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August 30, 2017

NORTH KOREA FIRES MISSILE OVER JAPAN, SHARPLY ESCALATING TENSIONS

    
PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA --   North Korea fired a missile that flew over Japan and landed in waters off the northern region of Hokkaido early on Tuesday, South Korean and Japanese officials said, marking a sharp escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula. The test, which experts said appeared to have been a recently developed intermediate-range Hwasong-12 missile, came as U.S. and South Korean forces conduct annual military drills on the peninsula, against which North Korea strenuously objects.

       Earlier this month, North Korea threatened to fire missiles into the sea near the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam after U.S. President Donald Trump warned Pyongyang would face "fire and fury" if it threatened the United States. North Korea has conducted dozens of ballistic missile tests under young leader Kim Jong-Un, the most recent on Saturday, but firing projectiles over mainland Japan is rare. "North Korea's reckless action is an unprecedented, serious and a grave threat to our nation," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters. Abe said Japan was seeking an urgent meeting at the United Nations to strengthen measures against Pyongyang. The test was a clear violation of UN resolutions and the government had protested against the move in the strongest terms, he said.

     South Korea also condemned the launch. "We will respond strongly based on our steadfast alliance with the United States if North Korea continues nuclear and missile provocations," the South's foreign ministry said in a statement. North Korea fired what it said was a rocket carrying a communications satellite into orbit over Japan in 2009. The United States, Japan and South Korea considered that launch to have been a ballistic missile test. "It’s pretty unusual," said Jeffrey Lewis, head of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of Strategic Studies at Monterey, California. "North Korea’s early space launches in 1998 and 2009 went over Japan, but that’s not the same thing as firing a missile.

FRENCH PRESIDENT MACRON CONDEMNS VENEZUELA'S "DICTATORSHIP"


        PARIS, FRANCE  -- 
French President Emmanuel Macron has expressed concern over the "dictatorship" in Venezuela under President Nicolas Maduro. In a speech to diplomats in Paris Tuesday, Macron described Venezuela as "a dictatorship" that is "trying to survive at the cost of an unprecedented humanitarian distress". He said he was ready to work with regional partners to prevent further escalations in the instability.

     Maduro has been criticized by U.S. and European leaders after the recent installation of an all-powerful constitutional assembly that has targeted political opponents. The Trump administration has imposed financial sanctions in efforts to isolate him for taking the country down an increasingly authoritarian path.France is hoping for a negotiated solution to the political crisis around Maduro's leadership.

     The United States and a dozen Latin American governments qualify Maduro’sactions as a step toward a "dictatorship." Maduro maintains instead that the Constituent Assembly will recover the peace and rescue the collapsed economy of the oil country, suffocated by a severe shortage of food and medicines, and brutal inflation. France had so far confined itself to condemning the decision of the Constituent Assembly to assume powers of the opposition-controlled Parliament and "acts of violence" in the Latin American country which have resulted in at least 130 deaths in four months of Protests.

VENEZUELA'S EX-PROSECUTOR LUISA ORTEGA ACCUSES NICOLAS MADURO OF PROFITING FROM NATION'S HUNGER

          SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA --  Venezuela’s former chief prosecutor provided more explosive details about high-level corruption in the government on Wednesday, accusing President Nicolás Maduro of profiting from the nation’s hunger crisis. Speaking in Brazil at an international meeting of attorneys general, Luisa Ortega said she had documents that appeared to link Maduro to a Mexican company that provides products to Venezuela’s state-sponsored food-distribution program.

      Ortega said the company, which she identified as Group Grand Limited, “is presumably owned by Nicolás Maduro,” although it’s registered under other names. She also said Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht had paid Diosdado Cabello, a powerful Venezuelan government leader, $100 million in bribes. Those payments were made to a Spanish company that is owned by Cabello’s cousins, Ortega said.Odebrecht, the scandal-plagued Brazilian construction firm that has confessed to bribing governments throughout the hemisphere, won $300 billion worth of contracts in Venezuela, Ortega said, and at least 11 of the infrastructure projects were never finished. Analysts said the total price-tag seemed inflated.

     “I am going to give [evidence] to authorities in different countries — the United States, Colombia, Spain — so they can investigate,” she said. “In Venezuela, there is no justice. It’s impossible to investigate any act of corruption or drug trafficking.” While she didn’t provide any evidence during Wednesday’s speech, she asked the international courts to review the cases because the “rule of law has been dismantled” in Venezuela.  

August 29, 2017

US JUDGE ORDERS SEIZURE OF VENEZUELA ASSETS. US$1.2 BILLION TO COMPENSATE MINER CRYSTALLEX

    
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK --   District Judge Colleen McMahon ordered that officials take possession of that capital and all movable property belonging to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and its subdivisions, such as the Ministries of Defense and Finance. Nicolás Maduro’s regime has lost another case in the United States, this time against the Canadian transnational Crystallex International Corporation, as a court approved the embargo of about $1.2 billion this Friday, August 25 that Venezuela has in The Bank of New York Mellon. The embargo order includes funds from a Bank of New York Mellon, amounting to US $ 1,202,000,000.00, which belonged to Venezuela.

     With this decision, the United States District Court has granted Crystallex International Corporation the right to recover assets owed by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The order said that if there is not sufficient property of said debtor in the District of New York, Crystallex can seize other real estate that belongs to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The document also said that the funds seized in the New York bank account correspond to an offer of Venezuelan debt and were designated for commercial purposes: the maintenance and repair of the Venezuelan Ministry of Defense.

    ICSID had awarded arbitration of approximately $1.4 billion in favor of Crystallex in April 2016, but since that date the plaintiff had been unable to justify the complaints made by Venezuela against the US government. “The 2015 Crystallex Action alleged that the indirect subsidiaries of the Venezuelan state PDV Holding Inc. and CITGO Holding Inc. acquired a debt of $2.8 billion without any legitimate consideration of a commercial objective, but rather to transfer the assets and capital previously placed for Venezuela and which will be paid as dividends by the Venezuelan direct subsidiary, Petróleos de Venezuela, SA outside the United States. ”

FORMER VENEZUELAN ATTORNEY GENERAL, LUISA ORTEGA, CLAIMS DICTATOR MADURO HAS SENT HIS SICARIOS TO KILL HER


        SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA  -- 
The Attorney General of Venezuela Luisa Ortega Diaz claimed this week that Nicolás Maduro’s regime sent “assassins” to kill her once she began to speak out about the country’s broken democracy and human rights violations. Ortega, who recently escaped from the country and is seeking asylum in the United States, gave an interview to the German magazine Der Spiegel in which she confessed to feeling unsafe even while abroad, as the regime could be hiring someone to kill her outside the country as well. It was the first interview that Ortega gave since leaving Venezuela, and in it she documents how Maduro and his closest allies were using public funds for personal financial benefit.

     Ortega detailed how the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which has caused scandal in a handful of countries around Latin America for bribing politicians in exchange for project contracts, paid Diosdado Cabello US $100 million through a Spanish third party. “We are facing a group of people who are not statesmen, but criminals,” Ortega said. She went on to explain that she decided to leave Venezuela after receiving multiple threats. Government officials issued a warrant for the arrest of her husband, Deputy Germán Ferrer, claiming that he ran a million-dollar extortion ring. Ortega, accused of treason by the regime, left Venezuela last week and denounced Maduro’s rule from Brasilia.

    She also told the press she intends to hand over evidence to the authorities to various countries — including the United States, Colombia and Spain — “for investigation” under “the principle of universal jurisdiction.” The Attorney General of Venezuela Luisa Ortega Diaz claimed this week that Nicolás Maduro’s regime sent “assassins” to kill her once she began to speak out about the country’s broken democracy and human rights violations. Ortega, who recently escaped from the country and is seeking asylum in the United States, gave an interview to the German magazine Der Spiegel in which she confessed to feeling unsafe even while abroad, as the regime could be hiring someone to kill her outside the country as well. It was the first interview that Ortega gave since leaving Venezuela, and in it she documents how Maduro and his closest allies were using public funds for personal financial benefit.

US PROSECUTORS REQUEST LIFE IN PRISON FOR NEPHEWSOF VENEZUELAN DICTATOR TRIED FOR DRUG-TRAFFICKING  -- THE RECOMMENDATIONS EXPLAIN WHY THE DICTATOR AND HIS SICARIOS, WHO HAVE ALREADY COMMITTED SO MANY HEINOUS CRIMES, CANNOT AFFORD TO LEAVE VENEZUELA VOLUNTARILY

          NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK   --  Nicolás Maduro’s nephews were found guilty of conspiring to smuggle 800 kilos of cocaine from Venezuela to the United States. (Twitter). The sentencing hearings against the nephews of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro have been scheduled for September 12 and 13, with the Prosecutor of the South District of New York and the Office of Parole requesting life imprisonment. The United States Department of Justice reportedly asked the court to sentence both Efraín Antonio Campo Flores and his cousin Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas to a full life sentence due to the severity of their crimes, which involve operating international drug trafficking rings.

    They were found guilty of conspiring to smuggle 800 kilos of cocaine from Venezuela to the United States. The District Attorney’s Office, led by Joon H. Kim, presented a report prior to the ruling that listed a number of factors that highlight the severe nature of the criminal conduct of Maduro’s nephews. “In addition to the specific crime of conspiring to traffic and distribute more than 450 kilograms of cocaine to the United States, federal prosecutors argued that the two defendants acted as leaders of a criminal organization, used violence, obstructed justice, committed perjury, were involved in a person’s death and sought to bribe the authorities into committing the murder, all of which should increase the number of years that the defendants should spend in prison.”

    In the United States, before a convict is sentenced, the prosecuting attorney-in this case the district attorney's office-performs a Pre-Sentence Report (PSR) which gives a description of the conduct of the offender. And the Parole Office submits another report containing the findings of the process. In the case of the cousins Flores, the two entities conclude that because of the seriousness of the crimes, the defendants must be imprisoned for life. The defense considers a sentence of life imprisonment to be “disproportionately long,” claiming that criminal conduct is almost identical for each of the accused, and that it goes far beyond describing the cocaine trafficking charged in the indictment. Also, the prosecution’s claims include unfounded speculation and false accusations of murder, bribery and other activities totally unrelated to the evidence presented at trial.

August 28, 2017

MUD STRONGLY SUPPORT US ECONOMIC SANCTIONS AGAINST DICTATOR MADURO

    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --   MUD strongly states that: 1.- Sanctions for violators of human rights and looting of public resources will always have our support, in the absence of impartial justice in Venezuela. 2-. We will also support and solicit all the world's diplomatic support that contributes to the constitutional and democratic restoration in Venezuela. 3.- We urge the entire international community to warn all citizens and companies in their respective countries that they should refrain from carrying out financial transactions or contracts of national interest with the Venezuelan government that are in violation of the National Constitution because they have not been approved by the only Constitutional body to authorize them, the National Assembly.

     4.- The crisis experienced by the people of Venezuela is the exclusive and inclusive responsibility of the government of Nicolás Maduro. The government is responsible for the policy that ended the industrial base of the country and the quality of life of the Venezuelan family. The people of Venezuela will not allow them to shield themselves in any international sanction to avoid their responsibility for having led the country to the current disaster. 5. Patriotism is not rhetorical. The defense of the homeland is the defense of the popular sovereignty, the quality of life of the Venezuelan, and the full validity of the Constitution. All violated by the most unpatriotic government we have had in the history of Venezuela, and exclusively responsible for having generated an international isolation unparalleled in the hemisphere.

     At the same time, the Venezuelan government expressed its categorical rejection of the statement issued by the MUD on the “United States of America’s economic aggression against Venezuela” and called the MUD statement, "the most fascist of all communications ever read" . He also pointed out that this communiqué of the opposition leadership is a request for war against Venezuela, it is the petition to the "Non-Integration, Non-International Law, Non-Sovereignty of Peoples, Non-Dialogue, Non-Democracy, Non-life,” reported the government of dictator Maduro.

AS VENEZUELA FACES CRITICAL TIMES AFTER US ECONOMIC SANCTIONS, COLOMBIA PREPARES FOR A WAVE OF MIGRANTS


        BOGOTA, COLOMBIA  -- 
The head of Colombia's immigration office, Christian Kruger, said authorities across the country are on alert and prepared to rush to the Venezuelan border in case of a mass influx of refugees. "Every immigration official knows what border control point they need to go to and what equipment they need to take in case the situation arises,” he said. “That plan has been activated, and if we need it, we can have people there within 24 hours.” The two countries share a 1,300-mile border that has become a critical escape valve for Venezuelans seeking food, medicine or a new start.

      In response to the economic crisis in Venezuela, more than 26,000 Venezuelans were thought to have crossed in and out of the country to gather food during the last weekend. And local media were reporting long lines on Monday, as people were waiting to cross into Colombia. President Donald Trump last week imposed for the first time economic sanctions against Venezuela and threatened more "strong and swift economic canctions" to come. The specter of punishing U.S. sanctions amid an already deep humanitarian crisis has many fearing that the Venezuelan exodus will only get worse.

      In 2016, more than 378,500 Venezuelans entered Colombia legally with a passport, a 30 percent increase compared to 2014. More difficult to quantify are the estimated 750,000 who cross the border every month with ID cards. While many of them are only here short term, it’s clear that many are staying — or continuing the trek beyond Colombia to Ecuador and Chile, which have more relaxed immigration policies. Colombia has records of 153,000 Venezuelans who have overstayed their 90-day tourism cards and are thought to be living here illegally. Colombia Ombudsman Carlos Alfonso Negret said the nation has a duty to accept Venezuelans, since the two nations have had such close historical ties. But he said Colombia doesn’t have the resources to deal with more immigrants.

THE COLOMBIAN GOVERNMENT HAS GRANTED REFUGE FOR 30 DAYS TO SIX OF THE 33 JUDGES SWORN IN BY THE VENEZUELAN NATIONAL ASSEMBLY LEGISLATURE

          GOBOTA, COLOMBIA   --  The Colombian government has granted refuge for 30 days to six of the 33 judges sworn in last July by the Venezuelan National Assembly legislature who fled their country after President Nicolas Maduro ordered their arrest. "Yesterday they granted us refuge," Judge Rafael Ortega told EFE on the phone, adding that the Colombians also agreed to welcome his colleagues Jose Luis Rodriguez Piña, Ruben Carrillo, Gonzalo Oliveros, Gonzalo Alvarez and Evelyn D'Apollo. Ortega said Colombia also agreed to accept his wife and two children, as well as the wife of another judge.

     The decision was made public after the arrival in Bogota of former Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega, of whom President Juan Manuel Santos said "she is now under the protection of the Colombian government" and added that "if she asks for asylum we will grant it." The judge said the justices' refugee status allows them to move freely around Bogota and have access to social security, among other benefits. Asked if the decision could have repercussions on the already tense relations between Colombia and Venezuela, he said that Bogota acts according to the rulings of international law.

     "I don't know how the Venezuelan government will take it, but what is certain is that the Colombian government is acting according to International Law with regard to the politically persecuted," Ortega said. "We entered our plea for refuge last Tuesday and they delivered it this Friday," said the Venezuelan judge, who let it be known that they left the country because they felt threatened by President Maduro's intention to have them arrested. "We haven't committed any crime," Ortega said. Last July 21 the National Assembly, with its opposition majority, swore in 33 judges to Venezuela's Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ), to substitute the same number they considered "illegitimate" after December 2015 when the then-Chavista legislative majority hurriedly appointed dozens of Chavista judges before they were voted out of office.

August 27, 2017

VENEZUELAN GOVERNMENT BLAMES US FOR WORST AGGRESSIONS IN 200 YEARS

    
UNITE NATIONS, NEW YORK  --   Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said on Friday at the United Nations headquarters in New York that the financial sanctions announced by the United States are the worst aggressions against Venezuela in the last 200 years. “Maybe the United States is trying to create, to promote a humanitarian crisis in our country,” Arreaza told reporters at the UN, and asked, “What do they want, they want to starve the Venezuelan people?” He also said the financial sanctions imposed by US President Donald Trump are meant to directly punish the Venezuelan people, not its government.

     Arreaza said the government of President Nicolas Maduro is studying the sanctions and will take every measure needed to keep them from harming Venezuelan families. After meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutierrez, Arreaza said the United States would not get away with causing a “humanitarian crisis” in Venezuela. According to the foreign minister, added to the recent threats of military intervention by the US, the sanctions are “the worst aggressions to Venezuela in the last 200 years.” “Maybe after the Spanish empire was defeated by our liberators, by Simon Bolivar, this is the worst aggression,” he said.

     “The imposition of sanctions or the attempt to impose sanctions, just like the military threats, correspond to uncivilized politics... and the United Nations cannot – as we told the Secretary General – stand by with their arms crossed and not condemn these actions,” Arreaza said. In contrast, he noted the support Venezuela has received recently, as a response to US threats, from countries with which it has not had particularly good relations. According to the foreign minister, the Venezuelan government “will protect our people and our democracy with all means we have,” but made it clear that in resolving problems between nations, diplomacy and dialogue will always have the priority.

VENEZUELAN ARMY AND MILITIAS HOLD EXERCISES AFTER U.S. THREAT 


        CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- 
Venezuela held nationwide armed forces exercises on Saturday, calling on civilians to join reserve units to defend against a possible attack after U.S. President Donald Trump warned of a "military option" for the crisis-hit country. Trump made the threat of military action against Venezuela two weeks ago and on Friday he signed an order prohibiting dealings in new debt from the Venezuelan government or its oil company, a move to hobble financing that Trump says is fueling President Nicolas Maduro's "dictatorship."

      "Against the belligerent threats of the United States, all Venezuelans between the ages of 18 and 60 are required to contribute to the integral defense of the nation," said an announcement broadcast on state television. The government said it expected 700,000 civilian militia members and 200,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen to participate. State TV images showed Venezuelans young and old entering military reserve registration centers. But there was no evidence of registration beyond the most ardent supporters of Maduro's Socialist Party. Live broadcasts were aired of camouflaged sharp-shooters at target practice while military commanders gave fiery speeches at "anti-imperialist" rallies. Air force, infantry and naval exercises were expected later on Saturday and Sunday.

     Diplomatic tensions increased last month when a legislative superbody called the constituent assembly was elected at Maduro's behest. It has the power to legislate, bypassing the opposition-controlled congress. Maduro says the new assembly is Venezuela's only hope of restoring peace after months of deadly anti-government protests. Governments around the world denounced the election of the 545-member super-assembly as a farcical power grab by Maduro. Trump's threat of military action played into Maduro's hands by supporting his oft-repeated assertion that the U.S. "empire" has been waging economic war on Venezuela and wants to invade the country to steal its vast oil reserves. The idea had been laughed off as absurd by opposition and U.S. officials before Aug. 11, when Trump said that "a military operation, a military option is certainly something we could pursue" as a way of ending Venezuela's crisis.
 

NORTH KOREA LAUNCHES THREE MISSILES INTO SEA, HEIGHTENING TENSIONS

          PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA   -- North Korea launched three missiles into the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan on Saturday morning, reigniting tensions after a month of heated rhetoric between Pyongyang and Washington and dispelling President Trump’s assertion that Kim Jong Un had come to “respect” him. The missiles appeared to be short-range, not the intercontinental ones capable of reaching the mainland United States that North Korea fired last month, and at least one of them quickly failed.

      Still, the latest launches underscore Kim’s continued focus on making strides in his weapons program and his continued defiance of international calls for him to desist. Analysts said the launches appeared to be a response to the ongoing joint exercises between the United States and South Korean militaries, exercises that North Korea always strongly protests because it considers them preparation for an invasion. In this excerpt from a North Korean propaganda video, senior U.S. officials are seen engulfed in flames with President Trump looking over a cemetery with the warning: “The fate of the U.S., with its many crimes, ends here.” U.S. top brass stress diplomacy first, force second, in dealing with North Korea.
 
      Saturday’s salvo was composed of three short-range missiles fired over the course of half an hour from Kittae¬ryong on North Korea’s east coast, according to U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii. The first and third missiles flew 150 miles before falling into the sea, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The second missile appears to have blown up almost immediately. “We are working with our interagency partners on a more detailed assessment and we will provide a public update if warranted,” Cmdr. Dave Benham, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command, said in a statement. The missiles did not pose a threat to the United States, he added.

August 26, 2017

STATEMENT BY THE WHITE HOUSE ON NEW FINANCIAL SANCTIONS ON VENEZUELA

    
WASHINGTON,  --  President Donald J. Trump has signed an Executive Order imposing strong, new financial sanctions on the dictatorship in Venezuela. The Maduro dictatorship continues to deprive the Venezuelan people of food and medicine, imprison the democratically-elected opposition, and violently suppress freedom of speech. The regime’s decision to create an illegitimate Constituent Assembly—and most recently to have that body usurp the powers of the democratically-elected National Assembly—represents a fundamental break in Venezuela’s legitimate constitutional order. In an effort to preserve itself, the Maduro dictatorship rewards and enriches corrupt officials in the government’s security apparatus by burdening future generations of Venezuelans with massively expensive debts.

     Maduro’s economic mismanagement and rampant plundering of his nation’s assets have taken Venezuela ever closer to default. His officials are now resorting to opaque financing schemes and liquidating the country’s assets at fire sale prices. As Vice President Mike Pence has said, in Venezuela, “we’re seeing the tragedy of tyranny play out before our eyes.” No free people has ever chosen to walk the path from prosperity to poverty. No free people has ever chosen to turn what was once, and should still be, one of South America’s richest nations into its poorest and most corrupt. We will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles. The President’s new action prohibits dealings in new debt and equity issued by the government of Venezuela and its state oil company.

     It also prohibits dealings in certain existing bonds owned by the Venezuelan public sector, as well as dividend payments to the government of Venezuela. The United States is not alone in condemning the Maduro regime. Through the Lima Declaration of August 8, our friends and partners in the region refused to recognize the illegitimate Constituent Assembly or the laws it adopts. The new United States financial sanctions support this regional posture of economically isolating the Maduro dictatorship. The United States reiterates our call that Venezuela restore democracy, hold free and fair elections, release all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally, and end the repression of the Venezuelan people. We continue to stand with the people of Venezuela during these trying times.

UNDISCLOSED MEETING OF TOM SHANNON WITH VENEZUELAN OFFICIALS RAISES MORE QUESTIONS AS HARDLINERS SEEK TOUGHER SANCTIONS 


        WASHINGTON, D.C.  -- 
As aides in the White House and Congress were planning tough sanctions against Venezuela, a State Department official met with the South American country’s foreign minister in Washington. Days later, after Venezuela held a controversial vote to strip the democratically elected national assembly of power, State blocked the agreed-upon sanctions package, saying it was too tough. The previously unreported meeting held by State’s undersecretary for political affairs, Tom Shannon, stunned proponents of stronger sanctions with Venezuela, who are now blaming the official for undermining President Donald Trump’s promise of “strong and swift” economic sanctions meant to punish Venezuela.

      Instead, the administration issued softer sanctions that exclusively targeted President Nicolás Maduro, giving the Venezuelan leader an opening to ridicule the president and his administration as weak. The State Department confirmed that the July 23 meeting between Shannon and then-Foreign Minister Samuel Moncada, took place. It’s unclear whether the White House knew of the meeting. The White House did not immediately respond to questions about whether they were aware of the meeting or had any concerns about it. The State Department dismisses reporting of a rift between the department and the White House as untrue. The White House says it is working with the State Department.

     But the meeting with Shannon has raised concerns on Capitol Hill, where some lawmakers and senior aides feel State is undercutting the White House’s efforts to put more pressure on the Venezuelan government. “The dialog is a stall tactic,” said a congressional source who works on Latin America issues and talks regularly with officials at State. “We’ve learned that for three years dealing with Maduro. He (Maduro) uses these dialogs as a stall tactic and he never really means to do anything. So when you legitimize the dialog, you legitimize Maduro, which undermines everything that we’re trying to accomplish with Venezuela.” The last time State Department Undersecretary for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon, Jr., testified on Capitol Hill in Washington was Tuesday, April 5, 2016. Shannon has found himself at the center of a philosophical battle over Venezuela between the White House and State Department.

WASHINGTON POST: DON'T PLAY DOWN A SINISTER ATTACK ON DIPLOMATS IN CUBA

          Washington, d.c.     --PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA’S much-hyped restoration of relations with Cuba was a bet that diplomatic and economic engagement would, over time, accomplish what 50 years of boycott did not: a rebirth of political freedom on the island. So far, the results have been dismal. In the two years since the U.S. Embassy in Havana reopened, repression of Cubans — measured in detentions, beatings and political prisoners — has significantly increased, while the private sector has remained stagnant.

     U.S. exports to Cuba have actually decreased, even as the cash-starved regime of Raúl Castro pockets millions of dollars paid by Americans in visa fees and charges at state-run hotels. Now there’s another sinister cost to tally — the serious injuries inflicted on the U.S. diplomats dispatched to Havana. This month, the State Department announced that two Cuban embassy staff had been expelled from Washington because of “incidents” in Havana that left some American diplomats and staff members with “a variety of physical symptoms.”

     Anonymous sources speaking to various news organizations have since provided shocking details: At least 16 American diplomats and family members received medical treatment resulting from sonic attacks directed at the residences where they were required to live by the Cuban government. A number of Canadian diplomats were also affected. CBS News reported that a doctor who evaluated the American and Canadian victims found conditions including mild traumatic brain injury, “with likely damage to the central nervous system.” According to CNN, two Americans evacuated to the United States were unable to return to Havana, while others cut short their tours of duty.

August 25, 2017

POPE FRANCIS TO VISIT COLOMBIA IN SEPTEMBER

    
THE VATICAN CITY, ROME --  Pope Francis will visit Colombia Sept. 6-10, marking the fifth time that the Argentine-born leader of the Catholic Church will travel to the region. His trip is also seen as a shot in the arm for this Andean nation that’s shaking off its troubled past as it implements a historic peace deal with the hemisphere’s largest guerrilla group. As President Juan Manuel Santos announced the visit Friday, he said Francis had given Colombia’s peace negotiators “courage and motivation” at several points during the difficult, years-long process.

     “He’s a messenger of love and faith,” Santos said of Francis. “He’s the builder of bridges, not of walls.” In April of last year, the Vatican had said Francis would travel to Colombia, but also suggested that he wanted to wait until after the country had formalized its peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas. A definitive deal was reached in November, and the guerrillas began demobilizing in January. The visit will come at a time when many here are still wary of the peace deal and reluctant to accept the half-century-old guerrilla group back into society. Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo said the pope’s timing was fortuitous.

     “I think he’ll be arriving at the best possible moment for Colombia,” he said in a statement. “He’s coming personally to share the message of peace and reconciliation. I think it will be an opportunity for Colombians to reflect on the need to overcome our polarization.” Along with the capital of Bogotá, Francis is scheduled to visit Colombia’s second city, Medellín, the tourism hot spot of Cartagena, and the agricultural town of Villavicenico. This will be the third time a pope has visited Colombia: Pope Paul VI visited in 1968, and Pope John Paul II visited in 1986, according to the presidency. The visit also marks Francis’ fifth trip to the region since becoming pontiff in 2013. He visited Brazil in 2013, Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay in 2015, and Cuba and the United States later that same year. He also visited Cuba and Mexico in 2016.

VENEZUELAN DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO ORDERS A MILITARY EXERCISE AFTER PRESIDENT TRUMP THREAT


        CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- 
Venezuelan DICTATOR Nicolas Maduro on Monday ordered his armed forces to carry out a national exercise next week in response to US President Donald Trump's threat of possible military action. "I have given the order to the armed forces' joint chiefs of staff to start preparations for a national civil-military exercise for the integrated armed defense of the Venezuelan nation," he told thousands of supporters in a Caracas rally. The drill will take place August 26 and 27, he said. Maduro's government has seized on Trump's warning last Friday that he was looking at a range of scenarios against Venezuela, "including a possible military option if necessary."

     Venezuelan Defense Minister General Vladimir Padrino called it "crazy," saying it showed America had "dropped its mask" in terms of wanting to attack his country. The Maduro administration says Trump's words bolster its oft-repeated claim that Washington has designs to grab control of Venezuela's proven oil reserves, the largest in the world. The threat, made in response to Venezuela's deepening economic crisis and Maduro's moves toward what the US labels a "dictatorship," has been rebuffed by all of Latin America -- even countries opposed to Venezuela. The Pentagon said it had received no orders from Trump to ready any sort of military action against Venezuela.

     US Vice President Mike Pence, who is touring allies in Latin America to marshall joint action against Caracas, said Trump's warning stood -- but he hoped a "peaceable solution" would be found. Pence told CNN in an interview that Venezuela risked becoming "a greater problem for narcotics traffic" and "greater migration" -- both of which he said directly threatened the security and economy of the US. On Sunday, Pence stood by Trump's threat of possible military action, saying the US president "says what he means and means what he says." But he expressed hope a "peaceable solution" could be found. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who has led criticism of Maduro, told Pence on arrival "that the possibility of a military intervention shouldn't even be considered."

VENEZUELAN GOVERNMENT TAKES TWO COLOMBIAN NETWORKS OFF CABLE TV

          CARACAS, VENEZUELA    --Venezuela's government said on Thursday it ordered cable television providers to cut the signal of two Colombian networks, and critics called the order a crackdown on free speech by dictator Nicolas Maduro. The country's telecommunications regulator called for RCN and Caracol Television to be taken off the air for broadcasting a message it said incited Maduro's murder, the office of Venezuela's presidency said in a statement. "The measure is within the bounds of the law, given that those stations over several months attacked Venezuela and (its) institutionality and now are openly calling for a magnicide," the statement said, citing Andres Mendez, former head of telecom regulator Conatel.

     The statement said the message in question was a comment by former Mexican President Vicente Fox, who said, "Maduro, resign or you will die." The decision was lambasted by Venezuelan opposition political leaders and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who called it another sign that Venezuela is descending into dictatorship. Caracol, which earlier announced its removal from Venezuelan cable networks, blasted Maduro for engaging in censorship. Maduro often blasts neighboring Colombia for being part of a right-wing conspiracy to bring down socialism in oil-rich Venezuela. He says Venezuela is victim of an "economic war" led by adversaries with the help of Washington.

     Critics say Venezuela's ruling Socialist Party, which this year led a campaign to create an all-powerful legislative superbody, is seeking to limit coverage of rampant inflation, product shortages and a crackdown on opposition politicians. "One more channel off the airwaves! Has that made crime go down? Is inflation any lower? Is there more food? More medicine? Has any problem been solved?" opposition leader Henrique Capriles said on Thursday. Maduro, a 54-year-old former bus driver and foreign minister, alleges he is fighting well-financed coup plotters with links to the United States and hostile foreign media. "It's another demonstration of a regime that doesn't like freedoms, a regime that is restricting the freedoms of citizens," Colombia's Santos told journalists.

August 24, 2017

FORMER VENEZUELAN ATTORNEY GENERAL ACCUSES DICTATOR MADURO AND HIS INNER CIRCLE OF CORRUPTION

    
BRASILIA, BRAZIL --  The legitimate attorney general of Venezuela, Luisa Ortega, who fled after the persecution of the regime of Nicholas Maduro, arrived in Brazil to participate in a summit of corruption prosecutors; there she revealed information about Venezuelan corruption, specifically commenting on Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht‘s corrupting influence in the Andean country, and its relationship with the socialist government.

    At a press conference from Brasilia, Ortega said she has solid and convincing evidence that would implicate the current president of Venezuela. She announced that she will provide evidence to the Mexican government regarding a company that allegedly belongs to Nicolás Maduro, which is involved in corruption tied to the distribution of the Maduro regime’s CLAPS food bags: basic food staples that are distributed to Venezuelans under the auspices of the government. “I have evidence that links Maduro to cases of corruption with Odebrecht” she added.

     She also said that she has authentic copies of documentation that involves Chavistas Diosdado Cabello and Jorge Rodríguez in the Odebrecht saga, noting that: “Diosdado Cabello received USD $100 million through a company that is intimately linked with Odebrecht corruption…it is a Spanish company whose owners are his cousins.” She claims to have documents and written statements “so strong” that they could change the course of what happens in Venezuela. The prosecutor, who recently fled Venezuela by boat and plane, also indicated that the ombudsman appointed by the regime, Tarek William Saab, has six files for corruption related to embezzlement at the state oil company PDVSA. “They may have destroyed the records, but the verified copies are in my possession,” said Ortega Díaz.

COLOMBIAN PROSECUTOR REVEALS THAT LUISA ORTEGA HAS EVIDENCE ON THE ODEBRECHT CASE IN VENEZUELA


        BOGOTA, COLOMBIA  -- 
Colombian Attorney General Fernando Carrillo said today that former President Luisa Ortega has documents to uncover the bribery scandal of Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht in Venezuela. "She has the evidence, documents and invoices of the fundamental elements to uncover corruption related to Odebrecht in Venezuela," the head of the Public Ministry told reporters. According to the prosecutor, if these facts of corruption come to the public light serves all of Latin America and the entire Venezuelan people. "The dictators fall when corruption becomes evident," he added.

   He recalled how the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet "collapsed when his bank accounts were discovered in Washington" or how former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori "fell when videos of his adviser Vladimiro Montesinos were discovered.” "The people feel international corruption and then the withdrawal of popular support occurs when it becomes evident," added Carrillo. The prosecutor recalled that Ortega, who arrived in Colombia on Friday with his husband, Chavez deputy Germán Ferrer, said in a message to prosecutors gathered last week in Mexico that she has evidence to prove alleged ties of Venezuelan politicians with Odebrecht.

    Colombian Migration Office reported in a statement that Ortega left Bogota yesterday for Brazil, although she did not say whether she traveled with her husband and two of her advisers. Ortega arrived at El Dorado airport from Aruba on Friday after a cruise, which, according to press reports, began in Caracas, continued on the coast of the Peninsula of Paraguaná, in the northwest of his country, from where she traveled by boat to the Caribbean island. According to local media, the ex-director of the office of ex-prosecutor Gioconda González and the anti-corruption prosecutor Arturo Vilar Esteves were also traveling on the plane. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Monday through Twitter that Ortega "is under the protection of the Colombian Government" and indicated that "I fshe asks for asylum we will grant it", which was harshly criticized by dictator Maduro.

CUBA ACOUSTIC ATTACK AGAINST THE US EMBASSY GAVE DIPLOMATS BRAIN INJURIES, MEDICAL RECORDS SHOW

          Washington, d.c.     --U.S. diplomats were diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injuries and possible damage to the central nervous system from exposure to an “acoustic attack” in Cuba last year, CBS News reported Wednesday, citing obtained medical records. The records suggest that the apparent attack caused more extensive damage than previously reported. The diplomats stationed in Havana reported symptoms that resembled concussion and hearing loss.

    Following months of investigation, U.S. officials concluded that the diplomats had been exposed to an advanced device that operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed as sonar attacks either inside or outside their residences, Fox News previously reported. It was not immediately clear if the device was a weapon used in a deliberate attack, or had some other purpose. Some of the diplomats’ symptoms were so severe they were forced to cancel their tours early and return to the United States, officials said.

    “We hold the Cuban authorities responsible for finding out who is carrying out these health attacks,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said earlier this month. Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement August 9 denying allegations. “Moreover, it reiterates its willingness to cooperate in the clarification of this situation. Diplomats also reported to CBS News other forms of harassment including vehicle vandalization, constant surveillance, and home break-ins.

August 23, 2017

VENEZUELA'S FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL LUISA ORTEGA SAYS NICOLAS MADURO INVOLVED IN ODEBRECHT SCANDAL

    
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA --  Venezuela's sacked attorney general Luisa Ortega said Friday she had evidence that DICTATOR Nicolas Maduro and his inner circle were implicated in the massive corruption scandal around Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht. Odebrecht has admitted to paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to win juicy contracts in 12 countries, including Venezuela -- a massive scandal that has rocked Latin American politics. But no names had yet surfaced in Venezuela. Ortega, who was fired after emerging as a top critic of Maduro, said the bribe-taking there went all the way to the top.

     "They are very worried and anxious, because they know we have details on all the cooperation, amounts and people who got rich, and that investigation involves Mr Nicolas Maduro and his inner circle," she told a meeting of Latin American prosecutors in Mexico by conference call. She has faced growing harassment in Venezuela, where security forces recently raided her home and the authorities have issued an arrest warrant for her husband, a lawmaker who also broke with Maduro. She had blistering condemnation for Maduro's government, which has installed an all-powerful Constituent Assembly that on Friday seized the powers of the opposition-majority legislature.

    "We have seen how all Venezuela's institutions have degenerated, how they have abandoned the rule of law, been turned into the promoters of a totalitarian government," she said. "We're living through a difficult situation in Venezuela... persecuted and dominated with the weapons of hunger and sickness. It's a struggle to find food and medicine in our country. The government is trying to rule the people through poverty." She urged her colleagues from around the region not to share information on ongoing investigations with her successor, Maduro ally Tarek William Saab, saying anything they sent to Venezuela would be "used for the opposite of its intended purpose." She also condemned the government's treatment of her, her family and her friends. "I am being systematically persecuted," she said

DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL ARREST WARRANT AGAINST FORMER PROSECUTOR LUISA ORTEGA


        Caracas, Venezuela  -- 
Nicolás Maduro, dictator of Venezuela, announced the request for a red Interpol code against former prosecutor Luisa Ortega and her husband. Venezuela will ask Interpol for an arrest warrant against former Attorney General Luisa Ortega, who fled the country denouncing a government persecution, President Nicolás Maduro announced Tuesday. Before Interpol a red code for these people involved in serious crimes, "said Maduro in a press conference, also referring to the deputy Germán Ferrer, husband of the former official dismissed by the Constituent Assembly.

    Ortega traveled to Brazil from Colombia Tuesday, where she had arrived last Friday with her husband, the migration office in Bogotá reported. "You are joining the Colombian oligarchy and the the Brazilian coup-makers. Tell me who you're with and I'll tell you who you are," he added. Since his expulsion from the Public Prosecutor's Office last August 5, Diaz insists that his dismissal has to do with her investigation into the well-known Odebrecht case in Venezuela and says she has evidence that the bribe scandal that spreads throughout the region splashes dictator Nicolas Maduro and his close circle.

    The former prosecutor left Bogotá a day after Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos offered her asylum. Migration Colombia did not confirm immediately if she left in the company of Ferrer. Ortega, who fled Venezuela despite a ban imposed by the highest court, broke with Maduro late last March after denouncing a rupture of constitutional order. Her husband faces a search warrant for allegedly leading a network that extorted corrupt oil businessmen accused by the Office of the Prosecutor. The Venezuelan leader denounced that Ortega "was working for some time with the United States to harm" the country. "The United States succeeded in blackmailing former congressman Germán Ferrer, blackmailing him because the Americans discover that he has opened personal bank accounts all over the world," Maduro said

VATICAN, RUSSIA AGREE VISA-FREE DIPLOMATIC TRAVEL, INDICATES THE NEED FOR DIALOGUE IN VENEZUELA

          MOSCOW, RUSSIA    --  Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov for talks on Tuesday, during which they discussed issues of international concern and agreed to visa-free diplomatic travel. Cardinal Parolin said he recognized the difference in approach between Russia and the Holy See on these issues. But he said the two share a “strong concern for the situation of Christians in several countries of the Middle East and the African continent”.

     “The Holy See nourishes constant concern that religious liberty be preserved in all States and in all political situations,” Cardinal Parolin said. Responding to a question about the situation in Venezuela, Cardinal Parolin said he believes Russia can help to overcome this very difficult moment.” He said Russia can promote the Vatican’s efforts to create dialogue between Venezuela’s government and the opposition. “This is the only solution the Holy See sees for an exit to this situation.” Cardinal Secretary of State Parolin meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Wednesday.

     At a press conference, Cardinal Parolin said he raised questions regarding the Catholic Church’s life and activity in Russia with his counterpart. He said difficulties remaining between the Vatican and Russia include “working residency permits for non-Russian personnel and the restitution of several churches necessary for the pastoral care of Catholics in the country.” Lavrov evoked the need for solutions for Christians living in the Middle East. “We need to find similar solutions that would provide proper balance between different ethnic and religious groups in Yemen, Libya, and Iraq, where state building processes are underway.”

August 22, 2017

VENEZUELAN 'CONGRESS IN RESISTANCE' REJECTS NEW SUPER ASSEMBLY

    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA --  Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress on Saturday rejected the self-proclaimed lawmaking authority of a new legislative body elected last month at the behest of President Nicolas Maduro, widening the political divide in the crisis-hit country. Congress's declaration of resistance followed statements from a group of 12 regional nations plus the United States on Friday, saying they would continue to regard congress, not the new constituent assembly, as the Venezuela's only legitimate lawmaking body. "This is a congress in resistance of an armed military dictatorship that took over its authority and gained militarily what it could not gain at the ballot box," congress Vice President Freddy Guevara said in a special session.

     The opposition won control of congress in 2015. But Maduro's loyalist Supreme Court has tossed out every law it has passed as the oil-rich country slips deeper into a recession exacerbated by triple-digit inflation and acute shortages of food and medicines. The constituent assembly was elected in late July to re-write the constitution, which the unpopular Maduro billed as the only solution to bring about peace after more than four months of deadly opposition protests. The opposition boycotted the election, calling it an affront to democracy. Maduro critics have called for an early presidential election, which they are sure he would lose as his popularity shrinks along with the economy. On Friday the 545-member assembly granted itself authority to pass laws on its own.

      A bloc of countries calling itself the Lima Group, including Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia and seven other nations in the hemisphere late on Friday joined the United States in criticizing the assembly for "usurping" the powers of congress. Maduro's government issued a statement rejecting Washington's "meddling" in its affairs. Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told reporters he "regretted" that "some countries have expressed automatic solidarity" with congress rather than the assembly. The new legislative body has blamed the opposition for unrest that has killed more than 125 people since April as security forces met rock-throwing protesters with rubber bullets and water cannon. The United Nations said government troops used excessive force in many cases.

VENEZUELA'S FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL LUISA ORTEGA UNDER OFFICIAL PROTECTION OF COLOMBIA GOVERNMENT


        BOGOTA, COLOMBIA  -- 
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Monday that his government has extended protection to Venezuela's ousted attorney general and the three other people who accompanied her to Colombia. "Attorney General Luisa Ortega is under the protection of the Colombian government. If she requests asylum, we will grant it," the president wrote on Twitter. Ortega Diaz, husband German Ferrer, and two other people arrived in Bogota late last Friday aboard a private plane that took off from Aruba.

     The president's tweets represent Colombia's first official comment on the situation of Ortega Diaz, who was fired Aug. 5 by Venezuela's National Constituent Assembly (ANC), a body with sweeping powers. Opposition parties boycotted the July election for delegates to the ANC, which is made up exclusively of allies of leftist President Nicolas Maduro. Ortega Diaz and her lawmaker husband are from Maduro's PSUV party, but broke from the president a few months ago amid institutional conflict between the opposition-controlled congress and a Supreme Court aligned with the government. Protests and political violence have left more than 100 people dead in Venezuela since April 1, including partisans of all stripes, police and bystanders.

     As attorney general, Ortega Diaz publicly criticized the security forces for their handling of the demonstrations, while Maduro's administration accused the nation's top prosecutor of failing to crack down hard enough on violent opponents of the government. Last week, the ANC ordered a search of Ortega Diaz's home and lifted the parliamentary immunity of Ferrer, a first step toward indicting him on corruption charges he says are fabricated. The couple left Caracas and traveled over land to the Caribbean coast, where they boarded a boat for Aruba. Colombian media identified the two people who accompanied Ortega Diaz and Ferrer as the former attorney general's chief of staff, Gioconda Gonzalez, and anti-corruption prosecutor Arturo Vilar Esteves.

US EMBASSY EMPLOYEES IN CUBA WERE SUBJECTED TO "ACOUSTIC ATTACKS"

          WASHINGTON, D.C.    --  The US believes several State Department employees at the US embassy in Havana were subjected to an "acoustic attackS" using sonic devices that left at least two with such serious health problems they needed to be brought back to the US for treatment, several senior State Department officials told CNN. A US government official told CNN that the who, where and when point to "an attack" -- the US is investigating whether a third country was involved as "payback" for actions the US has taken elsewhere and to "drive a wedge between the US and Cuba." The sophisticated device that operated outside the range of audible sound was deployed either inside or outside the residences of US diplomats living in Havana, according to three US officials.

     One official said the employees could have suffered permanent hearing loss as a result. The employees affected were not at the same place at the same time, but suffered a variety of physical symptoms since late 2016 which resembled concussions. The State Department raised the incidents with the Cuban government over the course of several months and sent medical personnel to Havana, but have not been able to determine exactly what happened. "It can be quite serious," one official told CNN. "We have worked with the Cubans to try and find out what is going on. They insist they don't know, but it has been very worrying and troublesome." "It's very strange," one official said.

     The FBI is now investigating with Cuba's cooperation and they will allow FBI agents onto the island according to a US government official. It is not known to what degree Cuba was involved in the attack. A US official said elements within the Cuba government must have "facilitated" the attack on some level because Cuba's security services exercise such a tight grip over the country. The source also said it is possible that the people behind the attack did not realize the extent of the damage they caused. One US diplomat now will need to use a hearing aid as a result of the injuries they suffered, according to the source. The attacks have stopped "at least for now," according to the same source.

August 21, 2017

NORTH KOREA THREATENS TO UNLEASH 'MERCILESS STRIKE' ON US

    
PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA --  North Korea on Sunday threatened to unleash a missile attack on the United States, warning that its rockets could strike the mainland anytime and there’s no way to “dodge the merciless strike,” according to a report. President Kim Jong Un’s regime made the blustery threat as the US and South Korea prepared for a joint military exercise on Monday, CNN reported. “The Trump group’s declaration of the reckless nuclear war exercises against the DPRK … is a reckless behavior driving the situation into the uncontrollable phase of a nuclear war,” an editorial in the government newspaper Rodong Sinmun said, using the initials for the country’s formal name Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

     Pyongyang said the Hermit Kingdon’s military could target the US mainland, Hawaii or Guam anytime and Washington wouldn’t be able to “dodge the merciless strike.” “The US should pay heed to the statement of the DPRK government that we would not rule out the use of any final means,” another article in the North Korean media said. North Korea sees the 10-day joint military operation, which Washington described as “defensive in nature,” as practice for an invasion. “The Korean People’s Army is keeping a high alert, fully ready to contain the enemies. It will take resolute steps the moment even a slight sign of the preventive war is spotted,” the article in Rodong Sinmun said.

    K im’s regime last week said it had finalized plans to fire four missiles at Guam, a US territory in the Pacific that is home to thousands of American troops. The military said Kim is studying the plans. President Trump has pledged to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea is it continues to test missiles and threaten the US with nuclear weapons. He also said the US is “locked and loaded” is North Korea continues to “act unwisely.” Kim’s military last month successfully test-fired two intercontinental ballistic missiles that experts say had the capability of striking Alaska and the US mainland. The United Nations Security Council imposed strict economic sanctions on North Korea over its weapons program.

VENEZUELA'S FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL SAYS MADURO IS INVOLVED IN ODEBRECHT CORRUPTION SCANDAL


        PUEBLA, MEXICO  -- 
Venezuela's sacked attorney general Luisa Ortega said Friday she had evidence that President Nicolas Maduro and his inner circle were implicated in the massive corruption scandal around Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht. Odebrecht has admitted to paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to win juicy contracts in 12 countries, including Venezuela -- a massive scandal that has rocked Latin American politics. But no names had yet surfaced in Venezuela. Ortega, who was fired after emerging as a top critic of Maduro, said the bribe-taking there went all the way to the top.

     "They are very worried and anxious, because they know we have details on all the cooperation, amounts and people who got rich, and that investigation involves Mr Nicolas Maduro and his inner circle," she told a meeting of Latin American prosecutors in Mexico by conference call. Ortega did not say where she was calling from. She has faced growing harassment in Venezuela, where security forces recently raided her home and the authorities have issued an arrest warrant for her husband, a lawmaker who also broke with Maduro. She had blistering condemnation for Maduro's government, which has installed an all-powerful Constituent Assembly that on Friday seized the powers of the opposition-majority legislature.

     "We have seen how all Venezuela's institutions have degenerated, how they have abandoned the rule of law, been turned into the promoters of a totalitarian government," she said. "We're living through a difficult situation in Venezuela... persecuted and dominated with the weapons of hunger and sickness. It's a struggle to find food and medicine in our country. The government is trying to rule the people through poverty." She urged her colleagues from around the region not to share information on ongoing investigations with her successor, Maduro ally Tarek William Saab, saying anything they sent to Venezuela would be "used for the opposite of its intended purpose." She also condemned the government's treatment of her, her family and her friends. "I am being systematically persecuted," she said.

DICTATOR MADURO:  I NEVER HAD THE SUPPORT OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL AGAINST CORRUPTION

          CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --    This Sunday Nicolás Maduro assured in the program "José Vicente Hoy" that in his life with President Hugo Chavez he learned to listen to his environment and took advantage to throw more ground on the management of the attorney general Luisa Ortega Díaz. "In my four years in office I never had the support of the Attorney General to fight against corruption. The corrupts paid her to leave the country. Now I see that she protected a network of corruption. There is much to do yet.

     I hope the Constituent National Assembly will provide me special support in this struggle and we must continue to insist on building a society of honest men and women. It is a great battle that will take time but I am committed to the fight against corruption and corruption, "he said during the taped interview from the Simón Bolívar Room in the Miraflores Palace. He said "I never thought about getting here. My dreams are not individual but thinking of a shared collective, " and stressed that "July 30 shows that we must persevere on loyalty to the people and love of the values of our country. The strength of love and loyalty can be everything ".

     He said that "the worst policy of the opposition is to underestimate me and we must go to a permanent dialogue to solve the problems of the country. Let them continue to believe that I am Maburro. " "I have had to live the time of the difficulties, among them, the fall in the prices of oil production. We have had to pay more than 65 billion dollars on time and here has not lacked medicines, food to the Venezuelans. Venezuela will recover and overcome this difficult economic situation, "he said. He said he is facing "the battle" of speculation.” He acknowledged that his great defeat wason the 6 of December of 2015, when the opposition obtained the curules in the National Assembly. "That was my first electoral defeat and I recognized it immediately.

August 20, 2017

VENEZUELAN CONGRESS 'IN RESISTANCE' REJECTS NEW SUPER-ASSEMBLY

    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress on Saturday rejected the self-proclaimed lawmaking authority of a new legislative body elected last month at the behest of DICTATOR Nicolas Maduro, widening the political divide in the crisis-hit country. Congress's declaration of resistance followed statements from a group of 12 regional nations plus the United States on Friday, saying they would continue to regard congress, not the new constituent assembly, as the Venezuela's only legitimate lawmaking body.

    "This is a congress in resistance of an armed military dictatorship that took over its authority and gained militarily what it could not gain at the ballot box," congress Vice President Freddy Guevara said in a special session. The opposition won control of congress in 2015. But Maduro's loyalist Supreme Court has tossed out every law it has passed as the oil-rich country slips deeper into a recession exacerbated by triple-digit inflation and acute shortages of food and medicines.

    The constituent assembly was elected in late July to re-write the constitution, which the unpopular Maduro billed as the only solution to bring about peace after more than four months of deadly opposition protests. The opposition boycotted the election, calling it an affront to democracy. Maduro critics have called for an early presidential election, which they are sure he would lose as his popularity shrinks along with the economy. On Friday the 545-member assembly granted itself authority to pass laws on its own. A bloc of countries calling itself the Lima Group, including Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia and seven other nations in the hemisphere late on Friday joined by the United States.


 

August 19, 2017

PRO-GOVERNMENT ASSEMBLY IN VENEZUELA TAKES NATIONAL ASSEMBLY'S POWERS

    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --  Venezuela's pro-government constitutional assembly took over the powers of the opposition-led congress Friday, dramatically escalating a standoff between President Nicolas Maduro and his political foes. The move triggered further international condemnation from the dozens of countries that have already criticized the creation of the all-powerful assembly as an undemocratic power grab by Maduro. Assembly delegates approved a decree giving them the authority to pass legislation to guarantee the peace, sovereignty and economic well-being of Venezuelans in the face of what they consider relentless machinations and sabotage by Maduro's opponents.

     While the decree does not explicitly dissolve congress or impede lawmakers from meeting, it virtually nullifies the already-enfeebled powers of the body. "We will teach them a historic lesson," constitutional assembly President Delcy Rodriguez said as delegates broke into loud applause while voting unanimously for the measure. Government opponents have warned that the assembly would move to squash dissent following an election for its members last month that was boycotted by the opposition and criticized by many foreign governments. In recent days Venezuelans have watched as a steady parade of top officials, including Maduro, kneeled before the assembly charged with rewriting the 1999 constitution and recognized it as the country's supreme authority.

    Three congressional leaders of congress were summoned to do the same Friday. But in a public letter, all 109 opposition lawmakers refused to subordinate themselves to a body they consider illegitimate and a betrayal of the 14 million voters who took part in 2015 parliamentary elections that gave Maduro's critics their first toehold on power in almost two decades of socialist rule. "One day when we are free in the future, we will remember proudly the battles today that unite us and will be the foundation for the democracy we will build together," the politicians, led by congressional President Julio Borges, said in the letter.

JULIO BORGES: CONSTITUTIONAL DECREE ADVANCES NICOLAS MADURO PLAN TO MAKE VENEZUELA A SECOND CUBA 


        CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- 
The Venezuelan National Assembly president, Julio Borges, said that the regime of Nicolas Maduro gave a new step on Friday in his efforts to establish a dictatorship in the country and turn Venezuela into a new Cuba. The leader added that the opposition parties will continue in their struggle despite the fact that the Constituent Assembly decided to usurp the legislative powers of the National Assembly and urged the international community to increase the pressure on the Caracas regime.

     "The Constituent Assembly, which is fraudulent, does not want to realize that more than 50 countries in the world have said they do not recognize their actions, because it is doing what the whole world warned is to install a dictatorship in Venezuela," said Borges in a Telephone interview with the New Herald. "Today, what they do is to take a step forward by emptying all the powers of the Constitution into the Venezuelan parliament, and take them de facto," he insisted. With the decree issued Friday, the regime continues with "its plan, which is nothing other than to implant a second Cuba in Venezuela," he said.

     That is why it is so important that Latin America and the United States are clear about what it could mean for peace and security in the hemisphere to have a second Cuba in the region, this time with the largest oil reserves in the West. "It is very important to understand the danger that this is for the region," he emphasized. "The international community must continue to press democratically so that we can make possible that the Venezuelan people have free elections so that Venezuelans can decide by themselves their future. In Venezuela, the government has been closing down and destroying the ability of Venezuelans to choose" , He said.

VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION UNITED FOR REGIONAL ELECTIONS

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA    -- The Venezuelan opposition, gathered under the MUD coalition, announced Thursday its decision to remain united for the regional elections by fielding single candidates, although they will run under their respective parties' banners and not under that of the coalition because they fear that it could be banned. "The entity decided to register its candidates on this occasion only via the tickets of the political parties in the alliance that have been validated by the National Election Council (CNE)," said lawmaker Henry Ramos Allup at a press conference at which he read the MUD communique.

    He said that the decision was taken because "the regime was preparing a new and monumental trap ... in these elections arranging ... the fraudulent banning of the MUD ticket in ... the country's states just a few days before the elections." In addition, he emphasized that because the coalition will compete in the elections with single candidates it will need "to hold primary elections" in several states, including Nueva Esparta, Anzoategui and Vargas. On Aug. 7, the CNE announced the list of political parties that will be allowed to register for the regional elections, including five organizations within the MUD alliance, adding that it will not permit the opposition coalition to run in seven of the country's 23 states.

     After that, the opposition officially decided upon several candidacies in those elections. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has touted the fact that the opposition would participate in the elections after it criticized the CNE for perpetrating a fraud in the July 30 election of the National Constituent Assembly members, tasked with rewriting the country's constitution, although the Chavista government has lambasted MUD for registering several different candidates in several states.

August 18, 2017

US VICE PRESIDENT ARRIVES IN PANAMA

    
PANAMA CITY, PANAMA   --  Vice President of the United States Michael Pence arrived in Panama today for a short visit that ends the tour he began last Sunday in Colombia across Latin America. Pence said after his arrival in Panama that "Venezuela will be free once again", reiterating that it is led to "dictatorship" by the government of President Nicolas Maduro. Pence also said that the government of Donald Trump explores "all the economic and diplomatic options, but we remain calm" facing the Venezuelan situation. "Working together with all the nations of Latin America we will find a peaceful solution (...) we do this because the people of Venezuela deserve it. The failed states have no borders "and bring" more drug trafficking, more illegal immigration, "Pence said in a speech during his tour of the Panama Canal.

     Pence is meeting with Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela before returning to Washington early Friday morning. Pence had originally planned to stay in the Central American country Thursday night but will cut his trip short so he can attend a weekend meeting on South Asia at Camp David. Pence has spent much of his visit working to assure Latin American allies that the United States remains invested in the region despite President Donald Trump's "America first" rhetoric. He has also urged leaders in the region to intensify pressure on the Venezuelan government, which many fear is on the curse of dictatorship and civil war. That mission was complicated by Trump's surprise suggestion right before Pence left that a "military option" might be on the table for Venezuela. Leaders across the region made clear to Pence that they strongly rejected the suggestion.

     "Chile will do its utmost to support Venezuela to find a peaceful way out," Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said Wednesday. "But Chile will not support military interventions, nor coup d'état." In Panama, a major financial center, Pence and Varela are expected to discuss commercial and security ties with the country, including a new trade agreement. Other topics that could come up include drug trafficking, illegal migration and money laundering. Pence's discussions with Varela will focus on U.S.-Panamanian cooperation to strengthen security, along with opportunities for new trade and investment, according to the Panama Foreign Ministry.

VENEZUELAN ATTORNEY GENERAL CALLS FOR HOUSE ARREST FOR HUSBAND OF PREDECESSOR


        CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- 
Venezuela’s new attorney general, Tarek William Saab, called on Wednesday for house arrest for lawmaker German Ferrer, the husband of former AG Luis Ortega, just minutes after a group of constitutional assembly delegates demanded the cancellation of his parliamentary immunity and his arrest. “Since the crime was flagrant, this citizen should be deprived of his freedom, placed under house arrest,” Saab told reporters, adding that he had already requested of Supreme Court chief Maikel Moreno the drafting of an arrest warrant for Ferrer “while the process to remove his parliamentary immunity begins.”

     A few minutes earlier, Diosdado Cabello, a powerful member of the National Constituent Assembly, had requested Ferrer’s arrest for allegedly heading an extortion network that operated within the Public Ministry while Ortega was attorney general. Saab said that he will request that the constitutional assembly begin the process of removing Ferrer’s parliamentary immunity, along with starting to arrest prosecutors at the Public Ministry “who were part of that dirty operation that shamed the Venezuelan nation.” The new AG, who was appointed by the constitutional assembly, displayed several documents allegedly verifying that Ferrer opened several accounts at banks in The Bahamas, adding that the “extortion network” that operated from the Public Ministry has accounts totaling more than $6 million.

     He also said that he will “immediately” request the arrest of prosecutors Pedro Lupera – for “dishonoring” the Public Ministry – and Luis Sanchez. At the same time, Saab denounced Luisa Ortega Díaz, the attorney general dismissed by the ANC as "the intellectual author of the wounded and those who died since 1 Of April "in the framework of the protests. Saab said that every time Ortega Diaz gave a statement, the demonstrations increased. He also informed that in the next few days a report will be presented which will expose the impunity of several cases that the prosecutor removed and added that during the almost 10 years he spent as head of the Public Prosecutor's Office he had an "aberrated performance" maintaining a "War of impunity" in the country.

SPANISH OFFICIALS CONFIRM 13 DEAD, MORE THAN 50 INJURED AFTER ATTACKER DRIVES VAN INTO BARCELONA CROWD

           MADRID, SPAIN    -- A white van mounted a sidewalk and struck several people in Barcelona’s Las Ramblas district, police said Thursday. A van plowed into crowds of pedestrians in Barcelona’s historic Las Ramblas district on Thursday, leaving bloodied people lying on the sidewalk and sending others fleeing in what police were treating as a terrorist attack. At least 13 people were killed and 50 injured, the regional interior minister, Joaquim Forn, said on Twitter. Forn expressed “my most categorical condemnation of the terrorist attack in Barcelona.”

     There were conflicting accounts of how many assailants were involved in the attack. Police said one suspect had been apprehended. But local media, including El Pais newspaper and the state broadcaster RTVE, reported a second suspect could still be at large. “We have arrested one man and are treating him as a terrorist,” Catalan police said on Twitter. The attack occurred on Las Ramblas, a street popular with tourists and lined with shops and stalls running through the center of Barcelona. It has a wide pedestrian path running down its center, with cars traveling on both sides.

     Police cordoned off the area and ordered nearby Metro and train stations to close. Armed officers could be seen searching side streets and evacuating shops and restaurants. Video shared on social media showed at least five people lying on a tree-lined sidewalk as police and passersby tried to help them. Sirens blared and screaming could be heard. A man identified only as Paul told RTVE that he was headed to work when he heard gunfire and saw people running. He ducked into a nearby store, where two tourists had already taken shelter. "They are crying, and they are in a lot of panic," he said, as shots resounded in the background. Supporters of Islamic State celebrated the attack on social media.

August 17, 2017

US VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE ARRIVES IN CHILE

    
SANTIAGO, CHILE   --  United States Vice President Mike Pence arrived in Chile Wednesday as part of his weeklong trip to Latin America that has included stops in Colombia and Argentina. During a meeting with Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, Pence called on Chile to “break all diplomatic and commercial ties” to North Korea. He’s making the same ask of Peru, Mexico and Brazil. North Korea has no diplomatic offices or banking institution in Chile, but the two countries do have a trade relationship.

     Pence said, “We are beginning to see progress” when it comes to North Korea, but says that “much more” must still be done. The Trump administration has been trying to pressure Pyongyang to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile program. Mr. Pence headed from the airport to La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, where the two exchanged greetings before private meetings. They will also be delivering a joint statement and having lunch together. But he isn’t expected to take questions from reporters after meeting with Bachelet.

     Pence spokesman Jarrod Agen tells reporters traveling with Pence that the leaders had never intended to take questions, at the Chileans’ request. That means Pence won’t face more questions about President Donald Trump’s response to violence between white supremacists and counter-demonstrators last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. On Tuesday, Trump blamed “both sides” for the violence. The VP is scheduled to meet with U.S. embassy staff and their families before delivering remarks at a dinner on advancing prosperity and economic growth in the hemisphere. He’ll head to Panama on Thursday.

DIOSDADO CABELLO LINKS DISSIDENT EX-PROSECUTOR TO EXTORTION


        CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- 
     Venezuelan authorities said Wednesday they would seek the arrest of ousted chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega’s husband for allegedly running a $6 million extortion ring with corrupt prosecutors under her supervision. Tarek William Saab, who replaced Ortega after she was removed by the pro-government constitutional assembly, said the criminal ring squeezed a range of defendants as well as businessmen in the nation’s oil industry to protect them from prosecution.

     He held up bank records that he said were evidence that Ortega’s husband, formerly pro-government lawmaker German Ferrer, opened a $1 million account in the Bahamas last year with a prosecutor in charge of the nation’s biggest corruption case. “What we’re exposing today is the tip of the iceberg of a cartel,” said Saab, adding that Ortega, while not herself formally accused, surely knew of the crimes taking place. “This institution was converted into an authentic center of blackmail.” Saab’s call for Ferrer’s arrest came minutes after socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello appeared at his office to denounce the alleged ring, leading many to conclude the accusation is an attempt to silence Ortega.

     A longtime government loyalist, Ortega broke with President Nicolas Maduro in April and has led opposition to his plans to rewrite the constitution, accusing the embattled socialist of betraying the legacy of the late Hugo Chavez and being immersed in corruption. Also being sought for arrest is the prosecutor in charge of investigating top officials for taking some $100 million in bribes that Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht has admitted to paying in exchange for contracts in Venezuela. Before being removed, Ortega had sought charges against the wife and mother-in-law of Maduro’s former transport minister, Haiman El Troudi, who has denied any wrongdoing.

IT IS TIME TO IMPOSE SANCTIONS ON DICTATOR MADURO'S OIL INDUSTRY

           washington, d.c.     -- Economic sanctions on Venezuela would have a very persuading effect, as the country's oil-dependent economy is already affected from the impact of low oil prices and production. "There have been US sanctions on Venezuela but they were just targeted at certain individuals with asset freezes and stopping them for vacationing at Disney World, rather than imposing sanctions on oil exports which would be much more explosive." It seems that sanctioning the oil industry could hasten the end of Maduro's regime.

     The decline in PDVSA production has affected sales to customers in key markets. Petróleos de Venezuela and the companies in which it participated sent 638,325 barrels of crude per day to the United States, an increase of 30% compared to June, according to data from Thomson Reuters commercial flows published by the agency on its website . Although the volume of crude sent to the United States in July was higher than the previous month, the amount represents 22% less than that it sent in July 2016.  

     Last month, the main destination of Venezuelan oil in the United States was Valero Energy refinery, followed by Citgo Petroleum, Pdvsa refining unit in that country. Another major buyer of Venezuelan crude in the United States, Phillips 66 refiner, did not receive supplies from PDVSA in July, according to the data. Nosedive. Pdvsa production has fallen this year to its lowest level in 27 years due to lack of investment and delays in payments to oil services firms, which affects exports to key market customers, including the US. Figures that the government has sent to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries reveal that since 2015, the state's pumping has fallen by more than 500,000 barrels per day. So far this year, production dropped 153,000 barrels per day (6.7%) from 2.27 million barrels a day to 2.11 million barrels a day.

August 16, 2017

US VICEPRESIDENT MIKE PENCE SAYS IN BUENOS AIRES THAT VENEZUELA THREATENS HEMISPHERE'S SECURITY, PROSPERITY

    
CARTAGENA COLOMBIA  --  US Vice President Mike Pence said on Monday in Cartagena, Colombia, that Venezuela is a failed state that threatens the security and prosperity of the entire hemisphere. “A failed state in Venezuela threatens the security and prosperity of our entire hemisphere and the people of the United States,” Pence told reporters after meeting with a number of Venezuelans who had left their country to escape the ongoing crisis and migrated to Colombia. In that sense, he repeated US President Donald Trump’s words that “the United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles” and slides into dictatorship.

   Pence mentioned the Constituent Assembly, as well as the “poverty” that country is suffering, while noting that “more than 130 brave Venezuelans have already died in the desperate fight for democracy.” For the vice president, the situation in Venezuela “will drive more illegal migration, compromising our borders, damaging our economies.” “President Trump is absolutely determined to marshal all of the support of nations across this region to see democracy restored in Venezuela,” Pence said.

     Finally, he said the United States has a long history of generosity toward refugees, and expressed US willingness to help a Colombia faced with a flood of Venezuelan migrants in order to avoid economic hardships and a tense political situation. According to Migracion Colombia, some 50,000 people a day cross from Venezuela into Colombia looking to buy basic products that can’t be found back home. In addition, between 300,000 and 350,000 Venezuelans have come to Colombia “determined to stay.”

IN ARGENTINA, VP PENCE SAYS US WON'T STAND BY AS VENEZUELA 'CRUMBLES'


        BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA  -- 
Seeking to highlight the growing plight in Venezuela, Vice President Mike Pence on Monday met with people who've fled the country to neighboring Colombia. Pence visited the Calvary Chapel in Cartagena, where met with faith leaders and Venezuelan families before planning to depart to Buenos Aires, Argentina. His wife, Karen Pence, helped to lead a prayer circle, where she prayed for "comfort to the Venezuelan refugees." The vice president and his wife also spent time speaking with the migrants, listening to their emotional stories. Reporters were not able to hear their conversations, but watched the vice president comfort several women, including at least one who was seen wiping away tears.

      He said he heard "heartbreaking" stories of their struggle for food. "President Trump's made it very clear we will not stand by while Venezuela collapses into dictatorship," Pence said, arguing that "a failed state in Venezuela threatens the security and prosperity of our entire hemispheres and the people of the United States. Pence is trying to rally the region against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's attempts to consolidate power. Pence on Sunday denounced Maduro's tactics and said the U.S. will not stand by as Venezuela "crumbles."

     Venezuelan officials have been firing back in a series of statements, with Information Minister Ernest Villegas denouncing U.S. meddling in Venezuela's affairs as hypocritical on Twitter Monday. "The US and its satellite in Bogota are trying to give classes in democracy to Venezuela while it provides cover for neo-Nazis in its own territory," Villegas wrote, linking to photos of the recent deadly march in Charlottesville, Virginia involving far-right groups. Asked whether the U.S. would commit additional financial aid for those migrating from Venezuela, Pence said only that the U.S. "has a long and storied history of generosity with regard to refugees populations and it's happening here in Colombia."

U.S.  CONFIDENT OF 'PEACEABLE' VENEZUELAN SOLUTION: VP PENCE

           BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA     -- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said in Buenos Aires on Tuesday he was confident about reaching a "peaceable" solution for Venezuela through economic and diplomatic pressure on the country's DICTATOR, Nicolas Maduro. Speaking at a joint news conference with Argentina's center-right President Mauricio Macri, Pence said they had agreed in closed-door talks on the need to keep up pressure on Maduro for elections and the release of political prisoners.

     As in Colombia, his first stopover on a Latin American tour, Pence struck a more conciliatory tone than U.S. President Donald Trump, who threatened military intervention in Venezuela last week to resolve the political crisis in the OPEC member. Still, Pence reiterated that Venezuela was "sliding into dictatorship and the United States would not stand by" while that happened. "The U.S. has many options and reserves those options in Venezuela," he said. On Monday, Pence said he and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had discussed possible further sanctions against the leftist-ruled country.

     Presidential Residence in Buenos Aires, Argentina August 15, 2017.Marcos Brindicci The United States imposed sanctions on Maduro and other Venezuelan officials in July after Maduro established a constituent assembly run by his Socialist Party loyalists to expand his powers amid a crackdown on political opposition groups. Trump's threat on Friday of military action in Venezuela was widely condemned across the region and sparked the Mercosur trade bloc, of which Argentina is a member, to reject any use of force. Macri, a longtime critic of Maduro, said on Tuesday political pressure rather than the use of force was the path forward to address the situation in Venezuela.

August 15, 2017

VICEPRESIDENT MIKE PENCE SAYS 'FAILED STATE' IN VENEZUELA THREATENS UNITED STATES

    
CARTAGENA COLOMBIA  -- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Monday the United States would bring all its economic and diplomatic power to bear to see democracy restored in Venezuela, saying a failed state there threatens Americans. "President (Donald) Trump has made it very clear that we will not stand by while Venezuela collapses into dictatorship," Pence told reporters in Cartagena, Colombia. "A failed state in Venezuela threatens the security and prosperity of our entire hemisphere and the people of the United States of America."

      Pence has struck a more conciliatory tone than Trump during the start of a Latin American tour to Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Panama, saying a peaceful solution to unrest and political turmoil in Venezuela is possible. Trump last week threatened military action, sparking condemnation from around the region, including from countries which are usually some of leftist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's harshest critics. "We are absolutely determined to bring the full measure of American economic and diplomatic power to bear until we see democracy restored in Venezuela," Pence told reporters after meeting with Venezuelan families living in Colombia.

    He did not answer directly when asked whether he was making an argument for regime change in the South American country, where Maduro recently expanded his powers through a widely criticized new legislative body controlled by his Socialist Party allies. "The regime is experiencing change right now and what we're witnessing is Venezuela is collapsing into dictatorship," he said. U.S. anti-drug officials have long identified Venezuela as a leading transshipment point for South American cocaine destined for the U.S. market. Pence said the flow of narcotics could pick up due to Venezuela's crisis which could also trigger increased illegal immigration into the United States, "compromising our borders, compromising our economy, and in some cases compromising the security of our families and communities."

DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO ORDERS VENEZUELA MILITARY DRILL AFTER PRESIDENT TRUMP THREAT.


        CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- 
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Monday ordered his armed forces to carry out a national exercise next week in reaction to a threat of possible US military action voiced by President Donald Trump. "I have given the order to the armed forces' joint chiefs of staff to start preparations for a national civil-military exercise for the integrated armed defense of the Venezuelan nation," he told thousands of supporters in a Caracas rally.

     Maduro's government has seized on Trump's warning last Friday that he was looking at a range of scenarios against Venezuela, "including a possible military option if necessary." The Maduro administration says Trump's move bolsters its oft-repeated claim that Washington has designs to grab control of Venezuela's proven oil reserves, the largest in the world.

     Trump's threat, in response to Venezuela's deepening economic crisis and Maduro's moves toward what the US labels a "dictatorship," was rebuffed by all of Latin America -- even countries opposed to Venezuela. The US Defense Department said Monday it had received no orders from Trump to ready any sort of military action against Venezuela. US Vice President Mike Pence, who is touring allies in Latin America to marshall joint action against Caracas, said he hoped a "peaceable solution" would be found.

HUNGRY VENEZUELANS TURN TO COLOMBIA FOR A PLATE OF FOOD

           CUCUTA, COLOMBIA    -- Under a scorching sun just a short walk from Colombia's border with Venezuela, hundreds of hungry men, women and children line up for bowls of chicken and rice — the first full meal some have eaten in days. An estimated 25,000 Venezuelans make the trek across the Simon Bolivar International Bridge into Colombia each day. Many come for a few hours to work or trade goods on the black market, looking for household supplies they cannot find back home.

      But increasingly, they are coming to eat in one of a half-dozen facilities offering struggling Venezuelans a free plate of food. "I never thought I'd say this," said Erick Oropeza, 29, a former worker with Venezuela's Ministry of Education who recently began crossing the bridge each day. "But I'm more grateful for what Colombia has offered me in this short time than what I ever received from Venezuela my entire life." As Venezuela's economy verges on collapse and its political upheaval worsens, cities like Cucuta along Colombia's porous, 1,370-mile (2,200-kilometer) border with Venezuela have become firsthand witnesses to the neighboring South American nation's escalating humanitarian crisis.

     According to one recent survey, about 75 percent of Venezuelans lost an average of 19 pounds (8.7 kilograms) last year. The Colombian government has crafted contingency plans in the event of a sudden, mass exodus, but already church groups and nonprofit organizations are stepping in, moved by images of mothers carrying starving babies and skinny men trying to make a few bucks on Cucuta's streets to bring back home. Paulina Toledo, 47, a Colombian hairstylist who recently helped feed lunch to 900 Venezuelans, said seeing how hungry they were "Those of us here on the border are seeing their pain," she said.

August 14, 2017

VENEZUELAN NARCOTRAFFICKER DIOSDADO CABELLO MAY HAVE ISSUED DEATH ORDER AGAINST FLORIDA SENATOR MARCO RUBIO

    
WASHINGTON, D.C.  --  One of Venezuela’s most powerful leaders may have put out an order to kill Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a fervent critic of the South American country’s government, according to intelligence obtained by the U.S. last month. Though federal authorities couldn’t be sure at the time if the uncorroborated threat was real, they took it seriously enough that Rubio has been guarded by a security detail for several weeks in both Washington and Miami. Believed to be behind the order: Diosdado Cabello, the influential former military chief and lawmaker from the ruling socialist party who has publicly feuded with Rubio.

     At a July 19 Senate hearing, the same day he was first spotted with more security, Rubio repeated his line that Cabello — who has long been suspected by U.S. authorities of drug trafficking — is “the Pablo Escobar of Venezuela.” A week ago on Twitter, Cabello dubbed the senator “Narco Rubio.” The death threat was outlined in a memo to several law enforcement agencies disseminated last month by the Department of Homeland Security. The memo, designated “law enforcement sensitive” but not classified, was obtained by the Miami Herald.

     The memo revealed an “order to have Senator Rubio assassinated,” though it also warned that “no specific information regarding an assassination plot against Senator Rubio has been garnered thus far” and that the U.S. had not been able to verify the threat. That Cabello has been a vocal Rubio critic in Venezuelan media was also noted, a sign federal authorities are well aware of the political bluster complicating the situation. According to the memo, Cabello might have gone as far as to contact “unspecified Mexican nationals” in connection with his plan to harm Rubio. The U.S. believes Cabello controls all of Venezuela’s security forces. Rubio, a Republican, has President Donald Trump’s ear on U.S. policy toward Venezuela.

U.S. VICE PRESIDENT PENCE MEETS COLOMBIAN PRESIDENT SANTOS.


        BOGOTA, COLOMBIA  -- 
US Vice President Mike Pence arrived in Cartagena on Sunday to meet Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at the start of a tour of the region marked by growing tension between Washington and Caracas. Pence was received by Chancellor María Ángel Holguín at Cartagena's Rafael Núñez airport after 4:00 pm local time (21:00 GMT). The vice president then moved to the House of Illustrious Guests, where he will meet Santos.

     "His visit will serve to further strengthen relations" between the two countries, wrote Santos on Twitter before receiving the vice president of the United States. But beyond the bilateral agenda, the meeting is interested in the situation in Venezuela. On Friday, President Donald Trump slipped the "military option" against Nicolás Maduro's government, increasingly isolated by his decision to go ahead with a Constituent Assembly that will reform the Constitution. Trump's warning generated rejection in several countries, including that of Colombia, one of the United States' closest allies.

     Santos and Pence are expected to make a statement to the press at the end of their meeting. In addition to the Venezuelan issue, both leaders will surely address the fight against drug trafficking following the increase in coca cultivation in Colombia, a subject that is of concern to the White House. Pence will be in Colombia until Monday and will then continue his tour of Argentina, Chile and Panama. For his part, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, also told the legislature that has asked the government to consider reviving Santos aerial spraying with chemicals, which they were suspended in 2015 after concluding that could affect human health.

VENEZUELA SECURITY FORCES CAPTURED LEADERS OF ATTACK ON ARMY BASE

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --  Venezuela’s Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said on Friday that the two men who led last weekend’s failed assault on a military base were captured in Caracas. Former National Guard Capt. Juan Caguaripano Scott and active-duty Lt. Yefferson Garcia Dos Ramos were the “material and intellectual authors of the paramilitary and terrorist assault,” Padrino Lopez said on Twitter.
“This capture was a heavy blow to the fascist terrorism that the Venezuelan right has put into practice in recent months,” the minister said, vowing “exemplary punishment” for all those who take up arms against the military.

     Around 20 people took part in last Sunday’s assault on the 41st Armored Brigade in Fort Paramacay, a base in the north central city of Valencia. In a video released at the time of the attack, Caguaripano said that he was leading an uprising against leftist President Nicolas Maduro’s administration “to restore the constitutional order.” Caguaripano went on to say that he was “in rebellion” against “Nicolas Maduro’s murderous tyranny.” Two of the attackers were killed by soldiers and seven others captured.

     The uprising came a week after an election was held for the National Constituent Assembly, a body created by Maduro to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution. Maduro contends that the assembly is necessary to restore order in oil-rich Venezuela, which has been racked by near-daily protests and a deep economic crisis, but the president’s opponents say it is merely a cynical ploy to buy time until elections scheduled for October 2018. Venezuela has been racked since April 1 by violent protests that have left more than 120 dead, nearly 2,000 injured and 5,000 arrested.
 

August 13, 2017

PRESIDENT TRUMP REFUSES PHONE CALL WITH DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO, MULLS MILITARY RESPONSE IN VENEZUELA
 
    
WASHINGTON, D.C.  --  US President Donald Trump rejected a request of a telephone call with his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolas Maduro, the White House said on Friday.

      Trump has asked that Maduro “respect Venezuela’s constitution, hold free and fair elections, release political prisoners, cease all human rights violations, and stop oppressing Venezuela’s great people. ... Instead Maduro has chosen the path of dictatorship,” according to a White House statement. It added that “President Trump will gladly speak with the leader of Venezuela as soon as democracy is restored in that country.”

     The statement came shortly after Trump told reporters that “a military option” to the Venezuelan political and economic crisis was still possible. However, the Pentagon confirmed that it had “not received any orders with regards to Venezuela,” adding that “if called upon, we are prepared to support ... government efforts to protect our national interests and safeguard US citizens.” Venezuela has been marred in a deepening economic crisis and political stalemate. The July 30 election of a new National Constituent Assembly, convened by President Maduro, which the country’s opposition boycotted, has been widely condemned by the international community.

VENEZUELA'S DEFENSE MINISTER CALLED TRUMP MILITARY INTERVENTION THREAT 'CRAZY'


        CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --   
U.S. President Donald Trump's threat of military intervention in Venezuela was "an act of craziness," the South American country's Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said on Friday Venezuela's foreign ministry was expected to issue a statement on Saturday responding to Trump's comment that "a possible military option" was under consideration for the crisis-racked nation. The country is deep in a recession compounded by shortages of food and medicine, while anti-government protests have killed more than 120 people since April.

     Responding to Trump, Padrino told state television, "It is an act of craziness. It is an act of supreme extremism. There is an extremist elite that rules the United States." "As a soldier, I stand with the Venezuelan armed forces, and with the people. I am sure that we will all be on the front lines of defending the interests and sovereignty of this beloved Venezuela," he added. Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas called Trump's remark "an unprecedented threat to national sovereignty." In a Friday night message on social network Twitter, he said, "The diplomatic corps is summoned to the foreign ministry for tomorrow, when it will release a communiqué addressing the imperial threat to Venezuela."

     Last month's election of a legislative superbody packed with allies of unpopular socialist President Nicolas Maduro drew international condemnation for usurping the authority of Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress. Maduro says the assembly, which has the power to re-write Venezuela's constitution, is needed to bring peace and prosperity to the oil-rich but economically ailing country. Critics say the assembly casts aside any remaining checks on Maduro's power. The opposition boycotted the vote for the assembly, which assured that it would be stacked with Maduro allies. The White House said Maduro requested a phone call with Trump on Friday, which the administration appeared to spurn, saying in a statement that Trump would gladly speak with the leader of Venezuela once democracy was restored.

U.S. URGES CUBA TO PROBE 'HEALTH ATTACKS ON AMERICAN DIPLOMATS

           WASHINGTON, D.C.   --  The United States is holding Cuba responsible for investigating an apparent sonic attack that left several of its diplomats in need of medical treatment and forced them to leave Havana. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Friday the US mission in the Cuban capital had not been able to determine who was behind what he called "health attacks" that left some staff with hearing loss. "We hold the Cuban authorities responsible for finding out who is carrying out these health attacks on not just our diplomats but, as you've seen now, there are other cases with other diplomats involved," he said.

     Tillerson added: "We hold the Cubans responsible just as every host country has a responsibility for safety and security of diplomats in their country." His comments came two days after the US said it had expelled two Cuban diplomats after a number of American embassy workers were forced to leave Havana because of mysterious medical symptoms first reported last year. On Thursday, Canada's government said at least one Canadian diplomat in Cuba also had been treated for hearing loss. The officials told The Associated Press the hearing loss appeared to have been caused by the deliberate use of some sort of sonic device operating outside the range of audible sound.

     Cuba's foreign ministry said US officials had alerted it to the "alleged incidents" on February 17. The Cuban government said in a lengthy statement on Wednesday that "Cuba has never permitted, nor will permit, that Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, with no exception." Relations between the US and Cuba were restored in 2015 by Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro after a half-century break. But tensions have mounted again after the detente was partly rolled back by Obama's successor Donald Trump. In June, Trump tightened rules for Americans travelling to Cuba, banned ties with a military-run tourism firm, and reaffirmed the existing US trade embargo.

August 12, 2017

PRESIDENT TRUMP: MILITARY 'LOCKED AND LOADED' SHOULD NORTH KOREA TAKE MILITARY ACTION
 
    
WASHINGTON, D.C.  --  U.S. President Donald Trump has issued yet another warning to North Korea, saying the U.S. military is "locked and loaded" and prepared to retaliate against "Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely," Trump warned in a Friday morning post on Twitter. Trump added: "Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!" The president's warning comes hours after China said would not assist North Korea if it launches a first strike that threatens U.S. soil and the U.S. retaliates.

     The warning from China was published in an editorial Friday in the Global Times, a state-owned newspaper that recommended Beijing remain neutral in the even of a North Korean first strike. "China should ... make clear that if North Korealaunches missiles that threaten U.S. soil first and the U.S. retaliates, China will stay neutral," said the newspaper, which is not an official voice of China's Communist Party. The editorial said, however, China would intervene if the U.S. and ally South Korea collaborate militarily with the intent of ousting Kim Jong Un's regime.

    "If the U.S. and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so." The editorial amounts to a reiteration of China's position on the escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula, as it has repeatedly warned the U.S. and Pyongyang to refrain from taking provocative actions. On Thursday, Trump stiffened his resolve against North Korea, saying that if Pyongyang strikes first, "things will happen to them like they never thought possible." Trump said that his earlier warning to inflict "fire and fury" on the reclusive communist regime for its nuclear weapons development program perhaps "wasn't tough enough."

VENEZUELA'S DICTATOR MADURO LOOKS TO MEET WITH PRESIDENT TRUMP, DESPITE POLITICAL TURMOIL


        CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --   
In an unlikely move, Venezuela’s dictator said Thursday that he wants to meet with President Donald Trump in an attempt to strengthen his country’s relationship with the U.S. Addressing 545 members of Venezuela's new constitutional assembly, President Nicolas Maduro spoke about arranging a meeting or phone call between himself and Trump. The comments came just as the two countries have engaged in a war of words over the recent power struggle in Venezuela.

    The government has moved to consolidate power to the new assembly controlled by Maduro, taking extreme measure to quell any opposition. The Trump administration has issued sanctions against Maduro, whom it calls a “dictator,” and more than two-dozen former and current Venezuelan officials, asserting that human rights violations that undermine democracy have occurred during the country's recent political turmoil. The Trump administration has sanctioned more than 30 Maduro loyalists since April.

     Meanwhile, in what would be a huge blow to the OPEC member’s oil industry, the White House has considered blocking oil shipments from Venezuela as part of the sanctions, Reuters reported. The U.S. imports around 740,000 barrels per day from the socialist government. Venezuela is also facing a crippling economy. On Thursday, Credit Suisse Bank banned the trading and use of their bonds over the recent “political climate” in the country. Any businesses looking to do business with Venezuela will have to go through additional screening, which may hurt the economy further.

CREDIT SUISSE BANS TRADING OF VENEZUELAN BONDS

           WASHINGTON, D.C.   --  Credit Suisse has banned the trading and use of Venezuelan bonds, as the political and financial crisis in the South American country escalates. The bank will no longer trade, nor accept as collateral, two specific types of Venezuelan securities as well as any bonds the country issued from June 1 going forward, according to a company spokeswoman who was not authorized to give her name. Further, any businesses who wish to do business with Venezuela and deal in any assets there will have to go through additional screening.

    The ban comes as the U.S. considers a range of economic sanctions against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, who is facing mounting international criticism over a crackdown on opponents and moves to consolidate power. In the memo, the bank cited "recent developments and the political climate" in the country for the ban. The Trump administration has sanctioned 30 government officials or loyalists since April, including Maduro himself. Venezuela in the midst of a severe economic downturn caused by poor government policies and low oil prices.

     The country's bonds are one of the few ways the current government is able to raise money to support its collapsing economy. But as the country's political crisis has worsened, the bonds issued by the government as well as the state-owned oil company PDVSA have become a point of contention and concern for investors who increasingly worry they are supporting an oppressive regime as well as a country that is a great risk of defaulting on its debts. Goldman Sachs came under political pressure earlier this year for buying a reported $2.8 billion in Venezuelan bonds on the open market at a significant discount.

August 11, 2017

OUSTED VENEZUELAN PROSECUTOR, LUISA ORTEGA, SAYS SHE FEARS FOR HER LIFE, WILL KEEP FIGHTING
 
    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA     -- Venezuela's ousted chief prosecutor said on Thursday she fears for her life and is on the run, but will keep fighting for democracy and freedom in the country after being fired by a controversial new legislative superbody. Luisa Ortega, who broke with President Nicolas Maduro in late March and became a vocal critic of his unpopular leftist government, spoke to Reuters at a secret location in Caracas after being fired by the constituent assembly on Saturday. The pro-government Supreme Court has also said that a trial could begin against her but she has not formally been charged.

     Still, the 59-year-old said she remained in hiding, moving between safe houses at least once a day, because she feared being arbitrarily thrown in jail amid an increasing breakdown of due process under Maduro. "I do not know what dark intentions and dark plans they may have, not only to deprive me of my freedom, but also deprive me of my life," said Ortega, sitting on a sofa in a safe house. "I'm being permanently persecuted. There's always a car following me, stopping where I stop, people taking photos of me and the places I go."

     On Saturday, Ortega's office was surrounded by government troops and she was barred from entering. She fled on the back of a motorbike before being fired formally by the pro-government constituent assembly on its first day of work. Critics called the dismissal an affront to democracy. Her firing came as the Supreme Court steps up the prosecution of opposition politicians, amid anti-government protests that are now entering their fifth month. In recent weeks, the top court has jailed five opposition mayors in proceedings that critics say violated basic rights.

PERUVIAN CONGRESS VOTES TO EXPEL VENEZUELAN AMBASSADOR


        WASHINGTON, D.C. --   
The parliament voted in favor of the proposal presented by the legislator Jorge Del Castillo by 75 votes to 9. Del Castillo said it was a "Latin American decision, of solidarity, in support of the Venezuelan people, suffering at this time and in rejection of the dictatorship." But the final decision rests with the Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Earlier this week, Peru called a meeting to implement 16 new measures to further isolate the Venezuelan government.

     Representatives from 17 countries including Chile, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Costa Rica, as well as Jamaica and Guyana signed the Declaration of Lima. The agreement qualifies the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as a "dictator" and rejects the newly elected Constituent Assembly. It also refuses to acknowledge any legalislation that does not come from the opposition-controlled National Assembly. The Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza has issued a formal protest to the ambassadors of the nations which took part in the Lima meeting.

    Arreaza said it was "an affront to Venezuela’s sovereignty and the 8 million people who voted in the Constituent Assembly." He added that the ambassadors acknowledged that the country has been peaceful since the poll on July 30. And they recognized that candidates from across the political spectrum had enrolled to participate in the regional elections in December. While Arreaza expressed Venezuela’s "absolute rejection" of the attempts to isolate Caracas, he reiterated Maduro’s call for a new meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean states, CELAC, in an effort to rebuild regional dialogue.

MARIA CORINA MACHADO SLAMMED THE MUD FOR FALLING INTO THE ELECTORAL TRAP OF NICOLAS MADURO

           CARACAS, MADURO  --  Opposition leader Maria Corina Machado said on Thursday that she was unwilling to accompany opposition organizations that agreed to participate in regional elections convened by the ruling Nicolás Maduro, saying it is a scheme that seeks only to restore legitimacy to its regime. Machado, who is one of the most visible opposition leaders in Venezuela, warned that his political party is willing to separate from the Democratic Unity Table (MUD), if the opposition alliance insists on ignoring the mandate that the population gave the MUD through the popular elections of July 16.

     "In Vente Venezuela [the political party of Machado] we are delimited by a route that a MUD section has decided to follow, which is the validation of a mafia dictatorship by participating in their electoral scheme, rigged and tailor-made," Machado said in a Press conference. "Humbly, I ask all political parties to rectify this decision. [...] listen to what the people of Venezuela who are talking today on the streets that are empty remember the [...] commitment that we assumed together on July 16.

     And if, and as long as the MUD persists in moving away from the mandate of July 16, Vente Venezuela will not be part of that coalition, "she said. Machado made the statement amid the disappointment expressed by a large group of Venezuelans who see the MUD's decision to participate in the elections convened by Maduro as a claudication in front of his regime and a betrayal of the millions of demonstrators who have come to Protest against their regime, sometimes putting their lives in danger. The MUD inscribed already registered a series of candidates to participate in the elections of governors of the 10 of December, but insists that the priority is not to have governors, but to overthrow the dictatorship.

August 10, 2017

U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY JIM MATTIS SAID THAT NORTH KOREA RISKS ANNIHILATION
 
    
WASHINGTON, D.C.    --   U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday that North Korea risks annihilation if it starts a war, and he told Pyongyang it must end its pursuit of nuclear weaponry. Mattis said North Korea "should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people." The reclusive communist nation, he added, "must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons." Mattis, whose remarks came in a statement, warned that the U.S. and its allies "now possess the most precise, rehearsed and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on Earth." He said any North Korean military operation "will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours and would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates."

     Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, spoke out after President Donald Trump, in the midst of an exchange of bellicose threats with North Korea, declared that the United States nuclear arsenal "is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before." In an early-morning Twitter comment, Trump said his first order as president after taking office in January "was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal." He added he was hopeful that "we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!" It was not immediately clear what overhaul of the country's nuclear weaponry Trump was referencing. The president has called for a big increase in military spending, including research and development of new weapons, but Congress has yet to enact a 2018 spending plan.

     Trump's latest assessment of the country's potent military strength came less than a day after he issued a stark warning to North Korea. If Pyongyang continues its threats against the United States, the president declared, "they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." Some critics have questioned the vehemence of Trump's "fire and fury" remarks. White House aides said Wednesday that the words were improvised by the president before he spoke to reporters late Tuesday at his vacation home in New Jersey, but they emphasized that the president's comment certainly reflected the tone he meant to convey to North Korea. Before Trump spoke out, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and members of the president's National Security Council were clear that he "was going to respond to North Korea's threats ... with a strong message in no uncertain terms."

US SANCTIONS EIGHT MORE VENEZUELAN OFFICIALS, INCLUDING CHAVEZ BROTHER


        WASHINGTON, D.C. --   
The Trump administration on Wednesday imposed sanctions on eight more Venezuelan officials, including the brother of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, to punish them for helping dictator Nicolas Maduro to create a new legislative superbody, U.S. officials said. The United States targeted individual politicians and security figures but stopped short of placing broader financial or "sectoral" sanctions on its vital oil industry – though such actions, the officials told Reuters, are still under consideration.

      The new measures announced by the Treasury Department will freeze their U.S. assets, ban them from travel to the United States and prohibit Americans from doing business with them. Washington slapped sanctions on Maduro himself last week following similar action against 13 Venezuelan figures on July 26. It marked a further escalation of the U.S. response to Maduro’s crackdown on the opposition and the establishment last week of the new constituent assembly, an all-powerful body run by his Socialist Party loyalists and which has drawn international condemnation.

      "President Maduro swore in this illegitimate Constituent Assembly to further entrench his dictatorship," U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. "This regime’s disregard for the will of the Venezuelan people is unacceptable, and the United States will stand with them in opposition to tyranny." Most prominent among those targeted on Wednesday was Adan Chavez, 64, a physicist and late President Hugo Chavez's elder brother. He is former culture minister, served for nearly a decade as governor of his home state of Barinas and is now secretary of the new assembly’s presidential commission. Also facing sanctions was Bladimir Armas, a National Guard colonel accused by government critics of human rights abuses.

U.S.  EXPELS 2 CUBAN DIPLOMATS AFTER INCIDENTS IN CUBA

           WASHINGTON, D.C.  --  The two-year-old U.S. diplomatic relationship with Cuba was roiled Wednesday by what U.S. officials believe was a string of bizarre attacks on a group of American diplomats in Havana with a covert sonic weapon that left the victims with severe hearing loss. In the fall of 2016, a series of U.S. diplomats began suffering unexplained losses of hearing, according to officials with knowledge of the investigation into the case. Several of the diplomats were recent arrivals at the embassy, which reopened in 2015 as part of former President Barack Obama's reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba. Some of the diplomats' symptoms were so severe that they were forced to cancel their tours early and return to the United States, officials said.

      After months of investigation, U.S. officials concluded that the diplomats had been attacked with an advanced sonic weapon that operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed either inside or outside their residences. The U.S. retaliated by expelling two Cuban diplomats from their embassy in Washington on May 23, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. U.S. officials told The Associated Press that about five diplomats, several with spouses, had been affected and that no children had been involved. The FBI and Diplomatic Security Service are investigating. Cuba employs a state security apparatus that keeps untold numbers of people under surveillance and U.S. diplomats are among the most closely monitored people on the island. Like virtually all foreign diplomats in Cuba, the victims of the attacks lived in housing owned and maintained by the Cuban government.

     However, officials familiar with the probe said that investigators were looking into the possibilities that the attack was carried out by a third country such as Russia, possibly operating without the knowledge of Cuba's formal chain of command. Nauert said that investigators did not yet have a definitive explanation for the incidents but stressed they take them "very seriously," as shown by the Cuban diplomats' expulsions. "We requested their departure as a reciprocal measure since some U.S. personnel's assignments in Havana had to be curtailed due to these incidents," she said. "Under the Vienna Convention, Cuba has an obligation to take measures to protect diplomats." Nauert said the department had reminded Cuba of its international obligation to protect foreign diplomats.
 

August 9, 2017

FOREIGN MINISTERS  CONDEMN DEMOCRATIC "RUPTURE" IN VENEZUELA
 
    
LIMA, PERU --   Foreign ministers and diplomatic representatives of 17 American countries on Tuesday condemned the breakdown of democracy in Venezuela and ignored the recent installation of a Constituent Assembly at a meeting in Lima. In a statement read to the press by Peruvian Chancellor Ricardo Luna, they expressed "their condemnation of the rupture of the democratic order in Venezuela" chosen on July 30, which supplanted the National Assembly controlled by the opposition, and " their desicion not to recognize the Constituent Assembly "and the acts that could emanate from it.”

      The meeting, which took place at 10:00 a.m. local time, at the headquarters of the Peruvian Foreign Ministry, was attended by Argentine Foreign Ministers Jorge Faurie; Brazil, Aloysio Nunes; Chile, Heraldo Muñoz; Colombia, María Angélica Holguín; Mexico, Luis Videgaray; And Peru, Ricardo Luna. In addition, those of Costa Rica, Manuel González Sanz; Guatemala, Carlos Morales; Guyana, Carl Barrington; Honduras, María Dolores Agüero; Jamaica, Kamina Johnson Smith; Panama, Isabel de Saint Malo; Paraguay, Eladio Loizaga; And Saint Lucia, Sarah Flood-Beaubrun; Canada was represented by its deputy foreign minister, David Morrison; Uruguay for its ambassador in Peru, Carlos Barros; And Grenada by its permanent representative to the Organization of American States (OAS), Angus Friday.

      The Peruvian Foreign Ministry had established strict security measures that only allow the taking of photographs of the beginning of the meeting in the Hall of Ambassadors in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and during a final press conference in the cultural center Inca Garcilaso, an annex to the ministerial building. In Venezuela, since April 1, a series of demonstrations have left 126 people dead, a situation that has intensified since the imposition of the National Constituent Assembly, in which the opposition did not participate because it considered the fraudulent process. Ecuador was present at the meeting and signed the document.

US READIES MORE SANCTIONS AGAINST VENEZUELAN OFFICIALS


        WASHINGTON, D.C. --   
The Trump administration is preparing sanctions against another group of Venezuelan officials linked to DICTATOR Nicolas Maduro in response to his creation of a new legislative superbody in defiance of world condemnation, U.S. officials said on Monday. The new measures, to freeze the individuals’ U.S. assets, ban them from travel to the United States and prohibit Americans from doing business with them, could be rolled out as early as this week, one of the administration officials told Reuters. No final decisions have yet been made on the list of new targets, which is likely to include a significant number of names, or on the exact timing of the announcement, the two officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

      Washington slapped sanctions on Maduro himself last week following similar action against 13 Venezuelan figures on July 26. The next round is still expected to stop short of penalties against Venezuela’s vital oil sector, considered the toughest of possible sanctions, though such measures, U.S. sources have said, remain under consideration. "We want to leave room to do more if Maduro's actions continue, not do everything and everyone who remains all with one stroke," said one of the officials involved in the White House deliberations. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Bloomberg News first reported the new sanctions plan.

      Preparations for further sanctions followed Friday's inauguration of the new assembly, which is expected to rewrite the country's constitution and give vast new powers to Maduro and his ruling Socialist Party. The Trump administration has echoed the Venezuelan opposition’s view that the assembly is a bid by Maduro to cement dictatorship after months of deadly protests in the oil-rich, but economically ailing, South American country. U.S. officials announcing measures against Maduro last week for what the called abuse of power reiterated a threat of a strong economic response and warned that anyone serving in the new assembly could face U.S. sanctions. The United States, the European Union and most of Venezuela’s neighbors condemned the election of the assembly as flawed.

VENEZUELAN NATIONAL ASSEMBLY REPUDIATES IMPOSITION OF CONSTITUTIONAL ASSEMBLE

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --  The opposition-controlled Venezuelan Parliament reaffirmed on Monday its repudiation of the constitutional assembly by approving an accord to “disregard acts contrary to the constitutional order” and denouncing the assembly’s first steps as confirmation of its “dictatorial” nature. The agreement “to reaffirm the prevalence of the Constitution ... and to disregard acts contrary to the constitutional and democratic order ... emanating from the fraudulent Constituent National Assembly” was approved unanimously by the deputies opposing the government.

     The Parliament also denounced the decision of the assembly to extend by two years the period during which it will exercise its functions to restructure the state and purge all its institutions. The legislature views that time period as proof of the veracity of “all the criticisms and warnings that have been made about the proposal to usurp the constitutional power of the people to try and prolong dictatorial control.” In addition, the Parliament, which has been controlled by the opposition MUD alliance since December 2015, rejected the assembly’s establishment of a “Truth Commission” to determine responsibility for the sometimes deadly violence erupting at certain anti-government protests.

     This commission, the Parliament said, is a “serious violation of human rights,” given that it was “conceived by the protagonists” of acts of “indiscriminate repression as an organ of persecution” and attacks the “judicial monopoly” in the administration of justice. The constitutional assembly was pushed through without a prior public referendum to strengthen the so-called “Bolivarian Revolution,” and its 545 members were elected on July 30 amid protests against it and with the rejection of a good part of the international community. The assembly was installed last Friday in the building where Parliament sits.

August 8, 2017

SPAIN DOES NOT RECOGNIZE THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY OF DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO
 
    
MADRID, SPAIN  -- The Spanish government does not recognize the Constituent Assembly of Venezuela and calls on Niklas Maduro to begin negotiations with constitutional democratic institutions. "The meeting elected on July 30 is not an expression of majority opinion. Spain does not recognize the Constituent Assembly, which does not stem from a broad national consensus and calls on the Venezuelan government to begin a sincere process of negotiations with legitimate democratic institutions, such as the parliament, "the Spanish Foreign Ministry said.

     In a statement, the Executive of Mariano Rajoy condemned “the acts of violence and repression that have caused numerous deaths in the last hours, in addition to the more than 100 Venezuelans who died in protests generated by the deterioration of the political and economic situation and in favor of democracy in Venezuela”. According to Spain, “the Assembly resulting from today’s vote does not represent the majority will of Venezuelans, it has no attributions, according to the Constitution, legislative powers that correspond to the National Assembly and is not the solution to the serious problems of political confrontation And humanitarian crisis that devastated the country”.

    “Spain will not recognize a Constituent Assembly that is not the result of a broad national consensus, chosen according to democratic rules of free, equal, direct and secret universal suffrage”, the statement continues. Therefore, the Spanish Government “cannot recognize or validate the legal acts emanating from this Constituent Assembly”.“The Government of Spain will study along with its partners of the European Union and countries friendly to the region the additional measures that may be effective to promote a restoration of democratic and constitutional institutionality in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela”, the statement concludes.

MERCOSUR'S GENERAL PROSECUTORS DISOWN TAREK WILLIAM SAAB


        BRASILIA, BRAZIL   -
Attorneys and Solicitors General of the member and associate countries of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) rejected on Sunday the “illegal” removal of their Venezuelan colleague Luisa Ortega Díaz and refused to recognize the authority of Ortega Díaz’s substitute, former Ombudsman Tarek William Saab. “The general prosecutors of Mercosur utterly repudiate the dismissal of the Attorney General of Venezuela (Luisa Ortega Díaz) and request the international community to take steps immediately to seek the reestablishment of the constitutional order” in Venezuela, the attorneys and solicitors general said in a joint statement.

     Also the Attorneys and Solicitors General of the member and associate countries of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) rejected on Sunday the “illegal” removal of their Venezuelan colleague Ortega Díaz and refused to recognize the authority of Ortega Díaz’s substitute, former Ombudsman Tarek William Saab. “The general prosecutors of Mercosur utterly repudiate the dismissal of the Attorney General of Venezuela (Luisa Ortega Díaz) and request the international community to take steps immediately to seek the reestablishment of the constitutional order” in Venezuela, the attorneys and solicitors general said in a joint statement.

     “A military siege on the Venezuelan Attorney General Office occurred on Saturday (August 5) is just the visible sign of such an attack on the institutional autonomy,” the statement reads. Ortega Díaz insisted on saying that she continues being the Attorney General and that the Executive Officer ordered the brand-new Constituent National Assembly (ANC) to remove her. The joint statement took into account “Venezuela’s suspension from Mercosur due to breach of the democratic clause set forth in the Protocol of Ushuaia.” The decision was made by Mercosur foreign ministers gathered in Sao Paulo.

THE EUROPEAN UNION SLAMMED DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO FOR FIRING DISSENTING ATTORNEY GENERAL LUISA ORTEGA DIAZ

           BRUSSELS, BELGIUM   --  new Constituent Assembly loyal to dictator Nicolas Maduro on Saturday fired Luisa Ortega Diaz, Venezuela’s Attorney General, one of his most vociferous critics, triggering a firestorm of condemnation from the US and Latin American nations. Ortega, who was barred by dozens of soldiers from entering her offices, has been a thorn in Maduro's side for months, breaking ranks with him over the legality of the Constituent Assembly, which was elected last week in a vote marred by violence and fraud allegations. She refused to recognize her sacking, or the assembly's swearing in of Tarek William Saab, the national ombudsman, in her place. "I am not giving up, Venezuela is not giving up and will not give up against barbarity, illegality, hunger, darkness and death," she said.

     The United States, the European Union and major Latin American nations have all rejected the Constituent Assembly. The body's legitimacy was struck a hard blow this week when a British-based firm that supplied the voting technology, Smartmatic, said the turnout figure was "tampered with" and greatly exaggerated. The principal task of the Constituent Assembly is to rewrite the constitution, something Maduro promised will resolve Venezuela's troubles. "We are going to win back peace," the president said. While working on its mission, the assembly holds supreme powers over all other branches of government. Initial suggestions were that it would need only six months to complete its work.

     But it announced on Saturday that it would stay in place for up to two years beyond the end of Maduro's term, due to end in 2019. Its 545 members, including the president's wife and son, are all Maduro allies because of an opposition boycott during the vote. It is led by Maduro's fiercely loyal former foreign minister, Delcy Rodriguez, who branded Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos an "usurper" for calling the assembly "illegitimate."Maduro has around 20 percent public support, according to surveys by the Datanalisis polling firm. Ordinary Venezuelans are struggling, with food, essentials and medicine scarce, the currency rapidly depreciating, and inflation soaring.

August 7, 2017

A SMALL GROUP OF VENEZUELAN SOLDIERS DECLARED A REBELLION IN CARABOBO
 
    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- Earlier on Sunday, a small group of men dressed in military fatigues, some armed with assault rifles, released a video declaring an uprising in Carabobo state, where Valencia is located. In the video, a man identifying himself as Captain Juan Caguaripano said that any unit refusing to go along with its call for rebellion would be declared a military target. "We demand the immediate formation of a transition government," Caguaripano said. He was flanked by about a dozen men in military uniforms. "This is not a coup d'etat," he said. "This is a civic and military action to re-establish constitutional order. But more than that, it is to save the country from total destruction."

     One witness in the area told the Reuters news agency of hearing gunshots before dawn. Al Jazeera's John Holman, reporting from Caracas, said a civil society group that monitors the military has raised questions about Caguaripano and the attack on Paramacay. Citing Control Ciudadano, our correspondent said: "What's strange about this man who speaks in the video, who says he's a captain in the army, is that he was wanted by the government in 2014, also for trying to organise some sort of insurrection. "So how is he free? And how is he once again doing the same?"

     Venezuela has been rocked by a wave of anti-government protests in the past several months that have left more than 100 people dead. The reported attack in Paramacay comes two days after government allies inaugurated a new legislative superbody that the opposition and dozens of countries denounced as a power grab by dictator Nicolas Maduro. In its first act on Saturday the Constituent Assembly ordered the dismissal of the country's attorney general, Luisa Ortega, a vocal government critic. The opposition is struggling to regain its footing in the face of the government's tactics and re-emergence of old, internal divisions.

TWO DEAD AS VENEZUELA 'CRUSHES MILITARY REBELLION"


        CARACAS, VENEZUELA   -
DICTATOR NICOLAS Maduro says two people killed in attack "paid for" by anti-government forces based in Miami and Colombia. Two people have been killed and at least eight others captured in an armed attack by "terrorists" on a Venezuelan military base, dictator Maduro announced on state television. A previous count by army chief General Jesus Suarez Chourio said that one died and one was gravely wounded in the attack on Sunday on the base in the northwestern city of Valencia, which the military said was quickly put down.

     Maduro also said that 10 other men have escaped and authorities were hunting for them. One of the attackers was badly wounded during the assault, army chief Chourio said. The Venezuelan president said 20 men in all entered the Paramacay base shortly before 4 am local time. He said soldiers assigned as night guards were caught by surprise and the intruders were able to work their way to the base's weapons supply. The president said troops battled with the intruders for about four hours.

     The president alleges the attack was "paid for" by anti-government leaders based in Miami and Colombia. Diosdado Cabello, the Socialist Party's deputy, earlier said troops acted quickly to quash the assault. Meanwhile an opposition party official said that a local leader was shot dead at a protest near the military base. It is unclear, however, if Haydee Franco was referring to one of the two fatalities mentioned by Maduro. Military officials said the rebels, whom they described as "terrorists," were trying to steal weapons.

MUD: CRISIS IN THE STREETS MANIFESTED IN THE MILITARY BARRACKS

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA   -- The Democratic Unity Board (MUD) issued a statement on Sunday about the country's current situation after the military uprising in Fort Paramacay in Carabobo state. "The crisis that our country has seen in the streets and homes today manifested itself publicly and expressly in the barracks of our National Armed Forces," the text said. They also stated that it is necessary to "stop the advance towards the abyss" that would lead the National Government.

     On the other hand, the Unidad insisted on "the need to restore the validity of the Constitution of the Republic and seek solutions to the serious crisis that the country is experiencing in the framework of what is established in our Constitution." Democratic Unity demands a return to the constitutional order to guarantee the peace of the country and prevent further bloodshed. For months we have warned the country and the international community that ignorance of the Constitution, implemented in its latest version through constituent fraud, would only aggravate the already deep political, social and institutional crisis in which Venezuelans are submerged.

     The crisis that our country has seen in the streets and homes today manifested itself publicly and expressly in the barracks of our National Armed Forces. We can not ignore the gravity and importance of this historical moment: We are in time to prevent this bloody conflict, whose dictatorial repression has left a balance of more than 120 killed, to become an armed conflict among Venezuelans. The great majority of the country has fought for a constitutional, peaceful and electoral exit to this crisis, but the dictatorial actions of Nicolás Maduro have caused this type of facts that can become a conflict of greater magnitude. It is necessary to stop the advance towards the abyss to which the regime is taking us.

August 6, 2017

THE GENERAL SECRETARY OF THE OAS, LUIS ALMAGRO, SUPPORTS THE DECISION  BY MERCOSUR TO SUSPEND VENEZUELA
 
    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --The General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (GS/OAS) expresses it support for the decision adopted today to suspend the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela from MERCOSUR, in accordance with the democratic clause of the Ushuaia Protocol. Democracy and human rights are inalienable principles in the Americas, and their defense and promotion are fundamental values to the community of States that make up the OAS. The decision adopted by the Governments of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay is an exemplary statement in defense of the principles that unite our countries and convey a message of hope and support to the people of Venezuela as they are fighting for their rights and freedom.

     The decision adopted by MERCOSUR refers to the “Declaration of the States Party to MERCOSUR on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” adopted on April 1, 2017 which noted “the rupture of the democratic order”, recalling that “the spirit of the Ushuaia Protocol’s commitment to democracy is the restoration of democratic institutions in the affected State” This decision comes after Resolution CP/Res. 1078 (2108/17), adopted by the Permanent Council on April 3, 2017, which expressed “grave concern regarding the unconstitutional alteration of the democratic order in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” and the readiness to “support measures to return to democratic order through the effective exercise of democracy and rule of law within the Venezuelan constitutional framework.”

     The General Secretariat of the OAS reiterates its call for an end to the repression in the country, the immediate establishment of an electoral calendar which includes Presidential elections in 2017, the opening of a channel for humanitarian assistance, the restoration of the full powers of the National Assembly, the release of the political prisoners, the immediate annulment of all activities by the fraudulent National Constituent Assembly, and the unequivocal respect for the democratic institutions of the State. The countries of the region, with the Inter-American legal instruments at their disposal, must continue to tell the Venezuelan Regime that in the Americas, there is no place for dictatorships or for the tyrants that lead them.

DICTATOR MADURO'S NEW CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY OUSTS ATTORNEY GENERAL LUISA ORTEGA


        CARACAS, VENEZUELA   -
Venezuela's newly installed National Constituent Assembly fired attorney general and regime critic Luisa Ortega Diaz in a unanimous vote Saturday morning, days after she said she'd investigate allegations of fraud in the elections that established the body. The assembly, which has wide-ranging powers and is expected to rewrite the Venezuelan Constitution at the behest of leftist President Nicolás Maduro, also has prohibited Ortega from leaving the country and has frozen her assets.

     The body of more than 530 members, virtually all of whom are Maduro supporters, loudly applauded the vote, broadcast live on state-run VTV. The assembly was elected last weekend in a national vote boycotted by the opposition, which claims Maduro orchestrated it to bypass the existing, opposition-led legislature. Critics say the new assembly could erase the last traces of democracy in the South American country. Just before she was fired, government troops prevented Ortega and some of her subordinates from entering her Caracas office building.

     The firing defied the regional Organization of American States, whose human rights commission Saturday warned the Venezuelan government to guarantee Ortega's safety and allow her to continue as attorney general. It cited what it said were comments by "high-ranking officials" indicating Ortega may face prosecution by Maduro's regime. The vote to remove Ortega came a day after the assembly's members took oaths of office. On Friday, assembly leader Delcy Rodriguez, a former Venezuelan foreign minister, warned that "justice will come" to some members of the opposition. With the ouster, Ortega has lost immunity from prosecution that Venezuelan government officials enjoy. Venezuela's Supreme Court issued a statement that she will be investigated over what it called serious violations and offenses as attorney general.

U.S. CONDEMNS OUSTING OF VENEZUELAN PROSECUTOR LUISA ORTEGA

           WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- The United States is condemning a move by Venezuela's new constitutional assembly to oust the country's chief prosecutor. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert says the removal of Luisa Ortega was illegal and an attempt to tighten the "authoritarian dictatorship" of President Nicolas Maduro. She says the U.S. applauds the action by South American trade bloc Mercosur to suspend Venezuela for failing to follow democratic norms.
 

     The U.S. had urged Venezuela not to hold the election for the assembly and has said the vote was illegitimate. The U.S. condemnation comes as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in the Philippines to meet with Asian diplomats. The head of Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress made an emotional plea for opponents of President Maduro to remain mobilized on the streets to capitalize growing international pressure on the embattled socialist. "What we're seeing in Venezuela is the complete abduction of all its institutions by a single hand, a single political party" Julio Borges, president of the opposition-controlled congress, told journalists after the constitutional assembly voted Saturday to remove chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, an action reserved for the national assembly according to the current constitution.

     An opposition protest Friday against the installation of the pro-government super assembly failed to draw more than a few hundred demonstrators — one of the smallest turnouts in more than four months of deadly street demonstrations that has left more than 120 dead and hundreds more jailed. Borges seemed to recognize the challenges the opposition faces regaining its footing and warned that government's use of scare tactics will only intensify in the coming days. But he urged Venezuelans to continue to protest peacefully and said lawmakers would do their part by continuing to convene, the next time Monday. "The only thing the government has left is violence and brute force," he said. "We shouldn't think the government is winning. The only thing it's doing is destroying itself and committing suicide."

August 5, 2017

DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO INAUGURATED IN VENEZUELA A NEW CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY DESPITE INTERNATIONAL REJECTION
 
    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO inaugurated a new chapter in its confrontation with the opposition by establishing on Friday a Constituent Assembly composed of its supporters defying a growing international rejection, including The Vatican, which fears the authoritarian drift of the country. The 545 delegates of the Constituent Assembly, who will rewrite the charter, took their seats in a room of the legislative palace, a few meters from the chamber where the National Assembly, dominated by the government's political rivals, exhorted their followers to march .

     "Tomorrow we will start acting from this National Constituent Assembly ... Do not be surprised because the original constituent power came to Venezuela," said the incumbent president of the former Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, who accused the opposition demonstrators of "violent" and "fascists" . Hundreds of government sympathizers accompanied members of the Constituent Assembly to their inauguration with Venezuelan flags and portraits of former President Hugo Chavez, which they had promised to return to the neoclassical building to the cry of "¡Volvió!" The image was removed from the palace in 2015, when the opposition won the elections.

     First Lady Cilia Flores and Vice-President of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, Diosdado Cabello, led the official ceremony. Cabello made the appointments of the board of directors of the Constituent Assembly and assured that one of the Assembly first tasks will be to confront the opposition Congress and Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, who previously sympathized with the government but recently broke with Maduro. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Friday granted precautionary measures to protect the prosecutor. President Nicolás Maduro, who has said that he will use the Constituent Assembly to sanction the opposition, did not attend the opening session, although he had initially planned to assist.

COLOMBIAN PRESIDENT JUAN MANUEL SANTOS: NEW CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY IS CULMINATION OF VENEZUELAN DEMOCRACY'S DESTRUCTION


        BOGOTA, COLOMBIA   -
Colombia's president JUAN MANUEL SANTOS said here Thursday that Venezuela's new Constituent Assembly marked the culmination of the destruction of democracy in the Caribbean nation. Santos said in the wake of Sunday's election of the assembly's members, who are to meet for the first time on Friday and will be tasked with rewriting Venezuela's constitution, that his government would not recognize a body he termed spurious and illegal. "In recent times, we've seen the deterioration, the destruction of democracy in Venezuela," Santos said in a press conference held to mark the start of the final year of his second four-year term in office.

     He said authorities in Venezuela, which has been leftist-led since 1999, had been gradually destroying the country's democracy and that those moves had led to a hardening of Colombia's position toward its neighbor, with which it shares a 2,219-kilometer (1,380-mile) border. "I said clearly - and I think the international community as well, or the majority of the international community - that this Constituent Assembly has spurious, illegal origins, and therefore we cannot recognize that Constituent Assembly as a valid institution," Santos said. He added that the decisions of its members, who were elected Sunday in a controversial balloting that was boycotted by Venezuela's opposition, "cannot and will not be recognized by Colombia's government."

     Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, for his part, has slammed Santos as a "vassal" of the United States "empire." Maduro has touted the 545-member Constituent Assembly as necessary to lift Venezuela, which has been racked by months of violent opposition-led protests, out of political deadlock and a deep economic crisis. But Venezuela's opposition, which has been stymied in its efforts to oust Maduro via a recall referendum, says the assembly will be used as a mechanism to increase the president's power and sideline the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Venezuela's unicameral legislature.

IT IS EXPECTED TODAY THAT MERCOSUR WILL  SUSPEND VENEZUELA UNTIL DEMOCRACY IS RESTORED

           BRASILIA, BRAZIL   -- The South American bloc Mercosur will activate its democratic clause this weekend to suspend Venezuela indefinitely and will not allow its re-entry until democracy is restored, a Brazilian government source. The decision will be taken at a meeting of foreign ministers from Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil in Sao Paulo on Saturday, an official with knowledge of the talks said. Mercosur temporarily suspended Venezuela in December for failing to comply with the bloc's rules, but the deterioration of the political and human rights situation has led it to take a more categorical stance.

     The bloc had planned to decide on the use of the democracy clause by the end of the year but stepped up the decision after a controversial constituent assembly election on Sunday and the recent arrest of several opposition leaders by President Nicolas Maduro's government, said the source. Argentina warned in July that Mercosur would permanently expel Venezuela if Maduro continued with the creation of the Constituent Assembly. Countries around the world have criticized the vote and said it is an attempt to extend Maduro's mandate indefinitely. His Government has been accused of manipulating the participation numbers.

     Millions of Venezuelans suffer food shortages, three-digit inflation and months of demonstrations against the government, making participation in the process less likely to be so high. More than 120 people have died in the protests, prompting international condemnation of tough security tactics. Mercosur does not have a rule for expulsions, but activating the clause deepens the international isolation of the Maduro government because Venezuela will only be readmitted after it holds elections considered democratic by the bloc members.

August 4, 2017

ONLY 3.7 MILLION PEOPLE HAD VOTED IN VENEZUELA BY 5:30 PM IN THE CONSTITUTIONAL ASSEMBLY ELECTION ON SUNDAY
 
    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --Only 3.7 million people had voted by 5.30 p.m. in Venezuela's controversial Constitutional Assembly election on Sunday, according to internal electoral council data reviewed by Reuters, casting doubt on the 8.1 million people authorities said had voted that day. The election of the legislative super-body has been decried by critics as illegitimate and designed to give the unpopular government of dictator Nicolas Maduro powers to rewrite the constitution and sideline the opposition-led congress.

     In response to the vote, the U.S. government slapped sanctions on Maduro on Monday, calling him a dictator for "seizing absolute power." The low turnout would be a major indictment of Maduro, especially after the opposition last month held its own unofficial vote in which it said more than 7.5 million voted against the government's controversial assembly. The documents, which break the data down into Venezuela's 14,515 polling centers, show that 3,720,465 people had voted by 5.30 p.m.

    "Although it's possible to have a late push at the end of the day, and the Socialist Party has tried to do that in the past, to double the vote in the last hour and a half would be without precedent," said Jennifer McCoy, a political scientist who led several election observation missions to Venezuela for the Atlanta-based Carter Center. The electoral council extended voting to 7 p.m. but some centers are thought to have stayed open longer. Venezuelan authorities did not respond to a request for comment on the voting data. Authorities had heavily pressured state workers to vote, even threatening them with dismissal if they failed to do so. Several workers received phone calls from bosses or colleagues late in the day pushing them to vote.

THE EUROPEAN UNION DECLINES TO RECOGNIZE VENEZUELAN ELECTION OF THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY


        BRUSSELS, BELGIUM   -
The European Union on Wednesday declined to recognize the result of Venezuela's violence-marred election and said it was ready to "gradually step up" pressure on leftist dictator Nicolas Maduro, though shied away from introducing sanctions. The European Union's top diplomat Federica Mogherini said in a statement that the bloc's 28 member states could not recognize the Constituent Assembly "as they have concerns over its effective representativeness and legitimacy". The assembly is meant to be a legislative super-body that has been decried by critics as illegitimate. It is designed to give Maduro powers to rewrite the constitution and sideline the opposition-led congress.

     Venezuela jailed two leading Maduro critics on Tuesday in a fresh blow to the opposition after deadly protests erupted around Sunday's election, prompting the United States to impose sanctions on the president. Washington and the EU tend to coordinate their sanctions but the bloc has been divided over how to respond. The bloc told Maduro to "take urgent measures to rectify the course of events" and that it was "ready to gradually step up ... response in case democratic principles are further undermined and the Venezuelan Constitution is not respected". It would need unanimity to act. Spain has been the most vocal in advocating sanctions but others have mostly been coy. The head of the bloc's common parliament, Antonio Tajani, on Tuesday joined those calling for Maduro to be punished.

     In a letter, he said that following the "unjustified arrests" of opposition leaders Antonio Ledezma and Leopoldo Lopez, he would like to consider "freezing assets and imposing travel ban to the EU to the members of the Venezuelan government including its dictator, Nicolas Maduro and its entourage". Diplomats in Brussels said that did not seem imminent, but stressed the sense of worry was building up in the bloc and that could lead to more action ahead. For now, the bloc also called on Maduro to free jailed political opponents, and on all sides to refrain from violence. On Monday, the United States froze Maduro's assets subject to U.S. jurisdiction, and barred Americans from doing business with him.

ATTORNEY GENERAL: CONTROVERSIAL VENEZUELA CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY VOTE TO BE INVESTIGATED

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA   -- Venezuela's attorney general has initiated an investigation into potential voter fraud in Sunday's election following allegations the government may have inflated voter numbers significantly. Luisa Ortega Diaz, in an interview Wednesday to CNN en Español, said she has appointed two prosecutors to investigate the directors of the National Electoral Council "for this very scandalous act that could generate more violence in the country than what we have already experienced."

    Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro called for last weekend's vote, which led to the creation of a controversial new legislative body, the National Constituent Assembly. The body takes the place of the opposition-led National Assembly in a move that critics fear will erode democracy. London-based Smartmatic, which provided the voting technology for the controversial vote, said Wednesday that the National Electoral Council voting numbers of more than 8 million people -- about 41.53% of registered voters -- are off by 1 million votes.

     The opposition had boycotted the election, calling it fraudulent, and said the National Constituent Assembly will have the power to rewrite the Venezuelan Constitution."It's very serious, I believe we have to investigate and determine who is at fault," said Ortega, a vocal critic of Maduro's government. "Probably, voter data doesn't even match half of it (voter turnout)."She called the formation of the new assembly a "significant event" and said the body has no oversight. "They can do all they want. We are going to have a legislative body with super powers," Ortega said. "It's important for the country to know the reach of this fraud and if it constitutes a crime."

August 3, 2017

U.S. VICE PRESIDENT URGES "TO CONDEMN MADURO REGIME" IN VENEZUELA
 
    
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- US Vice President Mike Pence urged all "freedom fighters" to "condemn the Maduro regime" in Venezuela, which he called a "dictatorship" during a visit to Montenegro, AFP reported. "The United States urges all lovers of freedom to condemn the Maduro regime for its abuse of power and abuse of its own people," said Pence in Podgorica, capital of Montenegro. "Venezuela deserves democracy and the Venezuelan people deserve freedom." Like President Donald Trump, who called Nicolás Maduro "dictator" on July 18, Pence warned that "the collapse of Venezuela has turned into a dictatorship."

      "Not only because the regime organized shameful elections ... but because Monday night the regime captured two prominent opposition members, Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma, who are illegally detained while we speak," he added in Podgorica , Last stage of a tour of the vice president destined to reassure to the allies of Washington in Eastern Europe in front of the "Russian pressure". "President Trump said yesterday that the United States condemns the actions of Maduro's dictatorship and that he personally holds Maduro responsible for the health and safety of those two brave men," who were under house arrest until Tuesday when they were imprisoned.

     On Monday, the US government imposed financial and legal sanctions on Nicolás Maduro, something that the European Union refused to do on Wednesday, although it refused to recognize the Constituent Assembly and urged the Venezuelan government to suspend its sworn-in. Elected on Sunday in the midle of violent demonstrations that left a dozen dead, the Constituent Assembly will meet in the Elliptical Hall of the Legislative Palace, in which Chamber debates the parliament, with opposition majority, which makes fearing confrontations. Venezuela, suffering a severe economic crisis, entered a new stage of political conflict with the election of the 545 constituents who will reform the Constitution of 1999.

SMARTMATIC DENOUNCES FRAUD IN CONSTITUENT ELECTION; RECOMMENDS AUDIT


        CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -
The number of the participation in the election of the Constituent Assembly of Sunday in Venezuela was "manipulated", and the difference of votes could be more than one million votes, affirmed Wednesday SmartMatic, the company that supplied the technology of the elections, AFP reported. The automated system used in Venezuela "is designed so that, in case of manipulation, its detection is immediate and very easy to identify," the company said in a statement in London. "Thanks to the existence of this robust system ... we can know, without a doubt, that in the last elections of the National Constituent Assembly there was manipulation of the participation data," he explained.

     SmartMatic recalled having supported all the results of the elections held in Venezuela from 2004 to 2015, including the election of President Nicolás Maduro by a minuscule margin in 2013, or the victory of the opposition in the National Assembly in 2015. "An audit Would allow us to know the exact amount of participation. We estimate that the difference between the number announced and the number that the system throws is at least one million voters, "the text explained. "What we say is that thanks to the automatic system and thanks to that we can audit the system, the participation numbers announced are different from those that left the system," Smartmatic president Antonio Múgica explained at a later press conference.

     "In order to know exactly the participation, a more extensive audit of the counting system should be done," Múgica said. "We do not have access to a full audit, only partial access, which allowed us to get this release. We have no idea who was able to manipulate the system. " Elected last Sunday in the midst of violent demonstrations that left a dozen dead, the Constituent Assembly will sit in the Elliptical Hall of the Legislative Palace, where the Parliament debates the opposition, which makes fearing confrontations. Venezuela, suffering a severe economic crisis, entered a new stage of political conflict with the election of the 545 constituents who will reform the Constitution of 1999.

THE SECRETARY GENERAL DE LA OAS CALLS FRAUDULENT THE CONSTITUTIONAL ASSEMBLY

           WASHINGTON, D.C.   --OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said today that in Venezuela "the largest electoral fraud in Latin American history" has been confirmed after the company charged with counting votes in the elections of the constituent national assembly denounced that there was " handling". "It confirms the largest electoral fraud in Latin American history in percentage and millions of voters #Venezuela," Almagro wrote in his Twitter account. The company in charge of the vote counting in Venezuela, Smartmatic, denounced today that there was "manipulation" of the data of participation in the elections to the constituent of Sunday.

     According to the Venezuelan Electoral Power, more than 8 million people voted, a figure rejected by the opposition and the Public Prosecutor's Office. "An audit would allow us to know the exact amount of participation. We estimate that the difference between the number announced and the amount that the system throws is at least one million voters," said the company's CEO, Antonio Múgica, Press conference in London. The firm has been in charge of providing the technological platform for voting and services for the elections in Venezuela since 2004. However, in the last vote there was no presence of opposition auditors, who are considered fundamental witnesses of the process, according to the Arguments of the company.

     Venezuelan President Julio Borges announced today that this opposition chamber will ask the Venezuelan Prosecutor's Office for an investigation into the "manipulation" of election results denounced by Smartmatic. "Not only has a fraud occurred: it is a crime that begins with The very head of the electoral power, "Borges said in the Federal Legislative Palace before starting today's session. Almagro, head of the OAS since May 2015, has consistently denounced Maduro's government since a few months after his arrival in Washington and "ignores" the constituent for "his nullity of origin" and "unconstitutionality."

August 2, 2017

VENEZUELA'S DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO CRITICIZES US SANCTIONS IMPOSED AGAINST HIM
 
    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- Venezuela’s DICTATOR Nicolas Maduro criticized on Monday the sanctions imposed by the United States government against him over the July 30 elections amid violent protests against the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) promoted by the government. “You’re with Trump or you’re with Venezuela, you’re with Trump or you’re with the democracy, you’re with Trump or you’re with the free people of the world, that’s the decision, you’re with Trump or you’re with the free world,” Nicolas Maduro said in a televised speech at the National Electoral Council (CNE) headquarters.

     “They are the decisions that express their impotence, their despair, their hatred. They express the character of the magnate, who is emperor of the United States,” the president added. Maduro also responded to Washington’s threat to suspend the ANC, saying: “I do not obey Imperial orders (...) of foreign governments.” The Venezuelan president said “Trump is more repudiated in the United States and in the world than (former US President) George W. Bush himself,” adding that he, Maduro, is “anticolonialist, antiracist” and “against the Ku Klux Klan that governs the White House.”

    Maduro once again criticized the US, which he claimed behaved in an imperial manner in Latin America and the Caribbean, and attacked governments in the region that he said were falling under the domination of Washington. US National Security Adviser Herbert R. McMaster announced on Monday direct sanctions by the US government, including freezing Maduro’s assets in the US and prohibiting US citizens from carrying out economic transactions with the Venezuelan leader. “Maduro is not just a bad leader. He is now a dictator,” said McMaster, adding that Maduro has joined “a very exclusive club,” that includes Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who have all been sanctioned by Washington.

VENEZUELAN SECURITY OFFICIALS SEIZED OPPOSITION LEADERS  LOPEZ, LEDEZMA FROM  HOMES

 

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -
Venezuelan security officials seized opposition leaders Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma from their homes during nighttime raids on Tuesday, in what critics of President Nicolas Maduro said was a growing crackdown by his dictatorial regime. Their apprehension comes a day after the United States slapped sanctions on unpopular leftist Maduro for a new legislative superbody, the constituent assembly, which was elected on Sunday in a vote boycotted by the opposition. The pro-government Supreme Court said in a Facebook statement the measures were taken because the men had been planning to flee.

     The opposition countered it was a further sign Maduro was seeking to stamp out four months of massive street protests against him. "Maduro's dictatorship is on the attack," said opposition lawmaker Yajaira Forero. Lopez, a 46-year-old hardliner, and Ledezma, a 62 year-old veteran politician, were both under house arrest, the former for his role in leading street demonstrations against Maduro in 2014 and the latter on charges of plotting a coup. Both men had been urging protests against Sunday's vote, which they charged was rigged and a naked power grab by Maduro to avoid free and fair elections which he would lose.

    A video showed Ledezma, dressed in his pajamas, being dragged out of his building by what appeared to be security agents as a woman screamed, "They're taking away Ledezma! Please neighbors! This is a dictatorship!" A still image taken from a social media video is said to show the moment in which opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez is led into a vehicle marked with "Sebin", Venezuela's intelligence agency. Lilian Tintori, posted a video that appeared to show him being led into a vehicle emblazoned with the name of Venezuela's intelligence agency. Tintori, who has two small children with Lopez, is pregnant, Ledezma's wife Mitzy said in an interview with CNN en Espanol.

US WARNS VENEZUELA'S MADURO ON LEOPOLDO LOPEZ AND ANTONIO LEDEZMA RETURN TO PRISON

           WASHINGTON, D.C.   --The United States says it is holding Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro "personally responsible" for the health and safety of two opposition leaders who were taken by authorities from the homes where they were under house arrest. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders says the detentions of Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma followed the Maduro government's "outrageous seizure of power through a sham election" over the weekend. Sanders says Lopez and Ledezma were being "unjustly" held by the Venezuelan government and that Maduro is responsible for their well-being.

     The U.S. State Department says it's "deeply concerned with the Venezuelan government's decision to re-arrest opposition leaders Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma." It says the midnight detentions are further evidence that President Nicolas Maduro "is an authoritarian ruler who is not willing to respect fundamental human rights."Venezuela's Supreme Court says the two were detained early Tuesday because they violated terms of their house arrest. Both had been held for allegedly stirring up violence in earlier protests.

    Washington on Monday added Maduro to a steadily growing list of high-ranking Venezuelan officials targeted by financial sanctions. So far, the Trump administration has not delivered on threats to sanction Venezuela's oil industry, which could undermine Maduro's government but raise U.S. gas prices and deepen Venezuela's humanitarian crisis. The moves follow Sunday's election of a pro-government assembly with almost absolute power to reshape the country's political system. Lopez was detained after anti-government protests and sentenced to more than a decade in prison. He was released last month to serve the rest of his term under house arrest. Ledezma, a former Caracas mayor, was also detained in 2015 and has been under house arrest.

August 1st., 2017

U.S. SANCTIONS VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT NICOLAS MADURO, CALLS HIM A 'DICTATOR'
 
    
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Trump administration on Monday froze assets, banned travel and prohibited Americans from dealing with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, calling him a dictator and accusing him of undermining democracy after he carried out an election Sunday for an all-powerful new legislative assembly in defiance of warnings from the international community. As part of what are expected to be a series of escalating sanctions, the Treasury Department added Maduro to its growing list of sanctioned current and former members of the Venezuelan government and military.

    “Maduro is not just a bad leader: He is now a dictator,” National Security Adviser Henry McMaster said from the White House briefing room Monday, reading a statement from President Donald Trump. The U.S. has yet to settle on “strong and swift” economic actions that Trump threatened ahead of Sunday’s Venezuelan election for a new constituent assembly with the power to dissolve the opposition-held parliament, effectively wiping out the remnants of Venezuela’s democracy. McMaster called the vote a “sham election.”

    Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the U.S. would continue to monitor Venezuela but declined to detail potential future economic sanctions. “Yesterday’s illegitimate elections confirm that Maduro is a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. “By sanctioning Maduro, the United States makes clear our opposition to the policies of his regime and our support for the people of Venezuela who seek to return their country to a full and prosperous democracy.” Mnuchin reiterated the threat to sanction all 545 constituent assembly members once they are seated. That would include Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores, and powerful congressman Diosdado Cabello, as well as lowly socialist party members with no U.S. finances.

DICTATOR NICOLAS MADURO WARNS OF SANCTIONS AGAINST VENEZUELAN PARLIAMENT, PUBLIC PROSECUTOR AFTER VOTE

 

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has warned of measures against the Parliament, the public prosecutor’s office, opposition leaders and the private media in his first speech after Sunday’s vote on the National Constituent Assembly (ANC). In a televised speech to supporters, Maduro said that the new ANC, which his government has pushed for, would take power in the coming hours and would remove parliamentary immunity from “those who need it to be lifted.”

     He promised that the ANC would counter the “parasitic bourgeoisie” and solve the economic crisis and political stalemate which has racked the country, as well as take over the judiciary. Maduro also criticized the media’s coverage of the vote, attacking privately run television channels for “censuring the elections.” According to the National Electoral Council (CNE), over 8 million people voted in Sunday’s election, just over 41 percent of the country’s electorate. The opposition has refused to recognize the vote, which was held after months of violent protests in Caracas and other cities against the government and its plan to rewrite the constitution to give Maduro more power.

     The protests continued across Venezuela on Sunday, leaving at least 10 people dead and hundreds more injured. Maduro has also been widely condemned by the international community including the US, Colombia, Spain and Mexico, who have all said they would not recognize the ANC, with Washington threatening further sanctions against Venezuela. “We will continue to take strong and swift actions against the architects of authoritarianism in Venezuela, including those who participate in the National Constituent Assembly as a result of today’s flawed election,” a US State Department spokesperson said.

NATIONAL ASSEMBLY LEGISLATORS WILL NOT DELIVER THEIR HEADQUARTERS TO THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY, THEY FEAR CLASHES AND VIOLENCE

           CARACAS,  VENEZUELA    --Venezuelan National Assembly President Julio Borges said Monday that the opposition, which controls the pALACE, will not leave the Legislative Palace to the Constituent Assembly of the Chavez regime elected on Sunday, which is scheduled to sit in the same building, reported Infobae . "There is a very probable scenario of shock, of force, of violence," lamented Borges. As he argued, the opposition will assert the mandate for which it was elected. "We can only assert that the Parliament was elected by more than 14 million Venezuelans and is the only elected and legitimate authority. We have to defend the law, the Constitution, "he said, speaking to Radio Miter.

     In that sense, Borges launched a call for "greater strength and accompaniment" to the international community, to express "tough and firm" positions against Nicolas Maduro. "I think it's important that we look at the outcome of yesterday as a huge failure of Maduro's government. The people beat the government, "he said. As he pointed out, there was "fear, blackmail and intimidation" to achieve a significant participation and questioned the figures released by the Electoral Council. "To think that at this moment Maduro has 8 million votes when the country is in debacle is tragic. The silence was thunderous. There is a parallel reality that is imposed, "he said.

     Then, he attacked: "They are scared to death because they know they have lost popular support, international connections, legitimacy. Only the brute force remains. There is nothing weaker than a government that has only brute force left. " Regarding the role that foreign governments can assume, Borges mentioned sanctions against individuals linked to the regime, prohibition of entry to communities such as the European Union and other economic sanctions as possible measures that "can somehow break down what is A mafia of power ". Asked about the possible negative effect that restrictions may have on the population, Borges explained: "The sanctions have been imposed by Maduro for some time. They are going to aggravate the situation, but it is the continuation of the hell we are already living. "

 

 

 

 

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