April 30, 2016


        WASHINGTON, D.C.-
Venezuelan Congress lawmakers on Thursday requested the Organization of American States (OAS) to assess the country current political situation and confirm what they have described as government attempts to limit the Legislature’s competences. Venezuelan anti-government congressmen Luis Florido and Timoteo Zambrano informed that after a meeting with OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, he requested them to give details on human rights abuses and institutional crisis in Venezuela

     Opposition congressman Timoteo Zambrano reported that the representatives asked OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro to evaluate the most adequate measure this body could adopt to intervene in Venezuela. Such measures include carrying out good offices, sending a mission, or convening the Permanent Council to discuss whether the democratic order in Venezuela has been impaired. Article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter authorizes Almagro or a member State to convene the Permanent Council “in the event of an unconstitutional disruption of the constitutional system that seriously impairs the democratic order in a Member State.”

     Anti-government lawmaker Luis Florido additionally said that Almagro requested them to elaborate on human rights violations and institutional crisis they claimed Venezuela is facing. After the meeting, the Venezuelan opposition clarified that it does not seek in the Organization of American States (OAS) "more" isolation of the country with a suspension of the organism, which would be the last consequence of the application of the Inter American Democratic Charter. "We want the OAS to evaluate the mechanisms to protect democracy in Venezuela and then we can move forward to achieve a resolution that will help introduce the actions that we are proposing to take, but we do not seek to insulate our country, it is already sufficiently isolated", said Florido.


Venezuela's opposition tried to sack the food minister for shortages in the crisis-hit country and claimed a million people backed its call for a referendum to remove the president. President Nicolas Maduro promptly rejected the demand, He even threatened to cut the power to the legislature, as part of widespread blackouts he has imposed to save power. His opponents meanwhile said they had gathered more than five times the 200,000 signatures needed to begin organizing a referendum to remove Maduro. Senior opposition leader Henrique Capriles said more than a million people had signed a petition calling for a recall referendum.

    The signatures will be handed over to the National Electoral Board (CNE) early next week for verification. The socialist president has already blocked several bills brought by the opposition by challenging them in the Supreme Court. His critics say he controls the court and the electoral authorities. The political tension, shortages and now enforced electricity blackouts that started this week have raised fears of unrest in the South American oil state. Looting and clashes were reported in towns including the country's second-biggest city Maracaibo after daily power cut-offs were formally launched on Monday.

     To save power the government has also slashed the workweek to two days for state employees and ordered schools to close on Fridays. It says the El Nino weather phenomenon has dried up the country's hydroelectric dams. The opposition says mismanagement is also to blame for the power crisis as well as for the shortage of food and basic supplies. "The situation is critical," said Norvelis Contreras, a 26-year-old housewife, who had been queuing for five hours to buy rice and oil on Thursday at a supermarket in Maracaibo. "We are suffering and trying to survive." In a survey published by pollster Venebarometro on Thursday, 13 percent of Venezuelans said their household only ate once a day. Another Venebarometro poll indicated more than two thirds of Venezuelans wanted Maduro to quit.


        Caracas, venezuela-
Venezuela's legislature voted Thursday to sack the government's food minister for the grave shortages citizens are suffering in the country's economic crisis. The speaker of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, said the government must "proceed to remove" Food Minister Rodolfo Marco Torres from his post after more than two-thirds of the lawmakers present approved a no-confidence motion against him. Ramos said that under the constitution a minister subject to a successful no-confidence vote is obliged to step down.

     The leader of the pro-government bloc in the assembly, Hector Rodriguez, said, however, that the motion was not valid. He said the vote breached a recent ruling by the Supreme Court on debating procedures. President Nicolas Maduro has blocked various recent bills brought by the opposition by challenging them in the Supreme Court, which his critics say he controls. The opposition has been pushing to drive Maduro from office since it took control of the legislature in January, blaming his economic management for the crisis.

     In the debate ahead of the no-confidence vote, opposition lawmakers said Torres was to blame for shortages of basic foods which have Venezuelans queuing up for rations at shops. They alleged corruption linked to food imports and the "destruction" of Venezuela's production capacity. "We are facing the worst food emergency in Venezuela's history," said the lawmaker leading the motion, Ismael Garcia. He said the crisis was due to the "failure of an economic model which has ruined the country." Maduro blames the situation on an "economic war" against the country by capitalists.

April 29, 2016


Venezuelans lined up on Wednesday to seek a recall referendum against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, exasperated with a grinding crisis that has paralyzed government offices five days a week and triggered rolling blackouts. A day after Maduro announced his latest drastic measures to tackle power shortages in the recession-hit country, the opposition began gathering signatures for an official petition to launch a referendum. Citizens lined up to sign, voicing anger at Maduro over a crisis that has led to power outages for four hours a day in most of the country, exacerbating an already disastrous economic implosion. A MUD representative says they have collected more than 600,000 signatures during the first two days of operation.

     I came to sign it to end this anarchy,” said Miriam Leal, 54, in eastern Caracas. “We don’t have medicine, work, education, and on top of that there is the electricity problem.” The IMF issued a stark warning on the state of Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy, hit hard by the collapse in global crude prices. “The economic situation is not sustainable in the medium-term,” said Alejandro Werner, director of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere department. The IMF warned the economy would shrink 8 percent this year and inflation would exceed 700 percent. The crisis is taking an increasingly heavy toll on weary Venezuelans.

     As the 40 days of blackouts kicked in across eight states — not including Caracas — looting was reported in several places, including the country’s second-largest city, Maracaibo. Isolated incidents were also reported in the capital. A defiant Maduro went on national television to insist he would serve out his term. “None of what they [the opposition] are doing is politically viable, and the revolution here is going to continue,” he said. Venezuelan National Assembly Speaker Henry Ramos Allup on Wednesday said the legislature is the latest victim of the crisis: it has run out of money after the government failed to allocate its budget, he told journalists. “There’s no money to pay salaries this month” for lawmakers or employees, he said.


several Venezuelan cities cleaned up from a night of looting and fiery protests Wednesday as government offices closed their doors for the rest of the week in the face of a worsening energy crisis that is causing daily blackouts. The socialist administration began imposing a four-hour daily blackout around the country this week to save electricity. Then, Maduro announced that millions of officials will now work only Mondays and Tuesdays, taking the rest of the week off in a bid to save electricity. Angry residents in darkened towns around the country took to the streets Tuesday night, setting up flaming barricades and raiding shops for bread and other scarce food.

     On Wednesday, more than 1,000 police fanned out around the western city of Maracaibo after a night of riots. More than 100 people were arrested there for looting that damaged dozens of businesses, according to local governor Francisco Arias, who supports the Maduro government. Venezuela is among the world's most violent countries, and crime generally spikes here when the lights go out. Maduro condemned the night of protests, and said his political enemies were trying to sow chaos and sabotage him. "The crazy right wing doesn't understand that in hard times, a family has to band together," he said. "They're trying to create a violent situation."

    A recent survey by universities often critical of the Venezuelan government found that 87 percent of the respondents said they didn't make enough money to buy food. Maduro warned that the water level behind the nation's largest dam has fallen to near its minimum operating level because of a severe drought. If it gets much lower, the whole nation could be plunged into darkness. Experts say lack of planning and maintenance is to blame as much as the weather. Caracas is being spared from the rolling blackouts and has not seen violent protests. Some Venezuelans complain that the country is starting to resemble the dystopian series "The Hunger Games," in which districts suffer for the benefit of a heartless capital city. As people become more desperate in outlying states, opposition politicians in Caracas are appealing for calm after scoring a small victory that will allow them to begin an effort to recall Maduro.


Two Communist Party deputies at the Russian Duma have asked the Russian government to deploy Russian missiles in Cuba and reopen a signals interception center in the Cuban city of Lourdes “to defend Russian interests,” The deputies, Valeriy Rashkin and Sergei Obukhov (in photo at top, Rashkin on the left), sent their appeal to President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Their action was in response to a Reuters report that the United States planned to deploy HIMARS rocket launchers in southeast Turkey as early as May. The Russian government has always been wary of U.S. encroachment near the nation’s borders.

     The deployment of HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) will reportedly serve to repulse attacks against Turkey from Islamic State forces in Syria. “It should be noted that the tactical and technical characteristics of this equipment allows the use of missiles with range up to 500 kilometers,” the two Russian deputies’ statement said. “Thus, a potential threat to Russia’s allies under the Collective Security Treaty Organization is created.” Armenia, where Russia maintains military bases, would be in harm’s way, the statement said. So, retaliatory measures were in order. “We are talking about the deployment of Russian launchers with the same or even longer range in Cuba,” they proposed.

     “In addition, an asymmetrical response to Washington, such as reopening the signals intelligence center at Lourdes, seems to be called for.” Vladimir Dzhabarov referred to the proposal as simply grandstanding. The measures could be taken under the existing friendship-and-cooperation treaty between Russia and Cuba, they added. According to the RT [Russia Today] news service, the recipients of the deputies’ message have not yet issued a comment, but Vladimir Dzhabarov, deputy chief of the Senate Committee for International Relations, said that, in his view, the proposal is simply grandstanding. “First, the situation in Cuba is different now; they have restored diplomatic relations with the United States,” he said. “Second, placing missiles there would have no effect on our security. Therefore, this is just a populist proposal that hardly matches the interests of our country’s security.”

April 28, 2016


Venezuela’s Vice President Aristóbulo Istúriz announced on Tuesday evening that the government is imposing a two-day week for public sector workers to help deal with a worsening energy crisis caused by falling water levels at the country’s main hydro-electric power station, which produces 70% of the country’s electricity. Speaking on television, Istúriz said that civil servants should turn up for work only on Mondays and Tuesdays for the next two weeks.

    “There will be no work in the public sector on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, except for fundamental and necessary tasks,” he said, adding that the working day would run from 7am to 1pm. Earlier this month, President Nicolás Maduro ordered a four-day working weekuntil the end of May for government employees as part of continued energy-saving measures that included extended Easter week holidays. The government also lengthened the national holiday to five days to “reinforce” energy savings.

     In February, Venezuela – one of the biggest oil-producing nations in the world, with nearly 300 billion barrels of proven reserves – began importing crude oil to help its staggering economy. Venezuela’s current energy problems are a combination of drought caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon, a lack of investment in the state-run electricity sector, and failed policies to reduce dependence on hydro-electric power by switching to coal-fired plants. Currently, Venezuela generates three-fourths of its power from hydroelectric plants on its rivers, with 44% of it coming from one of the largest hydroelectric power plants in the world, the Guri dam.


        WASHINGTON, D.C. 
A U.S. State Department official said on Tuesday that Washington has no plans to change a Cold War-era law granting special immigration benefits to Cubans, despite President Barack Obama's moves toward normalized relations with the island country. "There continues to be a large migration flow out of Cuba. It reflects the difficult economic and human rights conditions in the country," Francisco Palmieri, principal deputy assistant secretary in State's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, told a Senate subcommittee hearing.

      "We have no plans to change the Cuban Adjustment Act at this time," Palmieri said. The Cuban Adjustment Act provides Cubans with benefits granted to migrants from no other country. Once they enter the United States and ask for asylum, virtually all are granted the right to stay, can apply for work permits and, later, green cards, which convey lawful permanent residency. Some U.S. lawmakers have been demanding a fresh look at Cuban immigration policy since the surprise December 2014 announcement from Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro that the two countries would move toward ending decades of estrangement.

       They argue that most of the Cubans coming to the United States are coming for economic reasons and are not refugees from its Communist government. Fear of an end to their benefits has fueled a surge in departures from Cuba, many via third countries, which has left large groups of Cubans stranded in Central America. Earlier this year, thousands were airlifted from Panama and Costa Rica to northern Mexico, where they crossed the border into the United States. Senator Marco Rubio, the subcommittee chairman, asked Palmieri about reports that Panama might be planning to send more Cuban migrants north. "We have not told them not to do their airlift," Palmieri said.


Venezuela's election board gave opposition leaders on Tuesday a document letting them begin the process of seeking a referendum to remove President Nicolas Maduro, who is under fire over a deepening economic crisis. Triple-digit inflation, Soviet-style production shortages and a severe recession have made the socialist leader broadly unpopular, and the opposition's decisive victory in legislative elections last year has emboldened it to push for a recall vote. They celebrated Tuesday's move as a political victory and changed plans for a protest march on Wednesday to a signature drive instead. "Today we took a first step to begin the recall of Maduro," opposition deputy Elias Matta tweeted. "We the people support change, there is no way to stop it."

      But supporters of the recall effort face a protracted and uncertain road. The opposition must now officially ask the elections council to oversee the collection of some 200,000 signatures, and then must request another petition drive in which it must gather the required 4 million signatures. Venezuela's opposition-dominated National Assembly has passed legislation to streamline the process for seeking recall votes, but the Supreme Court, which routinely backs Maduro in disputes with the legislature, looks certain to strike it down. On Tuesday, the court ruled that any constitutional amendment to reduce the presidential term could not be made retroactive, shooting down one of the opposition's other main strategies to oust Maduro, who was elected in 2013.

      Maduro, 53, the hand-picked successor of the late socialist president, Hugo Chavez, has sworn he will not be forced out before his term ends in 2019 and has accused the opposition of seeking to stage a coup against him "No one can bring down this revolution," said Socialist Party stalwart and lawmaker Pedro Carreno in reaction to Tuesday's news, saying the opposition could not defeat the ruling "Chavismo" movement either in the street or at the polls. Should the opposition succeed in recalling Maduro this year, a new election would be held. But a recall in 2017 would leave the presidency in the hands of the vice president, a post currently held by Socialist Party loyalist Aristobulo Isturiz.

April 27, 2016


        MADRID, SPAIN-
Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs José Manuel García-Margallo underscored that both the Venezuelan government and the opposition must “respect each other’s competences” Spain asks for release of "political prisoners" to foster talks in Venezuela.

      The Minister said that reconciliation in Venezuela would be possible should all political prisoners be released Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo supported the release of “political prisoners” in Venezuela as a condition for the local government and the opposition to hold talks. The official’s remarks came during his participation in the opening event of the Alliance of Civilizations Forum taking place in Baku, Azerbaijan.
      In order for such reconciliation to materialize, he added, “all political prisoners must be released,” Efe reported. García-Margallo further made reference to a proposal of the Spanish People’s Party (PP), which will be discussed on Monday at the Congress of Deputies, to request the “immediate” release of political prisoners in the country and compel all parties to take a stance on the government of President Nicolás Maduro and the current situation facing the opposition.


        HAVANA, CUBA
The dissident Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation said on Monday that there are currently 93 political prisoners on the island, and that 21 of them have been behind bars for between 13 and 24 years. The latest release adds 22 names that were not on the list of June 2015, which it calls “another sign of the degenerating” political and human rights situation in Cuba.

    The commission classifies these political prisoners in four groups, in one of which appear the names of 51 members of the peaceful opposition sentenced for their rebellious attitudes and activities. Another group is made up of 27 political prisoners sentenced in State Security Courts for using firearms, force or violence, of whom, according to the dissident commission, seven arrived armed in three small expeditions from South Florida bent on overthrowing the government. Also on the list are four opposition members sentenced for “other crimes against the state,” three of them former intelligence officers including Miguel Alvarez, who when arrested was the chief advisor of then-parliament speaker Ricardo Alarcon.

     The list released Monday also includes 11 former prisoners of conscience out of jail on probation. The report calls it “very difficult” to draw up an “exhaustive” list of political prisoners on the island, where according to commission estimates, the total prison population numbers somewhere between 60,000 and 70,000 inmates. The commission also criticizes the Cuban government for rejecting the cooperation of the International Red Cross and of organizations and experts of the United Nations in the inspection and improvement of its penitentiary system, made up of some 200 facilities including prisons, forced labor fields and detention centers.


Venezuela's Supreme Court on Monday rejected the opposition's latest bid to cut short the term of President Nicolas Maduro, whose opponents blame him for a severe economic crisis. The court ruled that a constitutional amendment proposed by opposition lawmakers could not be applied retroactively or immediately to Maduro's current term as the bill proposed. It said that would violate "the will of the people" who elected him. The opposition vowed to oust Maduro when it took control of the legislature in January after winning elections.

     Lower house lawmakers last week approved on a first reading a bill proposing to reduce presidential terms from six years to four. That bill would also have to be approved in a referendum to enter into force. The court said in its ruling Monday that "trying to use a constitutional amendment to cut short immediately a term of office of someone popularly elected, such as the president of the republic, is an act of fraud against the constitution." The opposition leader in the legislature, Henry Ramos Allup, denied that the amendment was unconstitutional and criticized the court for vetoing it before it had a second reading.

     "You are the ones committing constitutional fraud," he wrote on Twitter, branding the Supreme Court judges "outlaws." Maduro has successfully blocked previous bills in the National Assembly by appealing to the Supreme Court, which critics say he controls. Attacking Maduro on another front, the opposition has also tried to call a direct referendum on whether to remove him from office. Maduro reached the halfway point of his six-year term last week. Under the constitution he can now be removed from office in a recall referendum, which the opposition hopes to do by the end of the year. Electoral authorities have so far blocked that bid too, however.

April 26, 2016


The impeachment process against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff,  passed today to a special commission of 21 members and equal number of substitutes which are formed according to the proportion of the parties or party blocs. The committee will have 48 hours to elect its president and a secretary, which could be accomplished on April 26, due to the holiday on the 21st. From then on, the Commission will have ten days to present a report on the admissibility or not of the proceeding, which will be voted in this instance and analyzed also by the Senate plenary, whichever the result may be. In both cases, the approval will only require a simple majority.

     If the opening of a political trial is approved, which it is expected to be defined between May 10 and 11, the President will be notified and separated from her post for a máximum period of 180 days until the senators conclude the process. In a press conference held in today the general attorney of the Union and in charge of Rousseff’s defense, Jose Eduardo Cardozo, said the Government could question the impeachment before the Federal Supreme Court (STF in Portuguese). Despite the insistence of reporters to know when this would happen, Cardozo limited himself to reiterate that it would be "at the appropriate time".

     In opinion of the also former minister of Justice, the procedural situation in the Senate will be another. It is another context, another reality we will have, as the STF ruled, only the two aspects contained in the charges can be judged and all the steps of the process will be respected. Cardozo deplored that there was only one discussion of political nature in the application for impeachment, while denunciations against the President -which he described as inadmissible and without support- were never discussed in depth. Regarding the terms in which the process will occur in the Senate, the president of the House, Renan Calheiros, warned last week that the issue should be handled with balance and in due term. The only thing I can guarantee, he said, is that I will conduct the analysis with impartiality, responsibility and independence, following the calendar used in similar circumstances.


North Korea fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile off its east coast on Saturday, South Korea said, amid concerns that the isolated state might conduct a nuclear test or a missile launch ahead of a ruling party meeting in May. The North fired the missile to the northeast at about 6:30 p.m. (0930 GMT), the South's office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. North Korea will hold a congress of its ruling Workers' Party in early May for the first time in 36 years, at which its leader Kim Jong Un is expected to say the country is a strong military power and a nuclear state.

     The missile flew for about 30 km (18 miles), a South Korean Defense Ministry official said by telephone, adding its military was trying to determine whether the launch may have been a failure for unspecified reasons. South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the missile flew "for a few minutes," citing a government source. The U.S. Strategic Command said it had detected and tracked a North Korean submarine missile launch but it did not pose a threat to North America. State Department spokesman John Kirby said launches using ballistic missile technology were "a clear violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions."

     France on Saturday called on the European Union to unilaterally adopt additional sanctions on North Korea if the missile launch was confirmed. The European Union in March expanded trade and financial sanctions on North Korea, following up on harsh new measures imposed by the U.N. Security Council. The North first attempted a launch of the submarine-based missile last year and was seen to be in the early stages of developing such a weapons system, which could pose a new threat to its neighbors and the United States if it is perfected. However, follow-up test launches were believed to have fallen short of the North's expectations as its state media footage appeared to have been edited to fake success, according experts who have seen the visuals.


The World Bank’s arbitration court ordered Venezuela to pay around USD 100 million to British cattle company Vestey Group for the nationalization of a number of cattle ranches. The nationalization drive dates back 2005 when Vestey ranches were seized in the Plains region to repopulate and cultivate rural areas largely abandoned after the oil industry took off in the 1920s, Reuters highlighted. The International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (Icsid) ordered the country to pay USD 98 million plus interest, Reuters reported citing a copy of the award.

     Diego Gosis, a lawyer for Venezuela, told Reuters the country was likely to file a petition for annulment of part of or the whole award. The ranches belonged to a Venezuelan subsidiary Vestey Group, a meat products company owned by Britain’s Vestey family, which began operations in the country early in the 20th century. Late President Hugo Chávez handed thousand farmers numerous expropriated hectares to spur production in the countryside. The wave of nationalizations by Chavez, who also included key sectors such as oil, steel and retail, resulted in a score of international lawsuits and search for remedies, many of which have come to end in recent years. Venezuela has sought to cancel or reduce the payment of several recent arbitration disputes.

     The lawyer Diego Gosis, representing the country in the dispute, told Reuters that they probably introduce an action for annulment of all or part of the decision, although he explained that it is "still to early talk about the courses action to be taken.” " The herds belonged to a subsidiary in Venezuela of Vestey Group, a meat products company, owned by Britain's Vestey family, which started its operations in Venezuela in the early 20th century. Chavez handed over to thousands of farmers many hectares that resulted from the expropriation, in order to shore up the production of the fields. Critics of Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro alleged that part of the pressing food shortages that Venezuelans are suffering at the present has its origin in the little planned nationalizations.

April 25, 2016


        WASHINGTON,  D.C.-
The Organization of American States (OAS) is waiting for the Venezuelan opposition to present the request for the application of he Inter-American Democratic Charter to Venezuela, something only previously done in 2009 as a result of a coup in Honduras. The request could come next week and it is expected that the Secretary-General of the Agency, Luis Almagro, request a debate in the Permanent Council, according to several diplomatic sources consulted by Efe news agency. The Inter-American Democratic Charter, approved in 2001, includes several assumptions, but in this particular case the applicable article would be 20, which authorizes the Secretary-General, or a Member State to request the convening of the Permanent Council if it is considered that in another State "there is an alteration of the constitutional order that severely affects its democratic order."

     That is basically the debate that would deal within the Council, to determine whether there has been an "alteration of constitutional order" in Venezuela, although in practice it would be the political balances of power in each country - and not the legal component – that would decide the vote. "Venezuela has contravened basic principles established in the Charter, as for example, that which establishes that the essential elements of representative democracy must include 'the separation and independence of power authorities' said José Miguel Vivanco, Director for America at the NGO Human Rights Watch. " "The absolute lack of judicial independence has helped the authorities to commit all kinds of abuses with impunity and has allowed limiting the powers of the current Nacional Assembly by the Supreme Court of Justice on several occasions, Vivanco added.

    At the conclusion of the Council debate, a long process would open which could result is the suspension of the State from the OAS, as it did with Honduras, an scenario that experts believe it would not happen. Early this year, in a public letter addressed to the head of state, Nicolas Maduro, Almagro had called the decisions already made by Venezuela’s highest judicial body a “direct blow to the people’s will”, accusing the Bolivarian government of filling the Supreme Court, the CNE, and other institutions “on the basis of party politics”. The Uruguayan general-secretary went on note that the situation “puts at risk the balance between state powers,” demanding that the high court ruling be overridden. Should the Bolivarian government fail to restore “the balance of powers” and “respect for the will of the electorate”, Almagro warned, Venezuela could be expelled from OAS under the regional body’s democratic charter.


Ecuadoreans were sleeping outside and struggling to find food and water on Friday in the wake of aftershocks that are continuing to rock coastal towns that were flattened by last weekend's powerful earthquake. Ecuador's worst earthquake in a decade destroyed virtually all of the simple one- and two-story buildings making up the beach town of Canoas on April 16. Residents sleeping in makeshift shelters said they were praying that it didn't rain. A magnitude-6.0 quake struck off the coast late Thursday, followed by more shaking that sent people running from the structures that remained half-standing after the initial quake.

     Local television stations showed people crying in fear and President Rafael Correa reminded residents that aftershocks were to be expected, and urged them to stay calm and strong. In Canoas, 98 percent of buildings were destroyed during the original magnitude-7.8 quake, according to army Col. Jose Nunez. The palm tree-lined beach towns along Ecuador's coast are usually bustling with tourists who come from all over the world to take in the tropical beauty. But this week, they were filled with grim-faced residents waiting for water and food, sometimes going away empty handed after hours in the sun. Like the aid workers and rescuers, residents were wearing masks against the dust and the stench in the air. Local media reported that some tourists staying near Canoas had come to the village to help.

     Rescuers continued to comb through rubble on streets that looked at if they had been bombed, but time was out for finding survivors. Aid workers have said there are plenty of supplies from countries flying in aid, but they warned of delays in water distribution and said mosquito-borne illness could spread through the camps. The death count rose to at least 587 on Thursday night. Officials listed 155 people as missing and the number of people left homeless climbed to over 23,500. The final total could surpass the death count from Peru's 2007 earthquake and make this the deadliest quake in South America since a 1999 tragedy in Armenia, Colombia that killed more than 1,000 people. Correa has said the earthquake caused $3 billion in damage, and warned that the reconstruction effort will take years. His socialist administration is temporarily raising taxes to fund the recovery.


President Dilma Rousseff voiced confidence Friday that Brazil's people will "be able to prevent any setbacks" to "Brazil is a great country endowed with a society that was able to overcome authoritarianism in the past," Rousseff said at the United Nations during a ceremony for the signing of the Paris climate deal. "Ours is a hard-working people. We have great esteem for freedom. I have no doubt that our people will be able to prevent any setbacks," she said.

     Rousseff is fighting for her political survival at home following allegations that she used illegal accounting maneuvers to mask budget deficits during the 2014 election year. The leader has denied the charges and spoke of a "grave serious moment" in Brazil at the end of her remarks devoted mostly to climate change. The president thanked "all the leaders who have expressed their solidarity to me." While in New York, Rousseff left Vice President Michel Temer in charge even though she has accused him of conspiring to oust her. The Brazilian Senate is due to vote on opening a trial next month, a vote that would force Rousseff to step aside for 180 days and put Temer back in the executive office.

       After that, a two-thirds majority vote would be enough to oust her permanently, leaving Temer to serve out her term, which ends in late 2018. The Brazilian president lost a crucial vote in the lower house of congress last Sunday and faces impeachment by the senate on charges of breaking budget laws. She maintains the charges are groundless and trumped up to illegally oust her and end 13 years of rule by her leftist Workers party. With the prospect of the senate suspending her in three weeks, Rousseff had canceled her trip to attend the signing of the Paris agreement on climate change on Friday, so that she could focus on her political survival. However, she went to New York. Her government’s legal appeals asserting she committed no impeachable crime have been rejected by the supreme court.

April 21, 2016


        HAVANA, CUBA -
U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Communist-led Cuba was an "attack" on its history and culture aimed at misleading a new business class, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Monday, the latest sign of anger after the ground-breaking trip last month. "In this visit, there was a deep attack on our ideas, our history, our culture and our symbols," Rodriguez said at the Cuban leaders have hardened their language against the United States since Obama became the first U.S. president to visit the island in 88 years, with Fidel Castro accusing him of sweet-talking the people.

     President Raul Castro referred to the United States as "the enemy" in the opening speech of the party congress over the weekend and told Cubans to be alert to U.S. attempts to weaken the revolution. The congress, held every five years, must make decisions about the future of Cuba's elderly leadership and the progress of market-style economic reforms adopted in 2011 that allowed more small businesses. The measures have been only partially implemented, a reflection of resistance from hard-liners who distrust market economics and fear the detente with the United States at a time when Cubans are increasingly vocal about their needs.

      "The harsh rhetorical push-back by the ideological wing of the Communist Party suggests their heightened sense of vulnerability," said Richard Feinberg, a former national security adviser to U.S. President Bill Clinton. Rodriguez accused Obama of coming to "dazzle" the private sector, highlighting concern that U.S. promises to empower Cuban entrepreneurs were aimed at building opposition to the single-party system in office since 1959. "Socialism and the Cuban revolution are the guarantees that there can be a non-state sector that is not that of big North American companies," he told state television. Cuba has struck deals with U.S. companies such as hotel chain Starwood and is in talks with others including Google-parent Alphabet. On May 1, Carnival is to become the first U.S. cruise company to sale to Cuba, but the trip is in doubt over a ban on Cuban-Americans sailing.


The United States, Japan and South Korea held senior level diplomatic talks Tuesday to discuss joint measures that could be taken if North Korea continues to defy the United Nations Security Council resolution banning its nuclear and ballistic missile development. The trilateral meeting in Seoul among U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung-nam and Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki took place amid reports that North Korea is preparing to conduct a fifth nuclear test.

     The South Korean official said Security Council Resolution 2270, passed in March, includes the provision for additional sanctions against Pyongyang if it commits further nuclear or missile provocations. “If the North goes ahead with a fifth nuclear test, the U.N. Security Council would take correspondingly significant measures, but regarding the details of the measures that would be included in the additional resolution, it would be premature to give you my expectation,” said Lim.

     Recent satellite images of North Korea's Punggye-ri nuclear test site show only "limited" activity that would not necessarily indicate a test was imminent, said analysts at the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins University on Tuesday. They note, however, that North Korea has worked to conceal past nuclear preparation efforts. South Korean President Park Geun-Hye said Monday that intelligence sources detected signs that Pyongyang was preparing a new test and ordered her military to stay on high alert. In March, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered further nuclear tests to “assess the power of newly developed nuclear warheads and tests to improve nuclear attack capability," according to North Korean state media KCNA.


           CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- It has been an exceptionally painful year for Venezuelans, suffering from violent crime, chronic shortages, plummeting oil prices on which they depend, declining health and fractured government. Yet this past week it seemed to reach a new low. A kind of resigned misery spread across a city that had once been the envy of Latin America. The tap in her apartment yields water only every two weeks. It comes out yellow. Her 8-month-old granddaughter is ill. And as Yajaira Espinoza, a 55-year-old hairdresser, made her way down the halls of Caracas university hospital on Friday, Zika cases evident in the rooms around her, a dense ash-filled smog enveloped the city. "This situation is hard."

     A sudden combination of natural disasters joined man-made failures. The smog, called calima, is a meteorological phenomenon that involves ash and dust clouds fairly common for this time of year. Meanwhile a prolonged drought blamed on El Nino and related forest fires has arrived. Levels at the Guri dam in the south, which produces 40 percent of the country’s electricity, fell to a record low of 242.33 meters on Monday. The lack of public order means attempts to alleviate the problems are going poorly. Water trucks dispatched to help reduce suffering from the drought, for example, are being routinely robbed. “Two or three times a week a water truck we send out is robbed,” said a water official. “The trucks get stopped by gangs who make the driver change the route and discharge the water in an area they control.”

     More than 3,700 cases of respiratory illness related to calima have been reported at state health centers around Caracas since March, said Dr. Miguel Viscuna, an epidemiologist. Medicine -- like toilet paper, chicken and other basic goods -- is increasingly hard to find. “We’re seeing an uptick in different illnesses, especially diarrhea. The lack of clean water is causing skin problems like scabies and folliculitis. There’s no medicine. All we can do is prescribe sulfur soap.” All of this has made Maduro not a very popular leader. His opponents won an overwhelming victory in legislative elections in December. But nearly every attempt by the new legislature to take the country in a new direction has been blocked by Maduro and a Supreme Court he appointed right after the elections. "We voted and we won," said Mendoza, the hairdresser, as she choked back tears. "But now we see that all has been for nothing."

April 20, 2016


        WASHINGTON, D.C. -
Washington threatens to resort to the Democratic Charter of the Organization of the American States against President Nicolas Maduro, if the opposition request its application. Nicolas Maduro says that “such declarations demonstrate how the U.S. government participates in the interventionist and insurrectionist plan against Venezuela's democracy, encouraging the violent and extreme factions to resort to unconstitutional means in order to take down President Maduro's government.”

     On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed that “in principle,” Washington would support the Venezuelan opposition legislators if they resorted – as they threatened they would – to the Inter-American Democratic Charter against Maduro. "Pressuring for a full democracy and a total respect to elections is always a good idea,” he said in an interview with the daily Nuevo Herald.

      According to the Charter, "any unconstitutional alteration or interruption of the democratic order" in a state member can justify its suspension from the Washington-based organization. Kerry had already threatened to apply the charter against Venezuela during the violent protests carried out against the government in 2014. At the same time, the Venezuelan government condemned Kerry’s threat to resort to the Democratic Charter of the Organization of the American States against Maduro, in collusion with the National Assembly. Kerry had already threatened to apply the charter against Venezuela during the violent protests carried out against the government in 2014.


Members of Venezuela’s National Assembly are working to get the votes needed for the Organization of American States to request the application of the Inter American Democratic Charter against Venezuela. They believe there is a severe institutional crisis in Venezuela during which "Nicolas Maduro's Government intends to ignore the powers of the National Assembly". Luis Florido, President of the foreign policy of the Assembly Commission, confirmed that: "there are 34 member countries in the Organization of American States and the implementation of the Democratic Charter application has to obtain 23 votes. But only 18 votes are needed to achieve, for example, a motion on the case of Venezuela. If it is not the letter, it may be another mechanism".

     On 28 April, Florido added, several opposition parliamentarians will meet with the Secretary general of the OAS, Luis Almagro, to begin the activation process of the Democratic Charter. On January 13, wading into the heated standoff between the Venezuelan Supreme Court and the opposition-controlled National Assembly, the general-secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, had demanded that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro reverse a high court ruling suspending four legislators from Amazonas state over alleged voting irregularities. In a public letter addressed to the head of state, Almagro called the decision by Venezuela’s highest judicial body a “direct blow to the people’s will”.

      The Uruguayan general-secretary went on note that the situation “puts at risk the balance between state powers,” demanding that the high court ruling be overridden. Should the Bolivarian government fail to restore “the balance of powers” and “respect for the will of the electorate”, Almagro warned, Venezuela could be expelled from OAS under the regional body’s democratic charter. The declarations by the OAS general-secretary were roundly dismissed by Venezuela’s socialist opposition parliamentary bloc. “The OAS has no place meddling in Venezuela… it’s an organization totally lacking in legitimacy,” asserted PSUV legislator and former National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.


           MADRID, SPAIN -- On Tuesday, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Spain, José Manuel Garcia-Margallo, defends Venezuelan amnesty law and toffers 'humanitarian aid'. He defended the amnesty law for dissident prisoners which was annulled by the Supreme Justice Tribunal of Venezuela, at the same time, he offered "a humanitarian aid program" for the Venezuelan people. "We wish for Venezuela exactly the same thing that for a long time we wish for Spain, i.e. an amnesty for political prisoners", the Chancellor said at a press conference after welcoming in Madrid the Colombian Sergio Jaramillo, High Commissioner for peace in the Government of Juan Manuel Santos.

     On 11 April, Venezuela Supreme Court quashed an amnesty law for opposition prisonersthat was approved by the majority opposed to President Nicolas Maduro, "Although the law met all the human rights parameters established by the United Nations, it was disapproved, recalled Garcia-Margallo. The support of the conservative Spanish Government of Mariano Rajoy to this law, which is similar to one approved by Spain in 1977, after the end of Franco's dictatorship, already had earned hard Maduro’s strong attacks. "Racist, I said to the Prime Minister Rajoy, corrupt trash you said, colonialist garbage, he repeatedly called Rajoy. The insults against the Spaniard government launched by he Venezuelan President on 7 April, caused Spain to call for consultations its Ambassador in Caracas, Antonio Pérez-Hernández.

     For the diplomat to return to his post in it is necessary "that Venezuelan authorities practice a certain verbal constrain in the verbal abuses which they dispense to the Spanish authorities," said the Chancellor. Claiming that he wants to "help the people of Venezuela". García-Margallo also urged Venezuela to "respect human rights and freedom". Spain also want "an improvement in the economic situation in Venezuela that is beginning to become extraordinarily complex", he said, ensuring that, according to forecasts from the Fund International Monetary (IMF), the inflation will be 500% this year and 1642% in 2017 and that the economy will contract by 8% of GDP in 2016. "Shortages of food and medicine has placed the country in a serious humanitarian crisis," the Chancellor emphasized. "Under these conditions, Spain has proposed the launching of a program of humanitarian aid, assistance to the Venezuelan people, to alleviate this crisis", added without further details.

April 19, 2016


        QUITO, ECUADOR -
The death toll from the 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Ecuador has risen to 350, and many survivors are believed to still be trapped inside collapsed buildings. The security minister, César Navas, announced the updated toll and said rescuers were continuing to seek more victims and survivors. More than 200 aftershocks have rattled Ecuador in the 36 hours since Saturday’s quake, some measured as high as magnitude 6.1, according to Ecuador’s Geophysics Institute. Speaking before the new death toll was announced, Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, said an earlier figure of 272 would “surely rise, and in a considerable way”.

     Correa said citizens would pull together after the disaster. “The Ecuadorian spirit knows how to move forward, and will know how to overcome these very difficult moments,” he said. More than 2,500 people were injured in the disaster, which brought down housing blocks and air control towers, buckled bridges and cracked pavements. In the coastal town of Chamanga, authorities estimated than 90% of homes had been damaged. At least 100 of those killed in the quake were citizens of the regional capital Portoviejo. They included the Quinde family – a mother, father, teenage daughter and toddler son – killed when a four-storey hotel collapsed on their car.

     The family were en route to drop off daughter Sayira, 17, for her first term at university, where she had won a scholarship to study medicine. “I never thought my life would be destroyed in a minute,” Sayira’s aunt Johana Estupiñan told Associated Press. At a girls’ school in Playa Prieta, six members of staff including an Irish nun were killed as the building collapsed. Sister Clare, 33, from Derry city, was a nun in the Home of the Mother order. Her family said they believed she had been trying to lead colleagues out of the school to safety when a stairwell collapsed. The charity said it estimated that 3,000 to 5,000 people needed temporary housing. About 800 volunteers and staff members with the Ecuadorian Red Cross were involved with search and rescue operations and helping provide first aid.


After the lower house decided in favor of the proceedings towards the dismissal of the Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff on Sunday, now it is the Senate’s turn to make a decision in around 20 days whether to begin the impeachment trial which would oust her from the office for six months. The Chamber of Deputies voted on Sunday to continue the proceedings. The votes in favor exceeded 350 when only 342 were needed. According to the constitutional deadlines, the Senate must establish a special 21-member committee on April 19-20 to produce a report on the case within 10 working days.

     The report will then be sent to the 81-member Senate to decide whether to begin the trial, which could take place around May 10. If it reaches that point, Rousseff will be immediately suspended for 180 days while the Senate conducts the trial. She will then be replaced by the current Vice President Michel Temer. During the process, the commission will hear the defense of the president and other witnesses, and then discuss the case in light of accusations involving a series of alleged tax irregularities in the last two years.

      The special commission will then create a new report which will again be submitted to the full Senate in a single session headed by the Supreme Court’s president Ricardo Lewandowski to decide Rousseff’s final fate. If the majority of two-thirds (54 votes) finds the president guilty, Rousseff will have to step down and lose her political rights for eight years. Temer will conclude the remainder of her term which ends on Jan. 1, 2019. However, if Rousseff is absolved, she will resume her position to complete her term. Rousseff has allegedly engaged in illegal accounting maneuvers to disguise the widening budget gap in 2014 and 2015, alter budgets through decrees and accumulate debts and contract loans with public banks.


           DOHA, QATAR -- A meeting between member and non-member States of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) held last weekend in Doha to come to terms about freezing oil production in search of steady global oil prices ended with no agreement. Attendees concluded that they need more consultations in this regard until June, when the OPEC will meet next time, and because of Iran’s absence at the meeting.

     We really understand that more consultations are needed and that is the desire of participants,” underscored Qatar’s Minister of Energy and Industry, Mohammed bin Saleh al Sada, after more than 12 hours that ended without a final deal. “Freezing would be more effective if big producers, such as Iran and other producers would be involved in it, which could help balance the market,” he added. For his part, Iran’s Minister of Oil, Bijan Zangane, claimed that his country would not implement any plan to cut or curb oil supply to global markets until recovering the market quota prior to the international sanctions on Iran in 2011.

      The minister pointed out that quite a few times Iran has told both his OPEC partners and some other countries, such as Russia, that they “need to understand Iran’s comeback to the markets,” resulting in more oil production. According to Zangane, should Iran freeze its output at the levels of last January, “then, nothing would have changed with regard to the sanctions imposed on the country.” Latin American delegations at the meetings, including Venezuela, made no comments at the end of the meeting.

April 18, 2016


        MIAMI, FLORIDA -
Ramón Saúl Sánchez, leader of the Democracy Movement, received a letter Thursday from the federal government ordering him to leave the country as soon as possible. The order arrived just as he planned to sail across the Florida Straits as part of a flotilla off the coast of Cuba, organized as a show of solidarity with political prisoners in Cuban jails. Sánchez, who obtained legal entry into the U.S. in what is known as a “parole,” had applied for permanent residency in 2002 so he could legally travel aboard the many flotillas he has organized over the years and return easily to the United States.

     That permanent residency request has been denied and his parole has now also expired, according to the letter issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). “You are not authorized to remain in the United States and should make arrangements to depart as soon as possible,” stated the letter, dated April 7 and received by Sánchez on Thursday. “Failure to depart may result in your being found ineligible for immigration benefits and inadmissible to the United States in the future.” The letter also states that the decision cannot be appealed. However, a motion to reopen the case could be filed. Sánchez said he has a team of lawyers working on the next step.

     The upcoming flotilla to Cuba, scheduled to leave Saturday morning from Marathon in the Florida Keys, is still planned, Sánchez said. It was organized in response to a recent denial by Cuban leader Raúl Castro that any political prisoners were behind bars on the island. Sánchez is a well-known activist in South Florida, who also has staged a number of hunger strikes to bring attention to various Cuba-related causes. In recent days, he had begun a protest campaign against what he considered a discriminatory act by Carnival Corp, which is mpt allowing Cuban-American passengers aboard its Fathom cruise line sailing to Havana on May 1. Cuban law prohibits Cuban-born individuals from traveling to Cuba by sea. Sánchez characterized the letter as "political pressure" by the Obama administration to try to thwart his plans for the flotilla and other future actions to promote democracy in Cuba.


        WASHINGTON, D.C..
The criticism of Cuba contained in the U.S. State Department's annual human rights report serves as a prelude to diplomatic confrontations that will undoubtedly crop up again in the last period of sessions of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The Commission, which will begin to meet in Geneva on Monday, is to be replaced in the future by a Human Rights Council, which has not yet been approved by the United Nations. As part of an even stronger offensive than in previous years, the head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Michael Parmly, presented the State Department report's chapter on Cuba to the foreign press on Wednesday.

    But in response to a question by IPS as to whether the United States plans on presenting or co-sponsoring a motion against Cuba in the Commission's sessions in Geneva, he said "That is up to Washington. I don´t know. What I do know is that we want the international bodies to pay attention to rights violations wherever they occur around the world." The report accuses the government of Fidel Castro of controlling "all aspects of life through the Communist Party and its affiliated mass organizations, the government bureaucracy, and the state security apparatus."

     It also criticizes the "denial of citizens' rights to change their government", and reports the "arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights advocates and members of independent professional organisations", "refusal to recognise domestic human rights groups or to permit them to function legally", "denial of fair trial, particularly to political prisoners", "interference with privacy, including pervasive monitoring of private communications", and "severe limitations on freedom of speech and press". The countries criticised by the State Department report include Venezuela, whose left-leaning president, Nicolás Maduro, has close ties with Cuba and an antagonistic relationship with Washington.


           THE PENTAGON -- A Russian fighter jet flew dangerously close to a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft on Thursday in the latest military provocation by Moscow over the Baltic Sea, the U.S. European Command said Saturday.

     The U.S. aircraft, a militarized Boeing 707 jet, was operating in international airspace and at no time crossed into Russian territory, said the Navy, as reported first by The Washington Free Beacon. “On April 14, a U.S. Air Force RC-135 aircraft flying a routine route in international airspace over the Baltic Sea was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 in an unsafe and unprofessional manner,” Navy Capt. Danny Hernandez on Saturday told Fox News and other new gathering agencies. The incident follows Russian jets on Tuesday night reportedly flying very close the to the American destroyer USS Donald Cook in international Baltic Sea waters.

     “This intercept comes shortly after the unsafe Russian encounters with USS Donald Cook,” Hernandez said. “There have been repeated incidents over the last year where Russian military aircraft have come close enough to other air and sea traffic to raise serious safety concerns, and we are very concerned with any such behavior." "This unsafe and unprofessional air intercept has the potential to cause serious harm and injury to all aircrews involved,” Hernandez continued. “More importantly, the unsafe and unprofessional actions of a single pilot have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries.”

April 17, 2016


        WASHINGTON, D.C.  -
North Korea's attempt to launch a road-mobile intermediate-range ballistic missile from its east coast on Friday ended in a "fiery, catastrophic" failure, a Pentagon spokesman said, noting that the U.S. military is still assessing exactly what occurred. Navy Captain Jeff Davis told a briefing the military thought the device was a road-mobile missile because the launch occurred at a coastal site where Pyongyang ordinarily doesn't test rockets.

      "We're still assessing the specifics of it, but I can tell you that it was a fiery, catastrophic attempt at a launch. It was not successful," Davis told reporters. The failure was an embarrassing setback for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has continued nuclear and missile testing in defiance of U.N. sanctions and intended Friday's launch to celebrate the birthday of his grandfather.

      Davis told the briefing that even though the missile "catastrophically failed as it was attempting to be launched," the North Korean ballistic missile program remained a U.S. security concern. "The fact that it was a failure notwithstanding, we know that this is a capability that they are aiming towards," he said. "It's ... a missile system that they've displayed on multiple occasions, and that is why we have a ballistic missile defense system that we have invested in very heavily to be able to outpace that threat as that threat develops further," he added.


The Panamanian authorities have intercepted over 401 kilos of cocaine in a shipment from Cuba en route to Belgium. The cocaine was found in a container camouflaged by molasses tanks. Details are forthcoming of this interdiction at the Colon Free Trade Zone, which has been dubbed by intelligence officials as “Operation Fiery Cane” (“Caña Brava”).

      It’s important to note that the interception — also by the Panamanian authorities — of 240 tons of illegal weapons from Cuba to North Korea in 2013 was originally under suspicion of a drug shipment. It’s also important to note that Cuba’s port facilities are owned — and tightly-controlled — by the Castro regime’s military. In other words, the only criminal network that has access to Cuba’s ports is the Castro regime itself.

      In 2013, the Obama Administration allowed Cuba’s regime to get away scot-free, despite clear evidence that it was at the center of a major illegal shipment of arms from its Port of Mariel to North Korea. Similarly, the Obama Administration remained mum in March 2015, when the Castro regimewas (again) caught smuggling 100 tons of weapons hidden in a a cereal shipment via through Colombia. In 1993, a U.S. federal indictment listed Gen. Raul Castro as part of a conspiracy that smuggled seven and a half tons of cocaine into the United States over a 10-year period. However, at the last minute, a recently inaugurated Clinton Administration got cold-feet and squashed it.


           CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- President of pollster Meganálisis Rubén Chirinos on Friday said that Venezuelans have rejected the administration of President Nicolás Maduro, for during the parliament vote on December 6 last year he had offered “ideology and forgot about social welfare.” In this connection,

     Chirinos added that 72% of nationals refuse Maduro’s mandate and 66% of voters request his resignation from office. “Ideology does not work with hunger,” the businessman stressed. Similarly, in an interview with private TV channel Venevisión, Chirinos noted that the government would not win any other election while the Head of State remains in office. “President Nicolás Maduro should give another pro-government leader the opportunity of resuming the legacy of his late counterpart Hugo Chávez,” he added.

     The pollster further stated that 47.5% of Venezuelans have voiced “dissatisfaction” with the Congress performance. “For this reason, people are discouraged to take part in a recall referendum.” In Chirino’s view, both “hunger and the country’s current economic crisis” won the election held on December 6 last year. 72% de los venezolanos 'quiere' salida anticipada de Maduro, según encuesta. Head of pollster Meganálisis Rubén Chirinos underscored that the Venezuelan government would not win any other vote with President Nicolás Maduro in office

April 16, 2016


        MIAMI, FLORIDA  -
On a busy Thursday that included meeting with Cuban-American leaders and encouraging Miami Dade College students to embrace diversity, Secretary of State John Kerry waded into the Carnival Corp. controversy, criticizing enforcement of a Cuban decree that prevents those born on the island from traveling to and from Cuba by sea. “The United States government will never support, never condone discrimination. And the Cuban government should not have the right to enforce on us a policy of discrimination against people who have the right to travel,” Kerry said during an interview with the Miami Herald and CNN en Español in Miami.

    “American citizens, Cuban-Americans, have a right to travel, and we should not be in a situation where the Cuban government is forcing its discrimination policy on us,” Kerry said. “So we call on the government of Cuba to change that policy and to recognize that if they want full relations and normal relationship with the United States, they have to live by international laws, not exclusively by Cuban laws.” The theme of inclusion was also one that Kerry emphasized during remarks to students of Miami Dade Honors College, an academically rigorous program at Miami Dade College that emphasizes a global perspective.

    Asked whether Carnival should postpone its plans to start cruises May 1 aboard its Fathom line until Cuban-born Americans are allowed to travel to the island by ship, Kerry told the Miami Herald, “Carnival needs to not discriminate.” Carnival has said it has been in touch with Cuban authorities about reconsideration of the Cuban policy, which does not allow those born on the island to leave or arrive in Cuba via a vessel. On Wednesday, attorneys filed a class-action lawsuit in Miami against Carnival Corp. and Fathom on behalf of a Cuban-American couple denied tickets for the cruise. The lawsuit says the company is violating federal law banning discrimination based on national origin. Fathom says in its website that it is “Carnival's policy to obey the regulations and laws of the countries we sail to around the world.”


Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday acknowledged the authenticity of recent disclosures about offshore companies owned by prominent Russians, including one of his oldest friends, but said they were not proof of any wrongdoing. Putin, in a nearly four-hour question-and-answer session, also took aim at the international team of journalists that produced the Panama Papers report detailing shell companies, tax havens and financial dealings by political figures and others around the world. He claimed that news reports on the trove of leaked documents, from the law firm Mossack Fonseca, were an attempt to “muddy the waters” at the behest of the U.S. government and New York-based investment bank Goldman Sachs, but he gave no details to back up his assertions.

     “First of all, however strange it may seem, the information is accurate,” he said, referring to what was in the leak. Russian president Vladimir Putin shares an optimistic view of Russia's economic plan during an annual televised question and answer session held in Moscow on April 14. The plan includes decreasing Russian dependence on oil prices and natural resources. (Reuters) He suggested that it was part of a campaign to smear his reputation by disclosing business deals of his boyhood friend Sergei Pavlo¬vich Roldugin, a well-known cellist. “They are just trying to muddy the waters, that one of my friends is involved in some kind of business,” Putin said in the nationally televised remarks. “The question is whether or not money from these offshores reach officials, including the president.”

    The release of the papers sent shock waves through world capitals, prompting the resignation of the prime minister of Iceland and protests against British Prime Minister David Cameron. In Ukraine, the documents showed that President Petro Poroshenko had moved assets into offshore accounts while troops were engaged in heavy fighting with Russian-backed separatists in 2014. In Russia, the documents showed that Roldugin — godfather to Putin’s oldest daughter, Maria — nominally owned companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, through which hundreds of millions of dollars had passed. Putin’s name did not appear in the documents, and the authors of the report did not say the documents proved any criminal acts.


           QUITO, ECUADOR-- Mexico, Cuba, Colombia and Ecuador to search for a regional answer to a new chapter of the emerging migration crisis. Roxana Acanda, a Cuban who has lived in Ecuador since 2013, is about to start the long trek from Quito to the United States.

     Although she does not know exactly when she will leave for Panama — where about 3,500 undocumented Cubans are stranded because neighboring Costa Rica closed its borders to them — the 35-year-old Acanda, a college graduate in social studies from Sancti Spíritus, knows her departure is imminent. Ecuador is suffering through an economic crisis, she says, and Cubans are feeling the rejection by Ecuadorans who complain that migrants are taking their jobs. “The economic crisis has generated xenophobia against the Cubans,” Acanda said, adding that she has been unemployed for nearly one year.

     Although she was not thinking of migrating to the United States when she first arrived in Ecuador, she said her savings are dwindling and she's desperate. But the trek to the United States is expensive for those without required visas, and she's afraid of the Colombia leg of the journey, which includes a walk through parts of the Darién Gap, a swath of undeveloped swampland and forest dominated by FARC guerrillas.

April 15, 2016


        MIAMI, FLORIDA  -
Secretary of State John Kerry will be in Miami TODAY to meet with leaders of the Cuban-American community and address Miami Dade Honors College Students. Kerry’s local appearances come on the heels of the State Department’s annual report on human rights around the world. Practices noted that on the island there is “abridgement of the ability of citizens to choose their government; the use of government threats, physical assault, intimidation, and violent government-organized counter protests against peaceful dissent” as well as harassment and detentions to prevent free expression and peaceful assembly.

     In remarks Wednesday, Kerry noted that Cuba is one of the countries where “our backing for human rights and democratic principles is a focus of our diplomacy.” He also included the Central Asia states and Egypt in that category. During recent trips to Cuba, Kerry said that both he and President Barack Obama had urged Cuban authorities to allow more political openness and online access. “There is no question in my mind that most Cubans are far more interested in plugging into the world economy than in recycling arguments left over from the Cold War,” Kerry said. “The only question is how long it will take for the officials in Havana to catch up with the population.”

     He went on to point that not every conversation the United States has on human rights bears fruit but said “steady effort, we have seen again and again, can foster progress and make a difference.” Kerry begins his day in South Florida with an early afternoon stop at the U.S. Passport Office in Miami for a meeting with local U.S. State Department personnel that will be followed by a meeting with Cuban-American leaders. His evening address at the Freedom Tower won’t be political and is expected to focus on the students’ academic accomplishments, leadership contributions and the possibility of them pursuing careers in the Foreign Service and the public sector.


        WASHINGTON, D.C.
The United States on Wednesday denounced politicization and lack of judicial independence in Venezuela, as well as persecution and imprisonment of opposition activists. In its annual report on human rights, the US Department of State highlighted the use in 2015 of the country’s Judiciary “to intimidate and selectively prosecute government critics,” as well as “indiscriminate police action against civilians leading to widespread arbitrary detentions,” DPA informed.

     US State Department reports on corruption both in the Venezuelan police and at all levels of government. Washington refused actions of government of Nicolás Maduro “to stop freedom of speech.” The report, which was submitted by US Secretary of State John Kerry, read: “The government arrested and imprisoned opposition figures and did not respect judicial independence or permit judges to act according to the law without fear of retaliation.”

     Similarly, Washington denounced actions of the government of Nicolás Maduro “to stop freedom of speech and restrict press freedom.” The US State Department detailed reports on corruption in the police and “at all levels of government,” adding impunity remains in cases of human rights abuses. Amnesty International also reports "lack of judicial independence" in Venezuela. "The charges against Leopoldo López were never adequately substantiated and the prison sentence against him has a clear political motivation. His only crime is being a leader of an opposition party in Venezuela," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, the Amnesty International Director for the Americas.


           RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL-- A congressional committee voted Monday to recommend that the impeachment process against President Dilma Rousseff move forward, bringing the possible ouster of the embattled leader a step closer. Rousseff is facing impeachment proceedings over allegations her administration violated fiscal rules to mask budget problems. Her opponents say the process is in line with the wishes of the majority of Brazilians, while Rousseff's supporters call it a blatant power grab by her foes.

     The special congressional commission voted 38-27 to recommend the continuation of the impeachment process — comfortably more than the 33 votes needed to hand the pro-impeachment camp a victory. The panel's session stretched out all day and was marked by a prolonged shouting match ahead of the evening vote. Pro-impeachment leaders festooned their desks with signs reading "impeachment now," while Rousseff's supporters chanted "Coup, coup, coup" The outcome had been widely expected, and it was largely symbolic because no matter the outcome of the vote, the matter would still have gone to the full lower house for a crucial vote expected at week's end on whether to send the matter to the Senate for a possible trial.

     With 342 votes in the 513-member Chamber of Deputies needed for the process to move forward, analysts say the outcome of that vote is too close to call. Brazil's biggest party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, pulled out of Rousseff's governing coalition late last month, forcing the government to scramble to secure the support of smaller parties to help block the impeachment process. If the impeachment measure passes in the Chamber of Deputies, it goes to the Senate, which would decide whether to open a trial. If that happened, Rousseff would be suspended from office for up to 180 days during a trial.

April 14, 2016


More than 1,000 migrants, most of them Cubans, thronged and then stormed across Panama's border into Costa Rica on Wednesday, officials said. The incident risked reviving a recent crisis in which thousands of Cubans determined to make it to the United States became stranded in Costa Rica because their passage north through Central America was blocked. Television images showed migrants clashing with officials trying to stop them in Costa Rica's border town of Paso Canoas. Several car windows were broken in the scuffles.Costa Rican officials said some Africans and Asians were among those entering and they vowed to deport back to Panama any undocumented migrants.

     They blamed the United States for "promoting" the flow of Cubans. People leaving the Communist-run nation are the only migrants who -- if they simply make it to US soil -- after just a medical clearance are granted temporary US residence and the right to work legally, and some health care. Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez told a media conference that migrants were wrong to think they could push their way over the border. "If they are trying to swamp Costa Rica by sending in avalanches of people, they are mistaken. With force, not even their little toes will enter," he said.

     Amid many Cubans' concerns that they may soon lose the generous US migrant benefits, the US Coast Guard has seen a spike in Cubans arriving in the United States by land and sea since Washington and Havana announced they would begin normalizing relations in December 2014. More than 43,000 Cubans entered the United States by sea and land during fiscal year 2015 -- which ended in September -- a figure not seen for decades. Costa Rica said it was reinforcing security on its southern border with Panama to prevent more crossings. "The operation is under way" but would be carried out with "total respect" for human rights, Security Minister Gustavo Mata told a media conference. The incident deepened animosity between Nicaragua -- an ally to the Cuban government -- and Costa Rica, whose ties have been strained by border disputes.


        WASHINGTON, D.C.
 Senator Marco Rubio called on Wednesday for a change in U.S. policy toward Cuban immigrants, seeking to stop providing refugee benefits to those coming from the island strictly for economic reasons. "In essence, our existing law treats all Cubans categorically as if they were refugees whether or not they can prove it," the Florida Republican said in a Senate speech. Currently, all Cubans are eligible for welfare payments and other public assistance during their first five years in the United States. They are the only immigrant group to receive such benefits.

    Rubio is the son of immigrants who moved to Florida from Cuba in the 1950s, before the island's Communist revolution that led to a decades-long U.S. trade embargo. Cuba has come up during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Rubio, a former candidate, staunchly opposes Democratic President Barack Obama's recent moves toward more normal relations with Havana, as does Republican Senator Ted Cruz, also a Cuban-American, who remains in the presidential race. Rubio filed his legislation as an amendment to a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization measure being considered by the Senate this week.

     Some lawmakers have been demanding a new look at Cuban immigration policy since the surprise December 2014 announcement from Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro that the two countries would move toward ending decades of estrangement. Rubio said the United States spent $680 million in 2014 supporting Cuban migrants, a total that has since grown. Some Cubans who say they are fleeing persecution in their homeland repeatedly return to the island, he said."It's difficult to justify someone's refugee status when after arriving in the United States, they are traveling back to the place they are quote/unquote fleeing from 10, 15, 20, 30 times a year," Rubio said.


           WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Several Russian military aircraft flew a series of simulated attack passes near a U.S. destroyer in the Baltic Sea over the course of two days this week, a U.S. defense official said. The first of the two incidents, which the U.S. official called “more aggressive than anything we’ve seen in a long time,” took place April 11. Two Russian attack aircraft flew around 20 passes near the USS Donald Cook, coming within 1,000 meters at 30 meters in altitude – close enough to create a wake in the water. The following day, the warplanes did 11 more simulated attack passes just nine meters above the Donald Cook. This time, the jets were joined by a military helicopter that took pictures of the U.S. destroyer.

     The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, described the aircraft as “wings clean,” which means they didn’t have any visible weapons.According to the official, sailors aboard the ship attempted to reach the Russian planes by radio, but there was no response. At the time of the incident, the Donald Cook was positioned off the coast Kaliningrad – a Russian territory on the Baltic coast between Lithuania and Poland.“The commanding officer [of the Donald Cook] – his assessment was that this was unsafe and unprofessional,” the U.S. official said. He said a formal U.S. military review of the incident is underway.

     At a briefing Wednesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest echoed those sentiments, calling the incident “entirely inconsistent with professional norms of militaries.” Earnest said the White House continues to be concerned about repeated incidents over the past year of Russian jets flying too close to U.S. ships in international waters. "We have seen a pattern on the part of the Russians in undertaking these kinds of actions that they at least intend to be provocative," he said. "They are a source of some irritation. That is something that we have expressed both privately and publicly to the Russians." The Donald Cook had just come from a port visit in Gdynia, Poland, when the flyovers occurred. It was headed out to sea with a Polish helicopter on board. NATO has been asked to provide a permanent presence of battalion-sized deployments of allied troops in the Baltic states. A NATO battalion typically consists of 300 to 800 troops.

April 13, 2016


        MIAMI, FLORIDA -
For Carnival Corporation, its upcoming voyage to Cuba will be a marker in history. For some Cuban Americans, the trip will be a slap in the face. That’s because, per Cuban law, Cuban-born Americans are not allowed to sail on the 704-passenger Adonia when it travels across the Florida Straits, taking American travelers on a U.S. cruise ship to the island for the first time in more than five decades. About 50 protestors gathered Tuesday afternoon near Carnival Corp. headquarters in Doral to decry the Cuban government policy prohibiting Cuban Americans from visiting the island nation via sea. Carnival Corp., protesters say, is bowing to the Cuban government’s outdated regulations.

     “Cuba discriminates against its own citizens just how it does not let Cubans enter hotels, yet foreigners are able to,” said Ramon Saul Sanchez, president of the Democracy Movement, which organized the protest. “Our demand is for Cubans to be able to normally travel by boat to their homeland.” Carnival Corp. was the first American cruise company to receive Cuban approval to operate sailings to the island through its social impact Fathom brand. Beginning May 1, Adonia will offer people-to-people trips. The week-long itinerary stops in Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

     Protesters at Tuesday’s event called on Carnival Corp. to take a stand against Cuba’s discriminatory policies. “Who is the Cuban government to tell Carnival who it can take it Cuba and who it can’t?” said Norys Aguila, a Cuban American who came to the U.S. in 1961 as a child during the Pedro Pan exodus. “And for Carnival to accept such a baseness, it is completely disrespectful against all Cuban Americans, against the laws of this country.” “Either every one can travel to Cuba or no cruises go.” Protesters held signs saying “Carnival demand that Cubans don’t be discriminated” and calling on Carnival Corp. to stop “nationality apartheid.” The Cuban national anthem played to cries of “viva Cuba libre,” long live free Cuba, and “abajo los Castro,” down with the Castros. Several cars passing by honked in solidarity.


 Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff accused her vice president of attempting to illegally overthrow the government, underscoring the depths of the bitterness that are convulsing the country days before an impeachment vote. Without naming him directly, Rousseff said in a speech on Tuesday that Vice President Michel Temer was guilty of a "betrayal of me and of democracy." The comments came a day after the media published a recording where the vice president discussed the outlines of a Temer administration in the event she loses the impeachment vote.

     "A statement was distributed in which one of the chiefs of the conspiracy pretends to be president of the republic," Rousseff said in reference to Temer. "There can no longer be any doubt of my claims that there is a coup under way." Rousseff's strongest comments yet in the country's devastating political crisis show just how deeply divided the nation and its political leadership have become. A day after a special congressional committee agreed to move ahead with her impeachment, Rousseff, a former guerrilla fighter who has pledged never to resign, laid bare simmering tensions with her vice president, whose party abandoned her coalition last month.

      The leak of Temer's comments came hours before the congressional committee agreed by 38 votes against 27 to back the request to impeach the president. Other signs emerged Tuesday that momentum was growing for Rousseff's ouster, as newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo reported her biggest coalition partner, the Progressive Party, was planning to follow Temer's Brazilian Democratic Movement Party in leaving the ruling coalition. The full lower house of Congress is expected to start voting as early as Friday whether to approve impeachment and send the motion to the Senate for consideration. If the Senate accepts the charges against Rousseff, she would have to step down until a final ruling is made.


           CARACAS, VENEZUELA-- Opposition leader and Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles, and deputy to the National Assembly Walter Márquez on Thursday evening disclosed several documents proving that Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro allegedly is a Colombian by acquired nationality. Article 41 of the Venezuelan Constitution sets forth that "only Venezuelans by birth who have no other nationality shall be permitted to hold the offices of President of the Republic (...)" However, Márquez claimed that he has documents and testimonies attesting to Maduro's dual nationality.

      "Nicolás Maduro lived in the Carora neighborhood, in Cúcuta (Colombia). There are testimonies of people who spent time with him. We found the record of the birth certificate of Nicolás Maduro's mother. She was born in Cúcuta. I contacted people who can testify that Maduro was born in Bogotá," Márquez stressed. Márquez added that so far the supporting documents attesting that Maduro's father is a Venezuelan have not been found. "We have a copy of the marriage certificate of his (Maduro's) parents, and the birth certificate of his older sister. Later on, I will disclose documental and testimonial evidence proving Maduro's Colombian nationality," he stressed.

       The deputy commented that he has not found any document proving that President Maduro is a Venezuelan citizen. "We did not find the birth certificate of Nicolás Maduro in any registry office in Venezuela. When he (Maduro) got married, he declared that he was born in Santa Rosalía (parrish, downtown Caracas); we checked that and found nothing." Maduro's proclamation as President of Venezuela "is null and void, and that has legal consequences for the directors of National Electoral Council (CNE)." The lawmaker stated that, given this situation, "the Democratic Charter (of the Organization of American States) should be enforced, because Nicolás Maduro has staged a coup d'état against the Constitution. In the coming days, we will announce concrete actions against Nicolás Maduro's illegitimacy," he remarked.

April 12, 2016


        LIMA, PERU
The daughter of jailed former President Alberto Fujimori looked headed to victory in the first round of Peru's presidential election Sunday and will likely face a former World Bank economist in a June runoff, preliminary results indicated. With 20 percent of the ballots counted late Sunday, Fujimori had 38 percent of the vote. Investor-favorite Pedro Kuczynski had just under 26 percent, while leftist congresswoman Veronika Mendoza, who had made a late surge in pre-election polls, was running third with 16 percent. Full results might not be available until Monday, but supporters of the 77-year-old Kuczynski celebrated in the streets outside his campaign headquarters after two unofficial quick counts indicated he would edge out Mendoza for the right to face off with Fujimori on June 5. Such counts have been reliable predictors of results in previous Peruvian elections.

     The center-right Fujimori led opinion polls for months, but faces a competitive runoff scenario because of how polarizing a figure she is among Peruvians, who either adore her father for defeating Maoist-inspired Shining Path rebels and taming hyperinflation or loathe him for human rights abuses and ordering tanks to shut down Congress. Almost half of Peruvians surveyed said they would never vote for anyone associated with her father, who is imprisoned for human rights violations. In a bid to project a more moderate image, Fujimori promised during her campaign not to pardon her father if elected.

     On Sunday night, she told supporters it was time to bury the past. "The new political map being drawn clearly shows Peruvian want reconciliation and don't want to fight anymore," she said. In the campaign's final weeks, Fujimori's opponents took to city streets by the thousands to warn against what they said would be a return of authoritarian rule if Fujimori became president. Adding bitterness to the race, two candidates, including Fujimori's strongest rival, were barred from the race by Peru's electoral tribunal for campaign violations or technicalities, decisions questioned by the Organization of American States. If Kuczynski holds on to the No. 2 spot, it will ensure Peru continues along a free-market path after Mendoza's rise in the polls spooked investors. After finishing a strong third in the 2011 election, Kuczynski threw his support behind Keiko Fujimori in that year's runoff.


 Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva plans to help cobble together an eleventh hour coalition large enough to save his protégé and successor, President Dilma Rousseff, from a looming impeachment process in congress. The PMDB, the biggest coalition partner of Mr Lula da Silva and Ms Rousseff`s ruling Workers’ party, or PT, voted at a meeting two weeks ago to break with the government, a move that turned the odds against the president, as a result, congress met to vote on impeachment, that hs expected to begin next month, analysts said.

     Speaking to foreign journalists on Monday, Mr Lula da Silva said the PMDB, which has 69 members in the 513-seat lower house, was divided. He said he would seek to secure sufficient support within the party to save the government even if the PMDB leadership, which is headed by a political heavyweight, Brazil’s vice-president Michel Temer, decided to break with Ms Rousseff. The impeachment and possible overthrow of the president may provide few solutions to country’s woes

      “I suspect what will happen … is that the government will construct a base of support with individual PMDB congressmen and we will have a type of coalition without the agreement of the [PMDB] leadership,” a relaxed-looking Lula da Silva said. Only 15 months into her second four-year term, Rousseff`s government is struggling with a rebellious congress, a sweeping corruption scandal at state-owned oil company Petrobras that has hit her ruling coalition, and the country’s worst recession in over a century. The opposition has based its campaign for impeachment on allegations Ms Rousseff manipulated the budget to disguise a growing deficit and win elections in 2014.


           SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA-- North Korean intelligence officer defected to the side of South Korea. The deserter was initially reported by South Korean Agency, quoting an informed source, after which information was confirmed by the authorities of the Republic. An officer of Intelligence Agency of North Korea defected to the side of the Republic of Korea in the last year, reported South Korean Agency Yonhap, citing a source familiar with the situation. As the source said, North Korean intelligence officer was the most senior military of all those who defected from the North to the South.

     A senior Colonel of the Main intelligence Directorate of the DPRK complies with Lieutenant-General in the regular army units of North Korea. The name scout is not reported. According to a source, senior Colonel had to perform an espionage mission against Seoul. Supposedly deserted the officer disclosed the South Korean authorities detailed information on the activities of the Intelligence Department of the DPRK against the ROK. On Monday, April 11, the Ministry of national defence of South Korea confirmed the media reports about the defection of an officer of Main intelligence Directorate of the DPRK, reports international radio station KBS World Radio, owned by the South Korean government.

      Thus a press-the Secretary the Ministry of national defence South Korean moon sang-Gyun refused to comment further on the message of the South Korean edition. Intelligence Agency of the DPRK headed by Hyun Yong Chol, «penalty,» which South Korean media reported in the spring of 2015. The office reports directly to the North Korean leader. Last week, South Korean media also disseminated information about the flight to Kazakhstan on 13th of DPRK citizens — employees of a Korean restaurant in China. It should be noted that the first 2011 case of mass escape occurred after expanded sanctions against Pyongyang.

April 11, 2016


Argentina's state news agency is reporting that a federal prosecutor has asked that former President Cristina Fernandez be investigated in a money laundering probe. Telam reported Saturday that Guillermo Marijuan made the formal request to Judge Sebastian Casanello, who is overseeing an investigation that involves a businessman with close ties to Fernandez.

     Under Argentine law, such a request is the precursor to charges, which must be decided on by a judge. Calls to Casanello's office were not returned. Messages sent to Marijuan and Fernandez seeking confirmation were also not immediately returned. Fernandez, whose second term ended in December, has long been dogged by allegations of corruption. Earlier this week, businessman Lazaro Baez was arrested on charges that he laundered over $5 million. Baez refused to testify and remains in jail.

     Cristina Fernández de Kirchner: The money-laundering accusations naming Kirchnerite businessman Lázaro Báez exploded in 2013, halfway through the former president’s second term. The accusations, first aired by Leonardo Fariña, suggested that the government awarded contracts to Báez, who then allegedly distributed kickbacks through a labyrinth of middlemen While the relationship between Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Báez was not as close as that of her husband Néstor Kirchner and Báez, in 2014 the then-head of the AFIP Ricardo Echegaray admitted that Báez and Fernández de Kirchner were friends and that “they had commercial links, but were not business partners.”


 “We are outraged and absolutely frightened about this situation, which has worsened and we cannot accept,” Government Secretary of Norte de Santander department Yebrail Haddad told Colombian daily La Opinión

      Colombian authorities on Thursday reported on an incursion made by troops of the Venezuelan Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) into a bordering village located at Norte de Santander department, where they set fire to a dwelling after evacuating a family of peasants. “We are outraged and absolutely frightened about this situation, which has worsened and we cannot accept,” Government Secretary of Norte de Santander department Yebrail Haddad told Colombian daily La Opinión.

      Haddad requested Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín to send a note of protest to Venezuela rejecting the event. The border passage between Venezuela and Colombia remains closed since August last year as instructed by President Nicolás Maduro as part of a strategy to face smuggling and activities carried out by alleged paramilitary groups throughout 2,219 kilometers of shared border.


           DUBAI, QATAR-- The U.S. Air Force says it has deployed the bombers to take part in the U.S.-led bombing campaign against the Islamic State group. It is the first time the Cold War-era heavy bombers will be based in the region since the 1991 Gulf War, when they operated from neighboring Saudi Arabia. (Staff Sgt. Corey Hook/U.S. Air

     The United States has deployed B-52 bombers to the Mideast nation of Qatar to take part in the U.S.-led bombing campaign against the Islamic State group, the Air Force said Saturday. U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress aircraft from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, arrive at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Saturday, April 9, 2016.

       It is the first time the Cold War-era heavy bombers will be based in the region since the 1991 Gulf War, when they operated from neighboring Saudi Arabia.
The Air Force said the B-52s arrived at Qatar's al-Udeid Air Base from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana on Saturday. The long-range bombers will join a multinational coalition carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq. The long-range bombers will join a multinational coalition carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq.

April 10, 2016


We "are going to continue insistING on the topic of political prisioners, appealing to the conscience of Nicolas Maduro", said the Secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro. He affirmed that, from his office, he will remain attentive to the issue of political prisoners in Venezuela. He also rejected the presence of politicians in the “Panama Papers.”

     Almagro, insisted on Friday night that Venezuela should have a dialogue as a main point to resolve internal political problems and insisted on "appeal to the conscience" of the Government. "We are going to continue to insist on the topic of political prisoners, appealing to the conscience of Nicolas Maduro", he said emphasizing that from his office, he will remain attentive to the theme, and in the role that, in his view, the President of the Republic, Nicolás Maduro can play.

      He said that "our democracies cannot afford having political prisoners", at the same time he said that the "National Assembly will send a team of deputies to request the application of the OAS Democratic Charter" in the country. Almagro mentioned the conclusions reached by CNN in Spanish that the presence of politicians in Panama Papers lists "do not do well to the democratic system.” We have much to go on strengthening regional legal matrices". Asked about attitudes and commentaries made about his office in Washington, he said that "the things that we do are because we consider then corrects, right and after a thorough analysis.”


 North Korea said Saturday it has successfully tested a new intercontinental ballistic rocket engine that will give it the ability to stage nuclear strikes on the United States. The engine's ground test, if true, would be a big step forward for the North's nuclear weapons program, which saw its fourth atomic test earlier this year. But the North may still need a good deal of work before it can hit the U.S. mainland with nuclear missiles. South Korean officials say North Korea doesn't yet have a reliable intercontinental ballistic missile, let alone the ability to arm it with a nuclear warhead.

     The test, announced by the North's official Korean Central News Agency, is only the latest in a string of what Washington and its allies consider North Korean provocations, including last month's launch of a medium-range ballistic missile that violated U.N. Security Council resolutions that prohibit any ballistic activities by North Korea. It was the North's first medium-range missile launch since early 2014. The North has also threatened pre-emptive nuclear strikes against Washington and Seoul and fired short-range missiles and artillery into the sea in an apparent response to ongoing U.S.-South Korean military drills and tough U.N. sanctions imposed over the recent nuclear test and a long-range rocket launch earlier this year.

     Some analysts think young leader Kim Jong Un's belligerent stance is linked to a major ruling party congress next month meant to further cement his grip on power. The outside pressure and anger caused by bombastic threats and repeated nuclear-related tests, the argument goes, is meant to rally the North Korean people around Kim as he stands up to powerful enemies trying to crush the North. The agency quoted Kim as saying that the North can now tip intercontinental ballistic missiles with more powerful nuclear warheads that could keep the U.S. mainland within striking distance and "reduce them to ashes so that they may not survive in our planet."


           CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- In the view of Lilian Tintori, the wife of opposition leader Leopoldo López, Venezuelan Head of State Nicolás Maduro has failed to deal with some issues the country is going through. Lilian Tintori underscored that Venezuela’s President “does not care about nationals running out of electric power.”

      Leopoldo López’s wife said “millions of Venezuelans advocate the amnesty law to release political prisoners” Lilian Tintori, the wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, on Thursday twitted that the country “deserves and needs a better leadership, a leadership for change,” as part of her criticism against the policies adopted by the government of President Nicolás Maduro. The human rights advocate further posted different tweets listing some issues that in her view are not being tackled by the local Head of State.

     “Maduro is not concerned about we running out of electricity,” Tintori stressed, adding that the president “does not care about our sick people, for medicines are unavailable.” She further stated that “Maduro has turned his back on democracy, a fact he has shown through his actions.” Similarly, Tintori stressed the importance of the recently approved Amnesty and National Reconciliation Law, adding that “millions of nationals advocate this ruling to release political prisoners.”

April 9, 2016


        MADRID, SPAIN 
Spain recalled its ambassador to Venezuela on Friday in protest over President Nicolás Maduro’s latest insults aimed at the Spanish prime minister. “A racist I call you, Rajoy; a colonialist I call you Rajoy; corrupt trash I call you Rajoy; Venezuela needs to be respected,” proclaimed Maduro during a Thursday march in Caracas to protest the amnesty law recently passed by the Venezuelan parliament, which is controlled by the opposition.

     “Over in Spain they are scared because of the rise of an organization with a leadership of its own,” he added, in an apparent reference to the anti-austerity party Podemos, whose founders once worked for the Venezuelan regime under previous leader Hugo Chávez. The Spanish Foreign Ministry has recalled Ambassador Antonio Pérez Hernández and expressed its displeasure to his Venezuelan counterpart in Madrid, Mario Isea. This is not the first time that Spain has recalled its ambassador. It did so a year ago after Maduro accused Rajoy of supporting terrorism in Venezuela. And the country’s ambassador remained absent from Madrid for four months between October 2014 and February 2015.

     In a release by the Diplomatic Information Office, the Spanish government “laments that this attitude, improper to the relations of respect due between governments, has become a habitual practice of the Venezuelan head of state.” The release expresses concern for the situation in Venezuela, which is home to more than 200,000 Spaniards, and reiterates its “offer to help relieve the serious economic and humanitarian crisis being endured by the people of Venezuela.” It is unclear what caused this latest verbal tirade against Rajoy. The last time that the Spanish leader mentioned Venezuela was on March 30, during the 80th birthday celebration of writer Mario Vargas Llosa, when he said that “change in Latin America will not be complete without freedom in Venezuela.”


 The impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff should go ahead, the representative for a congressional commission said Wednesday, bringing the country's political crisis a step closer to a showdown. Jovair Arantes, rapporteur for a special impeachment commission in the lower house of Congress, said he had concluded the "legal admissibility" of the case against the leftist president. "The magnitude and scope of the violations made by the president of the republic constitute a serious abuse," he said. The decision was given in a lengthy report that Arantes read aloud, live on national television, to the 65-member impeachment commission, sometimes interrupted by deputies shouting and arguing.

     lthough Arantes' decision was non-binding and mostly symbolic, it meant the opposition drew first blood just as an increasingly bitter battle to remove Brazil's first woman president from office gathers pace. On Monday, the full commission will vote its recommendation. Then on April 18, the lower house of Congress meets to hold a decisive vote on whether impeachment will go ahead. "Today's vote was expected," said Mendonca Filho, a deputy from the conservative, pro-impeachment Democratas party. "Now we have to find out the position of the whole commission ... and then we move on to the main battle in the full chamber."

      Rousseff is accused of presiding over large-scale fiddling of government accounts to mask the depth of budgetary shortfalls during her reelection in 2014. The president -- highly unpopular because of a severe recession and a giant corruption scandal enveloping Brazil's political elite -- says she has committed no impeachment-worthy crime and claims she is the victim of a coup attempt. Ze Geraldo, from Rousseff's Workers' Party, shrugged off the setback, telling AFP, "We are already prepared to lose in the commission, given its make-up." The lower chamber's mood swings almost daily, with Rousseff sometimes appearing to have run out of allies before winning an unexpected boost.


            HAVANA, CUBA-- Former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, 89, made a rare appearance outside his home on Thursday, visiting a school to mark the birthday of a late revolutionary heroine days after penning a scornful critique of US President Barack Obama's recent visit. Castro visited the educational complex named after Vilma Espin, who fought alongside the former leader against the government of Fulgencio Batista and later married his brother Raul, the current president.

      He also described Espin, who died in 2007 and was his sister-in-law, and talked about her role in the creation of the republic. "I am sure that on a day like today Vilma would be very happy because she would be seeing (why) she sacrificed her life". TV broadcast images showing Castro saying hello and talking animatedly to children and school teachers on issues related to education, health and food. Fidel Castro will be 90 in August this year but he has become increasingly frail in recent years and is rarely seen in public.

      But Castro wrote an article in a Cuban newspaper recently in which he said: "We don't need the empire to give us any presents" and reminded Cubans of the years of hardship they had endured because of United States sanctions. Although not opposed to the thaw with Washington initiated by his brother Raul, Fidel had already shown skepticism over the new policy of dialogue between the two countries. Castro remains a devout communist who is opposed to democracy. His last appearance at a public event was in July 2015.

April 8, 2016


The Amnesty Law approved by the right-wing majority parliamentary in Venezuela threatens peace, democratic institutions and principles of the Bolivarian National Armed Force, the Defense Minister General Vladimir Padrino said today. During a debate on the subject held in Fuerte Tiuna, Caracas, General Padrino said that the law legalizes both violations against human rights and common crimes.

     Due to the nature of the items that make up the so-called law of Amnesty and national reconciliation, Padrino added that there is evidence of their contradiction, even from the name and then in article two, speaks of crimes that are not recognized as crimes, since the right to demonstrate are covered in the Bolivarian Constitution. Padrino stated that when the late President Hugo Chavez (1954-2013) granted amnesty to Venezuelans citizen who committed crimes, he never dared to violate the Constitution, which in article 29 establishes that war crimes and crimes against humanity do not have a statute of limitation.

     In Padrino's opinion the Amnesty Law violates the rule of law, calls into question judgments issued by the courts and will lead to institutional and moral decay in the people. The Amnesty Law was passed by the opposition, who hold the majority in the National Assembly. It seeks to absolve individuals accused of serious crimes, including opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who is serving a 13-year sentence for the riots carried out in 2014, which caused 43 dead and over 800 wounded.


 The scarcity of clean water and personal hygiene products has increased the cases of scabies, malaria, diarrhea and amoebiasis in Venezuela, the director of epidemiology with the central state of Miranda’s health department warned on Wednesday. “The lack of access to a constant supply of good-quality water brings with it, as a consequence, an increase in diarrhetic syndromes because there is less water for cleaning food and utensils,” Miguel Viscuña said in comments cited by the opposition coalition MUD.

     The physician also said that the storing of water in homes carries the risk of increasing disease vectors such as the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which – he added – has modified its habits and “has become an indoor creature,” a situation that is seen reflected in the increase of dengue, Zika and Chikungunya. “If the scarcity of (clean) water ... added to the scanty access to personal hygiene products ... is causing outbreaks for us of dermatological diseases such as scabies,” Viscuña said. The incidence of infectious diseases that “until recently were more or less under control” has increased because “in the schools, the children are not required to change their school uniforms as frequently and (thus, they) use less soap and detergent” to keep them clean, he said.

     “Regarding electricity, with more (power outages) the coldness of biological products (i.e. vaccines) in the freezers of the clinics cannot be guaranteed. When the temperature goes (up), they become unusable or lose their effectiveness,” said Viscuña, emphasizing that Venezuela has returned “to epidemiological contexts that were overcome in the 1950s.” Only in the State of Miranda, governed twice by presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, it has been identified 24,000 cases of malaria, A 2016 projection foresees that it will increase to the highest number experienced in half of a century". It is a fact that the government health system does not have the resources to control the vectors neither the vehicles that in their majority are damaged.


            CARACAS, VENEZUELA-- President Nicolas Maduro announced late Wednesday that he would sign a decree giving state workers a Friday furlough for 60 days. Together with other measures, he hopes to reduce electricity consumption by at least 20 percent. Officials have been warning for weeks that the water level behind the nation's largest dam has fallen to near its minimum operating level. Almost 70 percent of the South American country*s electricity comes from the Guri Dam, which holds back the Caroni River in the southeastern state of Bolivar. If water levels fall too low, the government will have to shut down the dam entirely, crippling electricity supply.

     Maduro*s socialist administration blames the crisis on a drought caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon and repeated acts of sabotage by its opponents. But experts say rationing could have been prevented had the government invested in maintenance and in the construction of thermoelectric plants. Venezuela has grappled with blackouts for years, including one that took President Nicolas Maduro by surprise as he delivered a national address on live television. Caracas occasionally shuts down because of citywide losses of power and some rural areas are living mostly in the dark. Maduro's predecessor President Hugo Chavez promised to solve the problem in 2010, but little has improved.
     Critics ridiculed the long weekend decree, saying it was an act of desperation and would do little to solve the energy crunch, as workers will simply go home and turn on the lights and air conditioning. Electricity here is virtually free, giving Venezuelans little incentive to conserve. "The geniuses at the presidential palace are increasing days off to resolve the electricity chaos. To really solve the problem, clearly you have to increase them to 365 days a year," tweeted Henry Ramos, leader of the country's opposition-controlled Congress. Some public workers greeted the news with muted excitement, while others complained that the day off wouldn't even give them a chance to hunt down scarce grocery staples, since the government only allows people to shop one day a week at state-run supermarkets, with the day pre-determined by ID number.The country has seen a bit of rain in recent days, but not enough to signal the end of the dry season.

April 7, 2016


A high-profile group of Venezuelans has called on the opposition-controlled National Assembly to investigate persistent rumors that President Nicolas Maduro is in fact Colombian, disqualifying him from holding the office. A letter addressed to assembly president Henry Ramos Allup and reproduced in local news outlets refers to "the reasonable doubts existing around the true origins of Maduro, who has so far refused to produce his birth certificate."

      The letter -- with echoes of the challenges to the citizenship of US President Barack Obama -- carries 62 signatures, including those of a former ambassador, a leading businessman and some former military leaders opposed to Chavism, the leftist ideology associated with Maduro's predecessor, the late president Hugo Chavez. The letter asserts that Maduro, as the "son of a Colombian mother" and having lived in that neighboring country as a youth, is "Colombian by birth" under the Colombian Constitution.

       If Maduro should be found to hold both Colombian and Venezuelan citizenship, the letter asserts, it would "prevent him from exercising the functions of the president of the republic." Maduro, a socialist, has denied the rumors as the "crazed inventions" of right-wing politicians eager for his ouster. He says that he was born in Caracas on November 23, 1962. The opposition, which scored a historic victory in the December 6 legislative elections, has made no secret of its intention to push the president out before his term ends in 2019. On Friday, Ramos Allup said the opposition would decide by June on a legal means to proceed in that direction.


 El Confidencial and Ok Diario published articles on Tuesday alleging Hugo Chávez signed off on nearly $7 million of new funding for the CEPS think tank organisation—in which Podemos leaders including Pablo Iglesias previously worked—citing documents in possession of Spanish police investigators. The Spanish police reportedly got hold of them from American authorities, and Spanish media outlets said their source was Rafael Isea, a former Finance Minister under Mr. Chávez who is currently in the United States.

      ABC published images of the documents. One of the paragraphs describes the funding as a way of influencing left-wing thinkers and political parties in Spain.  "Additionally, according to the decision taken at the aforementioned cabinet meeting, the relevant economic support that this contract implies for the CEPS Foundation will allow closer ties and commitments with well-known representatives of left-wing schools of thought, mainly anti-capitalist ones, that in Spain can create consensuses of political forces and social movements, to encourage political changes in that country that are even more aligned to Bolivarian government."

     There was confusion over the amounts involved, with some Spanish media outlets describing €7 million euros and others $7 million. In the documents published by ABC, three amounts appear: €2,687,390, for services between 2003-2007, €1,650,700 for 2008, and €2,830,000 for 2009-2011. They total €7.17 million. The last two amounts, for 2008 and 2009-2011, are also referred to in dollar amounts in the documents—$2.5 million and $4.3 million—giving a total of $6.8 million for those years, or nearly seven million dollars.


            SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA-- Costa Rica Foreign Minister Manuel González called Tuesday for a regional meeting to establish a humanitarian corridor for Cuban migrants traveling to the United States. Several thousand Cuban migrants are stuck in Costa Rica as Nicaragua has refused entry to them since last Friday. The meeting, for which a date had yet to be set Tuesday afternoon, would include transit countries traveled through by the Cuban migrants, including Ecuador, Colombia, the Central American countries and Mexico, as well as Cuba. “We need to come to an agreement and keep migrants from falling into the hands of [criminal] networks and coyotes, because let’s remember the objective of these migrants is to reach the United States and they’re going to do everything in their power to achieve it,” González said in a statement Tuesday.

     Nicaragua, which until recently served as a receiving country for Cuban migrants detained in Costa Rica, stopped accepting Cuban migrants on Friday, Nov. 13. The country turned back 100 Cubans deported by Costa Rican authorities that day. Then, on Sunday, the Nicaraguan army confronted several hundred Cuban migrants who tried to cross the border en masse, illegally, at Peñas Blancas, firing tear gas into the crowd and injuring several. Nicaragua requires Cuban nationals to obtain visas prior to arriving at the border.

     Tuesday, after five days of waiting at Peñas Blancas, Cubans blocked the Inter-American Highway in protest of Nicaragua’s unwillingness to them in. There are currently 700 Cubans staying at five shelters established by the National Emergency Commission, Costa Rican Red Cross, International Organization for Migration and U.N. High Commission on Refugees in La Cruz and at Peñas Blancas, according to a statement from the Commission. The Ombudsman’s Office has said that the temporary conditions for the migrants are acceptable.

April 6, 2016


Henry Ramos Allup, President of the Venezuelan Parliament majority opposition, complained Tuesday that a military industry conspires to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro. "There are commanders, colonels, captains, and lieutenants who are plotting because they believe that they are the solution," said Ramos Allup in an interview with the private television station Globovisión, although without providing names or evidence of the alleged plot. The veteran legislator described these maneuvers as a "virus very difficult to remove" that deceased was sowed by Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), after the attempted coup d ' état that starred in 1992 against the then ruling Carlos Andrés Pérez in the armed forces, Allup affirmed.

     As usual, the far-right president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, generating "rumors," declared a military spokesman. Web Venezuela military governors today denied rumors generated by the president of the National Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, on an alleged military rebellion against the government. The governor of Zulia, Francisco Arias Cárdenas refuted the statements through his Twitter account, where he assured that those are rumors within ‘a destabilizing plan’ to cause ‘unrest in the population’. Arias said that the people and the Bolivarian National Armed Force (FANB, in Spanish) are united and said that these rumors deserve the rejection of people.

     The governor of Carabobo, Francisco Ameliach, declared that ‘the Bolivarian governors, but especially the military, as well as members of the National Armed Forces, will respect and will make respect the content of the Constitution ‘.
He added that the previous week major military leaders met to assess the current political situation and agreed on the unanimous support to President Nicolás Maduro and the current Constitution. Also, Carlos Mata Figueroa, the governor of Nueva Esparta, invited not to believe in that campaign and said: ‘Today more than ever the military are united’. Finally, Francisco Rangel Gómez, governor of Bolivar, said the launching of a campaign to attract officers and engage them against the authorities is underway.


        HAVANA, CUBA-
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation on Monday said that there were at least 1,416 arbitrary political arrests in Cuba during March, of which 498 took place during the March 20-22 visit of U.S. President Barack Obama. “In the days of the historic and friendly visit to Cuba of President Barack Obama, the island’s government, instead of ensuring an atmosphere of public tranquility, unleashed a true wave of political repression and uncounted intimidating actions,” the dissident group said in its monthly report on repression by the Castro regime.

     The figure of 1,416 arrests, most of them lasting just hours, is one of the highest monthly totals registered in the past five years, exceeded only by the 1,447 arbitrary arrests recorded in November 2015. The commission, the only group to independently tally these incidents on the communist island, said that in March there were also 76 cases of physical attacks by state agents on opposition figures. So far this year, there have been 3,971 arrests for political motives in Cuba, although the Commission says that the true number is much higher “since it’s impossible to make a comprehensive tally given the opaque and closed nature of the regime in power in Cuba for almost six decades.”

     The Commission said that among the “most disturbing and condemnable” cases is that of opposition member Yuri Valle Roca, who received “brutal beating at the hands of secret political police agents on March 20” after he had been under arrest for three days. The dissident group also mentioned Aliuska Gomez, a member of the Ladies in White group, who had to receive stitches on one of her ears after being hit “countless times” on March 29, and Rosa Escalona, whose ankle was broken “during an attack by regime agents on March 19.” The Cuban government considers dissidents to be “mercenaries” and “counterrevolutionaries.”


            SAO PAULO, BRAZIL-- Brazil’s political crisis deepened Tuesday after a Supreme Court judge ruled that the country’s Congress must open impeachment proceedings against Vice President Michel Temer, raising the possibility that the country’s top two elected officials could be ousted from office. The decision potentially clouds the question of who would succeed President Dilma Rousseff, who is fighting to stave off her own impeachment. Those proceedings are speeding through the lower house of Congress and could oblige Rousseff to leave office within weeks to stand trial in the Senate. Vice President Temer would be next in line to assume the presidency during the Senate trial, and he would finish Ms. Rousseff’s term if she were impeached. But he now could face the same accusations being leveled at  Rousseff, that he used accounting tricks to help mask a growing budget deficit.

     Rousseff has denied the accusations. A spokesman for Temer declined to comment on the ruling when contacted. The ruling by Supreme Justice Marco Aurélio Mello requires House Speaker Eduardo Cunha to accept a request to open impeachment proceedings against Mr. Temer. Those accusations were filed late last year and then put on hold by Cunha, who is a member of the same political party as Mr. Temer, the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party. Cunha can appeal Tuesday’s ruling to the full Supreme Court. Attempts to reach Cunha weren’t immediately successful. The PMDB, as it is known locally, recently split from the ruling coalition headed by MRousseff’s leftist Workers’ Party and has indicated that a majority of its members will support impeachment against her.

The impeachment request against  Temer was filed by attorney Mariel Marley Marra,who said he was acting on his own behalf as a private citizen. Mr. Marra said that Mr. Temer, as a key member of Ms. Rousseff’s administration, shares responsibility for the alleged accounting irregularities. He said he’d like to see both the president and vice president removed from office. “If Cunha accepted the [impeachment request] against Dilma, he should accept one against Michel Temer too,”Marra said. Tuesday’s court ruling complicates the mechanics of the impeachment process against Rousseff. It also underscores the growing doubts among Brazilians about whether any political party is capable of governing the deeply divided country.

April 5, 2016


Brazil's largest party abandoned President Dilma Rousseff's governing coalition Tuesday, making it tougher for her to survive mounting pressure in Congress for her impeachment. The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, known as the PMDB, said after a meeting that six Cabinet ministers belonging to the party as well as some 600 federal government employees who are members must step down. The announcement was made after more than 100 lawmakers approved the decision, according to the press office of Romero Juca, an influential senator.

     The impeachment has become irreversible.The president has no other way out. "As of today in this historical meeting for the PMDB, the party withdraws from the base of the government of President Dilma Rousseff and no one in the country is authorized to hold any federal position in name of the PMDB," Juca said to loud cheers and applause after the decision was approved. The session ended with chants calling for the end of Rousseff's Worker's Party and for Vice President Michel Temer to become Brazil's president. Temer, who is the leader of the Democratic Movement, would assume the presidency if Rousseff was impeached for breaking fiscal laws.

      The break increases the chance that Rousseff, whose popularity has plunged amid Brazil's worst recession in decades and corruption scandals, will be impeached in the coming months. "The exit of the PMDB, President Dilma's main ally, represents the end of the ruling coalition and greatly increases the chances of her impeachment, for her party is now a minority in Congress," said Carlos Pereira, a professor at the Fundacao Getulio Vargas, a top Brazilian university. "PMDB's exit will definitely encourage smaller parties to follow its example and leave the coalition, forcing Dilma's government into a situation of political isolation," he added. Brazilians have been staging wide protests demanding the president's impeachment and protesting the sprawling corruption scandal at state-run oil giant Petrobras that has been moving closer to Rousseff's inner circle.


A furious Kremlin said Monday it was the target of a plot to destabilize Russia after a huge leak of confidential documents implicated President Vladimir Putin's close associates along with other world leaders in allegations of shady offshore financial dealings. A year-long worldwide media investigation into a trove of 11.5 million documents, leaked from a Panama-based law firm with offices in 35 countries, exposed a tangle of offshore financial dealings by the elite, from Putin's aides to relatives of Chinese President Xi Jinping, sports celebrities and screen stars. The vast stash of records from legal firm Mossack Fonseca, the so-called Panama Papers, was obtained from an anonymous source by German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung and shared with more than 100 media groups by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

      Banks, companies and close associates of Putin, who is not himself named in the documents, "secretly shuffled as much as $2 billion through banks and shadow companies", according to the ICIJ. The allegations were not aired by Russian state TV. "Putin, Russia, our country, our stability and the upcoming elections are the main target, specifically to destabilise the situation," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who himself figures in the leaked documents, told journalists in Moscow. Peskov said the allegations contained nothing new, lacked details and were based on speculation."We know this so-called journalist community," he added. "There are a lot of journalists whose main profession is unlikely to be journalism: a lot of former officials from the (US) Department of State, the CIA and other special services."

      Offshore financial dealings are not illegal in themselves but may be abused to hide assets from tax authorities, launder the proceeds of criminal activities or conceal misappropriated or politically inconvenient wealth. The Panama Papers, from around 214,000 offshore entities covering almost 40 years, also name the president of Ukraine and the king of Saudi Arabia, as well as sporting and movie stars including Jackie Chan. At least 33 people and companies listed in the documents were blacklisted by the US government for wrongdoing, including dealings with North Korea and Iran, as well as Lebanon's Islamist group Hezbollah, the ICIJ said. "I think the leak will prove to be probably the biggest blow the offshore world has ever taken because of the extent of the documents," said ICIJ director Gerard Ryle.


MIAMI, FLORIDA Property records suggest Joaquim Barbosa paid nothing for a condo at Icon Brickell. The popular Brazilian jurist failed to pay a required tax on the sale. Details of the transaction were revealed in the “Panama Papers,” a massive leak of secret files on offshore companies. When Brazilian news outlets found out then-Supreme Court chief justice Joaquim Barbosa had bought a Brickell condo in 2012, they asked the well-respected jurist how much he paid.Miami-Dade County property records seemed to suggest the 61-year-old paid a big, fat zero for his one-bedroom condo at Icon Brickell, one of the trendy neighborhood’s best-known condo towers.

     Documentary stamp taxes must be paid on property sales. In Miami-Dade, the tax amounts to 60 cents for every $100 paid for the property. Sales prices aren’t listed on deeds — but they can be calculated from the tax. The deed for Barbosa’s unit lists no tax. (Even when someone gives their property away to a family member, they pay a nominal tax.) As it turns out, Barbosa didn’t get the apartment for free. The unit’s seller sent the Miami Herald a contract showing Barbosa paid $335,000 in cash. The tax on that sale would have amounted to about $2,000.

     Three real-estate attorneys consulted by the Miami Herald could see no reason why Barbosa wouldn’t be subject to the tax. “This is a very unusual deed,” said one of the attorneys, Joe Hernandez of South Florida law firm Weiss Serota. Details of Barbosa’s purchase came to light after a massive leak of documents from inside Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. The leak has been dubbed the “Panama Papers.” MF sets up offshore companies for the world’s wealthiest people. Four of its employees have been charged as part of a massive corruption scandal over graft at Brazil’s state oil company. Prosecutors allege that the firm set up offshore shell companies to help politicians launder bribes. MF has denied any wrongdoing and calls its Brazil office an independent franchise.

April 4, 2016


The head detective of Interpol in Venezuela has been charged with smuggling nearly 770lbs of cocaine to the Dominican Republic. Chief Detective Eliecer Garcia, 42, reportedly coordinated the large shipment of cocaine from north-west Venezuela on behalf of a local businessman last week. Prosecutors believe that Garcia used his senior position at Interpol to ensure that the plane carrying the Class A drugs could leave Venezuela without being checked. Eliecer Garcia, chief detective at Venezuela's Interpol, allegedly coordinated this 769lbs shipment of cocaine, found hidden in luggage by police on the Dominican Republic last week

     Garcia allegedly co-ordinated the 769lbs (349kg) cocaine shipment to the Dominican Republic, which was then seized by border police at La Romana International Airport on March 24. Venezuelan businessman Pablo Cardenas, 45, has been accused of financing the haul, after which Garcia organised to have it sent from the city of Barquisimeto, Lara State, on a Cessna aircraft. Dominican authorities found the drugs inside the Cessna plane, stashed away in three suitcases and two large packages. Police business: Prosecutors believe that Garcia used position as Interpol Chief Detective to ensure that the planeload of cocaine could leave Venezuela without being checked properly

      Garcia and Cardenas were arrested as part of a dozen raids in Caracas, Margarita, Barquisimeto, the Venezuelan Attorney General's Office said in a statement on Saturday. Cardenas and Garcia have been arrested along with national guard sergeants Darwin Sanoja Rodriguez, 27, Rolan Torrealba Silva, 22, Franklin Perez Peña, 50, Onesimus Romero Hernandez, 34, and Roberto Sivira Fernandez, 25.  Also arrested are three security agents at Barquisimeto's airport; Jose Hernandez Rodriguez, 62, Nelson Peraza Sira, 32, and Eduard Lucena Rivero, 30.
Venezuela is a major transit zone for cocaine and the U.S. has charged or targeted with sanctions several top military officials for their involvement in the drug trade.


Tens of thousands of people protested in more than 20 cities across Colombia against President Juan Manuel Santos and his government's peace process with the FARC guerrillas. The demonstrations come just days after Bogota launched peace talks with the country's second-biggest guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), setting its sights on a total end to a bloody half-century conflict. Large crowds ignored heavy rain in some cities as they took to the streets. Many demonstrators were decked out in the yellow, blue and red colors of the Colombian flag.

     The protests were called by the Democratic Center party of the conservative former president Alvaro Uribe, who has voiced consistent opposition to negotiations with the Marxist FARC. The 62 year-old Uribe remains popular and powerful opposition figure. His 2002-2010 presidency was marked by a tough crackdown on the leftist rebels, as well as charges that he favored right-wing paramilitary groups. In late February Uribe's youngest brother Santiago was arrested on homicide charges linked to a paramilitary hit squad known as the Twelve Apostles. The ex-president claims that Santiago is a "political prisoner."

      President Santos, who was Uribe's defense minister, currently suffers from low approval ratings. Writing on Twitter, Uribe blasted the role of the leftist "dictatorship in Venezuela" in helping mediate talks with the ELN. "Traitor resign now!" and "No more impunity!" were among the banners on show as large crowds swarmed through city centers. "This protest is a general dissent against the government of President Santos. We do not want impunity in the peace processes. We are tired of so many lies and bad economic management, taxes and inflation," Francisco Santos, a former vice president, told AFP. The biggest turnouts were in the capital Bogota and Medellin, Uribe's hometown, where he led the opposition march.


MIAMI, FLORIDA At the end of 2011, a company called Isaias 21 Property paid nearly $3 million — in cash — for an oceanfront Bal Harbour condo. But it wasn’t clear who really owned the three-bedroom unit at the newly built St. Regis, an ultra-luxury high-rise that pampers residents with 24-hour room service and a private butler. In public records, Isaias 21 listed its headquarters as a Miami Beach law office and its manager as Mateus 5 International Holding, an offshore company registered in the British Virgins Islands, where company owners don’t have to reveal their names.

     That’s because the Miami Herald, in association with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, has obtained a massive trove of confidential files from inside a secretive Panamanian law firm called Mossack Fonseca. Paulo Octávio resigned as governor of Brasília after being accused of corruption in 2011. He secretly paid $2.95 million for a condo at the St. Regis in Bal Harbour later that year. The firm specializes in creating offshore shell companies for the world’s richest and most powerful people. Mossack Fonseca’s leaked records offer a glimpse into the tightly guarded world of high-end South Florida real estate and the global economic forces reshaping Miami’s skyline.

     And MF’s activities bolster an argument analysts and law-enforcement officials have long made: Money from people linked to wrongdoing abroad is helping to power the gleaming condo towers rising on South Florida’s waterfront and pushing home prices far beyond what most locals canafford. The leak comes as the U.S. government unleashes an unprecedented crackdown on money laundering in Miami’s luxury real-estate market. Buried in the 11.5 million documents? A registry revealing Mateus 5’s true owner: Paulo Octávio Alves Pereira, a Brazilian developer and politician now under indictment for corruption in his home country. A Miami Herald analysis of the never-before-seen records found 19 foreign nationals creating offshore companies and buying Miami real estate. Of them, eight have been linked to bribery, corruption, embezzlement, tax evasion or other misdeeds in their home countries.

April 3, 2016


        WASHINGTON, D.C.
Nearly twice as many Cuban migrants reached the U.S. by foot and sea in the last three months of 2015 as in the same period the year earlier, the northbound exodus swelling after the restoration of diplomatic relations and amid fears of the loss of migration privileges. Department of Homeland Security figures show about 17,000 Cubans reached the United States from October through December.

     Slightly more than 9,200 Cuban migrants arrived during the same months in 2014. The surge has been driven in part by Cubans' fears that warmer ties between the governments, announced in December 2014, mean they could lose privileges that now let them stay in the United States if they reach American soil — a policy originally based on the assumption those fleeing Cuba were largely political refugees. The Obama administration says it doesn't plan to change U.S.-Cuba immigration policy, but some lawmakers want to end the privileges for migrants from the island.

     Most of the Cuban migrants are arriving at U.S. border checkpoints in Texas after traveling by plane, bus and foot through Central America. More than 43,000 Cubans arrived in the U.S. in the 2015 fiscal year ending in September. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans have fled the island since the 1959 revolution, largely by plane through family reunification programs but also on perilous, homemade rafts. Three years ago, the communist government did away with a hated exit permit, allowing many Cubans to travel to countries such as Ecuador and then make a long, often dangerous, trek through Central America to the U.S. border with Texas. Ecuador began requiring visas for Cubans late last year, effectively blocking the route to most would-be migrants.


Amid political chaos, Brazil's economic collapse is worse than its government once believed. In the midst of rising calls to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's central bank announced Thursday that it now expects the country's economy to shrink 3.5% this year. That's worse than the central bank's previous estimate for a 1.9% contraction. The darker forecast matches what the International Monetary Fund projected for Brazil -- Latin America's largest country -- and what many independent economists have suspected. Brazil's economy shrank 3.8% last year and the country is already in its worst recession in 25 years.

    Brazil has been slammed by low commodity prices like oil, a weak currency and an unprecedented bribery scandal at the state-run oil company Petrobras. Unemployment is rising, consumer spending has fallen and foreign investors have taken their cash out. The Petrobras scandal has been a major source of pain on all levels for the country. Politicians, company execs and billionaires have been arrested during a massive investigation that's embroiled all levels of government. After the PMDB vote, Rousseff canceled a planned appearance at a Washington D.C. energy summit with President Obama and dozens of other leaders.

     Brazilians are angry at Rousseff because of the economic crisis, but also because she recently tried to appoint her predecessor, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, as her chief of staff. "Lula" as he's known, is being investigated by police for money laundering. Police allege that a construction company gave Lula a vacation home in exchange for receiving generous contracts with Petrobras, which Lula oversaw as president between 2003 and 2010. Lula's appointment was viewed as an attempt to shield him from investigation because under Brazilian law, only the Supreme Court can try high-ranking cabinet members. A Supreme Court judge in Brazil temporarily suspended the appointment. This week the Supreme Court is convening to decide whether to uphold the suspension or allow the appointment.


        WASHINGTON,  D.C.
A U.S. drone strike in Somalia has targeted a key leader of the al-Shabab militant group who was involved in two attacks in Mogadishu more than a year ago that killed more than 30 people, at least three Americans among them, the Pentagon said Friday. Several U.S. officials said he and two others were killed.  Hassan Ali Dhoore was targeted in the airstrike Thursday, but the U.S. military was still assessing the results, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement.

     Other U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the operation, said it occurred about 20 miles south of Jilib in southern Somalia not far from the Kenya border, killing Dhoore and two others.  Cook said Dhoore helped facilitate a deadly Christmas Day 2014 attack at Mogadishu International Airport and a March 2015 attack at the Maka al-Mukarramah Hotel. U.S. citizens were among those killed in the two attacks, he said.

     One senior official also said that Dhoore was believed to be involved in plotting more attacks that would have targeted U.S. citizens. Cook said Dhoore, who was also a member of al-Qaida, worked for al-Shabab's security and intelligence wing. Killing Dhoore "would be a significant blow to al-Shabab's operational planning and ability to conduct attacks." In the Christmas 2014 assault, gunmen attacked the African Union's main base leading to an exchange of gunfire between militants and soldiers that killed at least nine people, including three soldiers. Three months later, gunmen from the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab rebel group launched an attack in the reception area of the hotel in the Somali capital, killing at least 24, including six attackers.

April 2, 2016


North Korea fired another short-range missile off its east coast on Friday, South Korean officials said, as regional leaders met in Washington to discuss the threat of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme. It was the latest in a series of North Korean missile launches during what has been an extended period of elevated military tension on the Korean peninsula, triggered by Pyongyang's fourth nuclear test on January 6. The launch came as the South Korean coastguard reported that around 70 fishing vessels had been forced back to port after GPS navigation issues caused by North Korean radio-wave jamming.

      South Korea's defence ministry said the surface-to-air missile was fired at around 12:45 pm (0345 GMT) from the eastern city of Sondok. The range and precise trajectory could not immediately be confirmed, a ministry official said. The South's Yonhap news agency said it flew 100 kilometres (60 miles) into the East Sea (Sea of Japan). The launch came in the middle of a two-day nuclear security summit being hosted by Barack Obama in Washington, at which North Korea has been the focus of the US president's talks with the leaders of China, South Korea and Japan.

      Obama spoke Thursday of the need to "vigilantly enforce the strong UN security measures" imposed on the North after its latest nuclear test and subsequent long-range rocket launch. Pyongyang's state media has labelled the summit a "nonsensical" effort to find fault with the North's "legitimate access to nuclear weapons". Existing UN sanctions ban North Korea from conducting any ballistic missile test, although short-range launches tend to go unpunished. Last month, the North upped the ante by test-firing two medium-range missiles, which were seen as far more provocative given the threat they pose to neighbours like Japan. Earlier Friday, Seoul said North Korea was using radio waves to jam GPS signals in South Korea, affecting scores of planes and vessels.


The Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ in Spanish) declared unconstitutional the partial reform of the Law of the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV), sanctioned last March 3 by the National Assembly (AN), says today an official communique.The press release of the maximum court of the country reports the sentence after analyzing the bill of law sent last March 17 to the Constitutional Court by the President of the Republic, Nicolas Maduro, for evaluation, with what is established in the Magnum Charter.

     The TSJ declared that law does not comply with the eighth cardinal of the Fourth Transitory Regulation of the Constitution, because the partial reform pretends to attribute the parliament faculties to appoint, ratify and remove the President and the rest of BCV directors. Also, the High Court estimates that instrument pretends to counter the functions of head of State given by the Decree of Economic Emergency, declared constitutional and standing by the TSJ since January this year. It also adds that it pretends to evade the faculties of National Executive in the context of an economic emergency validated and decreed. The top interpreter of the Constitution established that, with the pretended reform, the parliament incurred in deviation of power by pursuing different purposes than those constitutionally allowed.

      The ruling says it was revealed that the objective pursued by parliament is to take administrative control of the Emitting Institute, with which it attempts against the autonomy of the BCV and, consequently, against the stability of national economy. Anti-government Deputy to the National Assembly (AN) Luis Stefanelli described as “a mistake” a decision made by the local top court declaring unconstitutional the reform of the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) law previously approved by the Congress. Opposition Congress Deputy Luis Stefanelli on Friday branded as “a black box” the way the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) is working as he added that the financial top authority “is hiding a lot of information.” Assembly (AN), the official termed the move “a mistake,” for it allows the government to have five out of seven directors in that body.


CARACAS, VENEZUELA Venezuelan authorities announced Friday they were investigating the killing of a socialist politician in Trujillo state. Marco Tulio Carrillo was “shot repeatedly” outside his home in Trujillo Thursday night, according to a statement from Venezuela's public prosecutor's office. Carrillo was the mayor of the La Ceiba municipality, and a member of President Nicolas Maduro's socialist party, the PSUV. The prosecution said Carrillo was hit by eight bullets fired from a passing car. No suspects have yet been named.

      The killing has been condemned by other socialist politicians. “Another worthy revolutionary has been vilely felled,” tweeted PSUV legislator Hugbel Roa. Carrillo is the third pro-Maduro political figure to be killed in the past week. Over the weekend, Haitian Venezuelan political figure and solidarity activist Fritz Saint Louis was gunned down in his home. Saint Louis had served as the international coordinator for the United Haitian Socialist Movement, as well as secretary-general of the Haitian-Bolivarian Culture House of Venezuela.

      It's unclear whether Saint Louis' killing was politically motivated, though in 2015 he ran as a candidate in the PSUV's National Assembly election primaries. His death followed the suspected assassination of another socialist politician last Thursday. Legislator Cesar Vera was shot in Tachira state, in what local authorities say may have been a paramilitary attack. Vera was a member of the Great Patriotic Pole, a political coalition of parties aligned with the PSUV. He was also a prominent figure in the leftist militia, the Tupamaro movement. In another incident of political violence, two police officers were killed by right-wing militants earlier this week. The officers were killed while responding to a protest in Tachira state. Witnesses have said the pair were run over by a bus that had been hijacked by militants.

April 1st., 2016


        HAVANA, CUBA
An average of 200,000 people a day access the Internet from Cuba’s 85 public Wi-Fi hotspots, executives of state telecom monopoly Etecsa said. The figure is up from 150,000 users a day in December. Jorge Luis Legra, Etecsa’s director for strategic programs, said on state television that the company has already created a score of new hotspots since Jan. 1 and plans to establish at least 60 more over the course of this year. Etecsa will also open 100 new Internet cafes in 2016, he said.

    The Wi-Fi hotspots are one of Etecsa’s most popular programs to increasing connectivity in Cuba, which has one of the world’s lowest levels of Internet penetration. Legra said the results of a pilot program to provide residential Internet service in Havana remain inconclusive, adding that offering home access to the Web would require a major investment. Currently, the Cuban government limits home access to the Internet to members of a handful of professions, including medicine, journalism and academia.

     Etecsa was operating 345 Internet cafes nationwide – equipped with 11,187 computers – as of the end of last year, Legra said. Google recently opened its first technology center in Cuba in the Havana studio of artist Alexis Leyva, better known as Kcho, offering no-cost access to the Internet at much faster speeds than those normally available on the island. The Google + Kcho.Mor center will give Cubans a chance to familiarize themselves with the latest generation of gadgets from the U.S. technology giant, such as the cardboard virtual reality goggles for use with mobile devices. Etecsa is providing the Internet connection, though at much faster speeds than those available at its public Wi-Fi hotspots.


Russia has no plans to reopen military bases in Cuba, according to a statement from a Russian diplomat Tuesday. Opening bases is not on the agenda," Alexander Schetinin, the director of the Latin American department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, told Tass. "Our cooperation is now developing in other areas — this is first of all our very close friendly foreign policy cooperation," he said, adding, "These are issues of advancing our economic and investment cooperation."

     Cuba received financial assistance from the then-U.S.S.R. and agreed to allow the Kremlin to place military bases and nuclear missiles on the island, which is 100 miles off the coast of the southeastern United States. The missiles were eventually removed following an agreement between Russia and the U.S. though the military base wasn’t shuttered until the early 21st century. Russian President Vladimir Putin has looked to make increasingly close relations with Cuba a priority, visiting the country shortly after his election as president in 2000.

     Relations grew frosty between the two countries after Russia closed down its last military base on the island in the early 2000s, and Russian diplomats have sought to re-establish bilateral ties, particularly following an agreement between the U.S. and Cuba in 2015 that ended decades of hostilities between the two countries. “What Putin is doing is re-establishing the relationships that, when Russia was turning west, planning to become part of wider Europe, and giving up the legacy of the Soviet Union, were actually neglected,” Nina Khrushcheva, an associate professor of international affairs at the New School and granddaughter of former Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev, told Newsweek in August 2014. “I think that stands at the core of his re-engagement,” she said.


MIAMI, FLORIDA Twenty-five Cuban migrants were found Monday by U.S. authorities on a small island in the Florida Keys. A boat captain spotted the migrants early Monday morning on Cook Island, near Big Pine Key, and reported the fact to authorities, said Becky Herrin, the spokesperson for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.

     The migrants, who were all in good health, were turned over to Customs and Border Protection authorities at Dolphin Marina on Little Torch Key. Cubans who set foot on U.S. soil receive favorable treatment under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act and the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy, thereby being allowed to remain in this country, while those who are intercepted before they reach the U.S. coast are repatriated to the communist island. Last Saturday, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted a group of 26 Cubans – seven of whom had bullet wounds – on a raft near the Florida coast.

      According to the Coast Guard, so far during the current fiscal year, which began last Oct. 1, 2,562 Cubans have been intercepted in the Florida Strait, 269 of them during February. Uncertainty about possible changes in U.S. immigration policy toward Cuba has spurred sharply higher illegal migration from the island since the process of normalizing bilateral relations was launched in December 2014. During the past fiscal year, more than 43,000 Cubans arrived in the United States, a 77 percent increase over the previous fiscal year.