.

    "If the regime continues, the depression of Cúcuta will come to a moment that will be the same to the other side and the citizens will ask themselves why democracy," he said. "It is a tremendous humanitarian crisis. It moves and Colombia is at risk of contamination, "he said in a video. The former president said that Colombia and the UN should invest the $ 315 million that will be allocated to monitor the reduction of illicit crops in investment for the social and economic rehabilitation of the border, starting with Cúcuta.

January  19, 2018

"MADURO GIVE ME MY SON'S CORPSE!" SAYS MOTHER OF VENEZUELA REBEL HERO

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA   -  Relatives of the anti-Maduro rebels that were killed by police Monday are pleading to claim the bodies of their relatives, while a hero’s sendoff for a pro-government activist that took part in the shootout causes resentment Wednesday in Caracas. “Make it known to President Maduro, because by law we are entitled as citizens, that our grief be respected and that he stop obstructing and deliver to us the body of my son!” pleaded Cecilia Agostini, the mother of Abraham Agostini, one of the men killed alongside Perez, according to police.

     Agostini and other relatives of the deceased gave a press conference Wednesday. Oscar Alberto Pérez, Daniel Enrique Soto Torres, Abraham Israel Agostini Agostini, Jose Alejandro Díaz Pimentel, Jairo Lugo Ramos, Abraham Lugo Ramos and Lisbeth Andreina Ramirez Mantilla, the lone woman, were felled Monday near El Junquito, a township outside of Caracas where weekend chalets intermingle with wooden “ranchos”, substandard shacks where the poorest Venezuelans dwell. Lawmaker Wiston Florez told reporters during the conference that “they (the government) told us the bodies are at the orders of a military court.”

     Heyker Vasquez, a member of the pro-Maduro “Three Roots” collective was in uniform as a National Police officer and carrying a fake ID when he was shot and killed in the chest Monday, one of the two policemen killed during the raid. Today, his affiliates in the armed pro-Maduro gang shot machine guns in the air (such weapons are illegal in Venezuela) and proceeded to bury him after a motorcade through the dead man’s old “23 de enero” neighborhood, black-clad, hooded and carrying late-model US-made assault rifles, in an image reminiscent of ISIS. Meanwhile, the dead on the other side of the shootout have not even been released to their families, two full days after the attack.

THE EPISCOPAL CONFERENCE DENOUNCES EXTRAJUDICIAL EXECUTIONS AND DEATH OF CIVILIANS DURING POLICE OPERATION EN EL JUNQUITO 

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --   The Episcopal Conference of Venezuela (CEV) on Thursday called "massacre" the police operation on Monday in which 9 people were killed, including former police officer Óscar Pérez, who rebelled against the government of Nicolás Maduro. The Catholic hierarchy issued a statement in which it "denounces the horrible massacre evidenced in extrajudicial executions and deaths of civilians in actions perpetrated by military forces."

     "This act places us before the degradation and disrespect of the dignity and human rights pertaining to any person," continues the letter from the CEV in which they demand from the authorities an investigation into this operation. The Venezuelan bishops question in the text "the lack of peaceful resolution of conflict in front of a case of request for surrender, the absence of prosecutors in the proceedings and the use of armed civilian groups" in the operation, defended by the Executive. In view of this situation, they ask the Prosecutor's Office "to ensure the delivery to the next of kin of the bodies of the deceased", which has not occurred 72 hours after the police operation and "avoiding cremation, without their authorization, to determine the cause of death".

    Pérez rebelled against Maduro last June when he flew over Caracas with a helicopter of the scientific police and shot two official buildings without causing injuries or deaths. Since then he recorded from underground several videos in which he demanded a popular uprising against the Chavez government, and last month assaulted with his men a military base from which he stole weapons and subjected the soldiers and recriminated their loyalty towards Maduro. Before being killed the 36-year-old former agent spread on the networks several videos in which he asked to surrender to save the lives of the "innocent civilians" he said he had in the house where he was entrenched in the town of El Junquito.

EUROPEAN UNION TO IMPOSE SANCTIONS ON SEVEN VENEZUELAN OFFICIALS

       BRUSSELS, SWITZERLAND   -- The European Union has decided to include some senior Venezuelan officials in its sanctions blacklist over an ongoing political conflict in the country, sources within the bloc have indicated. Diplomatic sources said Thursday that new sanctions would be imposed on seven senior Venezuela officials over their alleged role in rights abuses committed against opponents since a new wave of anti-government protests erupted in the South American country last year.

     The officials include Interior Minister Nestor Reverol, Supreme Court president Maikel Moreno, National Intelligence Director Gustavo Gonzalez Lopez as well as Diosdado Cabello, the number two in President Nicolas Maduro's ruling socialist party. Back in November, the EU slapped sanctions on Venezuela, including an embargo on weapons and equipment that could be used against opponents. The new sanctions are the first to target individuals within Maduro’s government. An EU official said the 28-member bloc “agreed on new listings ... in view of the situation in Venezuela.”

     However, EU foreign ministers are to formally approve the new sanctions in their upcoming meeting on Monday. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro presents the annual state of the nation report to the National Assembly in Caracas on January 15, 2018. (Photo by AFP) European Commission spokeswoman Catherine Ray declined to comment on the new decision, but said that the EU was “always in full support” of efforts to find a negotiated solution to the political standoff in Venezuela, where the opposition has led street protests against Maduro in the past months over an acute economic crisis that has led to a fall in living standards in the oil-rich country.

January  18, 2018

ORDER FULFILLED! SAYS DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO ON TELEVISION ABOUT THE EXECUTION OF OSCAR PEREZ

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA   -  President Nicolás Maduro publicly acknowledged the work of the Bolivarian National Guard in the death of insurgent Óscar Pérez and six other members of the Resistencia group, described by the Venezuelan government as a "terrorist" organization. The Interior Minister of Venezuela, Néstor Reverol, had confirmed in the morning the death of the insurgent police officer and maintained that he managed to locate him by an interview he conducted with CNN in Spanish and by data provided by the opposition itself.

     "Within 17 days of giving the order, order fulfilled. My recognition to the operational strategic commander, to Minister Reverol, to the special forces of the Guard, of the Navy, of the Army, of the Bolivarian National Police, "Maduro said in an act on Tuesday night. The Venezuelan president accused the "mayamera revolution" (of Miami) and the "Colombian oligarchy" of financing terrorist groups in Venezuela. "I tell them that every group that armes and finances to bring terrorism is going to touch the same fate," he said. "We are willing to defend with our lives the right to peace, to dignity, to the independence of our people. No one is going to come and bring terrorism to our homeland. "

     Maduro specifically referred to the "terrorist" former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, who on Tuesday called on the Venezuelan military to overthrow Maduro and call for elections. The army of Venezuela has the floor, or allows them to continue murdering the citizens or intervenes to put Maduro aside and to call for free elections that find the democratic way. He also pointed out, without naming names, some "Mayan congressmen" of also be the "political and financial control of these terrorist groups." "Orders are received from Miami and the Bogota oligarchy. That is why they go out to shriek when it is possible to capture and dismantle these violent, armed groups that want to bring terrorism to Venezuela. That is why we must continue on that path, "he added.

NATIONAL ASSEMBLY INSTALLED SPECIAL COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE MASSACRE IN EL JUNQUITO 

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --    The Venezuelan Parliament, of opposition majority, installed today a special commission that will investigate the military operation that ended on Monday with the death of the rebel police against the Government Óscar Pérez and six other "terrorists" according to the Executive. During the conformation of this parliamentary team, headed by the president of the Interior Policy Commission, Delsa Solórzano, several of the relatives of the deceased were present. The Interior Minister, Néstor Reverol, reported yesterday that "despite all attempts to achieve a peaceful and negotiated surrender" the "heavily armed terrorist group began in an artful, malicious manner, a confrontation with the acting security agencies, unfortunately generating 2 fatal victims of the security forces. "

    In this session of the commission, the opposition deputy César Alonso asked Reverol "some evidence (...) incontrovertible" that Pérez "deposed the attitude of surrendering" and that he took up arms to confront the security forces that justified the violent military operative. "That has to be presented to the public, because if they do not, it is simply corroborated in a clear, forceful way, that we are observing an execution, a massacre," Alonso said. The member of the scientific police Óscar Pérez, of 36 years, became known during the antigovernment demonstrations of mid-2017 when a helicopter of this security body flew over the Supreme Court of Justice against which he fired and threw grenades.

   After this action that left some material damage and already in hiding, a few weeks ago he assaulted a military barracks from which he took weapons, an assault that also left no fatal victims. He also recorded a series of videos that he posted on social networks asking for a popular uprising against the Chávez government. The police action against Perez and his team has been criticized by human rights NGOs who say that the "state did not exhaust the path of peaceful resolution and brought about an outcome with deaths and injuries in operation," according to the Venezuelan Education-Action Program in Human Rights (Provea). A series of videos recorded from inside the house showed Perez negotiating with the security forces, to which he asked for guarantees to surrender and thus save the lives of the "innocent civilians" he said he had in the place.

THE VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION QUALIFIES AS "CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY" THE EXECUTION OF OSCAR PEREZ; THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY WILL INVESTIGATE THE OPERATION

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- The deputy Simón Calzadilla, member of the opposition delegation in the negotiations with the chavismo, described today as a "crime against humanity" the operation against the armed group conducted by the Government and led by the ex-police Óscar Pérez that ended Monday with his life and several other people. "What happened yesterday is a crime against humanity that is going to be condemned by the whole world because it was evident, in view of the almost live transmission of that execution, and that we condemn and demand an international investigation," Calzadilla said during an interview on Union Radio.

    The former agent of the Venezuelan Scientific Police (CICPC) Óscar Pérez rebelled against the government of Nicolás Maduro last June, when he flew over the center of Caracas with a helicopter from the aforementioned security body and threw grenades and shots at two official buildings, without causing dead or great damage. Perez had since broadcast several messages in which he claimed to lead a "coalition of military and civilians" that was working to overthrow Maduro, and last December assaulted a military barracks from which he took weapons while recriminating the soldiers present who remain loyal to the Chavista government.

     The authorities located Perez and some of his men yesterday in a house in the popular Caracas neighborhood of El Junquito, against which Maduro’s forces launched an operation that ended with several deaths. Pérez - who appears to be wounded in the images - had asked to deliver himself in several videos published on social networks. "We in the National Assembly (Parliament) will make our own investigations into this operation," Calzadilla said, joining other opposition lawmakers who had rejected the way in which the government forces performed the military operation. "This gentleman was giving himself up, and his life was not respected, this gentleman did not produce a single death, nor a scratch, in the two military operations he carried out," the deputy said about luck by Óscar Pérez.

January  17, 2018

MUD RESPONDS TO NESTOR REVEL AND HIS GOVIERNMENT:  YOU ARE THE REPRESENTATIVES OF THE LIE

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA   -  The whole country knows this character, and his new "official lies" surprise no one. What the people ask to the liar of Reverol is the following: why did armed paramilitaries, misnamed collectives, led a supposed operation of public order? In Venezuela, then, the monopoly of weapons does not belong to the National Armed Forces? What does the Armed Forces think about it? Do our military know that they must share with criminals the national security function that the Constitution assigns exclusively to them?

    How to explain the presence, confirmed by Freddy Bernal, of Mr. Heiker Vásquez, leader of the Collective "Tres Raíces" of January 23, and also in charge of the control and trafficking of food in the area, leading yesterday’s military operation?; Is it true that members of this group were in charge of the work of "extermination" of the group of Mr. Óscar Pérez? Why, if the entire country knew through social networks that Oscar Pérez and his colleagues were willing to surrender, the result was what finally happened? Where was the Prosecutor's Office and the Ombudsman's Office?

    Since we know that Mr. Reverol only knows how to lie and will never give answers to what the people want to know, the National Assembly has decided to open an inquiry that will establish the truth of this regrettable and condemnable act. The Democratic Unity, in spite of the government, remains firm in its strategy of confronting and overcoming the regime through the constitutional, peaceful, democratic and electoral struggle. Nothing and no one will take us out of this path, let alone a decadent and corrupt regime, overwhelmed by immense popular pressure and by the international community, and we will not rest until we achieve a political solution to the painful tragedy that all Venezuelans are experiencing.

DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO HAS ASKED OTHER COUNTRIES TO ADOPT HIS OIL-BACKED NEW CRYPTOCURRENCY 

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --    Venezuelan DICTATOR Nicolas Maduro has called for other countries to adopt the oil-backed cryptocurrency Petro, tipped as a way out of the country's economic crisis. The president said that Petro would provide an avenue to "advance in issues of monetary sovereignty, to make financial transactions and overcome the financial blockade." Venezuela is in the grip of an economic crisis, with the cost of living soaring, wages stagnating, and heavy debt. Some economists predict the country is on the verge of hyperinflation and without serious changes, Venezuela's economy may be at risk of collapse.

     The country is also struggling with sanctions imposed by the US in relation to corruption and drug trafficking. Maduro has not publicly explained how the cryptocurrency will function, nor how trading will be managed. However, as reported by Bitcoin News, the president is still attempting to find backers for the ambitious project. Maduro held a meeting recently with the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, Treaty of Commerce of the Peoples (Alba), which encompasses Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, and Venezuela.

     During the meeting, the president called on the countries to "assume together the creation of the cryptocurrency, the Petro," as an "integration currency of our peoples." Maduro also said the cryptocurrency represents "integration of the 21st century in a bold way, but also in a creative way." While other countries including South Korea are shying away from virtual currencies, Venezuela's resource-backed variant may have the potential to chip away at the economic mountain the country faces -- or it could prove to be an expensive mistake. The Opposition National Assembly has already ruled Petro as illegal, and without the government's support, the creation of Petro will be dead in the water. This why Maduro is hoping the backing of other countries will sway the political opposition to the project.

MONSIGNOR MORONTA TO MADURO: IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO INVESTIGATE SPEECHES MADE BY BISHOPS BECAUSE THEY ARE OF PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- The first vice president of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference (CEV), Monsignor Mario Moronta, said today that the request made to the Prosecutor Office by President Nicolás Maduro to investigate homilies to determine whether it was a "hate crime" goes against the entire Catholic Church in our country . According to Moronta, it is unnecessary to investigate because the prelates made "accusations that are of public knowledge", but that in the case that the Prosecutor's Office considers it, "there are the speeches, there are the homilies." "they will not find any call to hate, no invitation to violence, as indeed we can hear in many of the expressions that even yesterday were said," he added.

    During the procession last Sunday in honor of the Divina Pastora, one of the most multitudinous in the world, both the archbishop of Barquisimeto, Antonio López Castillo, and the Bishop of San Felipe, Víctor Hugo Basabe, launched strong criticisms against the Government were answered by Maduro with the mentioned petition to the Public Ministry. Basabe asked the Virgin to rid Venezuela of "the plague" of political corruption that, he said, led the country "to moral, economic and social ruin," as well as the "plague of indifference that does not allow us to understand that the future of Venezuela is not built by a few, but it will be the result of everyone's effort ".

    Maduro referred yesterday to the priests during the presentation of his management balance, in front of the Constituent Assembly, not recognized by the Parliament, with an opposition majority, as "devils with cassock". The bishop of San Cristóbal said today that in the case of detention or reprisal against these members of the congregation "the Government, the entire State, will have to face not only the Church in Venezuela, which will not rebel, it is not going to go to violence, but (...) it is going to be a problem of international character ". "Not only because of the relations that there are with the Holy See, but also because many governments are going to realize that here the Rule of Law (...) is being violated," he added.

January  16, 2018

VENEZUELA FORCES LAUNCH ASSAULT AGAINST REBEL POLICE OFFICER OSCAR PEREZ IN THE JUNQUITO

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA   - Venezuelan government forces launched an assault Monday morning — using rockets and snipers — at a location that serves as a hideout for rebel police officers, the unit’s leader Óscar Pérez said in video snippets posted on social media, including one in which he appears with a bloodied face. “They are firing at us with RPG, grenades and grenade launchers, snipers,” Pérez says in one video. “There are civilians in here. We told them that we’re going to turn ourselves in and they don’t want to let us surrender. They want to kill us.”

     Pérez — a former police officer who says he’s a fighter against the Nicolás Maduro regime — is wanted by the government for an attack he allegedly led from a stolen police helicopter against the Supreme Court and Interior Ministry headquarters in Caracas. By midday Monday, the government announced that Pérez and other “terrorists” had been captured following a deadly gunfire exchange at a village outside the capital that killed at least one government officer and injured as many as 10 others.

     “The terrorist Oscar Pérez attacked those around him,” socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello posted on Twitter. “Security forces returned fire.” In the first of several videos released via social media Monday morning, Pérez announced that he and a small group of men were still alive, despite the early-morning assault. Members of the Venezuelan Bolivarian Intelligence Service arrive to the Junquito highway during an operation to capture Oscar Perez in Caracas, Venezuela. “Here we are, here we are, alive and well, the whole team, we are on the new Junquito road (on the outskirts of Caracas), the whole team,” he said. “Here come the government people. We are surrounded. Information on our whereabouts was leaked, but the battle for the homeland continues.

OSCAR PEREZ POSTS VIDEO SAYING HE IS UNDER ATTACK BY VENEZUELAN GOVERNMENT FORCES 

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --   Óscar Pérez, the Venezuelan policeman wanted after attacking the headquarters of the Supreme Court and the Ministry of the Interior from a helicopter, is surrounded by Venezuelan government forces. “For those who had doubts that we are fighting, they have fired at us, we are crouched, but we are already negotiating with the officials, the prosecutors,” Pérez continued in the video, in which he also asks Venezuelans not to lose hope and to fight for freedom. About a half-hour after the first video made its rounds on social media, a second video circulated showing Pérez with a bloodied face.

     Meanwhile, Pérez’s mother issued a plea to the Maduro government to allow her son to surrender. “He is trying to give himself up and they will not let him in. Let him surrender,” Aminta Pérez said in a third video. “Spare his life. If anything happens to him, you will be responsible.” Penitentiary Service Minister María Iris Varela also took to Twitter on Monday to defend the assault: “Oscar Pérez , now comes the show of tears. How cowardly he looks trapped like a rat! Where was his courage to hold up military units, killing and wounding officials and stealing weapons? … Those bandits must contend with the new regime.”

     The 36-year-old Óscar Pérez rose to notoriety in July 2017 when, amid anti-government protests that left more than 100 dead in Venezuela, he allegedly launched several grenades from a stolen police helicopter aimed at two government buildings in Caracas. No one was injured and the building suffered minor damage, but his name became known to the people — and to authorities. He has since been a fugitive. Pérez has used social media to call on Venezuelans to rise up against the Maduro government. He has published several videos stating that his fight is for his children and “all the children” of Venezuela.

SEVERAL DEAD IN OPERATION TO ARREST ROGUE VENEZUEAN PILOT OSCAR PEREZ. A WITNESS OF THE OPERATION AFFIRMS THAT HE PILOTO WAS KILLED AFTER HIS CAPTURE

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- Two police officers were killed in Caracas as security forces closed in on a rogue pilot and former policeman who stole a helicopter and bombed government buildings in an audacious stunt that inspired protesters across Venezuela. Police traced Óscar Pérez to a run-down area near the capital on Monday after six months on the run following his air raid in June last year. According to the Ministry of the Interior and Justice, five members of the “terrorist cell” were arrested in a shootout that lasted several hours and left five injured.

     Pérez raised the alarm in typically dramatic fashion with a series of posts on Instagram showing him with a bloody face as he claimed to be under siege from regime forces. He was cornered by special security forces in his hiding place in El Junquito, a poor area 25 km northwest of Caracas, according to Venezuelan authorities. "They are firing at us with grenade launchers, we said we were going to surrender and they don’t want to let us surrender, they want to kill us" Mr Pérez said in one of the videos published online during the siege.

     Diosdado Cabello, dictator Nicolás Maduro's second in command, confirmed the gunfight on his Twitter account last night. “The terrorist Óscar Pérez and his band opened fire on the police, killing a policeman, wounding 10, three of them seriously” he wrote. State television also confirmed the arrests, although Mr Pérez’s fate was last night unkonwn. Pérez, a former police pilot, has been missing since last June when he hijacked a police helicopter and tossed grenades on the Interior Ministry and Supreme Court. There were no injuries or fatalities. He went into hiding immediately after the attack, but sent messages on social media calling for a rebellion against the government of President Maduro, whom he blames for the economic crisis that the country is facing.

January  15, 2018

VENEZUELA TALKS END IN INCONCLUSIVELY, TO RESUME NEXT WEEK

       SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC   - Talks between the Venezuelan government and the opposition will resume next week after the current round of dialogue ended inconclusively on Saturday in the capital of the Dominican Republic. At the conclusion of an intense day of negotiations, Dominican President Danilo Medina said the two sides could not reach a definitive decision on the six items on the agenda. The spokesperson of the Venezuelan government, Communication Minister Jorge Rodriguez, said the two sides had agreed on a majority of points, and the remaining they hope to resolve in the next round that will begin on Thursday.

     Lawmaker Julio Borges, leader of the opposition delegation, said despite the stalemate, the opposition would not compromise its position as that would only deepen Venezuela’s political crisis. On Friday, after more than 12 hours of intense but failed negotiations, both sides had agreed to extend the talks to Saturday. The key demands of the opposition in the dialogue include a transparent electoral system for the 2018 presidential elections, the opening of a humanitarian channel to allow the entry of medicines and food supplies, freeing political prisoners, and restoration of the constitutional powers of the opposition-dominated National Assembly legislature.

    The ruling party demands the lifting of economic sanctions that have been imposed on some of its officials and the recognition of the National Constituent Assembly, a plenipotentiary branch of government made up of ruling party members only and not recognized by numerous governments. The talks were also attended by Medina and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Representatives from Chile and Mexico – invited by the opposition – and from Bolivia, Nicaragua and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – invited by the Nicolas Maduro-led government also participated in the talks.

FOUR KILLED IN VENEZUELA FOOD LOOTING; VIOLENCE 

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --   Four people were killed and 15 injured on Thursday in violence linked to food looting in Venezuela, according to members of the opposition and the local press. It brought to six the number of deaths tied to desperate food shortages in the oil-rich but crisis-riven country since December. In the town of Arapuey in the west of Venezuela, for several days now looters have targeted shops and stores and clashed with soldiers, said Carlos Paparoni, an opposition lawmaker. He said around 100 people have been arrested.

    Gaby Arellano, another opposition lawmaker, said the area has been "overtaken" by soldiers and police, with shop owners doing what they can to defend their property. Venezuela is in the throes of a deepening crisis caused by falling oil prices, spiraling inflation, and corruption that has decimated the economy. In the past several days looting and attempted looting has broken out in a number of towns and cities.

    A 19-year-old Venezuelan was shot dead Wednesday when hundreds of people looted trucks carrying flour and chicken in the western city of Guanare. On December 31, a young woman, also aged 19, died after being shot in the head, allegedly by a soldier, while waiting in Caracas to buy pork distributed by the government. Hyperinflation is expected to top 2,300 percent this year in Venezuela. Local universities say 30.2 percent of Venezuelans face poverty and 51.5 percent extreme poverty while the government puts the figures at 18.3 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively.

IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC FOOD IS NEGOTIATED FOR THE RECOGNITION OF CONSTITUENT

       SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC -- Sources close to the negotiations in the Dominican Republic reported that President Nicolás Maduro would be willing to allow humanitarian aid, specifically food, to enter, but establishes as a condition that the opposition recognize the National Constituent Assembly (ANC). Apparently, this would be one of the topics that is discussed behind closed doors in the Dominican Republic in the framework of the negotiations between the regime of Nicolás Maduro and the opposition that began on Thursday at the end of the day.

    The Venezuelan government would also make it a condition to administer the distribution of food, a situation considered dangerous by several opposition leaders, according to the newspaper El Nacional de Venezuela. "Accepting the Constituent means surrendering the country. It is to legitimize the perpetuation of the regime and place the final nail in the coffin of the freedom of Venezuela, "said the former ambassador of Venezuela to the United Nations, Diego Arría, from New York. Similarly, the leader María Corina Machado, said that "Any decision made in the Dominican Republic that accepts [the ANC], or even that only ignores it, for us is absolutely unacceptable."

    The ANC is a fraudulent instance that if legitimated would be in a position to revert any authority or any decision taken in Venezuela, including any agreement reached in the Dominican Republic, said Machado, who stressed that any agreement must begin by dismantling the Constituent Assembly. As part of the offer to open the humanitarian channel, it would also include releasing some political prisoners, legitimizing some of the abolished political parties and allowing the opposition to appoint two rectors within the National Electoral Council, all in exchange for the MUD to stop question the legitimacy of the National Constituent Assembly.
 

January  14, 2018

THOMAS SHANNON ANNOUNCES THAT THE US WILL IMPOSE MORE SANCTIONS ON OFFICIALS OF THE MADURO REGIME

        MADRID, SPAIN    - Thomas Shannon, undersecretary of State for Political Affairs of the United States, told El País of Spain that his government is preparing new sanctions for officials of the Nicolás Maduro regime. We are coordinating our diplomatic actions to create a network of sanctions against the government of Venezuela, and particularly against individuals or members of the government who have participated in violence against the people of Venezuela or against the democratic process, to facilitate the possibilities of dialogue between the government and the opposition.

    We also have a lot of interest in the work of Spain in applying sanctions within the European Union. Spain has played a leading role in that process and I think it is a very, very important role, "he said in an interview conducted by David Alandete. Shannon believes that due to the behavior of Maduro's government, it is difficult for the dialogue that takes place in Santo Domingo to have results. "Dialogue is very complicated and difficult at this time, mainly because of the behavior of the Venezuelan government.

    We greatly appreciate the work of the facilitators, especially President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. But there is still a lot of work to be done. From our point of view, sanctions are part of the force to convince the government that the exit from the crisis that Venezuela suffers today depends on a successful negotiation, "he explained. His statements are in addition to those of Heraldo Muñoz, Chilean foreign minister, mediator of the dialogue, who said on Thursday that the expectations that the Maduro government will comply with its agreements are low for the administration of Michelle Bachelet and soon Sebastián Piñera.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT! STARVING VENEZUELANS ADVISED TO EAT...DOG FOOD 

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --   The non-governmental organization Provea confirmed that in the face of the economic crisis and food shortage that Venezuela is going through, there are people who are eating animal feed, according to this Wednesday's website. Provea visited some supermarkets and shops in Caracas where he observed people who buy the so-called "dog sausages", made with crushed bone and other inedible parts of the chicken, for consumption.

     Those interviewed by the NGO stated that they bought and prepared it mostly with chopped rice, another food that is not recommended to eat because "it does not meet the optimal conditions of health, since it is a by-product and waste of rice that contains bacteria that the production process can fall to the ground and be contaminated with rodent urine, " according to El Universal . For Provea, the fact that Venezuelans are consuming these animal feeds is a dramatic consequence of the violation of the right to food by the State, for not taking measures to guarantee the population's access to basic diet products in a manner safe and at affordable prices. Likewise, he described as arbitrary and insufficient the measures taken by Sundde to guarantee food for Venezuelans.

    Dog sausages can be contaminated with particles of all kinds that emanate from the chicken when it is not treated properly. These foods can be harmful to health. Consulted by the newspaper, the nutritionist Yazarenit Mercadante explained that these sausages for frozen dogs are made, mainly, with inedible parts of the chicken (cartilage, skin, bones, feathers). In addition, "they can be contaminated with particles of all kinds emanating from the animal when it is not treated properly." According to Provea, that Venezuelans are consuming food for animals is a dramatic consequence of the violation of the right to food by the State not to take measures to ensure the population's access to basic diet products, safely and securely. affordable prices.

THE SPANISH GOVERNMENT APPROVES TO EXTRADITE CESAR RINCON GODOY TO THE UNITED STATES

       MADRID, SPAIN  -- The Council of Ministers approved on Friday the extradition to the United States of César David Rincón Godoy, former manager of the subsidiary of Petróleos de Venezuela, SA (PDVSA) Bariven. The Civil Guard arrested last October in Madrid this exdirective at the request of a Texas court that investigates a case for money laundering, corruption and belonged to the criminal organization linked to the Venezuelan state oil company. The extradition of Rincón Godoy will be executed by the immediate delivery procedure, since the former director has accepted the request of the US authorities, according to the Ministry of Justice.

    The Government has also confirmed that it maintains the extradition of the other former Venezuelan officials arrested in Madrid at the request of the United States. They are the former Vice Minister of Energy of Venezuela Nervis Villalobos; the former Director of Security and Prevention of PDVSA Rafael Ernesto Reiter Muñoz; and former Finance Director of Electricidad de Caracas Luis Carlos León Pérez. The National Court must now decide whether to hand over to the US these three former senior officials who have been in provisional detention in Spain since their arrest last October. The detainees are part of the so-called Chavez bourgeoisie, a group of businessmen who got rich in the heat of the Venezuelan oil bonanza.

    EL PAÍS revealed that former Venezuelan Energy Minister Nervis Villalobos integrated a network of a dozen ex-leaders and frontmen of politicians of Venezuelan government during the presidency of Hugo Chávez (1999-2013) that allegedly charged 2,000 million euros in illegal commissions to mediate for foreign companies to obtain PDVSA's oil contracts. The Andorran judge Canòlic Mingorance investigated the management of this group of former Chavez leaders, businessmen and family members in the context of a presumed plunder of the state oil company. The money of the supposed bribes was paid between 2007 and 2012 in the Banca Privada d'Andorra (BPA). And it circulated through a web of 37 current accounts in the name of Panamanian companies.

January  13, 2018

VENEZUELA OPPOSITION LEADERS ASK CHILE AND MEXICO TO CLOSE "THE CHAPTER" OF THE VENEZUELAN POLITICAL DIALOGUE

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA   - The opposition platform "I am Venezuela", led by María Corina Machado and former exiled mayor Antonio Ledezma, asked Mexico and Chile - observers in the Venezuelan political dialogue - to "close the chapter" of these talks that are taking place today in Santo Domingo and which they do not trust. In a press release published on Thursday, the organization explains that on Wednesday they met with the ambassador of Chile, Pedro Ramírez, and representatives of the Mexican embassy, to whom they said "it was time to close the chapter of the Dominican Republic." .

     "We have respectfully reiterated our position to the representatives of both countries - chosen by the opposition - and we have insisted that these nations that in good faith have wanted to help the Venezuelan people run the risk of damaging their credibility because this regime has repeatedly demonstrated that meets, "says the note. The organization, which thanked the countries for they don’t comply with any agreement because they are not concern about the situation in Venezuela. They also reiterated that the dialogue is not "true" and that it is not "a serious negotiation like the one urgently required by the Venezuelan society."

     It is also emphasized that "this process is a parody mounted by the regime to gain time while the dimension of the crisis is sharpened". In these conversations the opposition asks, mainly, electoral guarantees for the presidential elections that should be held this year, because they consider that the Electoral Council is not an independent arbitrator; It also demands the opening of a humanitarian channel for the entry of medicines and food into the country. For its part, the ruling party calls for the recognition of the Constituent Assembly, a plenipotentiary body formed only by chavistas, and the withdrawal of international economic sanctions against the regime.

PRESIDENT SANTOS TO DICTATOR MADURO: DO NOT USE COLOMBIA TO COVER UP THE FAILURES OF YOUR FAILED REVOLUTION 

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- President Juan Manuel Santos on Thursday asked his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolás Maduro to stop using Colombia as an excuse to cover the failure of the revolution and again offered humanitarian support with food and medicine to mitigate the shortage of supplies in the oil country. Santos rejected a statement from Maduro in which he claimed that Colombia's health system was a failure and that thousands of Colombians spent every day Venezuela in search of care and medicine.

    "By God, what cynicism. Everyone knows that it is the opposite. It is here, in Colombia, where we are serving more and more Venezuelan citizens who do not even find the most elementary medicines in their country, "the Colombian president said in a statement from the government house. "But, President Maduro, do not intend to use the Colombian people to cover up the enormous shortcomings of your failed revolution," Santos added, recalling that vaccination coverage in Venezuela is limited and that diseases such as diphtheria and measles have reappeared.

     It is the latest dispute between the leaders of the two neighboring countries that have had a tense diplomatic relationship for years. Thousands of Venezuelans go daily to Colombia to work, study or buy medicines and food, but many have entered cities such as Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Barranquilla in search of new opportunities, according to immigration authorities. More than 470,000 Venezuelans currently live in Colombia, most irregularly, according to Bogota, which has ruled out closing the border with the oil country to stop the migration to its territory, Reuters reported.

16 VENEZUELAN MIGRANT SURVIVED BOAT CRASH NEAR CURAZAO COAST; 5 DIED

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --    Venezuelan officials said Friday they have accounted for 16 survivors from the deadly shipwreck of a small motorboat carrying migrants that broke apart on the rocks of a Caribbean island. The death toll rose to five after the body of a man washed ashore on the Dutch Island of Curacao and was discovered in the morning, police spokesman Reginald Huggins said. The boat carrying roughly 30 people left Tuesday night on the short but treacherous route taken by Venezuelans fleeing their country’s economic collapse in search of jobs and money to send back home.

    Early Wednesday police discovered the first four bodies and the wreckage of the boat on the shore of Curacao, 45 miles (70 kilometers) from the mainland. Its remains were found smashed on rocks near the entrance of a lagoon called Koraal Tabak. The area is known for rough seas, but officials say smugglers sometimes use it in hopes of avoiding patrols on Curacao’s southern coast. In Venezuela, Regional Civil Protection director Jose Montano said relatives confirmed that 11 of the passengers survived. Some were in hiding on the island because they entered illegally, he said.

    Five survivors were in custody in Curacao for entering illegally, two of them in a hospital. Police used photos to identify three of the victims who were between 22 and 24 years old, Montano said. Residents of the small Venezuelan community of La Vela de Coro mourned the victims. “Because of the hunger that we live with here, she went to find a job,” Aura Chirinos said of her daughter, who was among the dead. “She has two little babies, one three months old today.” Ines Molero, whose son-in-law managed to swim to shore safely, said the economic crisis drives young people to risk their lives in search of work. “Those kids left with the hope of returning someday, to feed their children,” Molero said.

January  12, 2018

TALKS RESUMED YESTERDAY IN DOMINICAN REPUBLIC TO EASE VENEZUELA'S CRISIS

        SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC  - Talks to ease Venezuela's dire political and economic straits resumed yesterday, even as severe food shortages fuel looting and the president and parliament spar anew over access to humanitarian aid. "We are on the verge of a social explosion," Jorge Millan, an opposition lawmaker in the National Assembly, said Tuesday in arguing for "palliatives" to the protracted crisis that already sparked four months of near-daily protests last year. The legislature agreed to push President Nicolas Maduro's administration to allow international deliveries of food and medical supplies to ease suffering in the country of 30 million.

     Maduro condemned the legislature's move as an attempt to foment foreign intervention. "It's the same people who want to destroy this country, [who] do not want this country to prosper," he said. "I call upon the Venezuelan people to actively repudiate the National Assembly." Earlier this week, looters emptied shelves in five stores in Venezuela's southeastern Ciudad Guayana, Reuters news agency reported Tuesday. To address Venezuelans' desperation, representatives of Maduro's administration and the opposition coalition Democratic Unity Committee (MUD) began meeting on Thursday in the Dominican Republic for two days of renewed talks.

     On Friday, they're to be joined by international observers: Danilo Medina, the Dominican Republic's president, as well as officials from Bolivia, Chile, Mexico and Nicaragua. The ruling Social Party's team seeks international recognition of the National Constituent Assembly as well as an end to international economic sanctions that have reduced the debt-ridden country's access to foreign currency. The United States considers the Constituent Assembly – an all-powerful superbody packed with Maduro supporters – to be fraudulently chosen and a threat to the democratically elected National Assembly.

VENEZUELAN CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY DELEGATE MURDERED 

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- Tomas Lucena, one of 500-plus delegates to Venezuela's polemical supra-Constitutional body the Constituent Assembly, was shot and killed Wednesday, the PSUV ruling party informed. "We repudiate the vile assassination of the Constituent for Trujillo [a state in the Venezuelan Andes], Tomas Lucena. We extend our condolences to his parents, wife, children and friends", Constituent Assembly President Delcy Rodriguez wrote in a tweet. News of Lucena's murder come only one day before a much-awaited new round in the dialogue talks between the governemnt of Nicolas Maduro and the opposition, which are set to resume Thursday and Friday in the Dominican Republic.

     The very existence of the Constituent is a sticking sore point in the talks: the opposition says the pro-Maduro body was fraudulently constituted, its first actions were to take away power from the opposition-held National Assembly, and is not recognized by the United States, the Europeean Union, neighbors Brazil and Colombia as well as a majority of other countries in the world. In related news, riots and looting took place in Ciudad Bolivar, Bolivar state for a third day in a row, Wednesday as well as in other areas of the oil-rich nation. The opposition ratified that it was going to attend the Dominican Republic meetings, but warned that, if the dialogue again failed (as have six previous, similar efforts) they would take to the streets in protest.

     Lucena was murdered as he was seated in the driver's position inside a white car, near 16th street, in Valera, the capital city of Trujillo state. The deceased represented Trujillo's Escuque municipality in the Constituent Assembly. The attacker or attackers shot Lucena, father of three, through the window glass three times at about 1 p.m. local time. All three shots hit that the Constituent delegate in the head, according to a report posted by local paper "Diario de Los Andes." Leading respected national daily "El Nacional" said eyewitnesses told of a single man in a motorcycle as being the alleged hitman. Lucena's wife sat next to him during the murder, according also to the report. No arrests have been reported in the Lucena murder case.

BACK TO THE STREETS IF NEGOTIATION IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC FAILS

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --    Venezuelan Lawmaker Juan Andrés Mejía said yesterday that if the negotiation in the Dominican Republic fails, “Voluntad Popular will take to the streets defending people’s rights, fighting for food, medicines and jobs for our citizens.” According to Mejía, there’s no consensus in Miraflores and they don’t recognize the dimension of the crisis we’re going through, which could block negotiations; besides, the government hasn’t stopped attacking the opposition and he said that the National Constituent Assembly’s demand to re-validate opposition parties is an “illegal” decision, as much as the refusal to open a humanitarian channel.

     Mejía explained that the leaders who are attending negotiations believe in that process because they know that the only solution is respect for the Constitution. He called the Armed Forces to understand that the solution “is not repressing or killing Venezuelan citizens” who protest. Protests, riots and lootings continue to be reported in several states of the country. Trujillo had some significant riots due to the intense shortage of food along with the fact that the government hasn’t handed over the CLAP boxes they promised.

     Repression exercised by the National Guard (GN) and the local police left people wounded. A young man died and at least three were injured during a fight that broke out last night in Portuguesa, when a truck carrying wheat flour and chicken was looted. At the border between Sucre and Anzoátegui, the GN checkpoint is warning heavy load truck drivers about the looting attempts reported along the road. Yesterday, there were protests in El Callao for the lack of malaria treatment and in Barquisimeto, protests took place before the SAIME office because they’ve not issued new appointments for passports and cédulas. Journalist Javier Ignacio Mayorca reported the lootings of stores or load trucks in Mérida, Portuguesa, Apure and Anzoátegui.

January  11, 2018

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO'S THREE THEORIES ON WHO LAUNCHED THE CUBA SONIC ATTACKS

        Washington, d.c.  -  Though theories vary as on what caused 24 U.S. embassy employees and their families to experience brain damage after hearing bizarre noises in their residences in late 2016 and early 2017, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., theorized recently that there are three possible answers to who perpetrated the attacks. “Whoever did this did this because they wanted there to be friction between the U.S. and the Cuban government, that would be the motivation behind this,” said Rubio during a Tuesday hearing about the attacks, adding that the timing, immediately after the 2016 presidential election, hinted at a desire to change the Obama administration’s policy of more open relations with Cuba.

     Groups within Cuba opposed to Cuban leader Raul Castro’s regime could have perpetuated these attacks as a means of damaging the government’s initiatives to establish more open dialogue with the U.S. Doing so could harm the Castro regime’s credibility. But U.S. scientist’s bafflement as to the cause of the U.S. embassy employee’s symptoms indicates that the technology used to create them is beyond the sophistication of a rebel group. “You have a sophisticated attack of some sort causing these injuries. We don’t know who possesses that sophisticated material but we know that it’s pretty sophisticated, leading you to believe that’ it’s a nation state, someone who can afford this kind of thing,” said Rubio.

     Rubio noted that the Castro regime’s efforts to open dialogue with the U.S. in recent years makes it unlikely that they would also attempt to attack U.S. officials directly. However, there could be factions within that government that wished to go back to the country’s old ways of dealing with the U.S. and took action to sour the relationship. “In a rare face-to-face conversation, Castro told U.S. diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis that he was equally baffled, and concerned. Predictably, Castro denied any responsibility. To Rubio, this suggests Castro is aware of rogue elements within his own government that may have been behind this. Rubio added that there are two facts about the attack that the U.S. can know for sure: people were hurt, and the Cuban government knows who did it.

STATE DEPARTMENT SOFTENS TRAVEL WARNING TO CUBA, NOW RECOMMENDS 'RECONSIDERING' TRIP 

       WASHINGTON, D.C.  -- The U.S. State Department has changed its travel alert system and now recommends American citizens “reconsider” visiting Cuba. It had previously issued a warning advising Americans not to travel to the island. “As we were putting all this together, we did a very careful assessment. We talked to all of our experts, and this is where we came out on Cuba,” Michele Thoren Bond, assistant secretary of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, said in a teleconference on Wednesday. On Sept. 29, the State Department recommended that Americans not travel to Cuba because they could risk becoming victims of mysterious attacks such as those suffered by at least 24 diplomats and their relatives stationed in Havana.

     The United States also ordered the evacuation of most of its employees at its embassy in the Cuban capital. According to Bond, the new classification is not due to a change in the situation on the island but the need to be consistent in classifying the risks in different countries. “There is no change in our assessment of what is going on in Cuba,” Bond said. The official said that in cases where the U.S. orders the departure of its personnel from a country, this automatically increases the risk of travel “to level 3 or 4,” which would be equivalent to the old recommendation of “do not to travel.” The new system includes four levels: the first is “exercise normal precautions”; level two, “exercise increased caution”; the third, “reconsider travel”; and level four and most serious is “do not travel.”

     The Associated Press has obtained a recording of what some U.S. embassy workers heard in Havana as they were attacked by what investigators initially believed was a sonic weapon. Carl C. Risch, assistant secretary of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, explained at a press conference in December that level four implies the existence of “life-threatening risks”, while level three “would be talking about avoiding travel due to serious risks of safety and security.” In a hearing before the Senate on Tuesday, State Department officials said the investigation is ongoing, and the perpetrator is still unknown. But they stressed that an attack against diplomatic personnel on Cuban soil likely would be known to the government of the island.

LOOTINGS, SCATTERED PROTESTS HIT VENEZUELAN INDUSTRIAL CITY

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --    A second day of lootings and scattered street protests hit the Ciudad Guayana in southeastern Venezuela on Tuesday, as unrest grows in the once-booming industrial city plagued with food shortages and a malaria outbreak. At least five food stores were looted overnight, with police sources saying some 20 people had been arrested. Angry Venezuelans also blocked three major roads to demand anti-malaria medicine, food, cooking gas and spare parts for trucks. There has been increasing unrest around the South American OPEC member in the last few weeks as a fourth straight year of painful recession and the world’s highest inflation leaves millions unable to eat enough.

     “They stole everything. They broke off the water pipes, they ripped off the toilet bowl, they took away the windows, the fences, the doors, the beds. Everything. They did not kill us because we ran, but they did beat us up,” said Garcia, 38, who planned to sleep at a relative’s house on Tuesday night. The overnight lootings follow at least four similar in the early hours of Monday. Around 10 liquor stores were also looted on Christmas day in southeastern Bolivar state, according to the local chamber of commerce head Florenzo Schettino. Critics blame President Nicolas Maduro and the ruling Socialist Party for Venezuela’s economic mess, saying they have persisted with failed statist policies for too long while turning a blind eye to rampant corruption and suffering.

    The government says it is the victim of an “economic war” by political opponents and right-wing foreign powers, intent on bringing down Maduro in a coup. The Information Ministry did not respond to a request for comment about the lootings on Tuesday. The wave of plunder has spooked many in Ciudad Guyana, leading more people to stay indoors come nightfall and dissuading some stores from opening. Metal worker Alvaro Becerra lives near a store that was ransacked overnight. “We lived a night of terror,” said Becerra, 52, adding he heard gunshots and saw people carrying a freezer full of food. “Today everything is closed. There’s no place to buy. The only people who are working are those who sell vegetables,” he said.

January  10, 2018

SEBASTIAN PINERA HAS AS 'PRIORITY' TO HELP ALLEVIATE THE 'VERY SERIOUS" CRISIS IN VENEZUELA

        SANTIAGO, CHILE  -  Chile's president-elect, Sebastián Piñera, said Monday that his government will set a "priority" to help alleviate the "humanitarian crisis" suffered by Venezuela. "We want to act together with other countries in Latin America so that our participation will be more effective and produce results that alleviate the tragedy that the Venezuelan people have been experiencing for some years," Piñera said after meeting in Santiago with the deposed attorney general of Venezuela Luisa Ortega Piñera, who will assume the post of president on March 11, said he observes with concern and solidarity what is happening in Venezuela, where in his opinion there is a "very serious political, economic, social and humanitarian crisis."

    The former president considered that the humanitarian aspect is the most pressing in Venezuela, where there is a shortage of food and a shortage of medicines that "is costing many human lives". "No democratic country can remain indifferent in the face of this situation. Therefore, the commitment I have with the Venezuelan people is to do everything within our power within the framework of the rule of law to help recover democracy, freedoms and respect for human rights, "he said. Piñera urged the government of Nicolás Maduro to "open the doors" to free and transparent elections that give guarantees to the opposition, to which he asked to act with "unity."

    Ex-Prosecutor Ortega, meanwhile, thanked the availability of the next Chilean president to help "rescue" democracy and freedom in Venezuela. She also praised the Chilean electoral system and compared it to that of Venezuela, where he assured that the last three electoral processes have been "fraudulent." Ortega was dismissed on August 5 by the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) of Venezuela, which accused her of committing "immoral acts", and her husband, the Chavista deputy Germán Ferrer, of being part of an extortion plot that allegedly operated from the Office of the Prosecutor.

DICTATOR MADURO HAS EXTENDED HIS BAN ON ALL AIR AND MARITIME TIES WITH THREE NEARBY DUTCH CARIBBEAN ISLANDS 

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- VenezuelaN DICTATO NICOLAS MADURO is pressing for high-level talks with leaders of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire before trading can resume, officials said. Vice President Tareck El Aissami said that leaders of the three islands must step up to control criminal groups that he says are smuggling Venezuelan goods, harming citizens of his country. Maduro earlier stated that Venezuelan gold, silver and copper are being smuggled out of the country via the islands. The Curaçao Prime Minister Eugene Rhuggenaat said the statement was "incomprehensible."

    “The Coast Guard of Curaçao cooperates with the Venezuelan Coast Guard and holds joint exercises to combat cross-border crime,” Rhuggenaat elaborated. "We are not going to allow anymore aggression from these criminal organizations," El Aissami said on Twitter, urging leaders of the islands to take action President Nicolas Maduro on Friday first ordered the 72-hour ban, accusing island leaders of being complicit in illegal trafficking. It follows threats he made in mid-December to close the routes.

    Venezuelan authorities allege that the smuggling of products to neighboring countries is one of the causes of the severe shortage of food and other basic products that the South American country has been facing for several yearsThe islands popular with tourists lie a short distance from Venezuela's coast and host oil refineries run by Venezuela's state oil giant and U.S. subsidiary Citgo. In recent years, Venezuelans fleeing the nation's economic collapse have sometimes fled to the islands by boat. In 2015 and 2016, Maduro took a similar measure to combat smuggling, temporarily closing the border crossings with Colombia.

DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO WARNS OMAR BARBOZA, THE NEW PRESIDENT OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY THAT HE CAN "END VERY BADLY"

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --    The Venezuelan dictator, Nicolás Maduro, warned on Monday the new head of the National Assembly, deputy Omar Barboza, that he can "end very badly" as the president of the Legislative Power, which began last Friday and will end exactly one year later. "Omar Barboza, I'll face you. If you intend to get involved with the people, you will get involved with me and I will confront you through all the political avenues that I have to face you. Put your batteries in, Omar Barboza, because you can end up very badly, "Maduro said during a joint and mandatory broadcast in all media.

     Barboza, a little-known deputy from the Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT) party, was sworn in Friday as the third opposition president of the Chamber since anti-Chavez forces took over the reins of this body in January 2016, and after the efforts of Henry Ramos and Julio Borges, respectively. In the opinion of Maduro, Barboza "is a perverse human being, very corrupt, he is a mummy", and repudiated that the new board of the AN has convened a session to pronounce against Petro, a cryptocurrency sponsored by the so-called Bolivarian revolution.

    "I invited him to the dialogue on Friday and he responds with an aggression against the country, with a formula that we want to build. They do not want us to get solutions, that we get resources for the prosperity of the people, " Maduro said. Due to the above, Maduro called on the people "to actively repudiate the National Assembly", which, he said, will act against Petro and against the social programs implemented by Chavismo, in power since 1999. "Awareness and repudiation against that Assembly", remarked. Since the opposition took over the reins of Parliament, it was declared in contempt by the Supreme Court, so their actions are considered null by all institutions associated to the government.

January  9, 2018

VENEZUELAN BONDS TECHNICALLY IN DEFAULT, ACCORDING TO BROKERS ASSOCIATION

         CARACAS, VENEZUELA -  The debt securities issued by Venezuela are now technically in default, according to a note issued Monday by the Association of Emerging Markets Brokers (EMTA for its initials), AFP reported. These obligations are considered now as "flat trading", meaning that they no longer interest and their price is only their nominal value. The decision applies as of Tuesday. Their buyers who resold them to other participants in the international bond market are no longer required to bear the cost of the interests they entail.

    This recommendation concerns all the securities issued by the Venezuelan State that are not subject to the sanctions currently applied by the US Treasury, said the EMTA. However, they do not concern those issued by state oil company PDVSA. The decision of the EMTA takes place after several incidents linked to the payment of the securities issued by the Venezuelan State in recent months. The last one took place in early January, when the financial rating agency Standard and Poor's Global Ratings (S & P) indicated then that Venezuela had not honored its bond commitments in the amount of 35 million dollars after a 30-day grace period.

    Venezuela is financially hanged by falling oil prices and poor economic management, is struggling to repay on time its sovereign debt assessed at 150,000 million dollars and that of PDVSA, which alone represents 30% of the total. The population suffers a severe shortage of food and medicines, since there is no money to import them. The country has only 9,700 million dollars of reserves and had to reimburse at least 1,470 million before the end of 2017, and then 8,000 million in 2018. S & P and risk rating agency Fitch declared Venezuela and PDVSA in partial default last December, due to delays with several payments of capital and interests of the sovereign debt and of the company.

VENEZUELAN OIL PRODUCTION FALLS TO A RECORD LOW OF 28 YEARS

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- The oil production of the state-owned company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) fell by 100,000 barrels a day last December and stood at 1.7 million barrels a day, the lowest numbers since 1989, according to the firm's data of analysis of the S & P Global Platts energy market. This figure is "a minimum that had not been seen since its oil industry suffered the effects of a large strike between December 2002 and February 2003," according to the numbers handled by the company, which uses sources from the Organization of the Exporting Countries of Oil (OPEC).

     "Without counting the months in which the strike had an impact, it is necessary to go back to August 1989, more than 28 years ago, to find such a low production by Venezuela," the report published today. According to the document, "the country has been suffering from a spiraling economic, political and humanitarian crisis, with the state oil company, PDVSA, cutting funds, personnel and equipment and affected by the sanctions of the United States, which restrict their funding" . The Administration of Donald Trump issued financial sanctions in August against the Venezuelan government and PDVSA, which prohibited US companies from negotiating new debt issued by the Venezuelan state and its state oil company.

    PDVSA has been declared in default or suspension of payments by several international financial agencies, by delaying the payment of the maturities of several of its bonds. The Venezuelan authorities blame these problems to pay Trump's sanctions, and explain the drop in production at PDVSA -of which official figures have not been offered- to corruption within the company. In a supposed campaign against this alleged corruption, more than 60 people, including two former PDVSA presidents, have been arrested, and President Nicolás Maduro has appointed a military man with no experience in the sector to put an end to the fraudulent practices he has denounced. "Experts say the prospects for any short-term improvement in oil production in Venezuela are very slim," says S & P Global Platts.

VENEZUELA 2017 ANNUAL INFLATION AT 2,616 PERCENT, OPPOSITION LAWMAKERS ASSURED

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --    Prices in Venezuela, which is believed to have the world’s highest inflation, jumped 2,616 percent last year, the country’s opposition-led National Assembly said, as millions suffer from food and medicine shortages during a severe economic crisis. People crowd at the gates of a supermarket as they wait to buy food in Caracas, Venezuela January 6, 2018.

    Opposition politicians, whose numbers are broadly in line with analysts’ estimates, on Monday put December’s inflation figure alone at 85 percent, well into hyperinflation territory for which the benchmark is usually 50 percent. “Inflation in December alone is greater than accumulated inflation (over the whole year) for all of Latin America,” said lawmaker José Guerra.Venezuelan authorities did not respond to a request for comment.

     The country’s minimum wage went up 40 percent in January but still is worth just over $2 per month on the black market exchange, where the bolivar currency has weakened about 35 percent against the dollar in the last month alone. Hundreds of people mobbed some supermarkets on Saturday after authorities promised price cuts. The central bank has not published inflation or gross domestic product data for two years. However, the money supply expanded by more than 1,000 percent last year. President Nicolás Maduro says the problems stem from the “economic war” waged by Washington and the opposition against his government. Critics blame the government’s strict currency and price controls.

January 8, 2018

GENERAL VLADIMIR PADRINO REJECTS US SANCTIONS, SAYS THE MEMBERS OF THE FANB WILL DEFEND THEIR "HONOR" WITH THE WEAPONS IN THEIR HANDS IF IT IS NECESSARY

         CARACAS, VENEZUELA - Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez rejected on Saturday, in the name of the military high command, what he called the ridiculous and stupid sanctions that the United States has imposed on four of its officers, two of them retired, and said the military will defend its honor, if necessary with arms. “It’s odd that they’re imposing sanctions on some of our brethren in arms, alleging corruption and repression precisely at a time when the government’s actions... have restored peace among our citizens,” said a statement from the Venezuelan high command, read by Padrino Lopez to the media.

    The minister also said that faced with these sanctions, they are keeping their “dignity intact” and will defend their military honor with “heart” and “reason” and “with arms if necessary.” The US government announced this Friday sanctions against former Chavista minister and governor of Aragua state, retired Gen. Rodolfo Clemente Marco Torres, and against retired general and ex-governor of Bolivar state, Jose Rangel Gomez. The US also sanctioned Bolivarian National Guard Gen. Fabio Enrique Zavarse Pabon, and lieutenant general of the army and Border Minister Gerardo Jose Izquierda Torres. These four officials are accused of corruption and repression in their country.

     The US Treasury said that putting these officials on the blacklist of its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) shows that “corruption and repression continue to flourish under the Maduro regime, both by those in current government positions and former officials who continue to benefit from a corrupt system, even as Venezuela’s citizens, economy, and constitutionally enshrined democratic institutions languish.” Padrino Lopez called this “infamous blackmail, crude, vulgar, against the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB).”
He also referred to the spokeswoman of the US State Department, Heather Nauert, and said her opinions reflect “total ignorance” about Venezuelan military institution. Padrino Lopez recalled that Nauert said on Twitter that “members of the Venezuelan armed forces can avoid sanctions by respecting the rule of law, and changing their behavior in order to have sanctions removed.”

MEXICAN FOREIGN MINISTER, LUIS VIDEGARAY, QUESTIONS HIS PARTICIPATION IN THE VENEZUELAN DIALOGUE

       MEXICO CITY, MEXICO  -- The Mexican Foreign Minister, Luis Videgaray, expressed his concern over the decisions taken by the Venezuelan Government after the last round of negotiations with the opposition, for which he questions with the Chilean Foreign Minister, Heraldo Muñoz, their participation in the next meeting scheduled for January 11 and 12 in the Dominican Republic. Videgaray said during an interview for Adn40mx (TV WEB) that both Mexico and Chile sent a communication to President Danilo Medina expressing his "concern for the decisions taken by the Government that are not consistent with what has been said at the negotiating table.

     "He assured that his participation in the process is in good faith and that the last meeting proved to be a "serious dialogue" between the parties, but that in the coming days they will report whether or not they will participate on the next occasion, so they expect the conditions to be “optimal.” "Because we believe that only through negotiation can a peaceful solution be achieved to the extremely serious crisis of rupture of democratic order and also economic and social," said the foreign minister.

     It should be noted that the interview took place on January 4 and was announced on January 6 through the internationalist lawyer, Mariano Alba, on his Twitter account. For its part, El Universal spoke with two leaders of the Democratic Unity Table (MUD), who decided not to speak on the issue, since they were not aware of the information. Timoteo Zambrano, deputy to the National Assembly (AN), resigned his responsibility as delegate of the Democratic Unity Table (MUD) in the negotiations between the government and the opposition in the Dominican Republic because he felt "censored", since his candidacy for the presidency of the AN was not considered for allegedly collaborating with the Government.

DO YOU HAVE EVIDENCE AGAINST VENEZUELAN JUDGES THAT VIOLATE INTERNATIONAL LAW?

       WASHINGTON, D.C.  --   The Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) in exile, appointed by the opposition, is urging Venezuelans to denounce criminal judges who, in violation of the norms of international law, have ordered incarceration. The magistrates of the opposition TSJ seek in this way to raise the complaints before the International Criminal Court (ICC), an instance where there have already been accusations against officials of the Nicolás Maduro regime.
   
     In his Twitter account, that TSJ asks Venezuelans to submit the complaints with their respective evidence through an email. "In order to initiate proceedings before the ICC against Venezuela criminal judges as perpetrators of the crime of deprivation of liberty in violation of international law norms, they can file complaints with their attachments through magistradoslegitimos@gmail.com," they indicated. To initiate proceedings before the ICC against criminal judges of Vzla as perpetrators of the crime of deprivation of liberty in violation of international law norms, they can file complaints with their attachments through magistradoslegitimos@gmail.com.

    The complaint filed before the Supreme Court initially by Maduro's former minister, García Plaza, accuses the regime's leaders of establishing a systematic scheme of political persecution that turns enemies of the State into citizens who disagree with the political project promoted by the government. Chavism Among the high hierarchies of the regime accused in that denunciation were the Interior Minister, Néstor Reverol; Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López; the former General Commander of the Guard, Antonio Benavides Torres; Vice President Tareck El Aissami; and the former president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello.

January 7, 2018

DICTATOR MADURO CUTS OFF VENEZUELA'S AIR AND SEA TRAFFIC WITH 3 ISLAND NEIGHBORS

         CARACAS, VENEZUELA - President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela ordered a temporary shutdown of air and maritime traffic with three Caribbean neighbors on Friday, accusing smugglers there of seeking to plunder his country. In a televised address, Mr. Maduro said he had halted all flights and ship traffic to Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao for 72 hours. He accused the three countries of running black markets by siphoning everything from copper to food before selling the items. “They take away gold from this country illegally, and make it legal to sell there; they take away coltan, they take away diamonds, they take away all food products,” Mr. Maduro said.

    “I didn’t want to take a measure like this one, but I am ready to take even more radical measures.” The Caribbean islands, which are short distances from Venezuela’s northern coast, have long hosted black markets for Venezuelan contraband, trading everything from illegally mined minerals to narcotics. The countries, however, have become better known under Mr. Maduro’s presidency as the landing site of boats of hungry Venezuelans fleeing their country’s food shortages. Many refugees have fled illegally, so the closure is unlikely to stop those departures. But it will cut off Venezuelans wishing to travel by air at a time when many airlines refuse to fly to the country because of safety concerns.

    Curazao Prime Minister Eugene Rhuggenaath spoke after the decision of the Venezuelan government to close communications and order the taking of ports and airports through which the country communicates with Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire. Through a telephone conversation, he told Curacao News that he takes note of the statements made by President Nicolás Maduro, during the night of this Friday, January 5; and described them as "very regrettable" because among the nations there is "a relationship of neighboring countries that we value very much". Aruba is the site of a large refinery that Citgo, the American subsidiary of Venezuela’s state oil company, has been touting plans to refurbish. The state oil company is reeling from disastrous production declines and is falling behind on debt payments.

GENERAL PADRINO LOPEZ DESCRIBED THE US SANCTIONS AGAINST THE VENEZUELAN MILITARY AS "RIDICULOUS AND STUPID"

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --The Minister of Popular Power for Defense, Vladimir Padrino López, described as "ridiculous and stupid" the sanctions established by the US government on four officials of the National Armed Forces. "We could see the declarations of the US State Department as an infamous, gross, coarse blackmail against the FANB after the Treasury Department sanctioned four comrades-in-arms based on active duty and active reserve. That is why we reject them, because they are ridiculous and stupid, "insist Lopez during a speech where the High Military Command was present.

      Through an official statement, Padrino López affirmed that "such declarations reflect ignorance towards our military institution" and that the FANB "is not and never will be a body of mercenaries selling their services to the highest bidder who always follows the particular interests". He also said that the United States "does not know Venezuelan democracy and the support of men in uniform who have cared for the people and the institutions," concluding that such sanctions are "aberrant" and what they seek is "intimidation and blackmail."

     In addition, he assured that the officials will defend "with arms, if necessary, the military honor" to overcome the blackmail coming from the United States, and asserted that "they will not be able to intimidate" the officials who all what they feel is "love for homeland of Bolívar." The sanctioned ones are the ex-minister and governor of the state of Aragua, the retired general Rodolfo Clemente Marco Torres; the also retired general and ex-governor of Bolívar Francisco José Rangel Gómez; the division general of the Bolivarian National Guard Fabio Enrique Zavarse Pabon, and the Lieutenant General of the Army and Border Minister Gerardo José Izquierdo Torres.

OPPOSITION DEPUTIES REPORT "LOOTING" IN SEVERAL STATES

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --   Several looting and looting attempts were made this Thursday in the midst of the economic crisis affecting Venezuela, where protests have also been made over the lack of food and other shortages, according to some opposition deputies on their social networks. The parliamentarian Juan Pablo Garcia indicated in his Twitter account that there are "looting and attempts to loot across the country" and that in Maturin, capital of Monagas state, these events occur "despite the number of police officers" and of the National Guard that "guard" the markets.

     The deputy for this state, Maria Hernandez, said through the same social network that "the despair and anguish of the people took whatever was left" in a traditional business sector Los Guaritos de Maturín, Efe reported. "Mutism and fear of the Regional Civil Government that after 5 days of protests is absent," he added. The opposition leader Juan Pablo Guanipa also noted that in the Bolivar and Zulia states similar events have occurred and said that people argue that they have "neither food nor cash." Meanwhile, Deputy Carlos Paparoni said that in Anzoategui (east) an oversight of the National Superintendency for the Defense of Socioeconomic Rights (Sundde), which in recent weeks has forced thousands of merchants across the country to lower prices in a supermarket ended with a looting.

     Some media also pointed out that in the east of Caracas there was an attempted looting in another supermarket, but the situation managed to be controlled. Affected by four-digit inflation, Venezuela has registered in recent weeks protests over the lack of food and medicine, the accumulation of garbage, the lack of water and the lack of gas. Christmas in Venezuela was marked by this situation that has led hundreds of people from the popular sectors of Caracas and other states of the country to block the streets of their municipalities in protest

January 6, 2018

UNITED STATES SANCTIONS 4 MORE VENEZUELAN OFFICIALS FOR "CORRUPTION AND REPRESSION"

         Washington, d.c.   - Today, acting pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13692, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated four current or former Venezuelan government officials associated with corruption and repression in Venezuela. “President Maduro and his inner circle continue to put their own interests above those of the Venezuelan people,” said U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “This action underscores the United States’ resolve to hold Maduro and others engaged in corruption in Venezuela accountable. We call on concerned parties and international partners around the world to join us as we stand with the Venezuelan people to further isolate this oppressive regime.”

     These designations, all against senior military officers, highlight that corruption and repression continue to flourish under the Maduro regime, both by those in current government positions and former officials who continue to benefit from a corrupt system, even as Venezuela’s citizens, economy, and constitutionally enshrined democratic institutions languish. As a result of today’s actions, all assets of the following current or former officials of the Government of Venezuela that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from dealing with them.

     Rodolfo Clemente Marco Torres is the Governor of Aragua State and is an External Director on the Board of Directors of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA). Francisco Jose Rangel Gomez is a former Governor of Bolivar State and is retired from the National Army, with the rank of Division General. Fabio Enrique Zavarse Pabon, Division General of the Bolivarian National Guard, is the Commander of the Capital Integral Defense Operational Zone of the National Armed Forces, and Gerardo Jose Izquierdo Torres, Major General of the Army, is the State Minister for the New Border of Peace and the Executive Secretary of the Presidential Border Commission. He has allegedly used his positions to profit from corruption at the expense of the Venezuelan people.

EUROPEAN UNION FOREIGN POLICY CHIEF SAYS 'BLOCKADE' OF CUBA NOT SOLUTION

       HAVANA, CUBA  --Blockading Cuba is not the solution, the European Union's foreign policy chief said Wednesday on a trip aimed at strengthening ties with Havana, after Washington tightened restrictions on the island. Much of the half-century-old US economic embargo against Cuba remains entrenched in law, but under former president Barack Obama federal authorities began to loosen some rules - something his successor Donald Trump vowed to reverse. "The blockade (of Cuba) is not the solution. The Europeans have told our American friends many times; we have affirmed it in the United Nations," Federica Mogherini said during a presentation to students and teachers in Havana.

     "We know well that the sole effect of the blockade is to worsen the quality of life of women, men and children," she said. "The blockade is obsolete, it is illegal," Mogherini said. Mogherini's remarks came on the first of a two-day visit to Cuba that will include meetings with officials with the aim of a "swift joint implementation of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement (PDCA) between the EU and Cuba," according to an EU statement. The agreement covers dialogue and cooperation on issues such as human rights, migration and drugs and governance, and commercial exchanges.

     US-Cuba ties began to warm when Obama was in office, with the countries exchanging ambassadors in 2015 for the first time since 1961, but Trump has taken a different approach. In June, Trump appeared in Miami before a cheering crowd of Cuban-Americans, including veterans of the failed CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion, to vow to reverse Obama's measures. In November, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin laid out a series of revived rules. Under the directives, Americans will be forbidden from doing business with entities on a State Department list headed by the Cuban defense and interior ministries. Also on the list are five major holding companies with ties to Raul Castro's government or military, and which between them control much of the organized tourism sector.

BRAZILIAN TOURISTS WERE ROBBED BY ARMED "ANTI-COCIALS" WHEN THEY RETURNED FROM THE ISLAND OF COCHE

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --   A group of approximately 60 Brazilian tourists were robbed by several gunmen when they returned to the dock of La Isleta, on the island of Margarita Garcia, municipality of Nueva Esparta State, after having enjoyed a day on the beaches of the island of Coche. Henry Jaspe, director of Security and Public Order of Nueva Esparta State, explained that according to the information he received, the tourists just have returned from a day at the beach in Coche to board four Yutong buses that were waiting for them, at that moment they were surprised by a gang of several antisocials who arrived on two motorcycles and a private vehicle.

     The antisocials threatened them with their weapons and all were stripped of their telephones, bags, wallets, watches, money, clothes and other belongings. Jaspe also stated that after the assault, an operation was carried out by members of the State Police (Iapolebne) and the Corps of Scientific, Criminal and Criminal Investigation (CICPC), as well as the National Guard. Later, the government forces captured an alleged suspect who drove a vehicle with the same characteristics as one that participated in the robbery.

     A representatives of the operators of Brazilian tourists said they had information that the criminals were seen that morning loitering on the dock of La Isleta, which makes them presume that there was a complicity with the carriers. It is not clear how these official transport units provide services to the tourists. The Neo-Spartan security chief said he regrets this type of event, since it threatens the recovery of foreign tourism to Margarita. Finally, he called for an effective police activity, which can provide protection to international tourists, who represent the main source of income to Nueva Esparta, one of the main national tourist center in the country.

January 5, 2018

EUROPEAN UNION DIPLOMAT VISITS CUBA TO STRENGTHEN RELATIONS

         HAVANA, CUBA  - The European Union’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, arrived in Cuba on Wednesday to help strengthen member countries’ economic and political ties with the Communist-run island. European Union’s diplomat Federica Mogherini (C) speaks to Eusebio Leal (R), a leading intellectual and the official historian of the city of Havana as they walk through Old Havana, Cuba, January 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini Mogherini’s visit “reconfirms the strong EU-Cuban relationship,” and she will press for an “ambitious and swift joint implementation of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement,” the EU said in a statement.

     As the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement unfolded in 2015-2016 the EU dropped all sanctions and negotiated the agreement, the first accord between Cuba and the 28-nation bloc. Signed in December 2016 and ratified in November, the EU said at the time that it hoped to position its companies for Cuba’s transition to a more open economy and allow the EU to press for political freedoms on the island. “I was here visiting just a few days before the visit of President Obama, and I remember at the time there was much talk about Cuba strengthening relations with both the European Union and the United States,” Mogherini said.

     “Regardless of the changes in policy in Washington, the message I am bringing here is that the friendship and relationship with the EU is here to stay. It’s solid, it’s stable and it’s reliable,” she said. Mogherini’s first official meeting on the two-day visit was with Foreign Investment and Cooperation Minister Rodrigo Malmierca. She was also scheduled to meet with the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez on Thursday. “Cuba’s weak economy has been battered by the collapse in Venezuela, making it more vulnerable and open to foreign capital.

CUBAN OBSERVATORY FOR HUMAN RIGHTS CRITICIZES EU FOR TALKS WITH CUBA'S DICTATORSHIP 'WITHOUT DEMAND'

       HAVANA, CUBA  -- In a letter published on Sunday, the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) criticized the European Union for maintaining a “dialogue without demands” with the Cuban government. That complaint was published on the eve of the trip to Cuba of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security of the EU, Federica Mogherini, who will be in Havana on January 3 and 4. The OCDH, based in Madrid, estimates that the EU’s action with respect to Cuba “ignores requirements that are mandatory in the relationship between the Member States with the rest of the nations.”

     The text, signed by the president of the OCDH, the economist Elías Amor, and the executive director of the entity, Alejandro González Raga, describes the stage that emerged as a result of the establishment of the new commercial and diplomatic framework between the EU and the Plaza of the Revolution as a process carried out “behind the backs of Cubans.” Cuba and the European Union normalized relations on November 1, with the implementation of the first cooperation agreement between the two coinciding with renewed tensions between Washington and Havana.

     The accord contemplates the possibility of suspending the agreement in the event of violations of human rights commitments and, in addition, lays the foundations for commercial relations between both parties. Amor and González are concerned that the EU has been “dragged” to “abdicate from exercising an active influence in favor of democratization and human rights” on the island. The signatories of the letter conclude by saying that they do not understand “that the EU, to be present in geopolitics, has to stop being Europe; or at least abandon the values that have made it an example for the World.”

CUBA CLOSED 2017 WITH MORE THAN 5,000 ARRESTS FOR POLITICAL REASONS

       HAVANA, CUBA -- The dissident Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) denounced today that during the past year there were at least 5155 arbitrary arrests on the island for political reasons, with a monthly average of 430 such arrests. The commission, the only group that registers this type of incidents inside the island, counted at least 316 temporary arbitrary detentions in December, according to its latest monthly report.

     The dissident group also documented 16 cases of "peaceful opponents who were victims of physical aggressions executed or instigated by the secret political police, the main instrument of dictatorial power" and 15 acts of harassment of "repressive bodies" against "protesting" citizens. The organization said that some of those temporary arrests turn into "prolonged imprisonment in high security prisons" and prison sentences alleging "arbitrary and capricious criminal alibis chosen within the immense arsenal of motivations contained in the current Penal Code, copied almost literally of the disappeared criminal code of the defunct USSR ".

     According to figures compiled by the organization, between 2010 and 2017 there were a total of 51,833 arbitrary detentions on the island, where "the regime controlled by a single family and its relatives has entered its 60th year of power in an authoritative manner and totalitarian, causing untold suffering to the people of Cuba. " "There is no sign indicating that the Government is willing to introduce the urgent legal, economic and political reforms necessary for the noble and defenseless people of Cuba to get out of the current situation of poverty and despair," lamented the organization, led by the dissident Elizardo Sánchez. The Cuban government does not recognize internal dissent as "counterrevolutionary" or "mercenary", denies that there are political prisoners in its prisons.

January 4, 2018

US WARNS NORTH KOREA AGAINST STAGING NEW MISSILE TEST, PLAYS DOWN TALKS

         UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK   - The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, warned North Korea on Tuesday against staging another missile test and said Washington would not take any talks between North and South Korea seriously if they did not do something to get Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons. Haley told reporters the United States was hearing reports that North Korea might be preparing to fire another missile."I hope that doesn't happen. But if it does, we must bring even tougher measures to bear against the North Korean regime," Haley said.

     South Korea on Tuesday offered talks with North Korea next week, amid a tense standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs, after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in a New Year's Day speech that he was "open to dialog" with Seoul. Kim also said he was open to the possibility of North Korean athletes taking part in Winter Olympics South Korea hosts next month. At the same time, he stressed that his country would push ahead with "mass producing" nuclear warheads in defiance of U.N. sanctions and that he had a nuclear button on his desk capable of launching missiles at the United States.

     Haley said the United States would not take talks seriously if they did not take steps toward banning North Korea's nuclear weapons. "North Korea can talk to anyone they want, but the U.S. is not going to recognize it or acknowledge it until they agree to ban the nuclear weapons that they have," she said. Haley gave no details of the missile test preparations. Another U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there were indications that could point towards a potential missile launch “sooner rather than later,” but cautioned that such signs had been seen in the past and no test had resulted. "Rocket man now wants to talk to South Korea for first time. "Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not - we will see.!"

'DEATH SPIRAL': 4,000% INFLATION IN VENEZUELA

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --Venezuela's money is nearly worthless, and its cash crisis is only getting worse. The country is spiraling further into a humanitarian disaster spurred by the government's economic policies, which have caused the currency, the bolivar, to plunge in value and prices to skyrocket. Food and medicine shortages have been reported across Venezuela. The bolivar has lost 96% of its value this year. As of Tuesday, it took 84,000 bolivars to buy an American dollar. At the beginning of this month, a dollar was worth 41,000 bolivars. And at the start of this year, it only took 3,100 bolivars to buy a dollar, according to DolarToday, a website that tracks the unofficial exchange rate.

     Millions of Venezuelans look at DolarToday or another site, Paralelo Venezuela, to find out how much money they need to buy groceries -- if there's food on the shelves at all. The government's official exchange rate has been deemed meaningless. Inflation in Venezuela has soared to 4,115% compared with a year ago, according to Steve Hanke, a professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins University, who is an expert on hyperinflation. The crisis has deepened since the government defaulted on some of its debts. "The economy is really in a complete death spiral," says Hanke. "It's gotten a lot worse there in the last two weeks."

    Other estimates are lower than Hanke's but exorbitant by any country's standards. The Venezuelan research firm Ecoanalitica estimates that prices spiked about 1,430% in October compared with a year ago. Prices at hotels and restaurants were up 70% in October from the month before. Soaring prices force Venezuelans to wait hours in line at the ATM, the supermarket or both, just to get by. And things could get worse soon. Both the government and its state-run oil company, PDVSA, recently defaulted on some debts. If more defaults follow, investors could organize and seize Venezuela's only valuable asset -- oil -- in the United States. That would choke off the government's main source of cash, which it needs to import food and medicine.

IN JANUARY, SHORTAGES AND PRODUCTION WILL DEEPEN, EXPERTS SAY

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --   The absence of products of first necessity began to be noticed in the shelves of the supermarkets in the first two days of 2018. Representatives of the economic sector and some experts in economics already foresee that there will be a "deepening of shortages", unlike in previous years, due to the lack of national production, Panorama said.

    Already the president of Consecomercio, María Carolina Uzcátegui, warned at the end of 2017, when criticized the controls that the Government put on the national merchants, without taking into account the costs of production or replacement what, in his opinion, "has fact that many of these entrepreneurs feel that they no longer have the capacity to reopen their sanctuaries". For the economist Francisco Faraco, the situation of food shortages will worsen until reaching levels never before seen in the country because the Executive does not show signs of rectifying the economic policy that has developed in the last four years and in which the crisis has sharpened.

    "The shortage is the result of a model that was articulated under the belief that the capacity of the import in Venezuela would grow steadily, but when the import capacity fell, they went to close factories and expropriate companies, etc. that destroyed the internal productive capacity. And because it could not be supplied from abroad, it became clear that the internal capacity is too low to cover the demand, "he explained. For Faraco, 2018 will bring "more empty shelves, more pockets destroyed and more people passing horrible work" and said that another factor could worsen the situation: "the underworld could also escalate as a direct consequence of shortages, because the Venezuelan always likes go the easy way, and the easy way in this case is theft, "he said.

January 3, 2018

ECONOMISTS CALCULATE 81% INFLATION IN VENEZUELAM LAST  DECEMBER

         CARACAS, VENEZUELA   - Inflation for the month of December 2017 in Venezuela was up 81 percent, which means the Caribbean country closed the year with an accumulated inflation of 2,735 percent, according to preliminary calculations by the financial analysis firm Ecoanalitica. The company director, economist Asdrubal Oliveros, recalled that accumulated inflation for 2016 was 525 percent.

     Venezuela’s government and Central Bank have not published inflation data or other economic indicators since 2015, so that private consultants like Ecoanalitica and Econometrica calculate these values, while also offering their estimates to the National Assembly legislature, the only branch of government in the hands of the opposition. According to these sources, Venezuela technically entered a state of hyperinflation several weeks ago, when it passed the monthly inflation threshold of 50 percent.

     In a report presented before the US Securities & Exchange Commission, required in order to trade treasury bonds in that country and published in December by that American institution, the Chavista government had a decrease in GNP in 2016 of 16.5 percent and admits to an accumulated inflation of 274.4 percent for that year. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Venezuela is the only country in the world that closed 2017 with a four-digit rate of inflation. Since they came to power in 1999, the Chavista governments have raised wages more than 40 times, while thousands of private companies were nationalized, moved away or went out of business. The Venezuelan government talks of inflation “induced” by the United States, the international financial system, the opposition and some local businesses and traders that it accuses of “speculation.”

RESIDENTS PROTEST OVER PORK SHORTAGES IN VENEZUELA

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- A shortage of pork for Christmas meals led hundreds of Venezuelans into the streets of the capital city of Caracas to protest during an ongoing economic crisis. Residents rallied on the streets for the "pork revolution" protests, banging pots and pans together loudly and burning trash, reported CNN. Earlier this month, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro shocked both analysts who follow the country's flirting with default and the cryptocurrency community by announcing that Venezuela wanted to launch the petro cryptocurrency, backed by oil, diamonds and gold reserves, to help the country to "advance in issues of monetary sovereignty, to make financial transactions and overcome the financial blockade".

     "What happened to the pork?" "I give thanks to the workers of PDVSA for their help in the fight against the oil sabotage". Maduro said that Venezuela draw up an import plan and arranged the payments but the Portuguese "boats" that carried the pork "were pursued and sabotaged" and the bank accounts that were to be used for the payments were blocked. "It was all set, because we had bought all the pork there was in Venezuela, we bought it all".

     Relations between the two nations have always been fraught and have worsened as US President Donald Trump's government has ratcheted up sanctions on Maduro, whose tightening grip on power has seen him criticized as a "dictator". "We live in a market economy, exports are the competency of companies", Santos Silva added. The Portuguese agribusiness Raporal S.A. released a statement saying it denied the sale because Venezuela's government still owes millions for hams sent by the company in 2016, according to Portugal's Diario de Noticias. The company denied any knowledge of the possible shortage. Maduro, however, spent much of his half-hour address blaming others for the country's woes.

VENEZUELAN NATIONAL GUARDSMAN KILLED A PREGNANT WOMAN DURING FOOD DISTRIBUTION

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --   A member of the Bolivarian National Guard shot on Sunday a pregnant woman to death during the distribution of Christmas hams subsidized by the Venezuelan government in western Caracas, according to a police report to which EFE gained access. The report said that a group of people were “awaiting social benefits authorized by the government ... (and) things turned violent,” whereupon “a group of People’s Guards showed up at the site intending to ask (the people) to return to their homes.”

     At that moment, “one of the military personnel, making unauthorized use of his firearm, fired shots at the crowd, wounding the victim, who was transported to the closest hospital where she was admitted without vital signs,” the police said. Hundreds of Venezuelans have taken to the streets in recent days to protest the Chavista government’s non-fulfillment of its promise to deliver traditional Christmas foodstuffs at subsidized prices to more than six million families. The incident – which occurred in the municipality of Libertador – was also confirmed by Libertador city counselor Jesus Armas.

      “There was an operation to sell hams there, but there were not enough, and so the people started to protest and the National Guardsman got very nervous ... and opened fire. He shot this young 18-year-old pregnant woman in the head and shot a 20-year-old young man in the buttock,” Armas said. The counselor gathered information from residents who witnessed the incident. The woman who died was identified as Alexandra Colopoyn, who was said to be 25 weeks pregnant. The government has involved the armed forces – which includes the National Guard – in distributing subsidized food, whereby President Nicolas Maduro is trying to battle the country’s rampant inflation.

January 2, 2018

NORTH KOREA LEADER WARNS US OF REALITY OF HIS NUCLEAR PROGRAM

         PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA  -North Korean leader Kim Jong Un says the United States must realize that the North's nuclear program is a reality. In his annual New Year's address Monday, Kim warned that he has a nuclear button on his desk. "The entire area of the U.S. mainland is within our nuclear strike range," Kim said. "The United States can never start a war against me and our country." The North Korean leader said his country "can cope with any kind of nuclear threats from the U.S. and has a strong nuclear deterrence that is able to prevent the U.S. from playing with fire."

       "The U.S.," he said, "must realize this is not blackmail, but reality." Kim vowed to not attack unless his country's peace was threatened. He also took a conciliatory tone with South Korea, suggesting that he was "open to dialogue." Kim said he would consider sending a team to the Winter Olympics, to be held in February in his southern neighbor. Kim's annual New Year's address is widely considered to be an indication of his direction and priorities for the upcoming year. Last year, Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump engaged in a series of escalating verbal exchanges, with Trump warning that North Korea would face "fire and fury" if it threatened the United States.

     Pyongyang responded by saying it was considering test firing an intercontinental ballistic missile into waters near the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam. Soon after, the North launched two long-range missiles over Japan and in September conducted its sixth nuclear test. The war of words continued in Trump's address to the United Nations in September, when the president referred to Kim as a "Rocket Man" on a suicide mission. Kim responded in a statement that described Trump as a "dotard," which means senile, and that described his behavior as "mentally deranged." In November, the North announced it had reached its goal of developing operational ICBM capability after it launched a long-range Hwasong-15 missile.

FORMER JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN MIKE MULLER: NUCLEAR WAR WITH NORTH KOREA CLOSER THAN EVER

       WASHINGTON, D.C.  -- The United States is "closer to a nuclear war with North Korea" than ever, Adm. Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday, adding that he does not "see the opportunities to solve this diplomatically at this particular point." In an interview on ABC's "This Week," Mullen warned that President Donald Trump's provocative rhetoric aimed at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un likely indicates he would prefer to take a more aggressive approach to countering the rogue regime's rapidly evolving nuclear weapons program.

      "I'm just more inclined to see over time that the rhetoric seems to be where the President is," Mullen said, adding that Defense Secretary James Mattis, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and White House chief of staff John Kelly have managed to deter Trump from following through on his threats of unleashing "fire and fury." "My concern is how long that actually lasts," Mullen said, adding that, at some point, Trump may be inclined to ignore advice from his top national security advisers that runs counter to his own instincts.

     The North Korean leader addressed the threat of war in a New Year's Day speech on Monday. "We are a responsible nuclear nation that loves peace," Kim said. "As long as there's no aggression against us we do not intend to use nuclear powers." "The US cannot wage a war against our country at all," Kim added. "The entire mainland of the US is within the range of our nuclear weapons, and the nuclear button is always on the desk of my office. They should accurately be aware that this is not a threat but a reality."

TWO SHOT DEAD AS IRAN PROTESTS RAMP UP FOR FIFTH DAY OF UNREST

       TEHRAN, IRAN   --  Two protesters were shot dead overnight in the large town of Izeh in southwestern Iran, a member of parliament told Iranian media on Monday, as protests over economic hardships and the regime continued to rock the country. New protests were held overnight, local media said Monday, despite President Hassan Rouhani calling for calm and vowing more “space for criticism” in a bid to end days of unrest. “People of Izeh, like some other cities, held a protest against economic problems and unfortunately it led to the killing of two people and injuries to some others,” the area’s MP, Hedayatollah Khademi, told the ILNA news agency.

      “I do not know yet whether last night’s shooting was by the protesters or by police,” he added. The deaths came as the largest protests to strike Iran in nearly a decade continued unabated Sunday night with demonstrators across the country poised for a fifth day of unrest, despite stark government warnings of a crackdown to end the standoff. Police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse a small protest in Tehran’s Enghelab Square on Sunday evening, according to unverified social media videos. Protesters in the small northwestern town of Takestan torched a school for clergy and government buildings, the ILNA news agency said, while the state broadcaster said two people had died in Dorud after crashing a stolen fire engine.

      Verifying reports remained challenging due to travel restrictions and sporadic blocks on mobile internet and popular social media sites including Telegram and Instagram. Khademi said police had arrested a number of people and were searching their homes for explosives. “Unfortunately for years, we have a problem with the presence of cold and hot weapons in the hands of the people of this region, which sometimes causes some problems,” he said. “We have urged the government and authorities to take this issue seriously.” Khademi said that Izeh has problems with unemployment, recreational facilities and drinking water. He said people in Izeh, a town of around 200,000 people, had broken the windows of banks as protests continued until around midnight. “That’s why police intervened to restore peace and order,” he told ILNA.

January 1st., 2018

FUGITIVE RAFAEL RAMIREZ ACCUSES DICTATOR MADURO OF BEING THE HEROD OF VENEZUELA

         CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- Rafael Ramírez, who was for more than a decade the head of the oil industry in Venezuela and was forced to leave the government of Nicolás Maduro on suspicion of corruption, accused the Socialist president on Sunday of being the Herod of his country, in reference to the king of Judea that is mentioned in the Christian gospels. In an article published in a local newspaper, Ramírez launched strong criticism of the management of the political heir of Hugo Chávez, the late president who kept both officials in his closest circle of collaborators.

    The accusations against Ramírez and the arrests of officials who worked with him in the oil industry reflect the growing fissures in the ruling party that Chavez founded and which faces elections in 2018. "You are assassinating the Revolution that Comandante Chávez entrusted to us," he wrote. Ramirez to start a rain of claims for the situation of "chaos" that he said is lived under the mandate of President Maduro, who ordered him this month to resign his position as ambassador to the United Nations. "Today the Bolivarian Revolution, that creature, still a girl, is sacrificed for the sake of power, to maintain the privileges, arrogance and blindness of Herod," said the former official, who recalled the biblical passage about the king to whom the Gospels They attribute having ordered the death of children to stay as monarch.

     The Venezuelan government did not respond to Reuters a request to answer the comments of the former Minister of Petroleum. President Nicolás Maduro says that financial sanctions imposed this year by the United States block food purchases abroad, in the midst of an economic war that businessmen and even internal enemies wage to overthrow him. Ramírez affirmed instead that the excessive inflation and the acute shortage of medicines and food benefit a circle of new millionaires that in his article did not mention. Ramirez asked Chávez's most trusted officials to raise their voices: "Today it's me, tomorrow will be one of you"

VENEZUELAN PROSECUTOR, TAREK SAAB PROBES EX-OIL CZAR RAFAEL RAMIREZ OVER ALLEGED GRAFT SCHEME

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- Venezuela is investigating Rafael Ramirez, a once powerful oil minister and former head of state oil company PDVSA, in connection with an alleged $4.8 billion Vienna-based corruption scheme, the state prosecutor’s office announced on Friday. Prosecutor Tarek Saab said Ramirez and at least four other oil executives from the South American OPEC nation sold crude oil at below market prices in exchange for bribes. Ramirez, who led PDVSA for a decade, told Reuters the allegation was “It’s a blatant lie ... intended to persecute not only me but my team.”

     Venezuelan authorities had warned earlier this month that they planned to launch a criminal investigation of the former oil czar, in an escalation of a corruption purge that has resulted in the arrest of dozens of senior oil executives. ”(Ramirez) appears as the main intellectual author of what happened,” said Saab, inviting Ramirez to Venezuela to defend himself. Venezuela ordered the removal of Ramirez from his post as representative to the United Nations in New York last month. “What the prosecutor says is not only false but demonstrates a deep ignorance,” said Ramirez.

     He added that the Vienna office of PDVSA was not in charge of selling oil but rather monitoring prices of Venezuelan crude exports. In his announcement on Friday, Saab also reported the arrest of Nelida Izarra, a former boss at a Vienna-based subsidiary of PDVSA, for alleged links to irregular purchases and sales of crude oil. Saab also said he had ordered the arrest of two other PDVA officials who worked in Austria: Bernard Mommer and Irama Quiroz, as well as lawyer Mariana Zerpa. It is not immediately clear where Izarra was arrested or where the others currently reside.

CANADA'S CRYSTALLEX WANTS TO SEIZE CITGO AS VENEZUELA MISSES SETTLEMENT PAYMENT

       WILMINGTON, DELAWARE --  Canada-based Mining company Crystallex International said on Thursday that Venezuela failed to honor a settlement and urged a US federal judge to allow it to seize control of U.S. refiner Citgo Petroleum, which is owned by the country's state oil company. Crystallex won a 2016 international arbitration award of $1.2 billion against Venezuela, which has refused to pay. The company had been trying to collect by seizing shares of Citgo's U.S. parent company, which is owned by Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA.

     Last month Crystallex said it settled with cash-strapped Venezuela, but the company's lawyer said that deal fell through. "They said they'd make a payment to us and didn't," Robert Weigel, a lawyer for Crystallex, told the court Thursday. Crystallex's lawyers told U.S. Judge Leonard Stark in Wilmington, Delaware, they had an "avalanche of evidence" that proved PDVSA and Venezuela were one and the same, including official PDVSA tweets with the hashtag #PDVSAesVenezuela, Spanish for "PDVSA is Venezuela." As a result, they were seeking to attach, or seize, PDVSA's shares in PDV Holding Inc, Citgo's Delaware-incorporated parent.

     If Crystallex succeeds, the case could open the way for more than a dozen companies to pursue Citgo to collect on arbitration claims over assets that were nationalized under Venezuela's late socialist leader Hugo Chavez. PDVSA's lawyer argued on Thursday that Crystallex could not pursue the state oil company's assets because PDVSA was not a party to the arbitration. Stark seemed concerned that Venezuela or PDVSA could try to sell the PDV Holding stock before he ruled. He also wondered if a ruling for Crystallex would put PDVSA on the hook for all Venezuelan debts and whether discovery was needed to determine Caracas' day-to-day control of the company.


 

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