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December 24, 2017

PYONGYANG CAN POSE SUBSTANTIAL NUCLEAR THREAT TO US, KIM JONG-UN SAYS

         PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA  - North Korea’s leader said on Friday his country has achieved a rapid development of its strategic weaponry and is capable of posing a substantial nuclear threat to the United States, state news agency KCNA quoted him as saying. Kim Jong-un made his remarks during a meeting with high-ranking Workers Party officials after Pyongyang successfully tested its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) to date at the end of November. According to the regime, it is now capable of carrying a large nuclear warhead and reaching all US territory.

    “The rapid development of the DPRK’s nuclear force is now exerting big influence on the world political structure and strategic environment,” the North Korean leader said in his opening address. “Nobody can deny the entity of the DPRK which rapidly emerged as a strategic state capable of posing a substantial nuclear threat to the US,” Kim Jong-un said in a speech delivered to officials from the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, KCNA reported. The leader also stressed that Pyongyang is facing “grave challenges that should not be overlooked,” although he called on the North Korean people to be “optimistic about progress of our revolution under this situation” instead of feeling “disappointed” by or “afraid” of such challenges.

     Kim Jong-un delivered the speech on the same day that the UN Security Council plans to vote on a new proposal from the US to expand sanctions against the isolated Asian country, in response to the ICBM test conducted on Nov. 29. If approved, the US-drafted resolution would further cut Pyongyang’s access to hydrocarbons and order the repatriation of North Koreans working outside the country, according to diplomatic sources. Washington argues that the income earned by many of these workers in places like Russia or China is used by Pyongyang to finance its nuclear and missile programs.

NATIONAL  ASSEMBLY CONSTITUENT (ANC) DECLARES PERSONA NON GRATA DIPLOMATS FROM CANADA AND BRAZIL

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- A powerful official in Venezuela has taken the first step toward expelling top diplomats from Brazil and Canada who have been accused of meddling in the country’s politics. Venezuela’s national constituent assembly president Delcy Rodriguez declared both Brazil’s ambassador and Canada’s chargé d’affaires as persona non grata on Saturday, a move which does away with their diplomatic credentials. Ambassador Ruy Pereira and Chargé d’Affaires Craig Kowalik have been critical of President Nicolas Maduro’s ruling party for consolidating power and isolating the country’s opposition parties

     At a press conference, she also announced that the same diplomatic treatment was declared for the Brazilian ambassador, Ruy Pereira, "until the constitutional thread that his de facto government violated in the case of this brother country is restored." She explained that in the case of the Canadian diplomat, the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry has called his attention for several years to respect the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. Rodriguez said that the charge of business in Canada has resorted "persistently to make statements" through his Twitter account "to try to give orders to Venezuela."

    In October of this year, Kowalik, received a note of protest from Chancellor Jorge Arreaza, considering that he had given statements that were qualified by the Venezuelan government as interventionism in the internal affairs of the country. The president of the ANC indicated that the Venezuelan chancellery will process what is conducive to begin the process of persona non grata. In diplomatic terms, the declaration of ungrateful person means the expulsion from the country of the official who must return to his / her country of origin immediately.

HONDURAS OPPOSITION CANDIDATE ADMITS DEFEAT IN DISPUTED POLL

       TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS  -- Salvador Nasralla, Honduras' leftist presidential candidate who had bitterly disputed the results of last month's election, admitted on Friday that he had been defeated. His announcement came after the United States recognized the re-election victory of his opponent, President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

    "With the decision by Washington, I am no longer in the running," Nasralla told the HCH television station. The US State Department had earlier congratulated Hernandez, 49, on his re-election, with the proviso that all "irregularities" in the vote be fully investigated. Washington is Honduras' main aid donor and largest trading partner and US diplomats have been following events nervously since the November 26 election.

    Vote counting took more than a week, with mysterious breaks in the process, triggering accusations by the leftist opposition alliance that Hernandez only won through fraud. Violent protests erupted across the country, in which Amnesty International said at least 14 people had been killed. According to the official results, Hernandez beat Nasralla by 1.5 percentage points. Nasralla said Hernandez's win was "imposed on us by them," a reference to the United States. "They are very afraid of left-wing governments," Nasralla said.

December 23, 2017

U.S. BACKS RE-ELECTION OF HONDURAN PRESIDENT DESPITE DISPUTE

         WASHINGTON, D.C.   --  The United States on Friday backed the re-election of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, a U.S. ally, who was certified the winner in last month's presidential contest in Honduras despite allegations of fraud by the opposition. The Honduran electoral tribunal at the weekend declared Hernandez the winner of the Nov. 26 election in spite of widespread misgivings about the count, which turned in favor of the incumbent after suddenly halting with the opposition ahead. Violent protests have broken out in Honduras over the vote, and the Organization of American States (OAS) urged the country to hold new elections to resolve the dispute. That proposal has, however, been rejected by senior Honduran officials.

    "We congratulate President Juan Orlando Hernandez on his victory in the November 26 presidential elections, as declared by the Honduran Supreme Electoral Tribunal," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement, adding Honduras should pursue a "long-term effort to heal the political divide in the country and enact much-needed electoral reforms." Nauert called for all sides to refrain from violence, for those who wish to challenge the result to use legal means to do so and for the government to ensure that security services respect the rights of peaceful protesters and are held accountable for any violations. She also called for the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) "to transparently and fully review any challenges filed by political parties."

    Hernandez, a conservative, has led a military crackdown against gangs in the Central American country, and Honduras' murder rate has slid since he took power in 2014. His opponent, the center-left television host Salvador Nasralla, had appeared headed for an upset win when election results started rolling out. The results were abruptly halted and when they restarted, the outcome favored Hernandez. The electoral tribunal later said that Hernandez had won the vote. Nasralla traveled to Washington this week to urge the United States not to recognize the vote, but a senior State Department official said on Wednesday the government had not seen any evidence that would alter the vote's outcome.

MERCOSUR URGES DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO TO FREE ALL VENEZUELA POLITICAL PRISONERS

       BRASILIA, BRAZIL  -- South American regional grouping Mercosur on Thursday urged Venezuela's embattled government to free ALL "political prisoners." "At Mercosur we reiterate our call for respect for human rights, freedom for political prisoners and rapid adoption of an electoral calendar that guarantees an open, transparent process," Argentinian President Mauricio Macri said at a summit in Brasilia. Brazilian President Michel Temer said Mercosur, which suspended Venezuela's membership earlier this year, "is on the side of freedom of expression, separation of powers, and human rights." "Once Venezuela returns to democracy, it can also return to Mercosur," Temer said.

     Oil-rich Venezuela is paralyzed by economic collapse and conflict between President Nicolas Maduro and opposition forces which accuse him of dismantling democratic institutions. Once Latin America's richest country thanks to its vast oil reserves, it is now on the brink of default after a long slide into penury that has seen supplies of food and medicine become scarce and hundreds of thousands emigrating. Mercosur includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

    Heraldo Muñoz, one of the facilitators of a dialogue between the opposition and the Venezuelan government, expressed concern about the future of these discussions, which take place in Santo Domingo. Muñoz said that the progress of the dialogue "becomes difficult" after the opposition informed him that the Constituent Assembly eliminated the mayoralty of Caracas and outlawed parties that refused to participate in the local elections held a couple of weeks ago. "That hampers the progress we saw and with which we try to contribute to the foreign ministers of the accompanying countries in the Dominican Republic," he said.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT!  VENEZUELA ENDS YEAR 2017 WITH INFLATION RATE AT 2,000%

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- Venezuela, according to National Assembly estimates, skidded into hyperinflation in November, when the inflation rate was at 57 percent, seven points above the technical definition of that phenomenon. The country is ending 2017 with an annualized inflation rate of 2,000 percent, the opposition-controlled National Assembly said, adding that the figure was an indicator of “the biggest political, social and economic crisis in contemporary Venezuelan history.” Opposition lawmaker Rafael Guzman said in an assessment of the economic situation published on Thursday by local media that the gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen 34 percent in the past four years.

     The National Assembly, stripped of its powers by the Supreme Court and National Constituent Assembly, is the only branch of government held by the opposition and the only institution still publishing data on inflation and other economic indicators. The government and Central Bank have not released economic indicators since 2015. Venezuela, according to National Assembly estimates, skidded into hyperinflation in November, when the inflation rate was at 57 percent, seven points above the technical definition of that phenomenon.

    “No other country in the region, no other country in the whole world shows such deterioration of the economy,” Guzman said. Venezuela has the world’s highest inflation rate, followed in Latin America by Argentina which, with a rate above 20 percent, is still far from what is happening in the oil-rich Caribbean nation. Inflation has been fueled by the Central Bank’s printing of money, the devastation of domestic industries and a drastic reduction in imports that has caused widespread shortages.

December 22, 2017

CUBAN DICTATOR RAUL CASTRO WILL STAY IN POWER PAST FEBRUARY

          HAVANA, CUBA  --   The Cuban government has announced that it will postpone a historic presidential election scheduled in two months’ time that was expected to result in a generational political transition and Cuban leader Raúl Castro stepping down from office. Castro will remain in power at least until April 19, the date now set for election of a new legislature and the president of the Councils of State and Ministers, positions that Castro currently holds. The official announcement, published in the Communist Party newspaper Granma on Thursday, said the decision was made because of the impact of Hurricane Irma, which hit Cuba as a category 5 storm in September.

     Given a host of economic problems beyond the hurricane, a tense relationship with the United States stemming from mysterious acoustic incidents that damaged the health of American diplomats in Havana, and dwindling economic support form its staunch ally Venezuela, some Cuba watchers had speculated that he would stay in power longer. Although the Cuban government says the Cuban economy has grown by 1.6 percent this year, some independent economists say they expect no growth or worse when this year’s final figures are tallied.

     In June, Mariela Castro — Raúl Castro’s daughter, said in an interview with a Spanish radio station that “there are many people that don’t want my father to leave power, many people that are pressuring that he won’t do it.” The delay also gives Castro more time to finalize potential deals with other countries that could help the ailing Cuban economy, said Andy Gómez, the interim director of the University of Miami’s Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. “The pragmatic Raúl Castro wants to pass the baton when the economy is in better shape,” said Gómez. “The Cuban economy is not going to recover in 60 days, but it does give him more time to reach out to other countries.”

THREE OPPOSITION PARTIES IN VENEZUELA BARRED BY DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO FROM NATIONAL ELECTIONS

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --  Venezuela's pro-government constitutional assembly on Wednesday effectively stripped three of the country's most influential opposition parties of the right to participate in next year's presidential election. The all-powerful assembly passed a decree requiring the parties to reapply for legal status after boycotting mayoral elections in early December. The ban follows up on a threat by socialist President Nicolas Maduro to punish three of the biggest opposition groups and drew swift condemnation within Venezuela and abroad.

     Opposition leader Tomas Guanipa said the decree violates the constitution and is designed to block the parties from next year's presidential race, when Maduro is expected to run for a second term. "These are the desperate acts of a government that uses fraud to remain in power," Guanipa said on Twitter. Opposition leaders decided to boycott the mayoral elections as a protest of gubernatorial races held two months earlier that they claim were fraudulent. The government-stacked National Electoral Council relocated dozens of voting centers in predominantly opposition strongholds days before those votes.

     In one state, opposition members presented evidence that electronic ballot tabulations did not match up with printed copies held by observers. Ruling socialist party candidates won 18 of 23 governorships in a surprise victory for a government that has struggled to combat rising crime, malnutrition and medicine shortages. With little to no opposition participation in the mayoral elections, pro-government candidates won 305 of the 335 races. "A party that has not participated today cannot participate anymore," Maduro said after casting his ballot in the December election. "They will disappear from the political map."

VENEZUELA THREATENS TO SHUT DOWN ALL FORMS OF COMMUNICATION WITH THREE CLOSE-BY SMALL ISLANDS

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- Embattled Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro threatened Tuesday afternoon to shut down "all forms of air and sea communication" with three close-by islands in the Dutch Caribbean and two major cities on the Colombian side of the border, saying subsidized Venezuelan foodstuffs are being "smuggled" to those destinations.

    "I have been thinking about shutting down all forms of communication with Aruba, Bonaire and Curazao, because the level of smuggling towards there is just terrible. I have a lilttle surprise prepared but I can't tell it just yet", Maduro said during a televised speech. He later broaden the threat to include the border across from Colombian cities Maicao (bordering with oil-rich Zulia state) and Cucuta (across the line from Tachira state).  "By sea and by air, the mafias take all of the (cooking) oil, the tires, the shampoo and the food," Maduro explained.

     "They say I am a dictator and the United States says the sanctions will be suspended when democracy is restored...It's a ferocious attack by the United States, which has decided to qualify Venezuela as a dictatorship," Maduro said, visibly angered. "I say that, beyond the qualification and the messages, here is a people that is facing its share of problems in Venezuela, which has had a world record of three consecutive elections. Democracy, freedom and popular victory".

December 21, 2017

VENEZUELAN NATIONAL ASSEMBLY DOES NOT RECOGNIZE SAMUEL MONCADA AS PERMANENT AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS

          CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --   The Parliament commission explains that the decision of the appointment of Moncada "lacks legal and political validity since it has violated the constitutional order" of Venezuela. The Venezuelan Parliament, the only power in the hands of the opposition, ignored on Thursday the appointment of Samuel Moncada as the new ambassador of his country to the United Nations (UN) for having "violated the constitutional order" of the Caribbean nation.

    "We call the attention of the national and international public opinion, in order to make them understand that the National Assembly - AN, Parliament does not endorse neither recognize (...) the appointment of Mr. Samuel Antonio Moncada Acosta as permanent ambassador" of Venezuela at the UN, says a statement from the Foreign Policy Commission of the Legislative. The ex-chancellor was named on Tuesday as the new permanent ambassador of Venezuela to the UN, by the dictator Nicolás Maduro, after the resignation of Rafael Ramírez.

    The Parliament's commission explains in the text that the decision of the appointment of Moncada "lacks legal and political validity since it has violated the constitutional order" of Venezuela, since it indicates that it is up to National Assembly to "authorize the appointment" of the heads of permanent diplomatic missions. In that sense, it is indicated that the resolution by which Moncada is appointed in that position had to be presented before the Foreign Policy Commission of the National Assembly, to be later elevated to the plenary of the Legislative and to be discussed its approval or not. The commission has also indicated that it will communicate this decision to the president of the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly, Miroslav Lajcak, and the secretary general of the organization, Antonio Guterres.

TSJ IN EXILE NULIFIES THE APPOINTMENT OF SAMUEL MONCADA AS PERMANENT AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS

       WASHINGTON, D.C.    --  The Political Administrative Chamber of the TSJ admitted a claim for nullity of the administrative act by which Samuel Moncada was appointed as Permanent Ambassador of Venezuela to the United Nations (UN) to replace Rafael Ramírez, and as an immediate consequence of the admission of the La Sala demanded a precautionary measure prohibiting him from holding the position while the controversy was decided, a measure that was immediately taken over by the Secretary Genaral of the Antonio Guterres Organization.

    On December 7, lawyer Carlos Ramírez López filed suit "nullity of administrative act of general effects referred to the appointment of citizen Samuel Reinaldo Moncada Acosta, holder of identity card V-5,221,822, as Ambassador Permanent Representative of the Republic Bolivarian of Venezuela before the United Nations (UN) with headquarters in the city of New York, United States of America, published in Official Gazette 41.292 dated December 4, 2017 signed by the Minister of Popular Power for Foreign Affairs invoking the authority of the President of the Republic. "

     The claim of the plaintiff is that the National Assembly ignored this appointment because before it had to be passed before it for examination according to article 187 paragraph 14 of the Constitution that establishes the authority of the legislature to "authorize the appointment of the Attorney General of the Republic and of the Chiefs or Chiefs of Permanent Diplomatic Missions ". The petition invokes the fact that the Permanent Foreign Policy Commission of the National Assembly chaired by Deputy Luís Florido issued a statement disavowing the appointment of Saúl Moncada because the Minister for Foreign Affairs did not comply with this requirement.

SAMUEL MONCADA, NEW PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE OF VENEZUELA PRESENTS HIS CREDENTIALS TO UN SECRETARY GENERAL

       NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK -- The new Permanent Representative of Venezuela to the United Nations, Samuel Moncada Acosta, presented his credentials to United Nations Secretary General António Guterres today. Before his latest appointment, Mr. Moncada was his country’s Minister for Foreign Affairs from June to August 2017, and Vice-Minister for North America in the Foreign Ministry from February to June 2017.

     Moncada also served as Ambassador to the Organization of American States from March to June 2017, and as Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations from December 2016 to June 2017. From July 2016 until February 2017, he was Vice-Minister for Europe. Moncada previously served as Permanent Representative to the United Nations between August 2013 and January 2015, and as Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 2007 to 2013. He was Minister for Higher Education from 2004 to 2007, following a distinguished career in academia.

     The new envoy received his doctorate degree in modern history from the University of Oxford in 1995, following which he attended the Summer Institute in the history of the United States, at Boston College, in 1996. Also during his long-time career in education, Mr. Moncada headed the Department of History Theory and Practice at the University’s School of History in 1998, having been head of the Faculty of History of America in since 1994. He was professor of the PhD Programme in Political Sciences at the University in 1997, and, prior to that in 1996, Professor of the MBA Programme in History of America. Mr. Moncada was also an Associate Member of St. Anthony’s College at the University of Oxford (1990), Professor at Venezuela’s Military Academy (1982-1984), and Head of the Faculty of Polemology there (1984 to 1987).

December 20, 2017

VENEZUELAN POLICE ACCUSED OF TERRORIST ATTACK REAPPEARS IN VIDEO OF ASSAULT ON BARRACKS  

          CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --  The inspector of the Venezuelan scientific police Óscar Pérez, whom the government accused during the mid-year protests of "terrorist attack" to the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ), reappeared on Tuesday in a video of an alleged assault on a military barracks . "God and Jesus Christ gave us this victory, Operation Genesis, an impeccable tactical operation where we continue to recover the weapons of the people and for the people, we legitimately follow article 333 and 350 of the National Constitution," Perez tweeted in his account accompanied by a video where part of the military action is seen.

    On Monday, local media reported on the assault on a barracks of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) in San Pedro de Los Altos, just outside Caracas, where they took several rifles and pistols, a robbery on which The Executive has not explained. The former police inspector, Oscar Pérez, participated in an assault on the National Guard command in Miranda state. "And this is not the end of the war, gentlemen, this is just a fight, but soon we will win the war," he said in a video circulating on social networks.

    In the video of almost four minutes of length recorded in the first person by Perez it can be seen a group of men armed and dressed in camouflage clothing and balaclavas subjecting and handcuffing members of the GNB. "Why are you still defending some drug traffickers, some real terrorists? (...) Be worthy of the uniform you are wearing. You are irresponsible, traitors to the country for not doing something," Pérez scolds them before removing his balaclava. In another moment, they took down and trample paintings with images of the dictator of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, and his predecessor and "political father", Hugo Chávez. In this second trill that the ex-inspector placed in his account, he called on the Armed Forces to "comply" with the Constitution and "thus restore the legal order of our nation and establish a dignified transitional government that allows the moral and economic reforms required by our country.

STATE DEPARTMENT APPOINTS TODD D. ROBINSON AS THE NEW LEADER FOR U.S. EMBASSY IN VENEZUELA

       WASHINGTON, D.C.    --  The U.S. State Department plans to appoint a new leader to the U.S. embassy in Venezuela amid increasing tensions with the beleaguered South American nation. Todd D. Robinson, the former U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, has been chosen to lead the embassy in Caracas. The decision comes at a critical time for U.S. relations with Venezuela. The Trump Administration has sanctioned dozens of Venezuelans in recent months, including President Nicolás Maduro, whom Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has labeled a “dictator.”

     In August, the U.S. also imposed economic sanctions against Venezuela, banning debt trades for bonds issued by the government and its state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela SA. Robinson served as U.S. ambassador to Guatemala for three years, where he earned a reputation for being tough on corruption. He was a vocal supporter of a United Nations anti-corruption panel that has accused Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales of breaking campaign finance laws. Robinson also criticized Guatemalan lawmakers in September for a congressional decree, which was later withdrawn, that would have decreased penalties for illegal election financing.

    “Years of malnutrition, insecurity, crime, corruption. Congress? No action. Amazing how fast they act to protect selves from prosecution,” Robinson tweeted in response to the decree. Robinson’s appointment has not yet been officially announced. The State Department did not respond to a request for confirmation Tuesday afternoon. Robinson will serve as chargé d’affaires in Venezuela, according to a congressional aide — the highest-ranking official in the embassy in the absence of an ambassador. He will have the rank of ambassador, however, because of his previous position in Guatemala.

VENEZUELA'S PDVSA 2026 CUT TO DEFAULT BY S&P

       MEXICO CITY, MEXICO -- S&P Global Ratings lowered its issue-level rating on Petroleos de Venezuela S.A.'s (PDVSA) senior unsecured notes due 2026 to 'D' from 'CC'. PDVSA hasn't met the coupon payment on its 2026 notes within the 30 calendar day grace period (or the bondholders hadn't received the funds by that date), constituting an event of default under our methodology (please see "Methodology: Timeliness Of Payments: Grace Periods, Guarantees, And Use Of 'D' And 'SD' Ratings," published Oct. 24, 2013).

    Since October 2017, PDVSA used its stated 30-day interest payment grace period in an effort to garner enough dollars to meet its debt maturities. Given the current sanctions on PDVSA and its already pressured liquidity position, we're uncertain about the company's ability to pay the rest of its debt maturities within the grace period.

    Additionally, the president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, announced the formation of a government commission to restructure the sovereign's and PDVSA's external debt obligations. Given the highly constrained external liquidity situation for the sovereign and domestic entities, we would consider any restructuring of PDVSA's debt to be a distressed debt exchange and equivalent to a default (please see "Rating Implications Of Exchange Offers And Similar Restructurings, Update," published May 12, 2009).
 

December 19, 2017

CHILE ELECTION: CONSERVATIVE SEBASTIAN PIÑERA ELECTED PRESIDENT  

          SANTIAGO, CHILE   - A conservative billionaire and former president, Sebastián Piñera, has won Chile's presidential election run-off. Left-winger Alejandro Guillier conceded and congratulated his opponent on his win and his return to the presidency after a four-year gap. With nearly all votes counted, Mr Piñera polled more than 54%. It is a clear move to the right for the country, which is currently led by socialist President Michelle Bachelet. She had backed Mr Guillier. About 14 million were eligible to vote in the ballot, including, for the first time, Chileans living abroad.

     However, voter turnout was low, at 48.5%. It had been thought that a high turnout would favour Mr Guillier. "Chile needs agreements more than confrontations," he said. "The paths of the future unite us. Sometimes the stories of the past separate us." Reaching out to his opponent, Mr Piñera added: "I want to talk to him about the points we agree about." Billionaire businessman Mr Piñera won the first round of votes by a large margin, when the number of candidates reduced from eight to two for a final run-off. He has already governed the country from 2010 to 2014, when he ended two decades of uninterrupted centre-left rule. But the former president and his Chile Vamos coalition had only a slim lead in the most recent opinion polls before Sunday's election vote.

    He had the support of the business community, promising to lower taxes to get the economy growing again. During his campaign, he promised to rein in the reforms brought in by President Bachelet, while his opponent Mr Guillier, on the other hand, campaigned on the back of her legacy. While President Bachelet's progressive agenda has won plaudits abroad, her popularity plummeted during her second term, due in part to a 2015 corruption scandal involving her daughter-in-law. This year, however, the president overcame conservative opposition to successfully ease Chile's strict anti-abortion laws. Conservative critics say Ms Bachelet pushed her reforms too far. She was unable to seek re-election under the country's constitution.

HONDURAS: PRESIDENT JUAN ORLANDO HERNANDEZ DECLARED ELECTION WINNER

       TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS    --   The electoral court in Honduras has declared incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez as the winner of last month's election. The opposition has claimed electoral fraud and called for renewed protests. Incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez won last month's contested election by 1.53 percentage points over center-left opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla, Honduras' electoral court said Sunday. "This means the president elect for the Republic of Honduras for the next four years is Juan Orlando Hernandez Alvarado," said David Matamoros, the head of the electoral court, in a televised address.

     Nasralla and his opposition alliance have claimed the November 26 presidential vote was marked by fraud and irregularities. Nasralla and his ally, former President Manuel Zelaya, have called for renewed protests. Earlier Sunday, Organization of American States (OAS) head Luis Almagro said there were still "serious questions" surrounding the election results.
Honduras has been hit by political uncertainty for nearly three weeks, with repeated delays in the announcement of a winner fueling feelings that the vote had been rigged. Violent protests prompted the government to declare a state of emergency and dusk-to-dawn curfew.

     At least 16 people, including two police officers, have been killed in protests since the vote, according to Honduras' National Human Rights Commission.
More than 1,600 people have been arrested. Nasralla had a 5-percent lead a day after the election with more than half the votes counted, but then fell behind when new numbers were announced 36 hour later. The opposition first demanded a recount of all ballot boxes, then later filed for the results to be annulled and called for a new election. The electoral court agreed to recount more than 5,000 of 18,128 ballot boxes that presented irregularities. From the date of the election it had 30 days to announce official results. The recount was done in presence of observers from Honduras, the European Union and OAS.

VENEZUELA AWARDS LICENSE TO RUSSIAN OIL FIRM TO DEVELOP TWO NATURAL GAS FIELDS

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- President Nicolas Maduro awarded on the weekend to Russia’s Rosneft petroleum company licenses to exploit two natural gas fields located in northeastern Sucre state, the Venezuelan Petroleum Ministry announced on Sunday. Maduro “authorized the Unassociated Gas Exploration and Exploitation License to the Russian state-run oil firm for the development of the Costa Afuera Patao and Mejillones fields located in northern Sucre state, for a period of 30 years for the export of Liquefied Natural Gas,” the ministry said in a statement.

    On Saturday night, Venezuela’s state-run PDVSA oil giant announced that it signed energy and gas agreements with Rosneft, after which the president of the Russian firm, Igor Sechin, met with Maduro and his petroleum minister, Manuel Quevado. Venezuela and Russia maintain an important relationship that began with the government of the late President Hugo Chavez, who governed from 1999-2013, and which Maduro has sought to strengthen.

     “With the authorization to Russia’s main hydrocarbons company of this license for the exploration and exploitation of the Mejillones and Pataos fields comprising part of the Mariscal Sucre project, Venezuela continues forging strategic relationships in the country’s best interests,” the Petroleum Ministry statement added. Venezuela has sought an ever closer relationship with Moscow and in August received from Rosneft $6 billion in advance payments for supplying Venezuelan petroleum to the Russian firm between now and 2019.

December 18, 2017

THE LIST OF VENEZUELANS SANCTIONED BY THE EUROPEAN UNION WILL BE KNOWN AFTER CHRISTMAS   

          MADRID, SPAIN    - The list of people whose assets will be frozen or banned from entering EU territory as part of the European Union (EU) sanctions against Venezuelan leaders "will be ready after Christmas," said the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alfonso Dastis. "Our experience is that the Venezuelan government has to be pressured a little to comply with those promises so many times made and then they do not comply," Dastis told Efe.

     The foreign ministers of the EU unanimously agreed on December 13 to impose an arms embargo and a veto on material that could be used for "internal repression" in Venezuela, which Dastis explained as a "first phase". The second will be launched "after Christmas," he said, when "the people against whom, unfortunately, we are going to have to adopt restrictive measures, mobility in the EU, freezing of assets" will be identified. He stressed that the objective is for the measures not to affect the Venezuelan people, but for those responsible.

    Asked if Spain has already drawn up the list of people it considers should be subject to sanctions, the Spanish minister replied: "We will have it when this issue is addressed at the return of Christmas." As for the negotiations between the Venezuelan opposition and government that are taking place in the Dominican Republic to try to find a way out of the crisis in the South American country, Dastis explained that Spain supports "any effort that leads to a dialogue that results in an exit negotiated, democratic and peaceful to the crisis. Let there be a peaceful and negotiated solution, with elections as God intended, with the release of prisoners, to open a humanitarian channel to alleviate the shortcomings of Venezuelan society and to respect the powers of the Venezuelan National Assembly," he said.

DICTATOR MADURO ORDERED HIS POLICE TO HOLD 130 CHILDREN  AT THE AIRPORT AND  NOT  TO ALLOW THEM TO TRAVEL TO PERU TO JOIN THEIR PARENTS

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --   On 12/15/17, arbitrarily and without legal justification, DICTATOR nICOLAS MADURO preventED the travel of 130 Venezuelan children who had planned to reunite with their parents in Peru and also detained at the airport the wife and daughters of the President of the NGO Unión Venezuelan in Peru and political asyle Oscar Pérez. The authorities prevented the children from traveling legally and with permits from their parents traveling to meet their mothers and fathers in Peru, as part of a political retaliation against the leader Oscar Pérez. The police arrested also his wife Marta Molina and his daughters Georgina Pérez and Osmary Pérez.

     State First Prosecutor Vargas, David Gauna, ordered the arrest of Oscar Pérez's family and without right to the defense they were arrested and taken to court, as another example of the dictatorial manner in which the government of Nicolás Maduro acts against of political dissidence. Relatives in Peru are desperate, begging the government to let their children out of Venezuela. Security forces of the Venezuelan regime truncated the dream and the fragile smile of 130 children who were preparing to take flight from Venezuela to Peru to feel the joy of celebrating Christmas with their parents.

    From exile, the former metropolitan mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, described the measure as an "outrage" and "a kidnapping of Venezuelan children" in a statement disclosed by his Twitter account. Fathers who have settled in Peru looking for better livelihoods and waited for their offspring at the Jorge Chávez Airport in Lima shared pain and grief in social networks, having seen their illusions suddenly snatched away. "They forcefully got the biggest thing that a human being can have, which is our children," said one mother. "This really has no forgiveness from God." According to the testimony of the parents, the children had the necessary permits to go out on this trip of family reunification organized by the Venezuelan Union in Peru.

CUBA IS ASKING ITS RUSSIAN ALLIES FOR OIL THAT NO LONGER COMES FROM VENEZUELA

       HAVANA, CUBA -- Cuban dictator Raul Castro received the president of the Russian oil company Rosneft, Igor Sechin, on Saturday night in Havana, official media on the island said Sunday. In the meeting between Castro and Sechin, held at the headquarters of the Central Committee of the ruling Communist Party of Cuba (PCC, the only legal) also participated the vice president and Cuban Minister of Economy and Planning, Ricardo Cabrisas, according to brief note published on the cover of the Juventud Rebelde newspaper. Previously Sechin and Cabrisas had held a working meeting in which they discussed issues related to economic relations and bilateral cooperation.

     Rosneft, the largest oil company in Russia, began shipping 250,000 tons of oil and diesel fuel (some two million barrels) to the island last May, under a contract with the Cuban company Cubametales. The agreement was signed last March and some experts valued at about $ 100 million the amount of the transaction. Shipments of oil and its Russian derivatives to Cuba resumed after the end of 2016, Dictator Castro asked the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, to ensure the supply to the island, due to the reduction of shipments from Venezuela as a result of the economic crisis hitting the South American country.

     Nevertheless, Venezuela remains the main supplier of oil to Cuba through an energy agreement at preferential prices for which the island received more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day in exchange for providing the South American country with professional services, mainly doctors and teachers. Cuba and Russia have given a boost in recent years to their bilateral relationship in order to re-establish the close cooperation they maintained before the disappearance of the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1991, with the signing of new economic cooperation agreements in areas as transportation and metallurgical and heavy industry.

December 17, 2017

BELIEVE IT OR NOT!  RAFAEL RAMIREZ WANTS TO BE A CANDIDATE FOR THE PRESIDENCY OF VENEZUELA: "I HAVE ALL THE MERITS," HE SAID   

          WASHINGTON, D.C.    --  The ex-president of the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) Rafael Ramírez, who is currently being investigated by the Prosecutor's Office, affirmed that he has "all the merits" to be a candidate for the Presidency of his country and pointed out that the president, Nicolás Maduro, has had an inability to govern. In a recent interview, Ramírez answered affirmatively to the question about whether he wants to be a candidate for the Presidency of Venezuela. "Of course, I can be an alternate candidate. I have all the merits to be, I have all the ability to get the country out of this situation, I have all the moral and work done with the commander - deceased President Hugo Chávez, "he said.

     The former head of PDVSA also said in several audios that he posted on Twitter that he would like to return to his country to offer a press conference, but that some military "friends" have called him to inform him that the government is waiting to arrest him. "I am out of the country, thank goodness that I have enjoyed the solidarity of some brother countries (...) that know that what is happening in Venezuela violates the entire rule of law. All the ambassadors and authorities of the United Nations told me not to return to my country if you do not have conditions because they are going to arrest you because there is no due process," he said.

    The also former Minister of Petroleum indicated that "it is not true" that the Government of Maduro is going through the "worst situations", because "for many years we had the price of oil very low with a band between 21 and 28 dollars ", and currently has risen 50 dollars. "What happens is that there is an inability to govern, President Maduro has not been able to deal with the situation in the country, he has improvised and what he has done is to destroy the legacy of Commander Chávez," he said. The former ambassador of Venezuela to the UN made these statements after defending himself from the investigation initiated by the Prosecutor's Office against him for documents that incriminate him "directly" in "operations to broker the purchase of oil." "The prosecutor lies blatantly when he says he found documents that involve me in oil purchase and sale operations, that's a lie," he said.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: ALL OPTIONS ON TABLE TO CONTAIN NORTH KOREA THREAT

       WASHINGTON, D.C.    --   Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that North Korea’s growing nuclear capabilities are a direct threat to the United States, and Washington “will use all necessary measures” to defend itself against such aggression. “In the face of such a threat, inaction is unacceptable for any nation,” Tillerson said. “We have been clear that all options remain on the table in the defense of our nation,” the secretary told a packed chamber of the U.N. Security Council in New York. “But we do not seek, nor do we want, war with North Korea.”

    Tillerson spoke at a meeting on North Korea’s proliferation convened by Japan, which holds the rotating Security Council presidency this month. “The United States will use all necessary measures to defend itself against North Korean aggression, but our hope remains that diplomacy will produce a resolution,” Tillerson added. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks during a high level Security Council meeting on the situation in North Korea, at United Nations headquarters, Dec. 15, 2017. Saturday North Korean state media again targeted U.S. President Donald Trump, referring to him as “old lunatic Trump” and warning his administration’s officials to “be prudent if they don’t want to meet bitterer disgrace and destruction.”

     The article went on to warn that if the Trump “regime resorts to military counteraction,” it will face tougher countermeasures from North Korea and “fall deeper into a quagmire.”In Washington, Trump pointed to Russia to step up pressure against Pyongyang, a day after his phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump said the primary focus of his conversation Thursday with Putin was North Korea, noting Washington needs help from Moscow on Pyongyang. “China is helping. Russia is not helping. We’d like to have Russia’s help — very important,” Trump told reporters. When asked if he supports talks with North Korea without precondition, Trump said, “We’re going to see what happens with North Korea. We have a lot of support. There are a lot of nations that agree with us — almost everybody.”

HONDURAS GOVERNMENT INVESTIGATES  WHETHER THE PROTESTS ARE FINANCED BY VENEZUELA AND THE FARC

       TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS -- The Government of Honduras denounced on Friday that Venezuela and the FARC could be financing the violent demonstrations that are taking place in the country due to an alleged fraud in the general elections on November 26. "These criminal groups are being financed, listen well, with funds of dubious origin," the secretary of the Council of Ministers, Ebal Díaz, told reporters, referring to the violent protests in the main cities that left dozens of people injured and many material damages. He added that "recent investigations indicate that these (resources) may come from Venezuela and from organizations such as the FARC that have already expressed their support for these violent activities of disorder and anarchy."

     Díaz stressed that the military and police quick response allowed the restoration of free movement and that gang members, known as "maras", who are participating in the violent protests, are being investigated. "In the coming hours we will give the results, the corresponding accusations will be presented and the full weight of the law will fall on those responsible for these vandalism attacks against the Honduran people," said a senior official. The presidential appointee (vice president), Ricardo Álvarez, said that it appeals that the violent demonstrations in the country are backed by the former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, ousted in June 2009, and the candidate of the Alliance of Opposition against the Dictatorship, Salvador Nasralla.

     Nasralla was the candidate of the Opposition Alliance in the November elections and assures that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) made a fraud to favor the candidate of the ruling National Party and president of the country, Juan Orlando Hernández. Álvarez stressed that President Hernández "sends a very clear message to all, that Honduras is not going to stop" and that "the Honduras in peace that we had until November 26 is the product of the effort of all Hondurans." "We will not be at war, as Salvador Nasralla and Manuel Zelaya want, Honduras deserves to live in peace," said the presidential appointee. He also indicated that Nasralla and Zelaya, for two weeks, have been trying to create chaos in Honduras. "They sought to paralyze the country but they did not achieve it, nor will we allow them to do so," he emphasized.

December 16, 2017

US: IF NICOLAS MADURO WANTS THE SANCTIONS TO BE LIFTED, HE HAS TO RESTORE DEMOCRACY AND  CONSTITUTIONAL ORDER   

          WASHINGTON, D.C.    --  The United States denounced on Friday the "terrible humanitarian conditions" suffered by the Venezuelan people and warned that it will not lift the sanctions that weigh on the country if President Nicolás Maduro does not restore the "constitutional order," EFE reported. "We remain very concerned because the Venezuelan people experience terrible humanitarian conditions, including the lack of affordable food and vital medicines, medical supplies, malnutrition and an increase in malaria cases, among other harsh realities," said the State Department spokeswoman. Heather Nauert

     In a statement issued in Washington, Nauert stressed that the US supports the Venezuelan people and "their efforts to solve the economic, political and humanitarian crisis facing their country." According to the spokeswoman, USA has emergency supplies in the region and is "ready" to provide food to affected populations. "These supplies," she said, "could be immediately available if the Government of Venezuela accepts international humanitarian assistance." "We repeat our call to the Maduro regime to stop denying the needs of its people and allow the help of the international community to reach it," Nauert insisted.

    She also recalled that the sanctions imposed against the Venezuelan government allow the Americans to provide food, medicine and other humanitarian aid material to Venezuelans. "The US sanctions are not directed to the people of Venezuela. The sanctions do not have to be permanent. Our sanctions can be adjusted for those who support the return of Venezuela to the democratic and constitutional path, "said Nauert. However, she said, "additional measures are still under active consideration." If Maduro wants the lifting of sanctions, she warned, "he must act to restore democracy and constitutional order in Venezuela." "The future of US sanctions depends on the decisions and actions of the Maduro regime, "the spokeswoman said.

DIOSDADO CABELLO: IN VENEZUELA THERE WILL BE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS WITH THE SAME CNE

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA    --   On Friday, the Constituent Diosdado Cabello announced that there will be no change in the structure of the National Electoral Council (CNE) or its functioning. "Here there will be presidential elections with the same CNE, here nothing will be changed, that is constitutional, with the same REP, with the same voting centers and the same armed force; there are no changes, "he said. In the same way, he announced that there will be no release of political prisoners because he says that "it is not for President Nicolás Maduro to release a detainee for burning people alive."

    On the other hand, he stressed that unity and loyalty to the Venezuelan people should stamp the work of the mayors who were elected last Sunday December 10. "The people ask us to be loyal and to become a temple of loyalty" and that "we practice true unity," said the first vice president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), from Maturin, Monagas state, during the sworn in ceremony. of the mayors of the 13 municipalities of this entity before the National Constituent Assembly (ANC).

    Cabello also recalled that the line drawn by the town must be fulfilled, because it is "the people to whom we owe". He also asked for work to cover social demands in communities, villages or towns. "Approach the people, that the people will tell you the truth," he exhorted. During the event, in which the governor of the entity, Yelitze Santaella, was present, Cabello also highlighted the dignity and patriotic conscience of the people of Venezuela, which is vindicated in each electoral event. Cabello mentioned the three electoral processes held in the country this year: the election of the members of the National Constituent Assembly, the 23 governors and the 335 mayors.

ANTONIO LEDEZMA AND MARIA CORINA MACHADO REJECT POSSIBLE ACCEPTANCE OF THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY IN DIALOGUE

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- Venezuelan opposition leaders Antonio Ledezma and María Corina Machado today rejected the possibility that the opposition delegation accept as legal the ruling National Constituent Assembly (ANC) -not recognized by numerous governments- in the talks with the Government of Nicolás Maduro. Delegates of the ruling party and the opposition alliance Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) hold meetings this Friday in the Dominican Republic in the framework of the political dialogue process that both forces began on December 1 in Santo Domingo and under international supervision.

    The parties are expected to sign agreements on the six items on the agenda, among which the ruling party raised the lifting of economic sanctions against its officials by several governments and the recognition of the ANC, a plenipotentiary imposed by Nicolas Maduro without a previous referendum. Faced with this, Ledezma, the metropolitan ex-mayor of Caracas, and Machado, an ex-deputy, expressed their rejection today, as they have also expressed their disagreement with the entire dialogue process that, they claim, seeks to give continuity to Maduro's "dictatorship". "We hope that no one will happen to recognize the ANC or request the lifting of sanctions to individuals identified by acts of corruption and violation of human rights," says Ledezma in a video that he spread through Twitter.

    The former mayor, who made a mockery in November of the house arrest he had been in since 2015 and fled to Spain, said that giving in to these two points "would desecrate the graves of the people who died fighting for the freedom of Venezuela," in reference to the more than 120 deaths that left the protests this year in the Caribbean country. This message was greeted by Machado, who remarked that the ANC has been identified as fraudulent "by 50 countries and by the Lima Group" and was rejected by almost 8 million Venezuelans in a consultation conducted by the MUD. "In the Dominican Republic they will be able to say what they want; We will never recognize it, "added the ex-deputy, leader of the political group Vente Venezuela.

December 15, 2017

DICTATOR MADURO'S NEPHEWS SENTENCED TO 18 YEARS FOR DRUG TRAFFICKING   

          NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK    --  U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty sentenced the two men, Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas, 32, and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, 31, at a hearing in federal court in Manhattan. The two are cousins, both nephews of Cilia Flores, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s wife. Lawyers for both defendants had asked for a shorter sentence of 10 years, while prosecutors had sought 30. Crotty said 30 years would be excessive, noting that Flores de Freitas and Campo Flores had no previous criminal history. “What moves me is that Mr. Campo Flores and Mr. Flores de Freitas were perhaps not the most astute drug dealers who ever existed,” he said. “They were in over their heads.

    Both cousins spoke briefly before being sentenced. “I know that I have made very serious mistakes in this case,” Campo Flores said, going on to apologize to his wife and children. “I’ve always been a good person,” Flores de Freitas said. “Even in jail I tried to help those who were in a worse psychological situation than I find myself in.” He asked that the judge allow him to return to Venezuela soon to be near his son. Flores de Freitas and Campo Flores were arrested in Haiti in November 2015 in a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sting operation. Prosecutors said in a court filing they tried to make $20 million through drug trafficking to help keep their family in power. Campo Flores and Flores de Freitas were convicted in November 2016 by a jury of conspiring to import cocaine into the United States.

    Lawyers for the two men said in a court filing earlier this year that prosecutors had proven only “bungling discussions of a drug plot that could never actuallyhave been executed.” Days after the conviction, Maduro blasted the case in a speech as an instance of “U.S. imperialism.” Maduro has frequently cast U.S. accusations of drug trafficking as a pretext for meddling in Venezuela and trying to topple him. Under Maduro, oil-producing Venezuela has fallen into an economic and political crisis in which more than 120 people have died in four months of protests. The United States announced new sanctions against Maduro’s government in July

ECUADOR VICE PRESIDENTE SENTENCED TO SIX YEARS IN PRISON IN CORRUPTION CASE

       QUITO, ECUADOR   --   Ecuador’s National Court sentenced suspended Vice President Jorge Glas to six years in prison on Wednesday in a case related to bribes paid by Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht to obtain public works contracts. The court deemed credible testimony from former Odebrecht executive Jose Conceicao Santos that Glas was instrumental in a bid-rigging conspiracy involving five major infrastructure projects. The vice president’s uncle, Ricardo Rivera, and three other defendants were likewise sentenced to six years, while one of the accused was acquitted.

    “Barbaric” was the word Glas’ attorney, Eduardo Franco Loor, used to describe the verdict when he spoke to reporters outside the courthouse, where hundreds of supporters and opponents of the vice president were trading insults and – sometimes – blows. His client has no intention of resigning the vice presidency and will appeal the court’s decision, Franco said. Glas, who was convicted for events that took place during his 2010-2012 tenure as minister for Strategic Sectors, was elected vice president earlier this year on a ticket headed by Lenin Moreno, but the two men fell out soon after the new administration took office.

    Amid a deepening rift within the governing center-left Alianza Pais party, Glas accused Moreno of seeking to undo the legacy of predecessor Rafael Correa, who governed Ecuador for a decade. Moreno relieved Glas of his duties in August and the vice president was indicted within weeks. The vice president has consistently proclaimed his innocence and Correa, who settled in his wife’s native Belgium after leaving office, visited Glas in prison during a recent visit to Ecuador.

LEADING POLITICAL FIGURES, BUSINESSMEN AND FRONT MEN TOOK COMMISSIONS OF UP TO 15% FOR AWARDING PDVSA CONTRACTS

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- At least ten people including former vice-ministers, businessmen, their relatives and front men acting for politicians are suspected of earning more than €2 billion in illegal commissions for facilitating contracts with Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA during the rule of deceased Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez (1993–2013), according to reports compiled by police in Andorra. A court in the principality of Andorra – a microstate situated between France and Spain – is now investigating suspected money laundering related to those activities.

    The money received for the alleged bribes between 2007 and 2012 was paid into the bank Banca Privada d’Andorra (BPA), some 7,400 kilometers from the Venezuelan capital of Caracas. It was concealed in a web of 37 accounts to under name of Panamanian shell companies. Investigators believe the money was then moved to other tax havens, including Switzerland and Belize. The network was formed by the former Venezuelan vice-ministers of energy Nervis Villalobos and Javier Alvarado, by a cousin of a former PDVSA president, and by executives at the energy giant. The group was rounded out by an insurance magnate and several front men.

    The judge overseeing the case believes the commissions involved were in the realm of 10–15%, chiefly from Chinese firms, and that these were received for contracts for oil extraction managed by PDVSA and its subsidiaries. The Andorra judge overseeing the investigation, Canòlic Mingorance, has targeted Nervis Villalobos, vice-minister for energy under Chávez from 2004 to 2006. The former minister was arrested in Madrid at the request of the United States over his possible involvement in another money laundering scheme. Washington is seeking his extradition. Villalobos is also being investigated by Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, over possible bribes from Spanish engineering firm Duro Felguera.

December 14, 2017

SENATOR BILL NELSON: U.S. CAN'T WALK AWAY FROM VENEZUELA   

          WASHINGTON, D.C.    -- During a speech at the U.S. SouthCom's annual human rights conference Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said the U.S. can't forget about the crisis in Venezuela. Nelson, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said increasingly hostile states such as Russia, China and Iran want to influence the hemisphere.

     "There are forces ready to take our place: Whether it’s drug-traffickers or transnational criminal organizations, ... Their interests are not those of the people of the region," Nelson said. "And their interests are certainly not ours." The Florida Democrat said there is bipartisan support in Congress for continued U.S. leadership in the hemisphere and he counts on the support of Sen. Marco Rubio. Nelson wants the Treasury Department to sanction all of the members of Venezuela's new constituent assembly and to ban the import of Venezuelan crude oil into the U.S., a move that would affect Gulf Coast refineries.

    take our place: be they drug dealers or transnational criminal organizations, or increasingly hostile states, such as Russia, Iran and China. Their interests are not those of the people of the region. And their interests are certainly not ours. " Last November, Nelson asked the US Treasury Department to sanction the 545 members of the constituent national assembly "illegal from Venezuela" and prohibit the importation of Venezuelan crude oil to the United States, until constitutional order is restored.

TILLERSON, IN NEW OVERTURE TO NORTH KOREA, SAYS READY TO TALK WITHOUT PRECONDITIONS

       Washington, d.c.  --   U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered on Tuesday to begin direct talks with North Korea without pre-conditions, backing away from U.S. demands that Pyongyang must first accept that any negotiations would have to be about giving up its nuclear arsenal. "Let's just meet," Tillerson said in a speech to Washington's Atlantic Council think tank, presenting a new diplomatic overture amid heightened tensions over North Korea's nuclear and missile advances and harsh rhetoric between the two sides.

    Tensions have flared anew since North Korea said it had successfully tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile last month in what it called a "breakthrough" that put the U.S. mainland within range. While reiterating Washington's long-standing position that it cannot tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea, Tillerson said the United States was "ready to talk any time they're ready to talk," but that there would first have to be a “period of quiet” without nuclear and missile tests. Tillerson also disclosed that the United States had been talking to China about how to secure North Korea’s nuclear weapons in the event of a collapse of the government in Pyongyang, and that Beijing had been given assurances that if U.S. forces had to cross into North Korea they would pull back across the border into the South.

     But he made clear that the United States wants to resolve the North Korea standoff through peaceful diplomacy and, in terms far more tempered than President Donald Trump’s recent threats against Pyongyang, offered to hold exploratory talks. "We can talk about the weather if you want. We can talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table," he said. "Then we can begin to lay out a map, a road map, of what we might be willing to work towards," Tillerson said, suggesting that any initial contacts would be about setting the ground rules for formal negotiations. It was not immediately clear whether Tillerson, whose influence has appeared to wane within the administration, had Trump's full support to seek such a diplomatic opening.

USA, OIL AND SOVEREIGNTY: FACTORS DRIING THE VENEZUELAN-TURKISH RAPPROCHEMENT

       ANKARA, TURKEY --  During its visit to Ankara, the Venezuelan delegation led by President Nicolas Maduro signed several agreements on bilateral cooperation with its Turkish counterparts. In the course of its visit to Turkey last week, the Venezuelan delegation signed five cooperation agreements in areas including agriculture, air travel, culture, international crime and tourism. Officials also engaged in discussion on the potential to deepen energy cooperation and military industry ties.

    According to Alexander Kharlamenko, director of the Institute of Latin American Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, probably the main factor encouraging Venezuelan-Turkish rapprochement today is the growing diplomatic standoff between Ankara and Washington. The suspected US involvement in last year's coup plot in particularly has forced Turkey to reassess its priorities, he said. Observers commenting on the US-Turkish visa crisis have said that the old strategic partnership between Washington and Ankara is now close to reaching the stage of "unresolvable contradictions," possibly even threatening Turkey's place in the Western political and military alliance.

    Venezuela and Turkey are important geopolitical players in their respective regions, Khalamenko noted. The two countries have a shared interest in the concept of a multipolar world, something mentioned by officials during Maduro and Erdogan's joint press conference after their meeting. "It's clear that Venezuela, which is subjected to severe pressure from the United States, and Turkey," whose alliance with Washington is fading, "are interested in the principles of a multipolar world," the analyst said. "Erdogan even spoke out against US plans for military intervention in Latin America, saying that this would only aggravate the situation."

December 13, 2017

VENEZUELA TO START CRIMINAL PROBE INTO EX-OIL CZAR  RAFAEL RAMIREZ   

          CARACAS, VENEZUELA    -- Venezuela said on Tuesday it would start a criminal investigation into powerful former oil czar Rafael Ramirez, in an escalation of a purge of alleged corruption that has resulted in the arrest of dozens of oil executives. President Nicolas Maduro and Ramirez have long been rivals in the OPEC nation’s ruling Socialist Party. Insiders say tensions between the two politicians have spiked in recent weeks after Ramirez wrote articles criticizing the leftist leader’s management of Venezuela’s tanking economy and crumbling oil industry, home to the world’s largest crude reserves.

    Maduro, who is seeking to consolidate power ahead of next year’s presidential election, last month stripped Ramirez of his most recent job as Venezuela’s representative at the United Nations in New York. Ramirez, a former oil minister and head of state oil company PDVSA [PDVSA.UL], then left the United States for On Tuesday, state prosecutor Tarek Saab accused Ramirez of being involved in the “brokering” of oil sales together with his cousin Diego Salazar, who was arrested this month in Caracas. “In one of the documents that was found, the citizen Diego Salazar, who is Rafael Ramirez’ cousin, directly signals him, incriminates him directly as his direct partner,” Saab told journalists. He did not provide evidence.

    It was unclear what Ramirez, who did not respond to a request for comment, would do next. He has denied involvement in corruption, and recently told Reuters that the government would make one of its “worst political moves” if investigators target him. Opposition critics say the recent spate of arrests is arbitrary and motivated by internal divisions in the government. They insist that Maduro has turned a blind eye to corruption when it was politically expedient to do so. Last year, the opposition-led Congress said $11 billion went missing at PDVSA between 2004 and 2014, when Ramirez was in charge of the company.

VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION DISMISSES MAYORAL ELECTIONS AS FRAUDULENT

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --   The Venezuelan opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) on Monday described as fraudulent the weekend"s mayoral elections, which the ruling party won and three of the four major MUD parties boycotted. The Venezuelan opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) on Monday described as fraudulent the weekend's mayoral elections, which the ruling party won and three of the four major MUD parties boycotted.

     "Once again we saw the entire state apparatus abusing its power, including via the depraved use of the 'Carnet de la Patria' (homeland card), to subdue the will of the people in a situation of extreme need," the MUD said in statement shortly after President Nicolas Maduro celebrated his victory in more than 300 of the 335 mayoral contests. Some 16 million Venezuelans have enrolled in the Carnet de la Patria scheme, a parallel census established by the government, which uses it for distributing social aid and subsidized food that many Venezuelans depend on.

    Maduro and the rest of the ruling party's leadership had urged the voters to go to the polls with the Carnet de la Patria, so that they could register themselves in the posts prepared by the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela in front of the polling stations. This practice, described by some as illegal, allows the government to know who is going to vote. "Among those who came to vote there is a significant part that did so because of government's pressure," the MUD's statement said, adding that "those that use the hunger of the people through a fraudulent electoral system should not claim victory." According to the opposition coalition, "irregularities and low participation have marked the Dec. 10 elections." More than 9 million Venezuelans - around 47 percent of the electorate - went to the polls on Sunday, according to the figure from the National Electoral Council, although several opposition members branded it false on Twitter.

RUSSIA'S PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN ORDERS MILITARY TO BEGIN WITHDRAWAL FROM SYRIA

       MOSCOW, RUSSIA  --  Russia’s President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to a Syrian airbase and ordered the beginning of his country’s military withdrawal from the Middle Eastern country after meeting with army commanders and local leaders, the office of Syria’s president said in a statement Monday. Putin arrived at Hmeimym air base and met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, his first visit to the country since Russia’s military involvement began in September 2015. Putin reportedly told an audience of military personnel, “I order the defense ministry and the chief of the general staff to begin the pull-out of the Russian military group to permanent locations.”

    The Russian president warned that “if the terrorists lift up their head” in Syria, Russian forces would resume combat operations in the war-torn country. For his part, al-Assad thanked Putin “over Russia’s active participation in fighting terrorism in Syria,” according to a statement from the Syrian presidency. “What the Russian military has done will not be forgotten by the Syrian people after the blood of their (Russian) martyrs mixed with that of the Syrian Arab Army martyrs in the fight against terrorists,” the statement said. It added that future generations will read about this war and not differentiate between Syrian and Russian martyrs. “The sacrifices of heroes from both sides will remain the embodiment of the noblest battle in the face of terrorism,” it said.

     Syrian television showed images of Putin descending from his plane in Hmeimym, where he was greeted by al-Assad, who was waiting for him by the plane’s stairs. Both greeted each other with a hug and were seen smiling before starting a tour of the base. Putin also met with the Syrian general staff chief, Ali Ayub, the Russian defense minister, General Sergey Shoigu, and the commander of Russia’s forces in Syria, General Sergey Surovikin, the statement said. Russia is one of the al-Assad government’s principal allies, and has been involved in bombing campaigns in support of the Damascus government’s national army.

December 12, 2017

NEW YORK BOMBER SOUGHT AN ISIS-INSPIRED ATTACK WITH RAILED DEVICE, INVESTIGATORS SAY    

          NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK   --  Police captured a suspect in what they called a “terror-related incident” in the transit system near Times Square during rush hour on Monday morning.  An improvised, low-tech pipe bomb device was affixed to his chest with Velcro and zip ties. The explosion, which occurred around 7:20 a.m. in the subway near Eighth Avenue and 42nd Street, immediately plunged the commuter hub into chaos. Five people have been treated at two Mount Sinai hospitals for minor injuries related to the incident, the hospital said in a statement to HuffPost. They had all been released by about 5 p.m. local time.

     Police identified the suspect as 27-year-old Akayed Ullah, who they said is a U.S. resident from the Bangladeshi city of Chittagong. According to investigators, Ullah, who had no criminal record, triggered the bomb intentionally and mentioned the self-described Islamic State after his arrest. He last visited Bangladesh on Sept. 8, authorities said. Law enforcement officials told The Associated Press the suspect used matches, a lightbulb and a nine-volt battery to ignite a pipe stuffed with explosive material, but the blast wasn’t powerful enough to create harmful shrapnel. The man was injured himself, and had burns on his hands and abdomen, as well as lacerations, authorities said. He was being treated at Bellevue Hospital.

      The bomber reportedly told investigators he was inspired by terror attacks on Christmas markets in Europe, and chose the location in Manhattan due to its holiday-themed posters, The New York Times reported. He also said the bombing was in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria and other locations. Officials were preparing to charge Ullah in federal court in Manhattan, and the incident is being investigated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Times reported. Ullah lived with his father, mother and brother in an area of Brooklyn that has a large Bangladeshi community, his neighbors told the AP. Alan Butrico, who owns the house next door to Ullah and a locksmith business two doors down, said: “It’s very weird … You never know who your neighbors are.”

JULIO BORGES MEETS WITH ITALIAN FOREIGN MINISTER, WHO ASKED TO RETURN POWERS TO THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

       ROME, ITALY --  The president of the Venezuelan NATIONAL ASSEMBLY, Julio Borges, met today in Rome with the Italian Foreign Minister, Angelino Alfano, who "mentioned the importance of returning powers to the National Assembly," according to the opposition. Borges explained that they reviewed "the challenges of the economic and political crisis that Venezuela is going through" and Alfano defended restoring the powers of the Assembly after taking legislative powers of the Constituent Assembly, with the opposition's rejection.

    Alfano "made it clear that his country does not recognize or will recognize the Constituent Assembly. He said that the solution to the political and institutional crisis must come from an agreement between Venezuelans, "said the president of the Venezuelan Parliament. Today Borges had a meeting with the Vatican secretary of state, Pietro Parolin, and addressed "the urgency of humanitarian cooperation for Venezuela and the negotiation with the Government." The Venezuelan politician considered that both Parolin and Pope Francisco "follow in great detail the reality of Venezuela."

    "We agree that humanitarian cooperation and free vote are the priorities at this moment," said Borges after his meeting with the cardinal, former nuncio (diplomat of the Holy See) in Venezuela. Borges today began a tour of Europe in which he will hold several meetings and that will culminate on Wednesday with the delivery to the European Parliament of the Sakharov Prize, a recognition of the Freedom of Conscience to be granted to the Venezuelan opposition.

US BLASTS DICTATOR MADURO MOVE TO SIDELINE OPPOSITION IN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

       WASHINGTON, D.C.  --  The United States accused Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro Monday of a dictatorial bid to wipe his opponents of the political map following his latest poll victory, after he declared the main opposition cannot take part in next year's presidential election. Maduro's ruling socialists triumphed as expected in mayoral polls Sunday, taking 300 of the country's 335 mayorships after a boycott by the main opposition parties. But the president insisted that boycott would cost the opposition dear: "A party that has not participated today and has called for the boycott of the elections cannot participate any more, that is a criterion of the National Constitutent Assembly....and I support them."

    That removes from the electoral fray key figures such as Henrique Capriles, Leopoldo Lopez and others, and sparked criticism from the United States, which said Maduro was seeking to consolidate his "dictatorship". "Maduro's attempt to ban opposition parties from presidential elections is yet another extreme measure to close the democratic space in #Venezuela & consolidate power in his authoritarian dictatorship," said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Twitter. "We stand with the Venezuelan people as they seek to restore their democracy," she said. The Venezuelan president based his assertion on the rules of the Constituent Assembly, a controversial Maduro-allied special powers legislature whose legitimacy has been questioned by many in the international community.

    "If they don't want elections, what are they doing? What's the alternative? (Civil) war?" the president asked. The main opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition has been battered by crushing defeats in regional and municipal polls and in-fighting over how to deal with Maduro, following months of violent protests that failed to unseat him and left 125 people dead. The main parties in the coalition boycotted the mayoral polls citing widespread fraud in the regional elections in October, and had set their sights on regrouping for the presidential election.

December 11, 2017

NIKKI HALEY AWESOME SPEECH AT U.N., SHREDS THE MEMBERS OVER TREATMENT OF ISRAEL   

          UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK    -- LAST Friday, Ambassador Nikki Haley spoke to the U.N. during their freak-outsession over President Trump’s declaration that the capital of Israel is its capital. Not only did Haley express the particulars of what we actually conveyed with these actions, but correctly stated, clearly, that the bad actions people dreaded as fallout are the responsibility of the scumbags taking those bad actions, not the U.S. or Israel.

    Hamas organized violent protests of “Palestinian” rage are not, in fact, Israel’s fault. Or ours. Bad people do bad things when good people do good things. That happens. We are the good people. The parts of the Arab world lashing out? They’re the bad guys.But not the ONLY bad guys, as Haley bluntly points out, attacking the U.N. to their faces over their own moral decrepitude. Outstanding. Here’s video, starting about midway through her total remarks, because that’s where she starts to bring it.

    “I will not let this moment pass without a comment about the United Nations itself. Over many years the United Nations has outrageously been at the world’s foremost centers of hostility towards Israel. The U.N. has done much more damage to the prospects for Middle East peace than to advance them. We will not be a party to that. The United States no longer stands by when Israel is unfairly attacked in the United Nations. And the United States will not be lectured to by countries that lack any credibility when it comes to treating both Israelis and Palestinians fairly.”

DIOSDADO CABELLO: THE ELECTED MAYORS WILL HAVE TO BE SWORN IN BEFORE THE CUBAN CONSTITUENT

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA --  According to the constituent Diosdado Cabello, all the mayors who are elected this December 10 will have to be sworn in before the National Constituent Assembly of Cuba, because they were the ones who called for such votes.

    "Since there is a serious CNE in Venezuela, the people are more familiar and now what we are waiting for is the final part of the elections that has to do with the ballots and in the end the mayors will have to go to the constituent to be sworn in, that they were the ones who called these elections, "he said after exercising his right to vote in the municipal elections that take place this December 10. In addition, he clarified that the humanitarian channel proposed by various countries with respect to Venezuela "is just an excuse to invade the country" and that therefore "Venezuela will not accept interference or interventionism from any other country."

     "Humanitarian channels are instruments to invade the country. Now, there are other humanitarian channels, such as the one we have applied in Colombia that has helped 30 million Colombians who are in very poor conditions, "he exclaimed. In the statements offered by Cabello, the constituent assured that neither Chavez nor he feels any fear regarding the results that will throw those votes, ensuring that "We have no fear, and we do not go for a single mayor, we want to conquer all and we will do so. In addition, we will do whatever it takes to mobilize our people if there is low participation in a center, "he said.

LITTLE PARTICIPATION IN ELECTORAL CENTER: SKEPTICISM RUNS THROUGH VENEZUELA IN THE MUNICIPAL VOTE

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --  From early morning Venezuelans vote on Sunday to elect mayors in a process marked by skepticism that envisages a new triumph for Nicolás Maduro before the presidential elections of 2018, in which the president plans to run for re-election. With the economic crisis hitting ever stronger, the ranks of voters are timid in the main municipalities of Caracas, the AFP corroborated on a tour of the capital. On the day, 335 mayors will be chosen for a period of four years out of 1,568 candidates.

    Some 14,000 polling stations began to activate from 06:00 local (10:00 GMT).The "98.4% of the tables" are operational, said Tania D'Amelio, director of the Electoral Power, three hours later. Maduro has a clear path after the three parties that dominate the coalition Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD) refused to participate in the elections. The groups of Henrique Capriles, Leopoldo López -in house arrest- and Henry Ramos Allup were marginalized after denouncing irregularities in the elections for governors of October 15, in which Chavistas won in 18 of 23 states.

    But other movements and leaders compete on their own, aggravating the fractures in an opposition that in the past elections mobilized two million fewer people than in 2015, when it swept the legislature. "It will be an almost certain victory for the government, with high abstention," political scientist Luis Salamanca told AFP. The municipal ones do not usually have great call. In 2013 there was 42% participation. Maduro, meanwhile, has the challenge of expanding a stagnant electoral base, although well oiled with "clientelism," says Salamanca. After opposition protests that sought Maduro’s departure and left about 125 dead between April and July, the president-supported by the military-won a victory by getting elected a Constituent Assembly that governs with absolute powers, composed only of pro-government delegates.

December 10, 2017

VENEZUELA'S  OIL SALES TO U.S. FELL IN NOVEMBER TO LOWEST LEVEL SINCE 2003   

          HOUSTON, TEXAS   -- Venezuela’s crude oil exports to the United States fell in November to their lowest level since January 2003, when a strike knocked down the country’s output, due to sanctions and a steep production decline, according to Reuters data. The corporate logo of the state oil company PDVSA is seen at a gas station in Caracas, Venezuela December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello. State-run oil company PDVSA and its joint ventures sent 475,165 barrels per day to its customers in the United States last month, down 36 percent from a year earlier and 12 percent from October.

    The South American country has lost 1 million bpd of production in the last four years and pumped less than 2 million bpd in October, according to official numbers reported to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. The fast output decline has led PDVSA to request more crude from its Orinoco Belt joint ventures for its domestic refineries, affecting the volume available for exports and also hitting PDVSA’s cash flow in foreign currency. PDVSA is taking growing volumes of the valuable Hamaca crude from its Petropiar joint venture with U.S. oil company Chevron Corp and using it for domestic refining.

    As a result, the volume of Hamaca crude exported to the United States fell to less than 33,000 bpd in November from an average of 106,000 bpd last year, according to Reuters trade flows data.  PDVSA’s refining unit in the United States, Citgo Petroleum, received 65,000 bpd of Venezuelan crude last month versus supply contracts that allow up to 220,000 bpd. But U.S.-based Valero Energy Corp’s imports of Venezuelan crude rose to 194,000 bpd in November. Sanctions imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration on Venezuela, including PDVSA’s debt, have affected the ability of the company’s customers to get letters of credit needed to complete some imports as banks avoid getting involved in transactions with the country.

RUSORO OBTAINS $1.3 BILLION JUDGMENT AGAINST VENEZUELA IN CARACAS

       OTTAWA, CANADA --  Rusoro Mining Ltd. has announced that it has obtained a judgment against the Republic of Venezuela in the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario, Canada, of over US$1.3 billion. "The judgment, which was issued on default as a result of Venezuela's failure to appear before the Ontario court, arises out of Rusoro's ongoing dispute with Venezuela over the South American nation's seizure of its gold mining properties in the country," reports Andre Agapov, President & CEO of Rusoro.

     The Canadian judgment confirmed a judgment made by a 3 judge panel at the World Bank's International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes issued August 22, 2016. Venezuela has not appealed or sought to vacate the judgment, and its time to do so has expired. On December 5, Rusoro filed suit in New York Supreme Court seeking recognition of the $1.3 billion Canadian judgment. "Canadian court judgments are presumptively entitled to recognition in New York unless the Canadian judgment suffers from certain specific defects, and Rusoro is confident that no such defects exist and that the Canadian judgment will be recognized promptly," says Agapov.

    In addition to the New York lawsuit, Rusoro is also suing for recognition and enforcement of the original $1.3 billion ICSID award in Washington, D.C. Federal District Court. "The D.C. action has been fully briefed since summer, and Rusoro remains confident that the D.C. Court will confirm the award in the near future," says Agapov. "A favourable ruling from either the New York or D.C. court will entitle Rusoro to use all legal procedures – including broad discovery from both Venezuela and third parties – that U.S. law provides judgment creditors. Any judgment issued in New York will also accrue interest at 9% per annum until the judgment is fully paid."

S&P: VENEZUELA ACTIONS PUT CITGO RATING ON WATCH

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --  S&P Global Ratings said today it placed its ratings on CITGO Holdings Inc. and CITGO Petroleum Corp. on CreditWatch with developing implications. The developing designation means that the potential impact on the ratings of CITGO Holdings and CITGO Petroleum could be positive, negative, or unchanged but that it is unclear at this time.

     S&P Global Ratings has placed its ratings on CITGO and CITGO Petroleum on CreditWatch with developing implications because of heightened uncertainty regarding the separation between CITGO, which has a stand-alone credit profile of 'b+', and its parent PDVSA, which is rated 'SD'. We have selected CreditWatch with developing implications because there are potentially both negative and positive rating actions that we might take on CITGO based on how the situation in Venezuela evolves. While the eventual rating action we might take is very hard to predict, we believe that it is somewhat more likely to be negative than positive.

    Given the immediate need for cash in Venezuela, there is a chance that PDVSA may seek to sell CITGO that would lead to an upgrade, at least to its current stand-alone credit profile of 'b+' and potentially higher depending on the linkage between CITGO and the buyer. Given the overhang of PDVSA's ownership and the current political situation in Venezuela, we believe that there is a somewhat great likelihood of a negative rating action than a positive one. However, it is important to stress that it is difficult to know with any certainty what is happening in Venezuela, the motivations of the relevant parties, and any potential end game.

December 9, 2017

LUIS FLORIDO SENT NOTICE TO THE UN ASKING TO IGNORE DESIGNATION OF SAMUEL MONCADA AS PERMANENT  REPRESENTATIVE OF VENEZUELA TO THE UNITED NATIONS   

          CARACAS, VENEZUELA   -- The president of the Commission of Foreign Policy of the National Assembly, Luis Florido, published the statement sent to the president of the 72nd period of sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations to express the "national and international ignorance of Samuel Moncada as ambassador as Ambassador of Venezuela to the UN "Article 187 of the National Constitution indicates that the appointment of heads of diplomatic missions corresponds to the Legislative Power

    The communication sent by Florido to the United Nations indicates the illegality of the appointment of Moncada as Venezuela's ambassador to that organization. Through the social network Twitter, Florido also published the statement and calls on Lajčák to "exert all possible institutional pressure in order to maintain the institutionality of the National Assembly and due compliance with the processes established for the appointment of a permanent representative to the organization. "

    This Thursday the National Assembly approved a document in which it indicated that, according to article 187 of the Magna Carta, paragraph 14, it is the Legislative's competence "to authorize the appointment of the Attorney General of the Republic and of the heads of missions Permanent Diplomats, "adding that Moncada's functions as Venezuela's diplomatic representative to the UN are" invalidated ". "The decision of the Executive Branch that has been officially communicated through the Official Gazette 41.292, dated December 4, 2017, lacks legal and political validity (...)," says part of the text.

U.S. SEEKS AT LEAST 30 YEARS FOR NEPHEWS OF VENEZUELA'S FIRST LADY CILIA FLORES

       NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK  --  Two nephews of Venezuela’s first lady should serve at least 30 years in prison for their convictions in the United States on drug trafficking charges, U.S. prosecutors said on Monday. They said in a filing in federal court in Manhattan that the two men, Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, tried to make $20 million through drug trafficking so as to keep their family in power and to “enrich themselves while their countrymen starved in the streets.”

    The men are nephews of Cilia Flores, the wife of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Under Maduro, oil-producing Venezuela has fallen into an economic and political crisis in which more than 120 people have died in four months of protests. The United States announced new sanctions against Maduro’s government in July.

    The prosecutors also said Flores de Freitas and Campo Flores lied in an effort to suppress evidence in the case. The prosecutors said that federal guidelines called for sentences of life imprisonment, though they asked only for “substantial terms of not less than 30 years.”In their own filing last month, they argued for a sentence “far beneath” the guidelines recommendation of life, saying prosecutors had proved only that the two men engaged in “bungling discussions of a drug plot that could never actually have been executed.”

THE TRANSPORTATION BY LAND, SEA AND AIR, ON THE VERGE OF PARALYSIS IN  VENEZUELA

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --  Public transportation in Venezuela has collapsed due to the lack of spare parts and fuel in the case of airplanes, which has placed the country on the verge of dangerous paralysis by land, sea and air, which tends to be aggravated because the regime of Nicolás Maduro does not offer solutions to the crisis. In the exodus of companies and institutions, the International Air Traffic Association (IATA) announced on Tuesday that in January it will close its office in Caracas due to political instability and the deterioration of the social and economic situation. From Panama, it will attend to the few remaining matters in the South American country.

     The responsible for the aeronautical chaos was an official resolution to suspend on Tuesday the supply of fuel to the planes at the Barcelona airport, which has paralyzed the national air traffic to the east of the country. In recent months, many international airlines have also stopped refueling at Simón Bolívar airport in Maiquetía due to fuel supply failures and now they do so in Aruba. The shortage of aeronautical fuel is due to the fact that Venezuela's largest refining complex in Amuay and Cardón (Falcon state) reduced its operations and processes crude to only 13 percent of its capacity.

    This is just one of the reasons why twelve airlines have ceased operations in Venezuela since 2014: Aerolineas Argentinas, Air Canada, United Airlines, Alitalia, Delta Airlines, Avianca, Aeromexico, Lufthansa, Gol, Dynamic, Inselair and Latam. The airlines have also claimed to the Maduro regime the payment of a debt of 3,000 million dollars that has never been paid. Another reason is the drop in sales in the domestic market despite the wave of Venezuelans seeking to emigrate abroad due to the economic and political crisis. The national economy has fallen by 12 percent between January and September of this year, according to parliamentarian José Guerra, "we have gone from contraction, to depression and recession," he says. In Caracas, 75% of the public transportation fleet is paralyzed due to the shortage of spare parts. Out of 25,000 units, 6,250 passenger buses operate with difficulty.

December 8, 2017

VENEZUELAN NATIONAL ASSEMBLY IGNORES DESIGNATION OF SAMUEL MONCADA AS AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS BECAUSE IT 'VIOLATES" THE CONSTITUTION  

          CARACAS, VENEZUELA   -- The president of the Commission for Foreign Policy, Sovereignty and Integration of the National Assembly (AN), deputy Luis Florido, affirmed on Thursday that the appointment of Samuel Moncada as Venezuela's permanent ambassador to the UN "violates" the Constitution not having been previously approved by Parliament. "The decision of the Executive Branch that has been officially communicated through the Official Gazette 41.292, dated December 4, 2017, lacks legal and political validity (...)" says part of the NA statement published by Florido through his account in the social network Twitter.

     The document indicates that, according to Article 187 of the Magna Carta, paragraph 14, it is the Legislative's competence to "authorize the appointment of the Attorney General of the Republic and of the heads of permanent diplomatic missions," and adds that the functions of Moncada as diplomatic representative of Venezuela to the UN remain "invalidated". Parliament, the text continues, will officially communicate this declaration signed by the Foreign Policy, Sovereignty and Integration Commission to Miroslav Lajcak, president of the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly.

     The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry announced on Tuesday the appointment of Moncada after knowing the resignation of Rafael Ramírez at the request - as he himself wrote - of the President of the Republic, Nicolás Maduro. On November 29, the Reuters news agency reported that Ramírez had been removed from his post, a fact that the former ambassador denied the afternoon of that same day. Announcement of alert to all the diplomatic missions of the world: Designation of Samuel Moncada as Ambassador Permanent Representative of Venezuela in the UN, was NOT approved by the National Assembly which is in violation of the Constitution # 7Dic.

CHINA'S SINOPEC SUES VENEZUELA IN SIGN OF FRAYING RELATIONS

       BEIJING, CHINA   --  Sinopec USA, a subsidiary of Chinese oil and gas conglomerate Sinopec, has sued Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA in a U.S. court, claiming it never received full payment for an order of steel rebar. The corporate logo of the state oil company PDVSA is seen at a gas station in Caracas, Venezuela December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello The lawsuit asks for $23.7 million for breach of contract and conspiracy to defraud. The legal action signals a split with another of Venezuela’s biggest backers as the cash-strapped country seeks to restructure some $60 billion in debt in a landscape of low oil prices and production.

     The complaint suggests “patience is getting really thin at this point,” said Mark Weidemaier, law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an expert on international debt disputes. “This is a further sign of frostiness in the Chinese-Venezuelan relations.” China, which has loaned Venezuela more than $50 billion over the past decade, recently has been reluctant to involve itself more deeply in the South American country’s debt crisis. It has curtailed its credit to Venezuela in the last 22 months because of chronic payment delays, troubles with joint venture projects, and crime faced by Chinese firms operating in the country.

     In its lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Houston on Nov. 27, Sinopec said PDVSA paid half of a 2012 purchase order for 45,000 tons of steel rebar, which is used in oil rigs, by its fully owned subsidiary Bariven. It accused the Venezuelan oil company of using Bariven “as a sham to perpetrate fraud against Sinopec”, and called the PDVSA subsidiary an “undercapitalized shell with the sole purpose of preventing Sinopec from having a remedy”. China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing on Thursday that the legal action is a “common commercial dispute” that should not be over-interpreted. “We are willing to continue exploring cooperation with Venezuela in various sectors following a principle of mutual benefit and shared development,” he said.

LEGISLATORS FROM THE US AND EU WORRIED ABOUT THE SERIOUS SITUATION OF DETERIORATION THAT CROSSES VENEZUELA

       BRUSSELS, BELGIUM   --  Representatives of the European Parliament (EP) and the US Congress agreed this week on the importance of the two powers working together to face the growing international instability due to the actions of North Korea, Iran and Venezuela, official sources reported today. This was one of the main issues addressed by the fifteen MEPs who, since last Monday, participated in the LXXXI European Union-United States Inter-Parliamentary Meeting and the Transatlantic Legislative Dialogue Meeting (TLD), held in Washington and which today reached its end.

    "We are deeply concerned about the serious situation of deterioration that Venezuela is going through due to its democratic, economic, social and human rights instability," said the joint statement signed by both parties, which Efe has had access to. Both the European Union and the United States have described as "unacceptable" the constituent elections held in the Bolivarian country last July, "because of their form and content," and therefore, they said, do not recognize their legitimacy. Also, the representatives of both blocs denounced the "illegal persecution and repression" carried out by the government of President Nicolás Maduro, whom they asked to "respect the Constitution" of the country.

     "It is obvious that in Venezuela there is a dictatorship. It is in a very unstable situation and we must get involved on a matter of principle, "the president of the European delegation, the German MEP Christian Ehler, of the European People's Party (EPP), explained in an interview with Efe. In relation to the increasing nuclear escalation that is taking place in recent months in the world, both Americans and Europeans agreed to point out those who consider the great cause of the situation: North Korea and Iran. "We vehemently condemn the aggressive and irresponsible provocations of North Korea," said the document, which also urges the Pyongyang regime to "abstain" from new "provocative" actions and to "abandon" its program of development of nuclear weapons.

December 7, 2017

PRESIDENT TRUMP RECOGNIZES JERUSALEM AS ISRAEL'S CAPITAL AND ORDER US EMBASSY TO MOVE  

          WASHINGTON, D.C.    -- President DONALD Trump on Wednesday formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, reversing nearly seven decades of American foreign policy and setting in motion a plan to move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to the fiercely contested Holy City. “Today we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” Mr. Trump said from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House. “This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done.”

      The president cast his decision as a break with decades of failed policy on Jerusalem, which the United States, along with virtually every other nation in the world, has declined to recognize as the capital since Israel’s founding in 1948. That policy, he said, brought us “no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.” “It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result,” Mr. Trump declared.

     Recognizing Jerusalem, he added, was “a long overdue step to advance the peace process.” Mr. Trump’s remarks were the most closely scrutinized of his presidency on the Middle East, where he has vowed to broker the “ultimate deal” between Israelis and Palestinians but has yet to find a breakthrough to end the conflict. He said he remained committed to brokering an agreement “that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians.” The president said the decision to recognize Jerusalem should not be construed as the United States taking a position on whether, or how, the city might ultimately be shared. But he offered little solace to the Palestinians, making no mention of their long-held hopes for East Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state.

SECRETARY TILLERSON IS CONVINCED THAT EMBASSY DIPLOMATS IN CUBA WERE "TARGETED ATTACKS"

       WASHINGTON, D.C.  -- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the United States is convinced that the incidents harming the health of U.S. Embassy workers in Cuba were “targeted attacks.” Tillerson is pushing back on Cuba’s complaints that the U.S. hasn’t shared enough information to let Cuban authorities investigate. He says the U.S. has shared some information but that he’s put two restrictions in place. Tillerson says he won’t share information that violates individuals’ privacy or reveals their medical conditions. And he says he won’t release information that helps the perpetrator determine how effective the attacks were

    Tillerson says he understands the Cubans don’t like the actions the U.S. has taken in response. But he says the United States doesn’t like having its diplomats come under attack. Doctors treating the U.S. Embassy victims of mysterious, invisible attacks in Cuba have discovered brain abnormalities as they search for clues to explain the hearing, vision, balance and memory damage, The Associated Press has learned.

     It’s the most specific finding to date about physical damage, showing that whatever it was that harmed the Americans, it led to perceptible changes in their brains. The finding is also one of several factors fueling growing skepticism that some kind of sonic weapon was involved. Medical testing has revealed the embassy workers developed changes to the white matter tracts that let different parts of the brain communicate, several U.S. officials said, describing a growing consensus held by university and government physicians researching the attacks. White matter acts like information highways between brain cells.

VENEZUELA'S UN AMBASSADOR RAFAEL RAMIREZ RESIGNED ON DIRECT ORDER FROM DICTATOR MADURO

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA    --  venezuela's former oil czar resigned as ambassador to the United Nations Tuesday on what he said were orders from President Nicolas Maduro, a sign of growing divisions in the ruling socialist party amid a deepening economic crisis. Rafael Ramirez said on social media that he tendered his resignation a day prior, ending a week of speculation about the diplomatic envoy's political standing after a cousin and several former acolytes were arrested in a highly-publicized purge in the oil industry.

     Maduro has been trying to fortify his mandate by attacking corruption at state-run oil company PDVSA, which Ramirez led for over a decade. But in a post on social media, Ramirez said: "I've been removed for my opinions." In a rambling, sometimes supplicant public letter to his former boss, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, Ramirez described feeling heartbroken to no longer be serving the revolution started by the late Hugo Chavez, to whom he was a very close and trusted aide.

    But as international pressure on Venezuela has increased amid an unprecedented economic crisis, he said he felt the need to speak out on policies he knew a great deal about from his 12-year run atop PDVSA, the source of almost all of Venezuela's foreign currency earnings. "I remain committed to insisting at the highest levels of the government for the need for deep reflection so we can retake the successful path laid out by Comandante Chavez for the benefit of our people and homeland," he wrote in the four-page letter. "I wouldn't want to imagine how the attacks and vilification will increase now for expressing my opinions and stating my position in defense of the revolution," he added. With the possibility of arrest looming in Venezuela and in the U.S., it was unclear whether Ramirez remained in New York.

December 6, 2017

VENEZUELA'S NICOLAS MADURO STRIPS RIVAL OF U.N. POST AMID CORRUPTION PURGE

          CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --   Venezuela has ordered the removal of Rafael Ramirez, once a powerful oil minister and head of state oil company PDVSA, from his post as representative to the United Nations in New York, four sources with knowledge of the matter said on Wednesday Though the decision will not affect the OPEC nation’s struggling oil industry, it may help President Nicolas Maduro shore up his position in crisis-stricken Venezuela as the country heads toward presidential elections in 2018. Ramirez, an increasingly vocal critic of Maduro in recent months, was seen by some as angling to be a presidential candidate as Maduro’s unpopular government and an economic crisis have fueled divisions with the ruling Socialist Party.

     “He was fired last night,” said a source with knowledge of the information, who asked not to be identified. Maduro sent Ramirez to the U.N. in 2014 in a major demotion from his decade-long roles as oil minister and head of PDVSA. Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The United Nations has not received formal notification of Ramirez’s removal, a U.N. spokesman said. A separate source said that Ramirez had been summoned to present himself in Venezuela “in coming days.” That source said Ramirez had not been formally removed and that he was working at the United Nations on Wednesday. However, he was not present when his turn to speak at a meeting on the rights of the Palestinian people came up, according to diplomatic sources at the meeting.

     Two sources said Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza traveled to New York this week. Another source said Ramirez tried to fight back and negotiate but was unable to. Ramirez has published several online opinion pieces this year criticizing the management of PDVSA for allowing oil production to plummet and admonishing the government for not taking measures to improve Venezuela’s tanking economy. In one piece this month entitled the “The Storm,” he described his efforts in 2014 to help stabilize the economy, which Maduro’s allies perceived as an attack on the president, according to one source. The article played up his close relationship with late President Hugo Chavez, who tasked Ramirez with leading oil sector nationalizations that began in 2007.

JULIO BORGES: WE GOT THE GOVERNMENT TO GIVE ACCOUNTS TO FIVE COUNTRIES

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA   -- -- Julio Borges informed that during the dialogue held in the Dominican Republic, Monday, the most important achievement during the dialogue on December 1 and 2, was to make the national government sit down in front of five countries to be accountable for the most important points that affect Venezuela: the social, the economic and the political. "They are all the countries that are making pressure and behind them is the entire European Union, everything we have fought is materialized in that space that is there," Borges said during an interview with César Miguel Rondón at the Circuito Exitos.

     He reported that humanitarian aid was the point that took most hours during the debate; However, he said that the government's "arrogance" means that they refuse it, despite the fact that many countries have offered their collaboration with medicines and food. In the same way, he said that the number of Venezuelans abroad looking for a better quality of life is causing internal problems in the countries, not only for migration issues, but also for corruption, organized crimes, democratic deficit and human rights.

     On the other hand, he said that President Nicolás Maduro is afraid of dialogue because it is the preasure of international pressure calling for changes in the country. Regarding the invitation made by the national chief executive to the Miraflores Palace, he said that the national president "wants to show that he is enjoying this process, but this is formal, international, serious and that places him in a situation in which he must answer the most controversial and hot points of the Venezuelan situation, and commit to a verification and follow-up mechanism, "he said. Borges hopes that in the next round of dialogue there will be a clear commitment that will allow for the next change of government in the country.

TSJ ON EXILE CANCELS VENEZUELA'S WITHDRAWAL FROM THE OAS AND THE INTER-AMERICAN COURT

       WASHINGTON, D.C.    -- The Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela (TSJ) in exile "nullified" today the decision of the Government of Nicolás Maduro to withdraw the country from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CorteIDH), review EFE. "These acts directly violate the Constitution and the rights guaranteed in that Constitution to all Venezuelans," magistrate Cioly Zambrano said at a press conference in Miami announcing the annulment.

     Zambrano said that the Maduro government's proposal is unconstitutional and also violates the rules of multilateral treaties. According to the TSJ "legitimate" (as it calls itself), President Maduro lacks the constitutional authority to annul international commitments that are the exclusive competence of the National Assembly since they are decisions that involve the State. The TSJ in exile, made up of magistrates elected by the National Assembly of the opposition majority that emerged from the 2015 elections, seeks to guarantee the respect of human rights for Venezuelans with the annulment.

     In this way, citizens in their country can report to the Inter-American Court if there are violations of those rights. Last April, Venezuela took the historic step of being the first country to request the exit of the OAS, although it will not be effective until 2019, after the presidential elections scheduled for next year. The Venezuelan representative in the OAS, Carmen Velásquez, was in charge of delivering the secretary general of the organization, Luis Almagro, the letter with which her Government denounces the OAS Charter, the founding document of 1948.

December 5, 2017

US SENATOR GRAHAM:  TIME TO MOVE US MILITARY FAMILY OUT OF SOUTH KOREA

          Washington, d.c.  --  Senior Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Sunday that time has come to start moving dependents of U.S. military personnel out of South Korea. "It's crazy to send spouses and children to South Korea, given the provocation of North Korea," Graham said on CBS News's Face the Nation. "And I think it's now time to start moving American dependents out of South Korea." Last week, North Korea shattered months of relative quiet by firing off an intercontinental ballistic missile that some observers say showed the reclusive country's ability to strike the U.S. It was North Korea's most powerful weapons test yet.

    Graham's comments followed those by national security adviser H.R. McMaster who said Saturday that the chances of war with North Korea are "increasing every day." "There are ways to address this problem short of armed conflict," McMaster said, "but it is a race because he's getting closer and closer and there's not much time left," in a reference to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Media reports say the Pentagon is looking at U.S. west coast sites where additional defense systems can be installed, following the North Korean threat of a strike on the U.S. The Reuters news agency says the defenses would likely include Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missiles, similar to those deployed in South Korea.

     "The newly developed intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-15 has been successfully test-launched according to the political decision and strategic judgement of the Workers' Party of Korea,” read an announcer Wednesday on North Korea’s state-run KRT television. Following previous launches, the North has claimed its projectiles can hit any part of the continental United States, but this would be the first time it would be able to do so with this new type of upgraded missile, which both North Korean and U.S. officials said could fly higher than the ones the country has tested earlier.

U.S. AND SOUTH KOREA START AIR FORCE DRILLS AMID HEIGHTENED TENSIONS

       SEOUL. SOUTH KOREA  -- -- The United States and South Korea began large-scale combined air force drills Monday, with plans to carry out simulated strikes on North Korean nuclear and missile testing sites, South Korean military officials said. Some 230 aircraft will take part in the drills, which will include some of the Pentagon’s most powerful warplanes, such as stealth F-35 Lightning II fighters and B1-B Lancer bombers. They come just a week after North Korea tested a missile that analysts said had the capability of reaching much of the continental United States.

    The drills were part of an annual exercise that had been planned before North Korea conducted the missile test, officials said. The exercise is “aimed at enhancing the all-weather, day and night combined air power operation capabilities of South Korea and the U.S.,” South Korea’s defense ministry said. Such drills have drawn vigorous criticism from North Korea, whose state news media said Sunday that the latest exercises were pushing the Korean Peninsula “to the brink of nuclear war.” It warned that Pyongyang would “seriously consider” countermeasures against the drill and that the United States and South Korea would “pay dearly for their provocations,” the North’s Korean Central News Agency said.

   The military exercises that began Monday involve 12,000 personnel and also include six F-22 Raptors, representing the largest deployment of the stealth fighters to South Korea, officials said. The drills will be conducted under wartime scenarios that include attacks on mock North Korean nuclear and missile targets, South Korea’s military said. North Korea’s missile launch last Tuesday came after more than a two-month lull in the country’s nuclear and missile testing, which raised some hopes that it might be extending an olive branch to ease the hair-trigger military tensions on the peninsula.

NATIONAL PARTY CANDIDATE JUAN ORLANDO HERNANDEZ IS THE WINNER IN HONDURAS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

       TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS    -- it’s over. With at least 66.7 percent of the 3,233,000 votes cast in Sunday’s presidential election in Honduras counted and reported, it is abundantly clear now that National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernández is the winner. For those who still wish to bitch and moan about the result... get over it. There’s a lot of work to do; Honduras is still the third poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and it has the highest homicide rate. ||

      Hernández currently leads with 34.08 percent of the votes, followed by Xiomara Castro de Zelaya with 28.92 percent, Mauricio Villeda of the Liberal Party with 20.70 percent, and Salvador Nasralla with 15.64 percent. The other four candidates are not even worth mentioning because together they account for less than 1 percent. In truth, it was probably over on Sunday evening when Mr. Hernández gave his victory speech.

    Although at the time less than 50 percent of the votes cast had been counted, there was an obvious trend in Mr. Hernández’s favor, and it was difficult to imagine that things were going to dramatically change against him. While a sudden swing in favor of his nearest opponents was not impossible, it seemed unlikely, particularly given that Mr. Hernández represents the party that is currently in power. Ruling parties in Latin America do not allow the tide of elections to shift away from them at the last minute. As Mr. Hernández said yesterday, “Triumphs are not negotiated with anyone.”

December 4, 2017

VENEZUELA SAYS STRIDES MADE IN TALKS WITH OPPOSITION IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

          CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --  Progress is being made on various items of the agenda during talks between Venezuela’s government and the opposition in the Dominican Republic, the South American nation’s communications and culture minister said on Saturday. “We made key advances on some points” of the six-point agenda during Friday’s session, Jorge Rodriguez said before entering the Dominican Foreign Ministry’s headquarters to take part in the second day of negotiations. “We hope today’s session unfolds under the same conditions of frank discussion, of strong but cordial debate, among the participants,” Rodriguez said.

     The minister is part of the official Venezuelan delegation to the talks along with the president of the plenipotentiary National Constituent Assembly (ANC), Delcy Rodriguez; Education Minister Elias Jaua; and a senior member of the Venezuelan diplomatic corps, Roy Chaderton. President Nicolas Maduro’s administration persuaded the opposition to enter talks “aimed at reaching a future agreement for peaceful coexistence,” Rodriguez said, expressing confidence that “never again will violence be used to settle political differences, never again will unconstitutional methods and practices be employed to gain political power.”

     The opposition, for its part, has unveiled its priorities in the talks. It says it wants the establishment of a humanitarian channel that – in coordination with international organizations and other countries – would allow the entry of badly needed food and medicine, which are scarce due to a crippling economic crisis and the government’s dwindling hard-currency reserves. The opposition also wants a change in the composition of the National Electoral Council (CNE), which it contends is biased against the opposition; the release from jail of opposition members it says have been jailed for purely political reasons; and the restoration of constitutional powers that the ANC has stripped from the opposition controlled National Assembly (the unicameral legislature).

VENEZUELA: TWO EX-OIL MINISTERS ARRESTED, UN AMBASSADOR ALLEGEDLY RECALLED IN ANTI-CORRUPTION DRIVE

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- -- Venezuelan authorities have detained two former oil ministers as part of an ongoing anti-corruption drive led by the Attorney General’s office. The apprehension of Euologio Del Pino and Nelson Martinez, who both served as oil ministers and PDVSA state oil company presidents, are the highest level arrests to have taken place since investigations into corruption in the oil sector began in August. Both men were taken into custody Thursday. In comments to press, Attorney General Tarek William Saab said the detentions were part of his office’s attempts to dismantle a “cartel” that had “taken over PDVSA”.

     On Tuesday, Reuters reported that Ramirez had been recalled from his post at the UN in relation to the ongoing corruption crackdown, giving rise to speculation that the former oil minister could be the attorney general’s next planned arrest. Ramirez has, however, denied the reports and officially represented Caracas at an event with the Cuban government Wednesday. Though the Maduro government is yet to comment, reports of Ramirez’ dismissal come on the heels of heated public criticisms made against the diplomat from senior government officials.

     Ramirez’s cousin, Diego Salazar Carreño, was arrested Friday in relation to the alleged laundering of €1,347,339 in PDVSA funds through the Andorra Private Bank in 2012. Salazar has reportedly been charged with money laundering and association to commit crimes. Meanwhile, Ramirez’ former assistant, Rafael Ernesto Reiter, was reportedly arrested in Spain at the end of October at the behest of the US government, also in relation to corruption in PDVSA. Several other former Venezuelan government officials were also detained at the time. Ramirez’ former assistant, Rafael Ernesto Reiter, was reportedly arrested in Spain at the end of October at the behest of the US government in relation to corruption in PDVSA. Several other former Venezuelan government officials were also detained.

VENEZUELA IS LOSING ITS BEST OIL BUYER

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA    -- Venezuelan DICTATOR Nicolas Maduro said this week that PdVSA is willing to retaliate against financial sanctions from the U.S. by suspending oil exports to the country, sending crude to Asia instead. This seems highly unlikely, given that the U.S. is one of its largest cash-paying customers. China is PdVSA's largest customer in Asia, but it doesn't receive payment for these shipments - it is using crude to pay off its vast debts instead.

     We can see in our ClipperData that U.S. imports of Venezuelan crude have been exceedingly steady in recent years, averaging 773,000 bpd in 2014, 792,000 bpd in 2015 and 754,000 bpd in 2016. Steady flows make sense - not only because of the presence of Citgo refineries on the US Gulf Coast, but because Gulf Coast refiners are geared towards refining the heavy crude that Venezuela produces. Proximity is also a key consideration. Exports this year, however, have dropped considerably, nearly 20 percent below the 3-year average to 629,000 bpd. After a fairly regular first five months of the year, imports have taken a dive since, dropping below 500,000 bpd in November.

     This is a result of falling Venezuelan production, which has now dropped below 2 million barrels per day, a near three decade low. It also because U.S. refiners such as PBF Energyhave halted buying from the state-run oil company due to both crude quality and credit issues. As U.S. imports of Venezuelan crude continue to fall, PdVSA is making sure to send product to as many of its suppliers as possible, at the expense of its own refineries. Deliveries to Citgo's two refineries at Lake Charles and Corpus Christi have dropped to just 38,000 bpd in November, the lowest on our records, after averaging just over 200,000 bpd in each of the last three years.

December 3, 2017

VENEZUELA RIVALS BEGIN NEW CRISIS NEGOTIATIONS BID IN DOMINICAN REPUBLIC 

          SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC  --  President Nicolas Maduro's leftist government and the main opposition coalition resumed talks in the Dominican Republic Friday, aimed at resolving Venezuela's crushing economic and political crisis. Both sides held preliminary meetings on Friday with foreign ministers from Latin American nations acting as guarantors in the talks. Dominican President Danilo Medina -- who is hosting the talks with fellow mediator and former Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero -- said he expects "good will" to yield positive results.

     "This is not a dialogue, but a negotiation. We hope that we can get something important," Medina said of the talks, which are due to end Saturday. Previous meetings hosted by Medina have failed to take the negotiations beyond preliminary discussions. The main demand of the Democratic Union Roundtable (MUD) coalition is the opening of a "humanitarian corridor" to allow the import of desperately needed food and medicines and therefore alleviate the worst of the economic crisis -- along with a guarantee of free and fair presidential elections next year.

     Maduro, meanwhile, is demanding the opposition work for the lifting of US sanctions which prohibit officials and entities of his government from negotiating new debt deals with US creditors. He also wants the opposition-dominated parliament to get behind his plan to restructure Venezuela's huge foreign debt, estimated at $150 billion. In addition to Mexico and Chile -- invited by the MUD -- Bolivia and Nicaragua have joined the talks as allies of Maduro. The opposition is divided over the talks, with some in the coalition dismissing them as nothing more than an attempt by Maduro to buy time as he continues to consolidate power.

MINISTER OF HEALTH OF VENEZUELA SAYS HE WILL NOY ALLOW HUMANITARIAN AID TO ENTER THE COUNTRY

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- -- The Minister of Health, Luis Lopez, said today that he will not allow the entry of humanitarian aid to the country, while in the Dominican Republic the government of dictator Nicolás Maduro and the opposition continue in a process of political negotiation that includes in his agenda the opening of a humanitarian channel.

      "Nobody here will kneel before the empire and much less is going to allow this right wing to impose a supposed humanitarian aid when our people are being served by President Nicolás Maduro," the minister said in Caracas through state channel VTV. The minister today led a day of “medicine delivery” in almost the entire country to, according to state media reports, "benefit more than 40 thousand patients. Lopez's statements were immediately rejected by the Venezuelan opposition that is pressesing in Santo Domingo, to make a reality the opening of a humanitarian channel that allows the entry of food and medicines that are scarce in the whole country.

     The political secretary of the opposition coalition Angel Oropeza sent through Twitter a couple of videos in which representatives of non-governmental organizations labeled as "irresponsible" the minister for such comments. The antichavism participates in this new process of dialogue with labor union and business representatives in order to have advice of all kinds in the face of possible agreements with the so-called Bolivarian revolution. According to estimates made by the Medical Federation of Venezuela, the shortage of medicines in pharmacies and hospitals is higher than 70%. The ruling party denies that the country is going through a crisis or a humanitarian emergency as the opposition and several health organizations warn.

VENEZUELAN AIRLINE BARRED FROM EUROPEAN UNION SKIES

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA    -- Venezuela's Avior Airlines has been banned from European Union skies after a commission determined it no longer meets international safety standards, another blow to troubled nation's already beleaguered flight industry. The European Commission announced Thursday that Avior had been added to a list of international airlines prohibited from flying within the union because the European Aviation Safety Agency detected "unaddressed safety deficiencies."

     Avior operates flights within Venezuela, throughout Latin America and to Miami, Florida, and lists an office location in Madrid on its website. The airline is certified under U.S. federal aviation regulations and Venezuela remains in good standing with the International Aviation Safety Assessment, the Federal Aviation Administration's program to determine whether foreign countries provide sufficient safety and oversight of airlines that fly to the U.S. Venezuela has grown increasingly isolated as an expanding list of airlines cancel service amid low customer demand and financial distress.

      The International Air Transport Association has said that Venezuela owes $3.8 billion to several international airlines, a debt it is unexpected to repay anytime soon. The government defaulted on billions of dollars' worth of bonds earlier this month. John Cox, a safety consultant and retired airline pilot, said Avior's placement on the EU's blacklist would likely raise more red flags. "When this goes out all the regulatory agencies are made aware of it," he said. The last United Airlines flight departed Caracas in late June, with crewmembers waving a Venezuelan flag out of the pilot's window. American Airlines, Air France and Iberia are among the large international carriers that still offer service to the South American nation.

December 2, 2017

AMBASSADOR NIKKI HALEY: NORTH KOREA MISSILE LAUNCH 'BRINGS US CLOSER TO WAR' 

          UNITED NATIONS,  NEW YORK   --  North Korea’s latest test of an intercontinental ballistic missile increases the chances of a war that will leave it “utterly destroyed,” President Trump’s top envoy to the United Nations warned Wednesday. “The dictator of North Korea made a choice yesterday that brings the world closer to war, not farther from it,” Ambassador Nikki Haley told the UN Security Council. “And if war comes, make no mistake, the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed.” Haley called on all countries to cut ties with the rogue nation and said Trump, in a conversation with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, urged a complete cutoff of oil supplies to its longtime trading partner.

     Earlier Wednesday, North Korean despot Kim Jong-un declared that his country is a “responsible nuclear power” and reveled in its newest — and highest — launch. “After watching the successful launch of the new type ICBM Hwasong-15, Kim Jong-un declared with pride that now we have finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power,” said a statement read on state-run television in North Korea.  It went on to say Pyongyang is a “responsible nuclear power,” claiming its strategic weapons were developed to defend itself from “the US imperialists’ nuclear blackmail policy and nuclear threat.”

     Kim’s government said the rocket flew 590 miles and reached a high point of 2,780 miles — 10 times higher than the International Space Station — during its 53 minutes in the air before crashing into the Sea of Japan. North Korean state media said the rocket could carry a warhead and withstand the extreme heat during re-entry of the Earth’s atmosphere. The claim wasn’t independently verified. But Defense Secretary James Mattis summed up the threat posed by the latest development in North Korea’s arsenal. “It went higher, frankly, than any previous shot they’ve taken, a research and development effort on their part to continue building ballistic missiles that can threaten everywhere in the world, basically,” he told reporters Tuesday.

NORTH KOREA HAS ALREADY HINTED AT ANOTHER TEST MUCH MORE DANGEROUS THAT AN ICBM

       PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA -- -- North Korea has already suggested something much more dangerous than testing an intercontinental ballistic missile. KCNA North Korea launched its most capable missile on Tuesday, displaying a range that could most likely reach the US mainland — but the country has already hinted at a more dangerous test. In its state media, North Korea routinely swears to conduct missile tests and complete a missile program that can strike the US with nuclear weapons. But after US President Donald Trump threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea in a speech to the UN this summer, Pyongyang laid out another goal.

     North Korea's foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, said in September that the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, could respond with "the most powerful detonation of an H-bomb in the Pacific." In October, CNN's Will Ripley quoted a senior North Korean official as saying the US should take the threat "literally," hinting it might follow the completion of an intercontinental ballistic missile — something North Korea declared on Wednesday. North Korea's latest ICBM test drew condemnation from world leaders — the US's ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said it took the US and North Korea "closer to war" — but did virtually zero damage.

    The missile launched, crested at 2,800 miles above earth, and splashed down into the Sea of Japan. If North Korea were to carry out its threat of detonating a nuclear device over the Pacific, it would affect millions of lives. "If North Korea does do an atmospheric test, it really does change the game," Jenny Town, a managing editor at 38 North, a website for North Korea analysis, previously told Business Insider. "The amount of contamination it would cause both in the atmosphere and the ocean is something that will last for years." North Korea's underground testing site recently withstood a nuclear blast that experts have said was at least 10 times as powerful as the bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima — but reports of cave-ins, landslides, and mini-earthquakes have followed as the ground under the mountain has resettled.

PRESIDENTS TRUMP AND MOON AGREE TO FORCE NORTH KOREAN DENUCLEARIZATION AT ANY COST

       WASHINGTON, D.C.      -- US President Donald Trump agreed on Thursday with his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, that it is necessary to “compel” North Korea to “return to the path of denuclearization at any cost” after Pyongyang earlier this week conducted another intercontinental ballistic missile test. Trump spoke by telephone with Moon for the second time this week to discuss the “next steps to respond to this most recent provocation by North Korea, including how to bring maximum pressure to bear on the regime,” the White House said.

    “The presidents reiterated their strong commitment to enhancing the (bilateral) alliance’s deterrence and defense capabilities,” the statement continued. “Both leaders reaffirmed their strong commitment to compelling North Korea to return to the path of denuclearization at any cost,” the White House said regarding the president’s talk with Moon. On Tuesday, the North Korean regime of Kim Jong-un launched another ICBM, this one allegedly capable of hitting the US mainland and carrying a “super-large” and heavy nuclear warhead, according to Pyongyang. In response, the Trump administration has been pushing the international community to increase sanctions on North Korea.

     US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Wednesday called upon the international community to break diplomatic relations with Pyongyang, saying that Trump had asked his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to halt petroleum exports to North Korea. However, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday that what Washington is demanding is that Beijing “restrain more oil, not take it off completely.” “The most effective tool the last time North Korea came to the table was cutting the oil off,” Tillerson told reporters, referring to talks held with Pyongyang in 2008.

December 1st., 2017

JULIO BORGES: THE NATIONAL CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY IS NOT A POINT OF NEGOTIATION 

          CARACAS, VENEZUELA    --  The president of the National Assembly (AN), Julio Borges, assured Thursday that the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) is not a point of negotiation for the opposition in the meetings with the Government to be held between December 1 and 2 in the Dominican Republic. "We are clear that there are lines that we will never cross, one of them is the ANC. The country has to have all the confidence in our common sense.

      I say it with all property, I belong to the party of Juan Pablo Guanipa who resigned from the governorship of Zulia state precisely because he doesn’t recognize the ANC, "said Borges during a telephone call broadcast by Union Radio. He recalled that the most important issues that the opposition leadership will place on the negotiating table are the opening of a humanitarian channel and the necessary conditions to have "free and transparent elections". "They are two very immediate and high-impact things. Every effort must be made so that Venezuelans can freely choose a change of government in the coming months.

     These two issues are worth the effort and work that must be done to solve the country's problems, "he said. The deputy stressed that the difference with the previous dialogue processes is that at this moment they have the presence of the "most important foreign ministers of Latin America, representatives of the countries that have supported us". Although he acknowledged that the national government does not "have any will to change the current situation of the country," he stressed that "previously they did not have the international pressure they have now, neither the economic sanctions."

IRAN PROMISES TO SEND WARSHIPS TO THE GULF OF MEXICO

       TEHRAN, IRAN -- -- Iran’s new naval commander has vowed to dispatch warships to the doorstep of the United States in the Gulf of Mexico, according to reports. “Our fleet of warships will be sent to the Atlantic Ocean in the near future and will visit one of the friendly states in South America and the Gulf of Mexico,” Rear Adm. Hossein Khanzadi said, according to The Jerusalem Post. Iran will likely use the warships’ visit to South America to advance its relationship with Venezuela, a US adversary, the outlet reported. Khanzadi promised last week that his navy would “wave the flag of our country in the Gulf of Mexico,” NBC News reported.

     He said “the appearance of our vessels in the Mediterranean and Suez Canal shocked the world and the US also made comments on it.” While Iran’s naval forces pose no real threat when up against the US Navy, Khanzadi said that new vessels and submarines will be introduced next year to bolster the fleet. This isn’t the first time Iran’s military has said it would send its ships into the Gulf of Mexico. Khanzadi’s predecessor, Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, said in 2014 that Iran planned to send ships near the US to counter the American presence in the Persian Gulf. Sayyari later said the sailings had been canceled “due to a change in schedule.”

     The US Navy’s 5th fleet is based in Bahrain across the Persian Gulf, where American and Iranian ships have clashed in recent years. Iranian-born Mideast commentator Meir Javedanfar said that despite the plans to sail into America’s back yard, “it’s not clear if Iran is actually going to do it.” “Making an announcement is very different than actually being able to carry out such a big and sophisticated task of sending Iranian ships all the way to the Gulf of Mexico,” said Javedanfar, a lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Center in Israel. “And even if Iran succeeds I think it’s going to be mostly for show for domestic purposes. The Iranians have said that the Americans have no business being in the Persian Gulf and therefore maybe by doing this they are trying to reciprocate by saying that ‘just as you come to our backyard we can come to your back yard.’”

WAR CRIMINAL DRINKS POISON, DIES AFTER INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT UPHOLDS 20-YEAR PRISON SENTENCE

       THE HAGUE, SWITZERLAND     -- Former Serbo-Croat military leader Slobodan Praljak killed himself during a live video broadcast on Wednesday by drinking poison after his appeal for war crimes during the Balkan War was rejected at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the court said. Praljak was attending a hearing in the Appeals Chamber of the court where he heard the presiding magistrate confirm his conviction and uphold a jail sentence of 20 years when he lifted a glass to his mouth, drank a liquid and fell ill, the court said in a statement.

     “Praljak, one of six defence appellants in the Prlic et al. case, passed away today in HMC Hospital in The Hague,” the court statement said. The Croatian Prime Minister, Andrej Plenkovic, said Praljak’s suicide was due to what he described as the injustice of having had his 20-year prison sentence for war crimes upheld. “Judges, Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal. With disdain, I reject this verdict,” the 72-year-old Praljak said, just before upending a small glass into his mouth and exclaiming: “I have taken poison.”

    His lawyer confirmed that there was in fact poison inside the glass, causing chaos in the courtroom where judge Carmel Agius, who looked shocked, immediately ordered the hearing to be suspended. “Praljak was immediately assisted by the ICTY medical staff,” the court said, adding that simultaneously an ambulance was summoned. “Praljak was transported to a nearby hospital to receive further medical assistance where he passed,” the statement said. Praljak was being tried alongside five other former Croat political and military leaders from Bosnia. Praljak was the Chief of Staff of the Croat Defense Forces (HVO) and the court had considered that he had failed to stop the persecution of Muslims in 1993 and had not acted on the information that killings were being planned.


 

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