Latest News
of FEBRUARY  2017


February 28,  2017


      WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- President Trump will propose raising military spending by $54 billion — a nearly 10 percent increase — and reducing spending by the same amount across much of the rest of the government, White House officials said on Monday. In remarks to the nation’s governors during a White House meeting, the president said he would propose a “public safety and national security” budget for the coming fiscal year that prioritizes the military and other public safety requirements. “This budget follows through on my promise to keep Americans safe,” Mr. Trump said. “It will include an historic increase in defense spending to rebuild the depleted military of the United States.”

     He added that the budget would send a “message to the world in these dangerous times of American strength, security and resolve.” And he said that the increases in military spending were required to ensure that the United States emerges victorious when it engages in wars with adversaries around the globe. “We have to start winning wars again — when I was young, in high school and college, people used to say we never lost a war,” the president told the governors. “We need to win or don’t fight it all. It’s a mess like you have never seen before.” A senior budget official told reporters that most federal agencies would experience a reduction as a result of the increases in military spending.

     The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said foreign aid would face a significant decrease. The official did not explain why foreign aid, which is a very small fraction of overall government spending and is connected to security concerns abroad, was being targeted for steep reductions. The budget outline is an early effort by the new administration to make good on Mr. Trump’s campaign promises to drastically reduce government spending in Washington while significantly increasing resources for the military. Mr. Trump’s proposals will shield entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security from cuts, according to White House officials.


-- “If the Democratic Charter helps, shall it be welcome, but there is much dependence on Venezuela and its oil.” Mauricio Macri: A democratic process needs to be accomplished urgently in Venezuela Argentinean President Mauricio Macri backs the enforcement of the Democratic Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS) to expel Venezuela from the regional body. However, he conceded that the initiative could be opposed by some countries in the Western Hemisphere. “If the Democratic Charter helps, shall it be welcome, but there is much dependence on Venezuela and its oil,” Macri said at the beginning of a meeting with investors in Madrid as part of his visit to Spain.

      The enforcement of the OAS Democratic Charter would pave the way for the eviction of a Member State if disruption of the democratic order is proven, a possibility that the Luis Almagro, the OAS’ Secretary has brought forward, AP cited. In this way, Macri voiced support to the OAS’ chief: "Almagro has our support.”It is time that the OAS Secretary Luis Almagro or Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri take a stand in favor of Venezuela and democracy in the region. The Inter-American Democratic Charter (IDC) should have been invoked long ago regarding Venezuela. The two Chavista administrations have violated its mandates for a long time: both the late Venezuelan President Hugo Rafael Chavez Frías and the current one, Nicolás Maduro Moros.

     But through the 17 years of this anti-democratic and militaristic regime there has evidently never been enough political will by the General Secretary and a sufficient number of Member States of the Organization of American States OAS. Hence the few attempts of invocation that have occurred in recent years have not taken hold. The reasons for this lack of political will are too well known. And although there is gradually less economic and political interests of the members of the OAS in Maduro, they still persist. The vast majority of Latin American governments do not want to act together, set a precedent and risk that this action will then somehow comeback . In addition, why act if the invocation of the CDI does not lead to sanctions; and if the maximum possible penalty, which is suspension of Venezuela, does not guarantee a behavioral change? There is the Cuban dictatorship, suspended from the OAS for years and without wanting to return to her bosom even though in 2009 the agency raised (by consensus and without conditions) the penalty that excluded it in 1962.


       LIMA, PERU   --
Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski commented recently at the United Nations on “red-hot issues,” such as the Venezuelan case. Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski warned on Friday at the United Nations (UN) against the “danger” of emigration “en masse” of Venezuelans to neighboring countries, few hours after his meeting in Washington with US President Donald Trump. Kuczynski, the first Latin American president that has met with the incoming US President Donald Trump at the White House, disclosed on “red-hot issues” that needed to be discussed, such as the Venezuelan case, AFP quoted.

     “Venezuela does not want any meddling and that is natural, but also there is the danger of massive emigration to Colombia, Curacao and other countries in Latin America,” Kuczynski told reporters of international news agencies at the UN headquarters in New York, following a meeting with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Kuczynski has lobbied for the establishment of a global group of countries on behalf of the Venezuelan people, overburdened with shortage of food and medicines and the highest inflation rate in the world, estimated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) at 1660% by 2017.

     In Venezuela "there can be serious health problems, so we have to be willing a group of countries to help. Not to interfere, but to help," Kuczynski said. Venezuela represents a rare common point of understanding between the two leaders of different positions: Kuczynski, a right-wing liberal, and Trump, the real estate tycoon for protectionist policies. Trump, who took office a little over a month ago, has already called for the release of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, and the Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, accused of drug trafficking. In addition, both Trump and Kuczynski met recently with Lilian Tintori, the wife of imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo López.

February 27,  2017


      CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --  An Special Committee appointed last Wednesday by the National Assembly plenary that will investigate the indictments against the Executive Vice President, Tareck El Aissami, was installed in the vice-presidency of the legislative body. The investigative body will be chaired by the vice-president of the AN, Freddy Guevara and comprised of representatives Ismael León, Carlos Prósperi, Eliécer Sirit and José Luis Pirela among others. The group agreed among its first actions to notify the National Government and all the country's security agencies, Sebin, CICPC and the Public Prosecutor's Office of the special commission that it will investigate Vice-President Aissami, accused by the US government and his alleged front man Samark Lopez, of drug trafficking and money laundering.

     The Aissami was included in the list of the US Department of the Treasury. (Known as the 'Clinton list') for allegedly playing a significant role in international drug trafficking. The sanctions include restrictions on US financial access and the freezing of assets in that country.,The commission that will investigate the case will have a period of 30 days to submit a report to the NA plenary, in accordance with the Internal and Debates Regulations that also provide for extension, if necessary, and could lead to a request for a Motion of censure against the senior official.

    "The US State Department has accused the Vice President of drug trafficking, an offense that it does not prescribe and of serious international repercussions," said Deputy Freddy Guevara during the ceremony setting up the parliamentary commission. Guevara said that the first person interested in clarifying this whole matter is the Vice President himself, who recommended attending that parliamentary instance while pronouncing the immediate separation of the position to facilitate the investigation. He said that first the commission of the AN will go to the US Department of the Treasury to know the origin of the property reported on 13 companies frozen in the United States, several Caribbean countries and the United Kingdom. He commented that El Aissami "can not exercise the functions of Vice President because it has a ban on signing contracts with the United States." He clarified that the commission will act with all "rigor" in the investigation.


      tEHRAN, IRAN  
-- The United States should expect a "strong slap in the face" if it underestimates Iran's defensive capabilities, a commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards said on Wednesday, as Tehran concluded war games. Since taking office last month, U.S. President Donald Trump has pledged to get tough with Iran, warning the Islamic Republic after its ballistic missile test on Jan. 29 that it was playing with fire and all U.S. options were on the table. "The enemy should not be mistaken in its assessments, and it will receive a strong slap in the face if it does make such a mistake," said General Mohammad Pakpour, head of the Guards’ ground forces, quoted by the Guards' website Sepahnews.

     On Wednesday, the Revolutionary Guards concluded three days of exercises with rockets, artillery, tanks and helicopters, weeks after Trump warned that he had put Tehran "on notice" over the missile launch. "The message of these exercises ... for world arrogance is not to do anything stupid," said Pakpour, quoted by the semi-official news agency Tasnim. "Everyone could see today what power we have on the ground." The Guards said they test-fired "advanced rockets" and used drones in the three-day exercises which were held in central and eastern Iran.

    As tensions also mounted with Israel, a military analyst at Tasnim said that Iran-allied Hezbollah could use Iranian made Fateh 110 missiles to attack the Israeli nuclear reactor at Dimona from inside Lebanon. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said last Thursday that his group, which played a major role in ending Israel's occupation of Lebanon, could strike Dimona. "Since Lebanon's Hezbollah is one of the chief holders of the Fateh 110, this missile is one of main alternatives for targeting the Dimona installations," Hossein Dalirian said in a commentary carried by Tasnim. Iran says its missile program is defensive and not linked to its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. During the U.S. election race, Trump branded the accord "the worst deal ever negotiated", telling voters he would either rip it up or seek a better agreement.


       BEIJING, CHINA   --
China's defense ministry said on Thursday it was aware of the presence of a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group in the South China Sea and China respected freedom of navigation for all countries in the waters there. The U.S. navy said the strike group, including the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier the USS Carl Vinson, began "routine operations" in the South China Sea on Saturday amid growing tension with China over control of the disputed waterway. Defence ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said China had a "grasp" of the situation regarding the carrier group in the South China Sea.

     "China hopes the U.S. earnestly respects the sovereignty and security concerns of countries in the region, and earnestly respects the efforts of countries in the region to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea," Ren told a regular monthly news briefing. "Of course, we also respect freedom of navigation and overflight for all countries in the South China Sea in accordance with international law," he added. The situation in the South China Sea was generally stable, Ren said. "We hope the actions of the U.S. side can contribute positive energy towards this good situation, and not the opposite."

     Good military relations between the two countries are in interests of both, and well as of the region and the world, and China hoped the United States could meet China half way, strengthen communication and avoid misjudgment, Ren said. Friction between the United States and China over trade and territory under U.S. President Donald Trump have increased concern that the South China Sea could become a flashpoint. China wrapped up its own naval exercises in the South China Sea late last week. War games involving its only aircraft carrier have unnerved neighbors with which it has long had rival claims in the waters. China lays claim to almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion worth of trade passes each year.

February 26,  2017


      UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK  --  Venezuela’s right to vote has been suspended at the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) after racking up a debt of USD $24 million. This is the second time in three years that the large debts of the government of Nicolás Maduro have gone unpaid to the United Nations. The Caribbean country leads the list of debt defaulters, followed by Libya with USD $6.5 million, Somalia with USD $1.3 million, and Guinea-Bissau with USD $442,552.

     The suspension became effective on January 25 when UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres notified the president of the UN General Assembly that Venezuela and 13 countries would be temporarily losing their right to vote in the forum. The notification states that “the amount owed is equal to or greater than the total of the installments owed for the previous two full years (2015-2016).” Under Article 19 of the Charter of the United Nations, related to the membership requirements that must be honored by member states, Venezuela can not participate in any vote that the General Assembly may make at its seventy-first session until it cancels its debts.

     As of February 21, 2017, the UN Contribution Committee reported that ten member states are in arrears under Article 19, but only six are unable to vote in the General Assembly, most of them countries with high levels of poverty: Cape Verde, Libya, Papua New Guinea, Sudan, Vanuatu, and Venezuela. Article 19 allows a vote in the General Assembly if it can be proven that the country can not pay its dues “for reasons beyond its control” but Venezuela, which is experiencing a severe economic crisis due to falling oil prices, inflation, and an alleged “economic war,” has given no explanation.


-- Venezuela Supreme Court (TSJ) orders the prosecutor's office to assess whether deputy Freddy Guevara should be investigated for alleged "usurpation of duties" when he conducted a corruption investigation against former oil minister Rafael Ramírez, which Guevara described today as " "unusual". The ruling issued by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela (TSJ) asks the Prosecutor's Office and the Comptroller's Office of the Caribbean country to "determine whether or not to order the initiation of the respective investigations, against Deputy Freddy Guevara ", First vice-president of the National Assembly (AN, Parliament).

     This is because, according to the text, it could have been "pretension to act as a representative of the State in foreign territory" when the opposition leader Guevara went to the UN headquarters in New York to "notify" Ramirez about the investigation the Assembly was conducted against him. For the Supreme Court, such action by the parliamentarian "represents a probable usurpation of powers" - which corresponds to the Executive - and therefore, "responsibilities can be generated". As a result, the TSJ asks the Prosecutor's Office and the Comptroller's Office to evaluate whether this investigation "within the scope of their powers and accordingly to the begin the appropriate procedures". On November 16, the Venezuelan Parliament declared the political responsibility of Rafael Ramírez and Javier Alvarado Ochoa (president of a PDVSA subsidiary) for their alleged involvement in corruption cases, after the Parliament's Comptroller's Committee had investigated PDVSA.

     A week later, Guevara, then president of the Assembly commission, asked the Prosecutor's Office to initiate an investigation against Ramírez for acts of corruption that would represent, an embezzlement of more than 11 billion dollars. On that day, Guevara presented a file in which, according to him, there are "more than 3,000 documents with evidences of "administrative irregularities." The sentence issued by the Supreme Court was headed by Gladys Gutiérrez, who until yesterday was the president of the Judiciary, who annulled the parliamentary investigation of the National Assembly against Ramirez. According to the text, the complaint was declared "null" by "unconstitutional." Likewise, the document orders Guevara and the other deputies who make up the Legislative Comptroller's Committee to abide by the decision. Informed of this sentence, Guevara affirmed today that "neither the threats nor the repression" will make him to stop exercising his "work and duty" as deputy, vice president of the AN and as a Venezuelan.


       HAVANA, CUBAY  --
Six people were killed and 49 wounded after a passenger train struck a locomotive that was carrying sugarcane, about 5 kilometers from the city of Sancti Spiritus, in central Cuba, local media reported.

     Both vehicles collided between Sancti Spiritus and the town of Tuinucu, according to Julio Miguel Vera, who was riding in the passenger rail car, as quoted by the digital newspaper Escambray. “With the impact I flew through the door and saw how the locomotive was dragged several meters to the car,” Vera said about her experience. All the deceased victims were reportedly residents of the province of Sancti Spiritus, located 360 kilometers east of Havana. The wounded are receiving attention in the “Camilo Cienfuegos” General University Hospital, the main hospital institution of the province of Sancti Spiritus.

    Interior Ministry officials are continuing to investigate the causes of the crash but noted that the passenger train crew did not respect the right of way, according to a new state television report. Just one week ago, another accident in central Cuba left 48 people injured when a passenger bus overturned. Traffic accidents are classified as the fifth leading cause of death in Cuba, which has a population of 11.1 million people, according to 2012 statistics, and the death rate for that cause exceeds six deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, according to official data.

February 25,  2017


      Wahington, d.c.   -The first Latin American president to visit Donald Trump at the White House told the U.S. leader Friday he prefers “bridges to walls,” sending him a gentle rebuke of his controversial proposal to build a wall along the border with Mexico. Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a U.S.-educated former Wall Street banker, has emerged as an unlikely leader in Latin America, taking a strong stand against Trump’s “America First” agenda while many in the region remain silent. Kuczynski, 78, characterized his meeting with Trump as “cordial and constructive” and said he told Trump he was interested in the free movement of people — “legally,” he emphasized —and also spoke about trade and economic development.

     Kuczynski harshly criticized Trump during the U.S. presidential campaign, joking he would cut diplomatic relations with the U.S. “with a saw” if Trump followed through on his pledge to build a wall with Mexico, which he compared to the Berlin Wall. On Friday, he made a point of saying “we prefer bridges to walls.” Leaders in the region, even staunch critics of the U.S. like Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, have largely avoided rallying to Mexico’s side for fear of jeopardizing their own relations with the Trump administration. Kuczynski, who renounced U.S. citizenship to run for Peru’s presidency, speaks Trump’s language, not just flawless English but that of a successful businessman with deep influence in the power circles of New York, where he lived and worked

     One area where the two men likely see eye-to-eye is Venezuela — though Kuczynski said the topic only came up tangentially in their conversation. Kuczynski has been outspoken criticizing Venezuela’s socialist government, calling for humanitarian aid to the country and giving visas to exiles. Trump said the US has a “big problem” with Venezuela. Within 30 days of taking office, Trump has already slapped sanctions on Venezuela’s vice president for his alleged role in facilitating large cocaine shipments to the United States.


-- The Venezuelan Cardinal and Archbishop of Caracas, Jorge Liberato Urosa Savino, said today that the Catholic Church supports dialogue in Venezuela, but that it "seems" that the government of the Caribbean country "has mocked the Vatican" because, in its judgment, it has taken measures contrary to those agreed during the process. "We believe in a dialogue, but in a dialogue to resolve, and it would seem rather that what has happened is that the Government has made fun of the Vatican and has made fun of the church because they want people to think that they want to go ahead with the dialogue, But then take a series of measures that go against it, "said the cardinal.

     In an interview with private radio station Unión Radio, the Cardinal said that the dialogue process between the government of President Nicolás Maduro and the Venezuelan opposition has "reached a near-dead point" in November, when, according to him, the agreements agreed by the parties had not been implemented . In that sense, he stressed that the letter sent in December by Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, indicated that the Holy See was not satisfied with what had been achieved through the talks. "Cardinal Parolin indicated four points that the Government had not fulfilled: the liberation of political prisoners, the resolution of the food and health crisis, the restoration of autonomy and respect for the constitutional powers of the National Assembly (Parliament) and the electoral route, "he said.

     Points to which the Venezuelan opposition has demanded its fulfillment and which, according to the Cardinal, was enough reason to abandon the process of the dialogue. The Cardinal emphasizes that, on the contrary, the government strengthened "the attack" against the Parliament, "attacked the immunity of the parliamentarians", "did not release the political prisoners who have received release documents", and that, in his judgment, the Government "instead of solving problems, what it does is aggravate them". "What it does is to strengthen its hegemony," he added. Regarding the church's position on dialogue, Urosa Savino considered it "extremely important," but stressed that the institution believes that this process must be replaced by a "truly effective" dialogue to solve the problems that the nation is facing.


Following a decision made on Monday by the Mercosur Parliament not to accept Venezuela’s suspension in Mercosur, Paraguayan Minister of Foreign Affairs Eladio Loizaga termed it “a legal and administrative sanction” Paraguayan Minister of Foreign Affairs Eladio Loizaga said on Tuesday that Venezuela’s suspension in the Common Market of the South (Mercosur), is “a legal, administrative sanction.” Reference was made to the decision made on Tuesday by the Mercosur Parliament (Parlasur) to rebut the suspension.

     On Monday, Parlasur vowed to appeal the measure at the Mercosur Standing Review Court, Efe reported. "Parlasur acts in an independent manner, and the determination of the cessation of the said country (Venezuela) was made within the framework of the Mercosur Council of Ministers. It is a legal, administrative sanction,” Loizaga affirmed, according to a press release from the Paraguayan Foreign Office. Loizaga conceded that he had a telephone conversation with his Argentinean counterpart Susana Malcorra about such decision of Parlasur. He did not play down that the Venezuelan case could be addressed “from a humanitarian and political view” in the upcoming meeting of Mercosur Ministers of Foreign Affairs, slated for March 9, in Buenos Aires.    

The Paraguayan foreign minister added that Paraguay "longs to see a democratically strengthened Venezuela." The suspension of Venezuela was decided, according to the founding states of Mercosur -Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay-, because four years after its entry, in 2012, Venezuela had not yet completed the reuirements necessary for its adhesion to be formalized , Something that the government of Nicolás Maduro denied, since in his opinion it has ratified most of the regulations of the block. Regarding the specific content of Mercosur's meeting of foreign ministers on March 9, Loizaga said that this is an initiative of Paraguay to ensure that the countries of the bloc receive information on the progress of negotiations for a trade agreement with the European Union, And the launching of negotiations with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

February 24,  2017


      HAVANA, CUBA   --Cuban dissident group awarded a prize to the head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, who was denied a visa to accept it in person. The Cuban authorities denied visas to Almagro and other foreign dignitaries invited to witness him receive the Oswaldo Paya prize, named after a dissident who died in 2012 in a car crash under mysterious circumstances. But some 50 people, including opposition activists, journalists and diplomats, crowded into the Havana home of the dissident’s daughter to award Almagro the prize in his absence.

     “We are happy to do this with those who were able to make it,” said 28-year-old Rosa Maria Paya, who leads a group called the Latin American Network of Youths for Democracy. In her living room, decorated with a Cuban flag and a poster of her father, were two empty chairs — one for Almagro and other in honor of the late Chilean president Patricio Aylwin, who was also recognized. Black plaques bearing Oswaldo Paya’s face were placed in each seat.Almagro, Aylwin’s daughter Mariana, and former Mexican president Felipe Calderon all were blocked from traveling to Cuba for the event.

     The Americas’ only Communist government denied them visas for what the Cuban foreign ministry called “an open and grave provocation against the government” of dictator Raul Castro. Given this bid to “create domestic instability… the government decided to deny visas to the foreigners linked to these matters,” the ministry said. Paya’s father Oswaldo was a recipient of the European Union’s Sakharov prize in recognition of his work advocating democracy and political freedoms in Cuba. He was killed when a car he was riding in went off a road and into a tree. The government blamed the driver, saying he was speeding, but the family and another occupant of the vehicle say it was deliberately run off the road.


-- Mexico has indicated it will not accept the Trump administration’s new immigration proposals, saying it will go to the United Nations to defend the rights of immigrants in the US. Luis Videgaray, Mexico’s foreign minister, was responding to Donald Trump’s plans to enforce immigration rules more vigorously against undocumented migrants, which could lead to mass deportations to Mexico, not just of Mexicans but also citizens of other Latin American countries.

     “We are not going to accept it because we don’t have to accept it,” Videgaray said, according to the Reforma newspaper. “I want to make clear, in the most emphatic way, that the government of Mexico and the Mexican people do not have to accept measures that one government wants to unilaterally impose on another.” Mexicans fear Trump deportation plan will lead to refugee camps along border The sweeping measures were announced in Washington on the eve of a visit to Mexico by the US secretaries of state and homeland security that had been aimed at salvaging bilateral relations, currently at their lowest point in at least three decades.

     Rex Tillerson and John Kelly are seeking to soothe Mexican fears in the wake of Trump’s new executive orders, the construction of a border wall that he insists Mexico be made to pay for, and his threat to unpick the 1994 Nafta free trade agreement that underpins the Mexican economy. On Thursday, the two men, a former oil executive and a retired general, will meet the Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, who abruptly cancelled a trip to Washington at the end of January after Trump sent out a tweet suggesting it was better not to come “if Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall”.


        MADRID, SPAIN  -- 
The Head of the Spanish Government, Mariano Rajoy, wants for Venezuela “a democratic political system where there is respect for liberties and where people may elect and change governments.” Argentinean President Mauricio Macri highlighted the plight of the Venezuelan people in a country where human rights are not respected President of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, and the Head of the Spanish Government, Mariano Rajoy, took sides on Thursday to label as “worrisome” the state of affairs in Venezuela and they demanded observance of the rule of law.

     During a joint press conference held in Madrid, as part of Macri’s visit to Spain, both leaders presented their views on political and social matters in Venezuela. For Rajoy, the situation in Venezuela “is worsening.” In his opinion, disrespect of human rights in the 21st century and the fact that “someone goes to prison for voicing an opinion different from the opinion held by decision makers” are “inconceivable.” He said as well that he would like for Venezuela “a democratic political system where there is respect for liberties and where people may elect and change governments.” For his part, Macri elaborated on the same topic and highlighted the “plight” of the Venezuelan people, in a country “where human rights are not respected.

      This is the case of dissenter Leopoldo López, in jail for three years, and other political prisoners.” “Deterioration of the situation in the past months in Venezuela is dramatic, where rights and liberties are curtailed,” the Argentinean president added. For his part, Mariano Rajoy agreed that "it is a very worrying matter, it is increasingly worrying. In fact, things are going to get worse. In the twenty-first century, it is inconceivable that human rights, the freedom of the people and the people who are in jail are not respected simply because they have a different opinion from those who make the decision. "What I want for Venezuela is what I want for Spain: A political system with democracy, with freedom, with human rights in which citizens make the decisions they deem appropriate and convenient; Choose a government, change it. Above all, it is a rule of law in which the law is always observed, "he concluded.

February 23,  2017


      Washington, d.c.   --DICTATOR RAUL CASTRO haS denied a visa to the head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, to travel to the communist-ruled island to receive a prize from a dissident organisation, he said Wednesday. Almagro had been invited to receive a prize named for dissident Oswaldo Paya, who died in 2012 in a car crash under mysterious circumstances.

      "My request for a visa for the official OAS passport was denied by the Cuban consulate in Washington," Almagro said in a letter to Paya's daughter Rosa Maria, who organized the ceremony to confer the prize. Almagro said he was informed by Cuban consular authorities that he would be denied a visa even if he travelled on his Uruguayan diplomatic passport. The Cubans conveyed to a representative of Almagro that they regarded the motive of his visit an "unacceptable provocation," and expressed "astonishment" at the OAS's involvement in what they deemed anti-Cuban activities, he said.

     Almagro said he asked that the decision be reversed, arguing that his trip to Cuba was no different from events he had participated in other countries of the region. Two other political figures who wanted to travel to Cuba for the award ceremony — Mexico's former president Felipe Calderon and former Chilean education minister Mariana Aylwin — said they also had been denied visas. Cuba was suspended from the OAS in 1962 at the height of the Cold War, and has declined to return despite having been readmitted in 2009. Since Cuba's suspension, the only OAS secretary general to visit the island was Jose Miguel Insulza, a Chilean who attended a Latin American summit in Havana in 2014.


       SANTIAGO de chile, CHILE  
-- Chile said Tuesday it was recalling its ambassador to Cuba for consultation and speaking to the Cuban government to establish why a prominent former minister was blocked from entering Cuba on Monday night. Mariana Aylwin, a former education minister and daughter of ex-president Patricio Aylwin, was traveling to the island to receive a prize on behalf of her father. The event, planned for Wednesday, was organized by the Latin American Network of Youth for Democracy, which has been critical of the Cuban government.

     The organization has also invited Luis Almagro, the head of the Organization of American States, which suspended Cuba in 1962 for being Communist. While the Washington-based OAS agreed in 2009 to lift the Cold War ruling, Cuba declined to rejoin the group, which it deems an imperialist instrument of its former Cold War foe the United States. Aylwin was prevented from checking in to her flight in Chile's capital, Santiago, apparently at the request of the Cuban authorities, she told journalists on Tuesday. "Exercising the right (to travel between nations) should not be interfered with, especially given that Chile has recognized the feats of various figures in Cuban history and politics," Chile's Foreign Relations Ministry said in a statement.

    Mariana Aylwin served in Congress in the 1990s for Chile's centrist Christian Democratic Party, and later as minister in the 2000s under center-left president Ricardo Lagos, who is running for president in Chile's 2017 elections. She is seen as an ideological leader of the most conservative segment of Chile's center-left ruling coalition. Her father was Chile's first democratically elected president after the 1973 to 1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, and is credited with successfully overseeing the nation's fragile political transition.


A new study of Venezuela's stunning decline under Hugo Chavez's socialist model, still followed faithfully by his lap dog successor, Nicolas Maduro, reports that the average Venezuelan lost 19 pounds in the last year. Today, the 2016 Living Conditions Survey finds, 32.5% of Venezuelans eat only once or twice a day, up from 11.3% just one year ago. And 93.3% of all people don't earn enough to buy sufficient food. American Thinker blogger Ronald C. Tinnell called it "The Venezuelan Miracle Weight Loss Program." We call it a shocking indictment of socialism, and should be a siren call to people around the world: Bring socialism to your country, and you bring misery.

     It's the one thing that socialism produces an abundance of. It's a sad fact that Venezuela was once one of the wealthiest countries in South America, and even now has the second-largest oil reserves in the world. It should be a rich nation, filled with prosperous people worried about gaining too much weight, not losing it to hunger. But as formerly middle-class Venezuelans scavenge for food — some even stooping to dumpster diving and eating formerly beloved pets just to stay alive — socialists allied with Maduro have changed nothing. Maduro followed Chavez's lead, spending all the money that the state-oil company earned on "social" programs, all the while attacking small businesses and companies and effectively nationalizing the supermarkets.

    Meanwhile, inflation at close to 500% a year is the highest of any country on earth. Looking at the problems with declining food stocks and roaring inflation, Maduro decided to put the military in charge of the country's food distribution network. The result was predictable: Massive food shortages and rampant corruption, as armed military line their pockets by selling food on the black market. "Mismanagement of the economy has created a humanitarian disaster beyond comprehension." It is an economic philosophy of entitlement and grievance, one that always ends in poverty, wanton destruction, the breakdown of civilization and even death — as the Venezuelans, who willingly handed control of their country over to the socialists, are now finding out.

February 22,  2017


      Washington, d.c.   --U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he will issue a new executive order to replace his controversial directive suspending travel to the United States by citizens of seven mostly Muslim countries. At a White House news conference on Thursday, Trump said the new order would seek to address concerns raised by federal appeals court judges, who temporarily blocked his original travel ban. "The new order is going to be very much tailored to what I consider to be a very bad decision," Trump said, adding: "We had a bad court."

      Trump gave no details about the replacement order. Legal experts said a new directive would have a better chance of withstanding courtroom scrutiny if it covered some non-Muslim countries and exempted non-citizen immigrants living in the U.S. legally. The original order, issued on Jan. 27, triggered chaos at some U.S. and overseas airports, led to international protests, complaints from U.S. businesses and drew more than a dozen legal challenges. In a court filing on Thursday, the Justice Department asked for a pause in proceedings before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which sided with a federal court in Washington state to suspend the travel ban, while litigation over its legality according to the U.S. Constitution played out.

     The Justice Department asked the court to vacate that ruling once the administration has rescinded its original order and issued a new one. In an order later on Thursday, the 9th Circuit put proceedings over the ban on hold but did not say whether it would eventually withdraw its previous ruling. The ban has been deeply divisive in the United States, with a Reuters/Ipsos poll indicating about half of Americans supported it shortly after the order took effect. Trump's decision to issue a new directive plunges court proceedings over his earlier order into uncertainty. Litigants around the country said they will carefully examine any new policy to see if it raises similar constitutional issues and will continue to pursue legal action if necessary.


-- U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said Monday the United States does not intend to seize oil from Iraq, something President Donald Trump has in the past advocated as "spoils" for U.S military activity there and to prevent the Islamic State group from selling it. Mattis spoke to reporters traveling with him to Iraq for an unannounced visit, which came on the second day of a military offensive to push Islamic State from the western part of the city of Mosul. "I think all of us here in this room, all of us in America, have generally paid for our gas and oil all along, and I'm sure that we will continue to do that in the future," Mattis said. "We're not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil."

     Later in Baghdad, Mattis also vowed to support Iraq through the fight against the Islamic State group. "I assure you we are going to stand by you through this fight. We will stand by you and your army in the future so that your sovereignty is protected by the Iraqi forces and no one else," he said. When asked if the United States would stay in Iraq after the battle for Mosul had ended, he said, "I imagine we'll be in this fight for a while and we'll stand by each other." Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, who commands the U.S.-led coalition working to defeat Islamic State, was more explicit. "I don't anticipate that we'll be asked to leave by the government of Iraq immediately after Mosul.

      I think the government of Iraq realizes this is a very complex fight and they're going to need the assistance of the coalition even beyond Mosul." On Monday, Iraqi forces advanced into the southern outskirts of Mosul on the second day of a push to drive Islamic State militants from the city's western part. Forces targeted a hill that overlooks the city's airport, entering the village of Abu Saif. Mattis' stop in Iraq includes meetings with Townsend, as well as with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and other Iraqi officials. Mattis is working on his own plan to accelerate the fight against Islamic State, which Trump ordered on January 28 be delivered to him within 30 days. As the Mosul offensive began Sunday, Mattis said the U.S. role, which has been to conduct airstrikes and serve as advisers to Iraqi troops, will remain the same.


        TeHRan, iran  -- 
Calling Israel a “cancerous tumor,” Iran’s supreme leader on Tuesday expressed support for a “holy intifada” to eradicate the Jewish state, arguing that the international community is headed toward confrontation with the “Zionist regime.” In the opening address of the regime’s sixth international conference in support of the Palestinian violent uprising against Israel, Ayatollah Khamenei hailed the “resistance” against the “cruel occupation,” which he described as the worst case of oppression against one particular people recorded in history. He also accused Israel’s founders of being responsible for the current upheaval in the wider Middle East.

    “The people of Palestine have no option other than keeping the flames of fighting alight by relying on Allah the Exalted and by relying on their innate capabilities, as they have genuinely done so until today,” said Khamenei, according to a translation of his speech posted on his website. A wave of terrorism some called a third intifada, which began last year and manifested itself mainly in stabbings and vehicular attacks against Israelis troops and civilians, is “moving forward in a bright and hopeful manner,” the ayatollah declared. “And by Allah’s permission, we will see that this intifada will begin a very important chapter in the history of fighting and that it will inflict another defeat on that usurping regime.”

      “From the beginning, this cancerous tumor has been developing in several phases until it turned into the current disaster,” he went on. “The cure for this tumor should be developed in phases as well.” While the “resistance” so far failed to achieved its ultimate objective — “the complete freedom of Palestine” — it has made important inroads, he said. “The Palestinian intifada continues to gallop forward in a thunderous manner so that it can achieve its other goals until the complete liberation of Palestine.” Addressing some 700 delegates in a Tehran conference center, the supreme leader denounced what he called “compromise strategies” — referring to the Palestinian Authority’s endorsement of a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines — and called instead for “all-out resistance.”

February 21,  2017


      Washington, d.c.   -- President Trump named Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as his new national security advisor Monday, replacing Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign last week. McMaster, a career Army officer and strategist, is known as one of the military's most prominent intellectuals. "He is highly respected by everyone in the military, and we’re very honored to have him," Trump said of McMaster in making the announcement while seated in the living room of Mar-a-Lago, his estate here, between a uniformed McMaster and Keith Kellogg, who had been interim national security advisor.

      McMaster will take over a National Security Council that is short on staff and the subject of reports of internal turmoil. The president's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, was given a seat on the council, a highly unusual move for a political appointee. Bannon was an architect of the temporary ban on entry into the U.S. for refugees and travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries whose ad hoc rollout sowed chaos at airports around the country before it was stopped by the courts. Trump is expected to order a revised travel ban as soon as this week.

     Flynn's ouster came after reports emerged that he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his discussions in December with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. about impending sanctions by the Obama administration over its conclusion that Russia had meddled in the election. McMaster has served since July 2014 as the director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center at Fort Eustis in Virginia. He is perhaps best known as the author of a 1997 book, "Dereliction of Duty," that explores the military's responsibility for U.S. failure during the Vietnam War. "What a privilege it is to be able to continue serving our nation," McMaster said alongside Trump. "I'm grateful to you for that opportunity, and I look forward to joining the national security team and doing everything that I can to advance and protect the interests of the American people."


-- Vitaly Churkin, the tough-talking Russian ambassador to the United Nations, died suddenly Monday, officials said. Churkin, who was 64, was at his desk at the Russian Consulate in Manhattan when he died, the Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed. But the ministry gave no details about the circumstances of his passing. Russia's Permanent Representative to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, speaks with the press following United Nations Security Council discussions at UN Headquarters in New York on Dec. 30, 2016. Albin Lohr-Jones / Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

      "A prominent Russian diplomat has passed away while at work," the Ministry said in a statement on its official website. "We'd like to express our sincere condolences to Vitaly Churkin's family.' The New York City Medical Examiner's Office confirmed it was investigating the death. "I can confirm that the death has been reported to our office for investigation," spokeswoman Julie Bolcer said in a statement. "Once we have had an opportunity to examine the decedent, we will share the cause and manner of death when it is available." Born Feb. 21, 1952 in Moscow, Churkin died a day before his 65th birthday. And he was mourned by diplomats with whom he had sparred.

     UN Ambassador Nikki Haley called Churkin "a gracious colleague." "We did not always see things the same way, but he unquestionably advocated his country's positions with great skill," Haley said in a statement. "We send our prayers and heartfelt condolences to lift up his family and to the Russian people." Churkin was a fierce defender of his country's policies, including Russia's much-criticized bombing last year of the Syrian city of Aleppo last year to oust rebels opposed to President Bashar Al-Assad. During the presidential election, Churkin raised eyebrows by lodging a complaint about a UN official's criticism of then-candidate Donald Trump, the Associated Press reported. It's not clear if Trump was aware that Churkin rose to his defense, but the Senate and House Intelligence Committees are now both investigating possible Russian interference in the presidential election.


Nicolás Maduro advised US President Donald Trump to “open his eyes” about the policies he is “imposing” against Venezuela. In a television broadcast, Maduro referred to sanctions the United States issued against Vice President Tareck El Aissami, calling them “revenge” from North American soil. “President Donald Trump, open your eyes,” Maduro said. “Do not let yourself be manipulated and … change policies against Venezuela and Latin America from the old George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.”

      Maduro, who has kept a “low profile” in his discussions about US presidents, and insisted he does not want to “have problems” with Trump, decided to issue a threat this time around. “I do not want to fight with Donald Trump, Venezuela wants respectful relations,” he said, “but if they attack us, we are not going to remain silent.” On Sunday, February 19th, Maduro defended his Vice President against now “infamous” economic sanctions imposed by the US government, which accused him of “playing a significant role in the international trafficking in narcotics.”

      He also claimed that millions of dollar are being paid to and by the White House, the State Department and Treasury Department to allegedly harm Chavismo. He said he hoped the message would reach Trump before he got carried away “by the failed right that fully supported Hillary Clinton.” In referencing the Spanish Government and Mariano Rajoy, as well as Presidents of Argentina and Brazil Mauricio Macri and Michel Temer, Maduro heralded himself as a figure of peace. “I am currently this continent’s guarantee of peace, we are the guarantee of peace, do not mess with us,” he warned.

February 20,  2017


      BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA   -- Argentina's President Mauricio Macri used some of his harshest language yet against Venezuela's socialist government in comments to Spanish media published on Saturday ahead of his trip to Madrid.

     "Enough with euphemisms, Venezuela is not a democracy," the center-right Macri said, according to leading newspaper El Pais. "I know what the Venezuelan people are suffering, I think what we have to have is a firm position, without euphemisms, saying that in Venezuela democracy and human rights are not respected," Macri said. He said Argentina would help end "this social, political and economic conflict," where it could, according to the paper.

     The comments came days after Macri, who took office in late 2015 ending a decade of leftist rule, spoke to U.S. President Donald Trump. Both shared their "concern" over Venezuela in a Wednesday phone call, Macri's spokesman told Reuters. Later that day Trump called on Venezuela to release opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who was sentenced last year to nearly 14 years in prison on charges of inciting anti-government protests in 2014.


-- America's commitment to NATO is "unwavering," U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said Saturday, reassuring allies about the direction the Trump administrationmight take but leaving open questions about where Washington saw its relationship with the European Union and other international organizations. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for strengthening a range of multilateral bodies — the EU, NATO and the United Nations — and lauded the benefits of "a free, independent press." In his first foreign trip as vice president, Pence sought immediately to address concerns raised by President Donald Trump's earlier comments questioning whether NATO was "obsolete."

      Pence told the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering of diplomats and defense officials: "I bring you this assurance: The United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our commitment to our trans Atlantic alliance." "Your struggles are our struggles. Your success is our success," Pence said. "And ultimately, we walk into the future together." Merkel, speaking before Pence, told him and other leaders that "acting together strengthens everyone." Her address came amid concerns among allies about the Trump administration's approach to international affairs and fears that the U.S. may have little interest in working in international forums.

      "Will we be able to continue working well together, or will we all fall back into our individual roles?" Merkel asked. "Let's make the world better together and then things will get better for every single one of us." Trump has praised Britain's decision to leave the 28-nation EU. And a leading contender to be the next U.S. ambassador to the EU, Ted Malloch, has said Washington is "somewhat critical and suspicious" of the bloc and would prefer to work with countries bilaterally. Pence did not mention the European Union in his speech, something picked up on by French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault who wrote on Twitter: "In Munich, Vice President Pence renews America's commitment to the Atlantic alliance. But not a word on the EU." Pence did say, however, that the U.S. was on a path of "friendship with Europe and a strong North Atlantic alliance."


        BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- 
An explosion near Bogota's bullring killed one and injured at least 30 people, most of them police officers as they prepared for anti-bullfighting protests in Colombia's capital on Sunday, the police said, but no one was killed. Earlier, the police said one of its officers had been killed in the blast.

    Details of the cause of the blast were not immediately available, but media images showed a police officer in a shredded uniform walking with support from his colleagues, as well as debris in the road, broken glass and damage to apartment buildings close by. "The national police rejects and condemns these acts of barbarism that affect the integrity of our police and other citizens, as well as the tranquility and coexistence of the country's capital," the police said in statement.

     Hundreds of protesters have gathered weekly to demonstrate against bullfighting in Bogota, which resumed last month for the first time in four years. The ban was lifted by the constitutional court which said it was part of the national heritage, prompting weekly clashes with police.

February 19,  2017


      WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- President Trump called on Venezuela on February 15 to release opposition leader and political prisoner Leopoldo Lopez. Lopez was sentenced last year to nearly 14 years in prison on the specious charges of inciting anti-government protests in 2014. The Venezuelan Supreme Court denied his appeals on February 16. The Venezuelan government continues to arrest and imprison citizens from across Venezuelan society for their political beliefs.

     Currently, more than 100 such individuals are in prison. These include: Leopoldo Lopez, who will complete his third year in prison on February 18; Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, who will complete his second year under house arrest as of February 19; former Mayor Daniel Ceballos; and many other students, activists, journalists, and peaceful protestors. The United States reiterates its dismay and concern about these arrests, and other actions taken by the Venezuelan government to criminalize dissent and deny its citizens the benefits of democracy.

     We call for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience, respect for the rule of law, the freedom of the press, the separation of constitutional powers within the government, and the restoration of a democratic process that reflects the will of the Venezuelan people. The State Department announcement followed the Trump administration's decision this week to sanction Vice President Tareck El Aissami, blacklisting him as a major international drug trafficker. A CNN report also singled out El Aissami as being partly responsible for illegal passport sales from his days as interior minister, when he oversaw the agency that issues travel documents.


-- The Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, blasted Friday the banning of CNN en Espanol in Venezuela, saying the decision by the embattled regime of Nicolas Maduro is “an attack on democracy.” Almagro’s criticism comes amidst calls for Maduro’s regime to be sanctioned according to the OAS Democratic Charter, a mechanism devised to prevent democracies in member countries from eroding and becoming authoritarian regimes. Mitzy de Ledezma, the wife of jailed Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma who met with Almagro this week, tweeted Thursday night that the Charter was going to be activated “soon.”

     Meantime, from Spain, ex-Presidents Felipe Gonzalez and Jose Maria Aznar asked that the mechanism kick in soon -- something that would lead to Venezuela being suspended as a OAS member. lmagro characterized Maduro’s decision as a renewed attack on democracy and Venezuelan’s fundamental rights and seemed to end his speech by asking for action against the embattled regime. “This week, the government of Venezuela, in an authoritarian manner, again attacked freedom of expression, democracy and the right to be informed of the Venezuelan people, when by Presidential order the CNN network was withdrawn from subscription TV,” Almagro said in a short video posted on the OAS’ Secretary General’s official Twitter account.

     The CNN decision “reinforces a regime of previous censorship that is incompatible” with OAS, Almagro said. “The Inter American regime forbids censorship of information with notorious public interest. Censorship and harassment of the press are turning freedom of expression in Venezuela into just a theoretical declaration.” “These are the values we need to recover in Venezuela right now!” he said at the end of the video. Almagro also mentioned the arrest and expulsion of two Brazilian journalists over the weekend by the Sebin intelligence service. The Secretary General said the two men were arrested because “they were investigating Odebrecht.” The disgraced Brazilian construction firm was particularly active in Venezuela during the governments of Hugo Chavez (1999-2013) and his handpicked successor, Nicolas Maduro and U.S. court filings document that at least $98 million in bribes went to officials in Venezuela.


        WASHINGTON, D.C. --
Two Cuban women who were deemed “inadmissible” for entry to the United States were placed on a morning flight to Havana on Friday, becoming the first to be deported since the Jan. 12 elimination of an immigration policy known as “wet foot, dry foot.” “This morning U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed 2 Cuban nationals to Havana.” An ICE official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that this is the first “removal flight” involving Cubans since the change in immigration policy.

     A few days before leaving the White House, former President Barack Obama declared an end to “wet foot, dry foot,” which allowed most Cubans who made it to U.S. soil to stay. ICE did not specify when or where the women arrived in the United States. But Wilfredo Allen, the attorney for one of the women, told el Nuevo Herald that they had arrived at Miami International Airport with European passports. The women requested asylum and were detained. According to Allen, they asked to suspend their asylum application and voluntarily return to the island, for which they already had return tickets.

     “The fact that ICE deported them even though they asked to return voluntarily sends a negative message,” Allen said. Last week, ICE told el Nuevo Herald that it had detained 172 Cubans after the policy change. The number of pending asylum cases has not been disclosed. Also on Friday, the U.S. Coast Guard returned 11 Cubans intercepted at sea to Bahía de Cabañas, west of Havana. According to the Coast Guard, the flow of Cuban migrants trying to cross the Florida Straits to reach the U.S. has decreased significantly after the elimination of “wet foot, dry foot.”

February 18,  2017


      WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- President Donald Trump said during a press conference Thursday that he shares Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio’s views on Cuba. “We had dinner with Senator Rubio and his wife, who was by the way, lovely, and we had a very good discussion about Cuba because we have very similar views on Cuba,” Trump told journalists. “Cuba has been very good to me, in the Florida elections, you know, the Cuban people, Americans,” he added in reference to the support of Cuban American voters. Former rival Rubio and his wife had dinner with Trump and First Lady Melania on Wednesday night, after the president received Lilian Tintori, the wife of the Venezuelan political prisoner Leopoldo López in the White House.

     The comment suggests a possible change in Cuba policy since Rubio was one of the staunchest critics of former President Barack Obama’s engagement with Cuba, especially in the area of human rights. Rubio and New Jersey Democrat Senator Bob Menéndez, also Cuban American, introduced a bill this week to “reform” the human trafficking report produced annually by the State Department. Both senators expressed their displeasure with the improvement of Cuba’s ranking in the report, from the worst level to the “tier 2 watch list” in 2015. Several proposals included in the bill would likely affect Cuba’s position in the report.

     During his campaign, Trump promised that he would negotiate a “better deal” with the Cuban government or would reverse Obama’s measures. White House Spokesman Sean Spicer has said that Cuba policy was under review and that human rights would be a priority. On Thursday afternoon, Rubio was scheduled to chair a hearing on the need for U.S. leadership on democracy and human rights in the Americas. Among the speakers was Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, who was recently released from prison in Havana following his arrest for using street art to celebrate the death of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.


-- Venezuela’s beleaguered political opposition has replaced its leadership and restructured its coalition as it seeks to launch a new offensive against President Nicolas Maduro. On Friday, Jesus “Chuo” Torreabla announced he was stepping down from his role of executive secretary of the opposition coalition, known as the MUD, and would be replaced by Jose Luis Cartaya, a largely unknown political scientist who serves as the assistant secretary of congress. Additionally, Torreabla announced that the MUD would no longer have a single spokesperson, rather various coordinators, and the parties making up the alliance would rotate the coalition’s representation.

     “In Venezuela, there’s an urgent need for a new opposition, it was absolutely necessary that the coalition restructures,” Torreabla said at news conference broadcast on local radio. Venezuela’s opposition coalition -- comprised of a dozen-odd parties, from Marxist to the center-right -- has long suffered from fierce internal divisions over how to confront the country’s ruling socialists. After years as the political minority, the opposition scored an overwhelming victory in 2015 congressional elections, riding a wave of anger over deep recession and rampant food shortages to gain control of the legislature for first time since the late Hugo Chavez came to power.

    With their new found majority in the National Assembly, the opposition promised to put an end to nearly two decades of socialist rule, but the MUD saw its major initiatives mostly stymied by courts and electoral authorities that are largely loyal to Maduro. While the embattled president’s approval ratings currently hover around 20 percent, he has likened efforts to launch a recall referendum against his rule to a “coup,” and insists Venezuela’s ills are not the result of bad policy, but rather foul play by political foes.


Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s demand that Venezuela free imprisoned opposition leaders has met with an angry response from the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro – a reply that contrasts with the caution shown by Caracas over the same calls from US President Donald Trump. Rajoy and former Spanish prime ministers Felipe González and José María Aznar attended an event in Madrid on Thursday in support of Venezuelan opposition leaders, among them Leopoldo López, who will have spent three years in jail on Saturday.

     Afterwards, the Spanish prime minister posted a tweet calling for López to be released. He and his predecessors have issued a statement calling on the Organization of American States to “take measures against Venezuela for the deterioration of democracy and the existence of political prisoners.” Speaking at an event in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, Maduro responded to the tweet, telling an audience of the youth wing of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela that Rajoy would have his teeth “smashed in” if he interfered with Venezuela, adding: “Not just him, but the whole failed international right wing.” He called Rajoy a “bandit and protector of criminals and murderers.”

     Maduro also hit out this week against US news channel CNN, blocking its Spanish-language service on Wednesday, a week after the broadcaster linked Vice President Tareck El Aissami and others to more than 150 Venezuelan passports and identification papers it says were issued to people in the Middle East. El Aissami was also placed on a black list of drug traffickers by the US Treasury Department this week. Caracas has suggested in recent weeks that Trump’s comments were a result of poor advice, and has instead continued attacking former president Barack Obama. It remains to be seen how long a government characterized for its volatility, divisions and marked anti-US posturing can remain patient.

February 17,  2017


      WASHINGTON, D.C.   --    President Donald Trump announced Alexander Acosta as his new pick for secretary of labor during a news conference on Thursday at the White House. Acosta's nomination follows Andrew Puzder’s decision to withdraw his nomination. Acosta is the dean of Florida International University's law school and is a former U.S. attorney for the southern district of Florida. He would be Trump's first and only Hispanic Cabinet member. C-SPAN Acosta, a 48-year-old Republican who served as South Florida’s top federal prosecutor during President George W. Bush’s second term before joining FIU’s faculty, not only boasts stellar conservative credentials but is also recognized locally as a political pragmatist.

      “He has had a tremendous career,” Trump said Thursday. “He will be a tremendous secretary of labor.” Trump made the announcement from the White House East Room. Acosta wasn’t present, suggesting Trump decided on his new nominee so quickly that Acosta didn’t have enough time to make it to Washington. Acosta, who is Cuban-American, would be the first and only Hispanic on Trump’s Cabinet, and the third Cuban-American Cabinet secretary in history, after Mel Martinez and Carlos Gutierrez. Acosta’s full name is Rene Alexander Acosta; he goes by Alex and lives in Coral Gables.

      Acosta is expected to be confirmed by the Senate without difficulty because he has already been through successful confirmations three times in his career. Praise for Acosta’s nomination poured in from South Florida . In a statement, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, called Acosta a “phenomenal choice” to lead the Labor Department. “I look forward to his confirmation hearing, where I’m confident he will impress my colleagues and secure the support necessary to be the next secretary of labor.” Acosta, the only son of Cuban immigrants, graduated from Gulliver Preparatory School, Harvard College and Harvard Law School before clerking for Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. when Alito served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.


        WASHINGTON, D.C.  
-- President Trump on Wednesday evening called on the Venezuelan government to release imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who is serving a 14-year sentence for allegations that he incited anti-government violence during protests in 2014. Tweeting a picture of himself alongside Vice President Mike Pence, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), and Lopez's wife Lilian Tintori, the president wrote that Venezuela should "immediately" release "political prisoner" Leopoldo Lopez.

    The president and the first lady later hosted Rubio along with his wife Jeanette at the White House for dinner. Rubio has advocated for a forceful U.S. foreign policy against the current Venezuelan government of President Nicholas Maduro, who launched a crackdown amid civil unrest in 2014. Lopez, a popular opposition politician, had called for peaceful protests during that wave of unrest but was arrested by the government under accusations that he supported violence. The Trump administration on Monday slapped sanctions against Venezuela's vice president over drug trafficking charges.

     Trump's meeting with the wife of one of Venezuela's top opposition leaders came amid a diplomatic confrontation between the United States and Caracas, less than a month after he took office in Washington. On Monday, the US Treasury imposed economic sanctions against Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, whom he accused of drug trafficking, a decision that was strongly condemned by Caracas. "If they attack us, we are not going to stay silent, Venezuela is going to snore and will snore hard ... Imperialism has reached a level of stigma never seen before," Maduro said at a government event on Wednesday.


Tareck El Aissami, Venezuela's new vice president, has hit back at the United States for labelling him a major drug trafficker and slapping sanctions on him, calling the allegations a "vile" attack. "We shall not be distracted by these miserable provocations," El Aissami, 42, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. "Truth is invincible and we will see this vile aggression dispelled." US authorities on Monday blacklisted El Aissami on accusations of masterminding an international network shipping drugs to Mexico and the US while serving as the country's interior minister and governor of Aragua state.

     El Aissami, who became vice president on January 4, was allegedly in the pay of Venezuelan drug kingpin Walid Makled Garcia to protect shipments, and coordinated them with Mexico's violent Los Zetas cartel, the US Department of the Treasury said. The US government also issued sanctions on businessman Samark Lopez, believed to be an associate of El Aissami. In a statement on his website, Lopez also said the listings appeared "politically motivated". The sanctions marked the first move by the Donald Trump administration against a top official in Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government for money laundering and the drug trade.

    Members of the US Senate had previously sent a letter to Trump urging him to act against Venezuelan officials. Their letter referred to El Aissami, noting that his recent appointment as executive vice president put him in line to become Venezuela's next leader. That, they said, "is extremely troubling given his alleged ties to drug trafficking and terrorist organisations". Senior administration officials declined to say whether Trump had personally signed off on the sanctions or whether he was involved in the decision. Maduro's government has frequently cast US and opposition accusations of drug-trafficking, corruption and human rights abuses as a false pretext to justify meddling in Venezuela and a push to topple him. El Aissami, whom local media report is of Syrian and Lebanese extraction, grew up poor in the Andean state of Merida.

February 16,  2017


      CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --    Venezuela suspended CNN in Spanish on Wednesday, shutting off the news channel a few hours after officials angrily criticized a report saying government workers engaged in selling fraudulent passports. The National Telecommunications Commission announced it initiated the "administrative sanction" because of news stories that it considered "direct aggressions" against Venezuela. The agency did not cite the passport story, but earlier in the day other government officials held a news conference to dispute the CNN story.

     CNN aired a report on Feb. 6 based on a whistleblower's allegations that Venezuelan officials had been selling passports from the country's embassy in Iraq to people of Middle Eastern origin, including a few members of terrorist groups. Before the suspension was announced, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government had requested that authorities take action against CNN in Spanish because of the "damage" it caused Venezuela. Rodriguez specifically criticized CNN's report on the allegations of passport fraud.

     CNN's report identified Vice President Tareck El Aissami as one of the people responsible for the passport sales during his days as interior minister overseeing the issuance of passports. The Trump administration imposed sanctions on El Aissami this week, accusing him of playing a major role in international drug trafficking. In a statement, CNN said that it stood by its reporting and that the government's decision denied Venezuelans access to the network's news and information. "At CNN en Espanol we believe in the vital role that freedom of press plays in a healthy democracy," the company said.


        WASHINGTON, D.C.  
--  A prominent diplomat is planning a politically sensitive trip to Cuba to accept an award from a pro-democracy group on the island. Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States, will travel to Cuba next week to accept the Oswaldo Paya Prize from the Latin America Youth Network for Democracy, a spokesman for the regional organization said Wednesday. Spokesman Gonzalo Ezpariz confirmed Almagro's plans but declined to disclose details of a trip that could touch a nerve in Cuba, which has opened its economy to a degree but remains a one-party state and has had a rocky relationship with the OAS. He did not know if Cuban authorities had issued a visa for the secretary general.

    The prize is named for a leader of a movement that sought a referendum on free speech and other political freedoms. Paya died in a 2012 car crash that his family blames on the government. His daughter, Rosa Maria Paya, leads the group recognizing Almagro with an award intended to raise awareness about what it sees as abuses by the region's governments. Almagro, a former foreign minister of Uruguay, received the daughter in his office in October, when they signed an agreement in which the OAS offered support to young activists in Latin America and the Caribbean and to expand efforts to promote human rights and civic participation in electoral processes around the region.

    Cuba was suspended from the Washington-based Organization of American States in 1962. The suspension was annulled in 2009 but Cuba has not moved to rejoin the organization, which was created to promote regional cooperation but has been viewed by Havana as dominated by the United States. Given that history, it would be unprecedented for an OAS secretary general to travel to the island to accept an award named for a Cuban dissident, said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "It doesn't surprise me that there are doubts about whether the Cuban government will admit a high official to talk about internal democracy and human rights, subjects that are still very sensitive," Arnson said.


        BEIJING, CHINA  -
China's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday warned Washington against challenging its sovereignty, responding to reports the United States was planning fresh naval patrols in the disputed South China Sea. On Sunday, the Navy Times reported that U.S. Navy and Pacific Command leaders were considering freedom of navigation patrols in the busy waterway by the San Diego-based Carl Vinson carrier strike group, citing unnamed defense officials.

    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said tension in the South China Sea had stabilized due to the hard work between China and Southeast Asia countries, and urged foreign nations including the U.S. to respect this. "We urge the U.S. not to take any actions that challenge China's sovereignty and security," Geng told a regular news briefing on Wednesday. The United States last conducted a freedom of navigation operation in the area in October, when it sailed the guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur near the Paracel Islands and within waters claimed by China. Dave Bennett, a spokesman for Carrier Strike Group One, said it did not discuss future operations of its units.

     "The Carl Vinson Strike Group is on a regularly scheduled Western Pacific deployment as part of the U.S. Pacific Fleet-led initiative to extend the command and control functions of the U.S. 3rd Fleet," he said. "U.S. Navy aircraft carrier strike groups have patrolled the Indo-Asia-Pacific regularly and routinely for more than 70 years," he said. China lays claim to almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion worth of trade passes each year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim parts of the waters that command strategic sea lanes and have rich fishing grounds, along with oil and gas deposits. The United States has criticized Beijing's construction of man-made islands and build-up of military facilities in the sea, and expressed concern they could be used to restrict free movement.

February 15,  2017


      WASHINGTON, D.C.   --     U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn has resigned following widespread reports he had misled Trump administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, about his contacts with Russia. In his resignation letter, Flynn, a retired Army general, acknowledged late Monday he had "inadvertently briefed" Pence and others with "incomplete information" regarding his phone calls with the Russian ambassador to the United States in the weeks before President Donald Trump assumed power. Such a high-level resignation less than a month after Trump took over the White House is virtually unheard of on the American political scene.

    Trump quickly named another retired Army general, Keith Kellogg, as his acting national security adviser, but also could pick former Central Intelligence Agency chief General David Petraeus or former Navy Vice Admiral Robert Harward to fill the strategic position on a permanent basis. Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, according to widespread U.S. news accounts, discussed sanctions former President Barack Obama imposed on Moscow late last year for its interference in the U.S. presidential election in an effort to boost Trump's chances of winning. Pence and Trump aides, relying on information from Flynn, said publicly that Flynn had not discussed lifting the sanctions, which are still in place, once Trump was inaugurated January 20. Flynn later acknowledged the issue may have come up.

     Conversations such as those between Flynn and Kislyak possibly could have been a violation of a U.S. law that prohibits private citizens from conducting diplomatic affairs with a foreign government, because Trump had yet to take office.The U.S. Justice Department, according to The Washington Post, warned the White House last month that Flynn had so misrepresented his conversations with the Russian envoy that he might be vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow, as a result of the contradictions between the public descriptions of the calls and what intelligence officials knew based on their routine monitoring of communications by foreign officials in the United States. Flynn, in his resignation letter, said he had apologized to both Trump and Pence, and that they had accepted his apology.


        WASHINGTON, D.C.  
--  Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami called a decision by the U.S. Treasury to impose sanctions on him due to suspected narco trafficking "miserable provocations" and vowed to display "greater strength" in the face of what he defined as imperialist aggressions. On Monday, El Aissami became on of the most-senior government leaders of any country added by the Treasury Department to a list of foreign nationals subject to economic sanctions under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.

    The Treasury Department alleged that El Aissami -- who was elevated to his post last month -- protected drug lords and oversaw a network of planes and ships exporting thousands of kilograms of cocaine. Those listed have their assets blocked and U.S. citizens, institutions and companies are prohibited worldwide from dealing with them. “He facilitated shipments of narcotics from Venezuela, to include control over planes that leave from a Venezuelan air base, as well as control of drug routes through the ports in Venezuela,” according to a Treasury Department statement, which cited his connection to the Zetas cartel in Mexico. “He also facilitated, coordinated, and protected other narcotics traffickers operating in Venezuela.”

     El Aissami, who has consistently denied all accusations against him, said on his Twitter account on Tuesday that the allegations were an act of infamy and a personal attack due to his condition as an "anti-imperialist revolutionary", alluding to former President Hugo Chavez’ so-called Bolivarian Revolution. “The truth is invincible and we’ll see how this infamy and aggression fades," he wrote. "Now more than ever we have the strength to make this revolution irreversible.” The sanctions mark an extraordinary step against the second-in-command of a foreign government and are sure to lead to a further erosion in U.S. relations with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who appointed El Aissami as vice president on Jan. 4 amid a deepening economic and humanitarian crisis. Maduro was silent as of Monday night on the U.S. measures.


The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was assassinated Monday in Malaysia, according to South Korean government sources. VOA contacted South Korea's National Intelligence Service, which neither confirmed nor denied the death of Kim Jong Nam.

     South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported Kim Jong Nam was killed by two unidentified North Korean female agents who used poisoned needles at Kuala Lumpur International Airport before hailing a cab and fleeing the scene. District police chief Abdul Aziz Ali, who is leading the investigation, told VOA the man was waiting for a flight at the airport when he became ill and was sent to a hospital. "Upon arrival at the hospital, the doctor found that he was already dead,” Ali said. Aziz declined to disclose the name and age of the deceased, citing an ongoing investigation.

     Until laboratory tests are completed, the cause of death remains uncertain, Ali said. “We do not know for sure.” The police chief said no one has been apprehended in connection with the death. Kim Jong Nam was once considered the heir apparent to lead North Korea, but he fell out of favor with his father Kim Jong Il after a failed 2001 attempt to enter Japan on a forged passport to visit Disneyland. Since then, Kim Jong Nam has lived in virtual exile, primarily in the Chinese territory of Macau. Kim Jong Un assumed leadership of North Korea when his father died in 2011.

February 14,  2017


      WASHINGTON, D.C.   --     The ballistic missile that North Korea claimed it successfully test-fired over the weekend traveled farther than any other missile launched by the rogue nation, a Pentagon spokesman told reporters on Monday. The launch represented a “clear grave threat to our national security,” Capt. Jeff Davis said. The missile traveled roughly 300 miles into the Sea of Japan but did not enter Japanese waters. It was launched on a “high trajectory” traveling for 14 minutes before splashing down, one U.S. official told Fox News.

     The KN-11-mod 2 missile was launched from land in the northwest region of the communist regime Saturday evening. North Korea's 33-year-old dictator, Kim Jong Un, was present at the test site, according to officials. The KN-11 also was tested successfully back in August, officials said. It had a range of 1,600 miles and used solid fuel, enabling the missile to be moved around easier and requiring less maintenance than liquid fuel. It also was originally designed to be launched from a submarine. The KN-11 has a shorter range than the BM-25 Musudan which was tested in June. The Musudan has a range of up to 2,500 miles. “Can you imagine if that test

     In the past few weeks, the U.S. Navy has positioned two warships with anti-ballistic missile capability in the Sea of Japan, part of a “heightened presence,” as one official called it. The Pentagon is not said to be overly worried about this latest launch, but is concerned about an intercontinental ballistic missile that could one day reach the U.S. The North Korean missile test this weekend coincided with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit with President Trump. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made his first overseas visit to South Korea and Japan earlier this month.


        TEHRAN, IRAN  
--  Hundreds of thousands of Iranians rallied on Friday to swear allegiance to their clerical leaders and reject U.S. President Donald Trump's warning that he had put the Islamic Republic "on notice", state TV reported. On the anniversary of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, marchers including hundreds of military personnel and policemen streamed towards Tehran's Azadi (Freedom) Square for the main event.

    They carried "Death to America" banners and effigies of Trump while a military police band played traditional Iranian revolutionary songs. State TV showed footage of people stepping on Trump's picture in a central Tehran street. Marchers carried the Iranian flag and banners saying: "Thanks Mr Trump for showing the real face of America." "America and Trump cannot do a damn thing. We are ready to sacrifice our lives for our leader", a young man told state TV, in a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Last week, Trump put Iran "on notice" after a Jan. 29 Iranian missile test and imposed fresh sanctions on individuals and entities. Iran said it will not halt its missile program.

    Leading religious and political figures, including President Hassan Rouhani, had urged Iranians to join the rally on Friday to "show their unbreakable ties with the Supreme Leader and the Islamic Republic". Tehran and Washington cut diplomatic ties shortly after the revolution, when hardline students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. Among Iranian officials attending the ceremony was Qasem Soleimani, who heads Iran's Quds Force and is in charge of foreign operations of the elite Revolutionary Guards Corps. Iran said it had smashed an underground cell linked to Islamic State in recent days that it said wanted to "sabotage and carry out devilish acts" at the rallies.


Hundreds of students took to the streets to protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Sunday in a march that made its way for four kilometers (2.5 miles) through eastern Caracas and which was convened by the federation of universities and Central Venezuelan University (FCU-UCV).

    “We’re undertaking this struggle here in Caracas and throughout the country with demonstrations, showing that Venezuela is not silent, it’s not in submission, it’s not desperate, but rather it’s on its feet and fighting for democracy and freedom,” FCU-UCV president Hasler Iglesias told reporters. The student leader said that the protest marks the beginning of “a new phase of struggle,” adding that students will continue marching “with courage in a situation in which the government wants Venezuela to keep silent, to be occupied with day to day problems.”

    “The Venezuelan people are going to defeat a dictatorship that says it has all the power but has lost the support of the people,” he said. Participating in the protest were Yaneth Diaz and Roberto Redman, the mother and father, respectively, of two of the three people who died in the violence surrounding the huge anti-government march convened by the opposition on Feb. 12, 2014, a demonstration that resulted in opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez being sentenced to almost 14 years behind bars. Also participating in the protest were activists from parties like Popular Will, founded by Lopez, and First Justice. The marchers made their way along a big Caracas highway and ended up at a church where a Mass was celebrated in memory of the people who died three years ago in the huge protest staged at that time.

February 13,  2017


      MAR-A-LAGO, FLORIDA   --     Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says North Korea's firing of an unidentified ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan is "absolutely intolerable." Abe spoke late Saturday alongside U.S. President Donald Trump at a called news conference in Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida where Abe has been visiting with Trump. "North Korea must fully comply with the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions," the Japanese leader said. "During the summit meeting that I had with President Trump, he assured me that the United States will always [be with] Japan 100 percent, and to demonstrate his determination as well as commitment, he is here with me at his joint press conference."

     Trump said at the news conference, "I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent." The North Korean test is widely interpreted as a challenge to the Trump administration. The U.S. Defense Department said late Saturday, "The launch of a medium- or intermediate-range ballistic missile occurred near the northwestern city of Kusong," noting it was tracked into the Sea of Japan and "never posed a threat to North America." NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg condemned the launch, calling it a further violation by Pyongyang of multiple UN Security Council Resolution. Pyongyang issued no statement about the launch, but experts said the rocket was most likely a model capable of reaching targets in Japan, but not the U.S.

    North Korea detonated two unauthorized nuclear test explosions last year and launched nearly two dozen rockets in continuing efforts to expand its nuclear weapons and missile programs. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared in a speech on New Year's Day that his country has "reached the final stage" in its program to build ICBMs (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile), but Western experts have been skeptical about his forecast. At the time, Trump answered Kim's ICBM boast with one of his trademark curt Twitter messages: "It won't happen!" Harry Kazianis, the director of Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest in Washington said North Korea wanted to provoke Trump with Sunday’s missile launch, but did not want to risk an ICBM test that might fail. “I think the North Koreans would be a little bit afraid that if [an ICBM] test failed that would obviously not make them look very good,” he said.


        MADRID, SPAIN  
--  Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy secured the backing of his conservative People's Party (PP) on Saturday to stay on as its leader as his minority government attempts to forge pacts with the opposition to pass a budget and stay in power. Rajoy, 61, was re-elected by party representatives at an internal conference - the fourth time since 2004 he has run unchallenged for the PP's leadership. His re-appointment marks something of political comeback after the PP, battered by corruption scandals and unpopular austerity policies, was stripped of its absolute majority in two inconclusive national elections.

    Rival parties had called for Rajoy to step aside during the prolonged talks to form a government last year. But he eventually prevailed and secured a second term in office last October, showing his staying power in spite the rise of newer parties such as anti-austerity Podemos ("We Can"). "We offer common sense and moderation. We don't want a revolution or any shocks," Rajoy told PP supporters on Saturday, in one of several thinly veiled digs at Podemos as he also took aim at populist movements across Europe. With talk of a succession within the PP quashed for now, Rajoy still faces major challenges in the coming months, including trying to pass a budget for 2017 through parliament with the weakest mandate in modern Spanish history.

     He will need to gain support from opposition forces, and there remains a chance that Spain could be plunged into back into political uncertainty if he fails. He has warned another election could be only the way out if the budget is not passed. This option could hamstring the PP's rivals - Podemos is locked in an internal spat over strategy while the center-left Socialist party is currently without a leader - and most political analysts believe the budget will eventually be approved. But Rajoy will also have his hands tied in parliament when it comes to passing new policies, and some parties are now looking to unite to try to overturn some of his previous reforms, including an overhaul of the labor market. Rajoy has kept challenges from within the PP at bay in spite of losing two elections, in 2004 and 2008, as the party's candidate. He then led the PP to its biggest electoral victory in 2011, against the backdrop of a worsening recession.


        LIMA, PERU   --
Peruvian authorities have offered a reward of $30,000 (£24,000) for information leading to the capture of former President Alejandro Toledo. A judge earlier ordered his arrest over allegations he took $20m in bribes. Mr Toledo is accused of receiving money from Brazilian building firm Odebrecht in return for awarding public works contracts. He denies any wrongdoing. Peruvian officials say they believe he is in the US city of San Francisco and could try to travel to Israel. Mr Toledo, who governed from 2001 to 2006, is a visiting professor at Stanford University, near San Francisco, and his wife, Eliane Karp, has Israeli citizenship. US and Israeli authorities have been asked to help find him, the government said.

     Announcing the reward, the interior ministry said it was also asking Interpol to help find the former leader. "Anyone in the world who can help us find him can claim the reward," Interior Minister Carlos Basombrio said on Canal N TV station. He should be remanded in custody at the earliest opportunity, rejecting a request for bail from the former president's lawyers. Odebrecht is at the centre of a multi-national corruption scandal. It admitted, as part of a plea deal with the US justice department, to paying nearly $800m (£640m) in bribes to governments across Latin America.

    Peruvian media reported that Odebrecht's former executive director in Peru, Jorge Barata, accused Mr Toledo of receiving $20m in bribes in exchange for granting the firm a contract to build stretches of a highway linking Peru and Brazil. Mr Barata is co-operating with prosecutors in his native Brazil and Peru as part of a plea bargain. Mr Toledo has strongly rejected the allegations, saying: "Let Mr Barata say when, how, where and to which bank he sent me $20m. I won't stand for this!" Investigators searched Mr Toledo's home for five hours on Saturday. The attorney general's office said documents found at the home would now be evaluated. Mr Toledo was in France at the time of the search and said he was "outraged by this political lynching coming from my traditional enemies".

February 12,  2017


      wASHINGTON, D.C.   --     U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday that Iran President Hassan Rouhani "better be careful" after Rouhani was quoted as saying that anyone who speaks to Iranians with threats would regret it. Trump was asked in a brief appearance in the press cabin aboard Air Force One about Rouhani's reported remarks to a rally in Tehran to celebrate the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

     Rouhani was quoted in media reports as saying Iran had shown in the 38 years since the revolution that "it will make anyone who speaks to Iranians with the language of threats regret it." The Trump Administration began picking up anti-Iran rhetoric two weeks ago, following an Iranian test of a medium-range ballistic missile. US officials initially suggested the test might have been a violation of a UN resolution, though this ultimately was not the case.

    What followed was two weeks of repeated statements lashing Iran, new sanctions, threats of more sanctions beyond that, and talk of war. Iran has largely stayed out of this, but it has not stopped the Trump Administration from coming up with new statements pretty regularly. "He better be careful," Trump said. Trump on Feb. 2 put Iran "on notice" over charges that Tehran violated a nuclear deal with the West by test-firing a ballistic missile, taking an aggressive posture toward Iran that could raise tensions in the region. Trump made the comments about Rouhani while flying on the presidential jet carrying him and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for a weekend at Trump's Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, Florida.


--      Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López , incarcerated for three years, does not regret having given himself up to the authorities, no matter the subsequent trial and imprisonment. “It has made me a better leader,” he affirmed. “I have understood that political calculations were superfluous and a risk should be taken up for Venezuela’s freedom,” López said during an interviewed released on Friday by Spanish daily newspaper La Razón, apropos his three years behind bars.

    López, the leader of opposition Voluntad Popular (People’s Will, VP) party, was sentenced in 2015 to almost 14 years imprisonment on charges of public instigation, criminal association and arson, in relation to the violent events recorded during an anti-government march convened by him in February 2014. The 45-year-old politician has answered to the newspaper questions through little sheets of paper delivered to the people who manage to visit him at prison. On the political future of Venezuela, opposition leader Leopoldo López is positive that “the government of President Nicolás Maduro can be beaten, yet strategy and determination is necessary.”

    Lopez (45 years) is optimistic about Venezuela political change, since, in his opinion, "there is no power that may contain the will of change of a country for a long time", but he says that it must be "organized and mobilized" and finds that this change must be made "before there is a social explosion". Venezuela suffers a major political crisis, with a division between the Government ruling of Maduro and an National Assembly controlled by the MUD. But also a strong economic crisis, aggravated by the decline in the prices of oil, one of its main sources of income. Leopoldo López, prisoner in the Ramo Verde prison, next to Caracas, shows his willingness to accept negotiation and dialogue, but considered that the offers presented last year by the Government of Maduro to the opposition "was made under conditions.”


        MIAMI, FLORIDA   --
 With only days left in his administration, President Obama decided to give a last minute gift to Cuba’s apartheid regime and ended the “Wet Foot/Dry Foot” policy and the asylum program for Cuban doctors escaping slavery in Latin America. This sudden policy change ended up leaving several Cuban doctors who had defected stranded in Colombia. Thankfully, however, they were finally given authorization to enter the U.S. Two dozen Cuban health professionals who deserted from medical missions abroad arrived in Miami Monday afternoon on a flight from Colombia.

    Those in the group are among professionals who were stranded in third countries following former President Barack Obama’s executive order that put an end to the Cuban Medical Professional Parole program, known by the acronym CMPP. “This is a triumph for the entire Cuban-American community, our organization and the offices of Cuban-American Congress members who have worked to get these folks treated correctly and their applications satisfactorily answered,” said Julio César Alfonso, president of the organization Solidaridad Sin Fronteras, which is calling for restoration of the program. Those allowed entry at Miami International Airport had managed to get their CMPP paperwork in before the Jan. 12 cutoff.

    Yerenia Cedeño, a 28-year-old Cuban doctor, characterized the mission to which she was assigned in Venezuela as “horrible.” She abandoned the post five months after arriving — citing insecurity and precarious living conditions as reasons — and fled to Colombia. “You constantly heard about someone being robbed of their phone or another person being attacked on the bus,” Cedeño said, adding that returning to Cuba was not an option because she would be treated as an outcast. For a decade, the CMPP granted the right to apply for expedited U.S. visas to Cuban doctors who could prove their nationality and that they were working as part of a Cuban government mission in a third country.

February 11,  2017


THE VATICAN CITY --     Pope Francis suggested that representatives of the Venezuelan government and opposition meet at the Vatican to resume a dialogue on resolving the political crisis in the Andean nation, the National Assembly speaker said Friday. But the meeting, tentatively set for late January, has still not materialized, Julio Borges, a key leader of the opposition, told foreign correspondents in Caracas. He said that opponents of President Nicolas Maduro decided they would not go to Vatican City without a prior commitment from the government to accept some of their demands, such as the holding of early elections. "I want to clarify, it was not that the pope called us and invited us.

     Everything was done through the office of the papal nuncio," Borges said, adding that the possibility of talks at the Vatican has not been ruled out. "In any case, we said we were not going to go because we understood that the intention of the pope was not to indulge in political tourism by going there and taking a photo with him, rather that the whole intention was to announce concrete things," the assembly speaker said. Borges acknowledged that for the moment, efforts to resolve the crisis are limited to an exchange of written proposals among the government, opposition, and international mediators. Last Sunday, Maduro said that he was "arranging an encounter with Pope Francis in the Vatican" where he would have the opportunity to "embrace" the leaders of the MUD opposition alliance.

     The dialogue broke down Dec. 6, when MUD declined to take part in a session planned for that day, citing the government's ostensible failure to deliver on previous agreements. The opposition alliance MUD presented today a formal document to the former President of Panama, Martín Torrijos, and to Mauricio Doffler, Unasur's representative, in response to the document they received on 20 January. This document is entitled "Agreement to overcome the political and social crisis” and focuses on four basic aspects: specific date for holding elections to solve the crisis, freedom of all political prisoners, urgent attention to the victims of the Humanitarian crisis and respect for the constitutional mandates of the National Assembly.


--   A major corruption scandal shaking politicians across Latin America continued spreading across the region Tuesday as Peru's attorney general sought the arrest of former President Alejandro Toledo on charges of laundering of assets and influence trafficking. Toledo was believed to be in Paris. He has denied any wrongdoing in interviews with news media. Peruvian prosecutors opened a formal investigation Monday into suspicions that the former president took $20 million in bribes from Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, which is at the heart of the regional scandal. Prosecutors believe Toledo received the money in exchange for giving the firm permission to build a highway connecting Brazil with the Peruvian coast.

      Attorney General Pablo Sanchez told a local radio station on Tuesday that his office would seek Toledo's arrest, saying the charges against the former leader were "serious and grave." The office of prosecutor Hamilton Castro, who has been heading the investigation of Toledo, formally delivered the arrest request to a judge later in the day asking that the ex-president be ordered held in "preventative detention" for 18 months during the investigation. "It is the maximum time allowed by law in Peru," Assistant Attorney General Sergio Jimenez told The Associated Press. He said investigating judge Richard Concepcion would hear arguments on the arrest request within the next 48 hours. Although he said he has plans to travel to Stanford University in California, where he is a visiting scholar, Toledo has said he would return to Peru as long as he could be assured of a fair trial.

     Toledo failed to win much support in a bid last year to regain the presidency, finishing in eighth place, but the idea that the pro-democracy activist who led street protest which forced strongman Alberto Fujimori's resignation might now be joining his arch-nemesis behind bars has come as a shock to many Peruvians. "It's a betrayal to the Peruvian people," President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who served as Toledo's economy minister and prime minister, said in an interview over the weekend. "It's very sad." Authorities in Peru and throughout Latin America have been moving fast to charge officials accused of taking some $800 million in bribes that Odebrecht acknowledged paying in a plea agreement signed in December with the U.S. Justice Department.


        MIAMI, FLORIDA   --
 At least 172 Cuban nationals who tried to enter the United States following the end to an immigration policy known as “wet foot, dry foot” are now in detention facilities, awaiting for the results of their removal proceedings, federal agencies have confirmed. Exactly where they are being held was not revealed. “Since January 14, there has been an increase of 172 Cuban nationals in ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] detention,” an ICE official said. The official also said that two people had already been “removed” to Cuba but did not clarify whether they are the same two Cuban rafters that a Coast Guard spokeswoman said had been intercepted since the end of wet foot, dry foot.

     The fact that only two Cubans have been interdicted by the Coast Guard since the end of the policy demonstrates how effective the change, implemented by former President Barack Obama, has been in stemming the flow of Cuban migrants. In January 2016, a total of 3,846 Cubans arrived without a visa to the United States. But from Jan. 12-31 of this year, only 426 Cubans were considered “inadmissible” by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents at several ports of entry, according to a CBP spokeswoman. Most of these “inadmissable” Cubans arrived in Miami (111) or Laredo (279) on the U.S.-Mexico border.

     During the same period, 1,400 Cubans were legally admitted, according to figures obtained by el Nuevo Herald. For many years, Cubans who arrived in the United States without a visa and asked to stay were not afraid of being detained. All that ended on Jan. 12 when, in the spirit of normalizing relations with Cuba, the Obama administration eliminated the controversial wet foot, dry foot policy, which allowed most Cubans who made to U.S. soil to stay. Those “inadmissible” Cubans who arrived after the change of policy “are either entered into removal proceedings or given the opportunity to withdraw their application” and voluntarily leave the U.S., the CBP spokesperson said. An ICE source confirmed that there have not been deportations of Cubans from Miami as of yet.

February 10,  2017


WASHINGTON, D.C.    -- The United States Senate on Wednesday confirmed a Republican senator known for his radical positions against minorities and immigrants as the next attorney general in the new US administration. With 52 votes in favor and 47 against, Jeff Sessions was finally confirmed to be the head of the US justice system, after Democrats attempted to delay the process due to the controversial and abrupt dismissal of acting attorney general Sally Yates. The Alabama senator passed the vote in the Judiciary Committee last week, the most complex stumbling block, and he only needed a simple majority on the Wednesday vote.

    Given his extreme views on immigration and women’s issues, the senator’s difficult road to confirmation became even more controversial after US President Donald Trump removed Yates from office last Tuesday for insubordination when she said she would not defend the executive order issued by the president to temporarily ban the entry of the citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries. The Democrats praised Yates’ decision and accused Sessions of helping Trump to draft the order, a claim that Judiciary Committee chairman Republican Chuck Grassley denied.

    It took more than a week for Sessions to finally succeed in having his position put to the vote, as the Democrats, who are fiercely opposed to his appointment, extended the debate time allocated to these cases in the Senate. To show their opposition, as they did with the new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, the Democrats gave marathon speeches against Sessions’ candidacy, although this was only for symbolic effect. Sessions will be sworn in as attorney general amid controversy over Trump’s immigration ban, which is currently being suspended by a federal judge while an appeals court considers the case.


--   Iran is continuing to test missiles in defiance of UN resolutions and American sanctions. The latest test came on Wednesday, Fox News reported, and took place at the Semnan launch pad, east of Tehran, the same place where Iran conducted a previous ballistic missile test last month. The missile used in Wednesday's launch was a short-range Mersad surface-to-air missile, which impacted 35 miles away, a U.S. official told the news network. Earlier this week, the Iranian government test fired five Sayyad (Hunter) surface-to-air missiles during military exercises. In late January, Iran conducted a ballistic missile test, also at the Semnan launch pad, which is located about 140 miles east of Tehran.

     Following that ballistic missile test, President Donald Trump’s administration imposed new sanctions on 25 individuals and companies connected to Iran's ballistic missile program and those providing support to the Revolutionary Guard Corps' Qods Force. On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence warned Iran not to test the administration's patience. “Iran would do well not to test the resolve of this new president,” said Pence, adding that Iran should “think twice about their continued hostile and belligerent actions.” Iranian officials have responded to the U.S. sanctions with threats of their own. On Monday, Iran’s Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri said that the “ultimate losers” are those who result to the language of force in dealing with Iran.

     “The Americans have chosen a wrong path these days and we hope that they will revise their approach and practice interaction,” he said. On Tuesday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dismissed calls from the Trump administration to cease the country’s ballistic missile tests, and said that Trump had showed the "true face" of America. Asked about those comments, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that Trump will take whatever actions he sees fit against Iran, adding that Khamenei “is going to realize that there is a new President in office. This President is not going to sit by and let Iran flout its violations, or its apparent violations to the joint agreement.”


        TEHRAN, IRAN   --
 Iran's supreme leader said Tuesday that "newcomer" President Donald Trump had shown the "real face" of the United States, after the American leader accused Iran of being ungrateful for sanctions relief approved by the Obama administration and vowed a tougher stance. Last week, after Iran tested a ballistic missile, Trump tweeted that the country was "playing with fire," saying they "don't appreciate how 'kind' President (Barack) Obama was to them. Not me!" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who makes the final decisions on all major policies in Iran, appeared to respond to the tweet in a remarks carried by State TV.

    Why should we be thankful to the previous U.S. administration?" he said. "Because it imposed anti-Iranian sanctions? Because of the extremist Islamic State group? Setting the region on fire in Iraq and Syria?" He went on to mock Trump, saying: "We are thankful to Mr. Newcomer, of course, since he has shown the real face of the U.S. and proved what Iran has said for 38 years about the political, economic, social and moral corruption of the U.S. government." He added that the Iranian people "are not afraid of any threat."

     Trump has repeatedly criticized the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers, in which Tehran agreed to curb its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions, but he has not said what he plans to do about it. His administration said Iran was "on notice" over the missile test, and imposed new sanctions on more than two dozen Iranian companies and individuals. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who has worked to improve relations with the West, said earlier Tuesday that the nuclear agreement could serve as a blueprint for resolving other Middle East disputes.

February 9,  2017


WASHINGTON, D.C.    -- The report echoes various articles by Breitbart News, which, among other things, have highlighted that Hezbollah operatives, including the right-hand man of the head of Hezbollah in Lebanon, are using passports obtained from countries in the Americas, primarily Venezuela and Cuba, to enter the United States. In February 2015, experts at a National Defense University (NDU) conference warned that the narcoterrorist group Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, has expanded across Latin American and into the United States. Breitbart News recently learned that the U.S. State Department is concerned about the illicit activities in the Western Hemisphere of terrorist group Hezbollah.

     Using an alternate spelling for the name of the group, a State Department official acknowledged that “Hizballah receives funding from supporters around the world who engage in a host of licit and illicit activities, some of which takes place in the Western Hemisphere.” “Countering these activities remains a priority for the United States,” the official told Breitbart News, adding, “We continue to monitor Iranian activities in the Western Hemisphere for any destabilizing actions. The State Department struck a stronger tone than in 2014 when it concluded that Iranian influence in the Western Hemisphere was “waning.” Analysts estimate that Hezbollah generates millions through drug trafficking, money laundering, and other criminal activities in the Americas.

    The London-based Asharq Al-Awsat, citing Western security and intelligence sources, reports that “a number of people belonging to Iranian groups and the Lebanese Hezbollah, with suspected links to terrorism, are moving freely in the United States and Latin America using Latin passports like the Venezuelan and Ecuadoran ones.” “According to these reports, the intelligence services in Canada and Bulgaria have recently spotted the movements of citizens of Arab origin, especially those belonging to Hezbollah as well as Iranian agents carrying original Venezuelan passports in order to move within a number of countries, especially United States, Canada, and South America,” it adds.


--   Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez and her Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif met in Tehran Tuesday to review the binational cooperation agenda and the scope of the agreement signed last year between OPEC and non-OPEC countries to stabilize the market. Rodriguez arrived in Iran from Moscow, where she met with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, who also reviewed the development of the oil agreement in which 25 producing countries pledged to reduce 1.7 million barrels a day to stabilize crude oil price and take it to a fair price of $60 to $70 per barrel.

    “We reviewed the good development of the historic agreement for the rescue of oil prices,” Venezuelan chancellor said on Twitter, following her meeting with Zarif. According to Rodriguez, the meeting –also attended by Venezuela’s Oil Minister Nelson Martinez– was an opportunity to reaffirm the “deep bilateral relationship and strategic cooperation in the international arena.” She recalled that Venezuela, Iran and Azerbaijan form the Troika of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), made up of 120 countries from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean. In this regard, she said that Venezuela and Iran share a “joint vision on the principles of the United Nations Charter and International Law governing international relations.”

     “Our nations will continue to walk together in the construction of a multi-polar and multi-center world,” she added, recalling that Commander Hugo Chavez “forged strategic relations that have been consolidated by President Nicolas Maduro in building the emerging world against imperial powers”. Since 2001, Tehran and Caracas have signed more than 250 agreements on housing, trade, industry, environment, education, agriculture, energy, science and technology, sport, culture, among other areas. In 2016, both countries reaffirmed cooperation ties with the purpose of strengthening 13 of the 15 engines of the Bolivarian Economic Agenda and promoting the construction of a new model for industrial diversification.


        MOSCOW, RUSSIA   --
 Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Monday that relations between his country and Venezuela are on the rise. Lavrov made his statements upon receiving his Venezuelan counterpart Delcy Rodriguez. “Our relations are on the rise, the presidents communicate regularly and confidentially,” Lavrov said, according to Russia news agency TASS.

    “The high-level commission, which oversees the entire array of multifaceted trade, economic and investment cooperation between Russia and Venezuela, is working,” the Russian minister explained. Lavrov pointed out that such good relations are important in terms of the “adverse trends in global economy,” which is the main factor behind the decline of bilateral trade turnover. The Russian minister highlighted the close cooperation between Moscow and Caracas in the framework of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and recalled the contribution of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in the coordination of oil prices.

    Rodriguez praised Moscow’s support, stressing that Russia is a great power that backs stability around the world. According to the Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zajarova, the meeting between Lavrov and Rodriguez will deal with joint projects in the fields of energy, agriculture and industry. The Russian ministry emphasized this weekend that Venezuela is one of Russia’s partners in Latin America.

February 8,  2017


WASHINGTON, D.C.    --  The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro said the organization will not apply a Democratic Charter on Venezuela while the Vatican is acting as mediator of dialogues between President Nicolás Maduro’s administration and the opposition. In an interview, Almagro said OAS needs formal affirmation both from the Venezuelan opposition and the Vatican stating that the dialogue has ended with no results before he can take steps to implementing the Democratic Charter.

     “If they tell us that the dialogue ended and that there is final communication from the opposition and the Vatican about it,” Almagro said, “we will restart our efforts when the time comes to take action.” Almagro personally acknowledged that the talks between the parties are “at a dead point” and that Venezuela’s situation is only getting worse. “The people have lost new civil and political rights,” he said. The dialogue between Maduro’s administration and the opposition is currently at a halt because of the government’s failure to comply with previous agreements. One of the objectives on the table was “to return powers to the National Assembly,” but that never happened, which would have been one mechanism for carrying out a political trial against Nicolás Maduro and the Directors of the National Election Council.

    In relation to political prisoners, Almagro said Maduro has not shown any “good will.” “There is a logic when the release of political prisoners is negotiated,” he said, “a principle of good will. It involves not imprisoning more political prisoners. In this case they have continued imprisoning politicians.” He urged countries in the region to apply international pressure so rights can be restored in Venezuela. “The worst thing is indifference,” he said. “Hiding behind things that prove to be progressive deterioration. From a social, humanitarian and political perspective, Venezuela is undergoing a crisis. This is the point we should all attack and continue to elaborate on when international bodies like the Vatican get involved in a dialogue with the government.”


        WASHINGTON, D.C.  
--   President Donald Trump on Monday vowed to allow into the United States people who “want to love our country,” defending his immigration and refugee restrictions as he made his first visit to the headquarters Monday for U.S. Central Command. Trump reaffirmed his support for NATO before military leaders and troops and laced his speech with references to homeland security amid a court battle over his travel ban on people from seven majority-Muslim countries. He did not directly mention the case now before a federal appeals court after a lower court temporarily suspended the ban.

    “We need strong programs” so that “people that love us and want to love our country and will end up loving our country are allowed in” and those who “want to destroy us and destroy our country” are kept out, Trump said. “Freedom, security and justice will prevail,” Trump added. “We will defeat radical Islamic terrorism and we will not allow it to take root in our country. We’re not going to allow it.” Trump touched upon various alliances in his remarks, noting, “we strongly support NATO.” He spoke Sunday with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. A White House statement said the two “discussed how to encourage all NATO allies to meet their defense spending commitments,” as well as the crisis in Ukraine and security challenges facing NATO countries.

    Trump also vowed Monday that America and its allies would defeat the “forces of death” and keep radical jihadis from gaining a foothold on U.S. soil, but did not offer details about his strategy to defeat the Islamic State group. We will defeat them,” he told about 300 military personnel at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. “We will defeat radical Islamic terrorism. And we will not allow to it take root in our country,” Trump added. “Freedom, security and justice will prevail.” He accused Islamic State fighters of leading a “campaign of genocide, committing atrocities across the world,” and promised an unspecified “historic financial investment” in the U.S. military. “Radical Islamic terrorists are determined to strike our homeland as they did on 9/11, as they did from Boston to Orlando to San Bernardino, and all across Europe,” added the president.


        TEHRAN, IRAN   --
  Iran said on Monday a recent missile trial launch was not intended to send a message to new U.S. President Donald Trump and to test him, since after a series of policy statements Iranian officials already "know him quite well". Iran test-fired a new ballistic missile last week, prompting Washington to impose some new sanctions on Tehran. Trump tweeted that Tehran, which has cut back its nuclear program under a 2015 deal with world powers easing economic sanctions, was "playing with fire". Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted by Tasnim news agency as saying: "Iran's missile test was not a message to the new U.S. government.

    "There is no need to test Mr Trump as we have heard his views on different issues in recent days... We know him quite well." Iran has test-fired several ballistic missiles since the 2015 deal, but the latest test on January 29 was the first since Trump entered the White House. Trump said during his election campaign that he would stop Iran's missile program. Qasemi said The U.S. government was "still in an unstable stage" and Trump's comments were "contradictory". "We are waiting to see how the U.S. government will act in different international issues to evaluate their approach."

    Despite heated words between Tehran and Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Saturday he was not considering strengthening U.S. forces in the Middle East to address Iran's "misbehavior". Hamid Aboutalebi, deputy chief of staff of Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, tweeted on Monday that the U.S. government "should de-escalate regional tension not adding to it", and Washington should "interact with Iran" rather than challenging it. Iran announced on Saturday that it will issue visas for a U.S. wrestling team to attend the Freestyle World Cup competition, reversing a decision to ban visas for the team in retaliation for an executive order by Trump banning visas for Iranians.

February 7,  2017


WASHINGTON, D.C.    --  The Spanish language has made a partial return to the White House of Donald Trump, in the form of a new Twitter account – for now at least. Eleven days after the new president took office, the official Twitter account of the White House on Tuesday night posted its first tweet in Spanish using the handle @LaCasaBlanca. This is how the new Spanish-language White House Twitter account. By noon Wednesday, Central European Time, this brief welcoming message had been retweeted over 800 times, while the Spanish-language account on the social media site had already garnered more than 116,000 followers.

     The tweet comes after Spanish-speakers in the United States expressed outrageover the disappearance of Spanish from the White House website after the arrival of the Republican president, an exile from which the language is yet to return. Hello! Welcome to @LaCasaBlanca. Follow us to keep up to date with all the latest news about @POTUS Trump and his administration! Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer found himself having to say it would “take a while” to get Spanish back as voices with the Latino community in the United States accused the White House of discrimination. Víctor de la Concha, the director of the Instituto Cervantes, which promotes Spanish culture and language teaching around the world, also weighed in, saying: “Trump is president of all Americans and 18% of the population speaks Spanish and 95% of them consider that it is important for them, their children and their nephews to continue speaking Spanish.”

    Under the Barack Obama administration, the White House website provided a route to a Spanish-language version of the White House website, and there was also a Spanish-language blog that discussed topics of special interest to the country’s Hispanic community. But Trump, whose campaign included anti-immigration rhetoric – particularly toward Mexicans – has been criticized for announcing a Cabinet with no Latinos in it, the first time this has happened in three decades. “We have a country where, if you want to assimilate, you have to speak English… I am not the first to say this…This is a country where we speak English, not Spanish,” he said during a debate with other Republican hopefuls in September 2015. More than 50 million people in the United States speak Spanish, while that number tops 700 million worldwide, according to the the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language (RAE).


        WASHINGTON, D.C.  
--   President Donald Trump is telling the American people that if "something happens," blame the judge who blocked his ban on immigration from seven Muslim majority countries. In one of his trademark tweets Sunday, the president said he "just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril." Late last week, U.S. District Court Judge James Robart of Washington state temporarily blocked Trump's executive order halting travel to the U.S. by refugees and others from seven Muslim majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Then on Sunday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco rejected the Trump administration's demand to reinstate the travel ban.

    In his Sunday tweets, Trump said he has ordered the Department of Homeland Security to check people entering the U.S. "very carefully," adding that the courts have made the job "very difficult." He also singled out Judge Robart again, saying, "The judge opens our country to potential terrorists and others that do not have our best interests at heart. Bad people are very happy!" The appeals court has given federal officials and states until Monday to file more arguments on whether the ban should be declared unconstitutional or reinstated.

     The states of Washington and Minnesota took care of their business early Monday, filing briefs with the appeals court, saying the travel ban is unconstitutional and hurts residents, businesses and universities. Legal analysts say the case likely will wind up in the Supreme Court. The Justice Department, which has yet to file updated arguments, said earlier the judge's decision "second guesses the president's national security judgment" and harms the public by "thwarting enforcement" of Trump's executive order. Vice President Mike Pence defended Trump’s criticism of Judge Robart, saying the president expresses himself in a “unique” way and the American people find it refreshing.


  The Philippine government will withdraw from a ceasefire with communist rebels on Friday, President Rodrigo Duterte said, as he ordered soldiers to prepare to fight and declared there would be no peace with the insurgents for a generation. Duterte was angered by the deaths of six soldiers and the abduction of three since the New People's Army (NPA) halted its unilateral ceasefire on Wednesday.He complained that despite making multiple concessions to the communists, the NPA's demands were "just too huge". The conflict between the government and the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), has raged since 1968 and killed more than 40,000 people.

   "I have lost many soldiers in just 48 hours, I think to continue with the ceasefire does not, or will not, produce anything," Duterte said in a speech. "I am asking the soldiers: Go back to your camps, clean your rifles and be ready to fight." The ceasefires called by both sides were always fragile because they were unilaterally declared, with no rules to follow. Each side accused the other of violations. Within weeks of taking office in July last year, Duterte made a peace process a priority and a prerequisite for his ultimate goal of introducing a federal system in the Philippines. He offered leftists cabinet posts and promised - if peace talks succeeded - a portfolio for Jose Maria Sison, his former university professor and the CPP figurehead who lives in exile in the Netherlands.

    Sison is listed by the United States as a "person supporting terrorism" and the Philippine government last week tried to convince Washington to remove him from the list. "I'm really very sorry. I tried my best but like in the song, my best was not good enough," Duterte said. "There will be no peace in this land vis-a-vis the Communist Party. Let's resume the war." The NPA on Wednesday accused the military of occupying 500 barrios, or town districts, that are supposedly within their control and accused government troops of "hostile actions". The military responded by saying the NPA had done the same on many occasions. The NPA's ceasefire was due to expire on Feb. 10. Duterte's rhetoric was typically fierce, as was that of the military, which is normally measured in its statements.

February 6,  2017


SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA   -- Appeals court asks for written responses to appeal to be filed before it issues a ruling to immediately reinstate President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees, asking for more court filings before it rules on the matter. The Justice Department had filed court papers hours earlier seeking an immediate reversal of a ruling Friday against the executive order by U.S. District Judge James Robart of Seattle. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the request for an immediate ruling, and instead called for written responses to the appeal to be filed with the court later Sunday and Monday.

    In a seven-page ruling, Judge Robart wrote that he was granting a restraining order against the government in part because the plaintiffs, which included the State of Washington, were likely to win on their constitutional claims. Not halting the president’s order would cause the plaintiffs “irreparable injury,” he wrote. In response to Friday’s court order, the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security said Saturday they had stopped enforcing Mr. Trump’s executive order. If the appeals court rules for Mr. Trump’s administration, they likely would resume enforcing it. Mr. Trump on Jan. 27 signed an executive order suspending entry to the U.S. for visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen—for at least 90 days, calling it a needed move to keep terrorists out of the country.

    It also froze the entire U.S. refugee program for four months, barred Syrians from entering as refugees indefinitely and cut the number of refugees the U.S. will accept in fiscal 2017 to 50,000—less than half the number that former President Barack Obama called for this year. While the Trump administration seeks to overturn Judge Robart’s order, the Departments of State and Homeland Security had no choice but to begin complying with iLegal issues around the order also led to an extraordinary standoff earlier this week when acting Attorney General Sally Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration, instructed Justice Department lawyers not to defend it and said she had serious concerns about its legality. The White House fired her within hours and installed Virginia U.S. Attorney Dana Boente in the post, who said he would defend the order.


        TOKYO, JAPAN  
--   Secretary of Defense James Mattis said during an official visit to Tokyo on Saturday that the United States would stand “100 percent, shoulder to shoulder” with Japan on its claims to disputed islands in the East China Sea. The Senkaku islands, a series of eight uninhabited features thought to lie near oil and gas deposits, are also claimed by Taiwan and China, which refers to them as the Diaoyu. The dispute has periodically bubbled up into standoffs between Japanese and Chinese warships and air forces, especially after Japan bought several of the islands from a private owner in 2012.

     The United States, said retired Gen. Mattis, would continue to honor a 1960 security treaty that commits the US to supporting Japan in the event of an attack on “territories under the administration of Japan”. “I made clear that our longstanding policy on the Senkaku Islands stands – the US will continue to recognize Japanese administration of the islands and as such, Article 5 of the US-Japan security treaty applies,” he said, according to CNN. The comments appear to mark a shift, at least in tone, by Trump administration, contrasting with the president’s March complaint that the security treaty was “one-sided” and suggested he could withdraw US forces from military bases in Japan and South Korea if they did not pay more for US protection.

     But Mattis’ reaffirmation of a long-held US stance may resurface questions about how aggressive of a line the new administration might take on China’s territorial aims. China’s claims to territories in the South China Sea, where it has gone on outfitting artificial islands with military installations despite an international panel’s ruling, have been a source of rising tension. At his January confirmation hearing, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson answered questions on the matter with little of the delicacy that normally surrounds it, raising alarms that President Trump’s campaign-trail remarks might find parallel in actual policy. “We’re going to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops, and second, your access to those islands is also not going to be allowed,” said Mr. Tillerson then.


        TEHRAN, IRAN  --
   A Revolutionary Guards commander said Iran would use its missiles if its security is under threat, as the elite force defied new U.S. sanctions on its missile programme by holding a military exercise on Saturday. Tensions between Tehran and Washington have risen since a recent Iranian ballistic missile test which prompted U.S. President Donald Trump's administration to impose sanctions on individuals and entities linked to the Revolutionary Guards. Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn said the Washington was putting Iran on notice over its "destabilising activity", and Trump tweeted Tehran was "playing with fire"

     "We are working day and night to protect Iran’s security," head of Revolutionary Guards' aerospace unit, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency. "If we see smallest misstep from the enemies, our roaring missiles will fall on their heads," he added. Despite the heated words, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Saturday he was not considering raising the number of U.S. forces in the Middle East to address Iran's "misbehavior", but warned that the world would not ignore Iranian activities. Iran's Revolutionary Guards is holding the military exercise in Semnan province on Saturday to test missile and radar systems and to "showcase the power of Iran's revolution and to dismiss the sanctions," according to the force's website.

     Dismissing Trump's comments that "nothing is off the table" in dealing with Tehran, the commander of Iran's ground forces said on Saturday that the Islamic Republic has been hearing such threats since its 1979 revolution. "The defence capability and the offensive prowess of Iran's armed forces would make America or any other enemy regretful of any incursion," Ahmad Reza Pourdastan was quoted as saying by ISNA. Iranian state news agencies reported that home-made missile systems, radars, command and control centres, and cyber warfare systems would be tested in Saturday's drill. Iran has one of the Middle East's largest missile programmes and held a similar exercise in December to showcase its defence systems, including radars, anti-missile defence units, and short and medium-range missiles.

February 5,  2017


WASHINGTON, D.C.  - White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Friday that the Trump government is making human rights a priority in the “full review” it is making of US policies toward Cuba. Spicer said that President Donald Trump “is committed to an agenda of ensuring human rights for all citizens throughout the world. And as we review those policies in Cuba, that will be forefront in their policy discussions.” The spokesman gave no further details in that regard because, he said, “there’s nothing that we have on that front at this point.”

     Spicer was answering a reporter at his press conference who asked if there have been any contacts with the Cuban government since Trump took office and whether the United States plans to revise its policy toward the island. The first question got no answer and with regard to the second, Spicer would only say that “we are in the midst of a full review of all US policies towards Cuba.” That was the first statement of the new government about Cuba since Trump was sworn-in as president last Jan. 20.

     On Jan. 11, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during his Senate confirmation hearing that Trump would make a top-to-bottom review of bilateral relations with Cuba, including Barack Obama’s decision to take Cuba off the list of countries identified as sponsors of terrorism. And as president-elect on Nov. 28, Trump said he would scrap Obama’s measures toward Cuba if the island’s government refused to negotiate a “better deal” with him. A few days before, in his reaction to the death of Fidel Castro, Trump described the Cuban leader as a “brutal dictator” and promised that his government “will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty.”


-- China urged the United States on Friday not to deploy the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea, at the same time as new US Defense Secretary James Mattis paid a visit to Seoul, where he reaffirmed the new US administration’s commitment to the system.

      “We don’t believe this practice will help to solve the issue in the peninsula or uphold peace and stability in the peninsula,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said Friday at a press conference, when asked about the remarks made by Mattis in South Korea. The new US defense chief is in Seoul as part of a three-day trip, which will also take him to Japan. During his two-day visit to Seoul, Mattis confirmed US President Donald Trump’s commitment to Seoul, allaying concerns over the US leader’s unpredictable foreign policy.

    “We urge the relevant sides to stop the process and refrain from going further on this wrong path,” Lu added. China has criticized the decision to deploy THAAD, saying it will harm its interests and security in the region, an argument echoed by Russia. In a reference to tensions in the South China Sea, Lu said, “We hope that the relevant countries outside the region will respect the efforts by regional countries, the common wish and aspirations of the countries to maintain a peaceful and stable situation in the region.” This remark comes after the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Washington will not allow China access to islands, whose sovereignty it disputes with other countries in the region.


   Dozens of Cuban doctors stranded in Colombia are preparing to travel to the United States on Monday after receiving a visa as part of the recently repealed Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) program. The doctors will be the first to reach North American soil after the end of the program that, every year, sheltered every year hundreds of health professionals who escaped from Cuban medical missions abroad. “There will be more than 20 of us who will fly on Monday, because another flight planned for Friday was suspended,” explains Maikel Palacios by telephone from Bogota.

     The health worker, who spent six months in Colombia after escaping from the Cuban medical mission in Venezuela, says he lives in “an atmosphere of hope among the hundreds of physicians stranded in that country.” “The news that comes to us from Miami is encouraging. Solidarity Without Borders has been interested in our case,” he explains. “We are worried about more than 20 professionals who escaped the mission before the program was eliminated and now they have no way to reach the United States and cannot return to Cuba” Solidarity Without Borders is a non-governmental organization created by Cuban doctors who fled the countries to which the Cuban Government had sent them. Its purpose is to help colleagues, once they arrive in the United States to revalidate their titles and integrate into that country’s medical system.

     According to Palacios, dozens of visas have been issued since last January when former President Barack Obama, in a surprise move, gave in to the old request of the government of Raul Castro and repealed the program created by George Bush in 2006. The export of health personnel generated income for Cuba ion the order of US $8.2 billion in 2014. In the ten years of existence of the CMPP more than 8,000 doctors and health personnel escaped to the United States. “We are worried about more than 20 professionals who escaped the mission before the program was eliminated and now they have no way to reach the United States and cannot return to Cuba,” Palacios explains. Personnel who leave medical missions are prohibited from returning to Cuba for eight years and are considered “deserters” by the Cuban authorities.

February 4,  2017


WASHINGTON, D.C.  -The Trump administration imposed new sanctions Friday on nearly two-dozen individuals and companies in response to Iran’s recent missile tests, quickly moving to increase the pressure on the regime after putting Tehran “on notice” earlier this week. The U.S. Navy also moved a destroyer into position off the coast of Yemen, amid deep concerns over Iran’s support for Shiite rebels there who recently attacked a Saudi naval vessel. "Iran's continued support for terrorism and development of its ballistic missile program poses a threat to the region, to our partners worldwide and to the United States," John E. Smith, the Treasury Department's acting sanctions chief, said in a statement.

     The Treasury Department announced the additional sanction targets -- 13 individuals and 12 companies -- late Friday morning. Those targeted include various agents, companies and associates involved in procuring ballistic missile technology for Iran. The named Iranian, Lebanese, Chinese and Emirati individuals and companies also are now blacklisted from doing any business in the United States or with American citizens. The president’s national security team had previewed possible action earlier in the week, with National Security Adviser Michael Flynn saying Iran was “on notice” and Trump warning Friday morning on Twitter that Iran was “playing with fire” with its recent actions.

     The sanctions, coming in the first weeks of Trump's term, reflect his administration's desire to take a strong stance toward Iran from the start. Throughout his campaign, Trump accused the Obama administration of being insufficiently tough on Iran and vowed to crack down if elected. “This announcement makes clear that it is a new day in U.S.-Iran relations and that we will no longer tolerate Iran’s destabilizing behavior,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said in a statement. “A coordinated, multi-faceted effort to pushback against a range of illicit Iranian behavior is long overdue.” Trump’s team stepped up its approach toward Iran in the wake of ballistic missile tests and the recent attack on a Saudi naval vessel by Tehran-backed militants in Yemen.


        TOKYO,  JAPAN 
-- The US Defence Secretary James Mattis has said any use of nuclear weapons by North Korea would be met with an "effective and overwhelming" response. Mr Mattis spoke in South Korea, where he had been reaffirming US support, before flying to Tokyo. He also reconfirmed plans to deploy a US missile defence system in South Korea later this year. North Korea's repeated missile and nuclear tests and aggressive statements continue to alarm and anger the region. The US has a considerable military presence in South Korea and Japan, as part of a post-war defence deal. There are just under 28,500 US troops in the country, for which Seoul pays about $900m (£710m) annually.

      President Donald Trump has previously said he wants both South Korea and Japan to pay more towards maintaining that presence. Mr Mattis used his visit to reassure South Korea that the Trump administration "remains steadfast" in its "iron-clad" defence commitments to the region, said the Pentagon. Speaking after talks at the defence ministry with his South Korean counterpart Han Min-koo, Mr Mattis told reporters that "any attack on the United States, or our allies, will be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons would be met with a response that would be effective and overwhelming".

    North Korea conducted its fifth test of a nuclear device last year, and claims it is capable of carrying out a nuclear attack on the US, though experts are still unconvinced its technology has progressed that far. It has also said in recent weeks that it has a new intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of reaching the US mainland, which it is prepared to test launch at any time. Mr Mattis's assertion that an attack by North Korea would get massive retaliation will hardly be a revelation to Kim Jong-un, says the BBC's Stephen Evans in Seoul. The bigger question is whether to talk to the North Korean leader to try to persuade him to abandon or limit the size of his nuclear arsenal, our correspondent adds. On that, the Trump administration has so far been silent.


        Washington, d.c.  --
   A recently resurfaced recording of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon sheds light over what the next area of US military intervention may be. Bannon's belligerent worldview is well documented already, but the recently resurfaced audio recording, dated March 2016, suggests that US President Donald Trump's adviser has his eyes set on the South China Sea. While interviewing historian and author Lee Edwards for a podcast for the conservative website Breitbart News, Bannon refers to his time as a navy officer deployed in the Pacific fleet as a basis for his observation over conflict in the area: "I was a sailor there... We're going to war in the South China Sea in five to 10 years, aren't we? There's no doubt about that."

     He added: "They're taking their sandbars and making basically stationary aircraft carriers and putting missiles on those. They come here to the United States in front of our face — and you understand how important face is — and say it's an ancient territorial sea." His interviewee agreed and actually praised the Obama administration for handling China's territorial ambitions: "Sending carrier to South China Sea was a step in the right direction", Edwards said. As a chief strategist to the president, Bannon is now in a position to influence decisions at the highest level of policymaking.

     Trump signed an executive order on 28 January to reshuffling the National Security Council (NSC), an influential advisory group to the president on issues of foreign policy and security, downgrading the role of the director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and allowing Bannon a regular seat instead. Speaking to ABC's This Week on 29 January, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said that Bannon's experience in the navy justified his presence in those high-level meetings. Before joining Harvard Business School, working at Goldman Sachs, and editing Breitbart News, Bannon served for seven years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, under the Carter and Reagan administrations, first as a surface warfare officer and later as a special assistant to the chief of naval operations at the Pentagon.

February 3,  2017


WASHINGTON, D.C.  -- Former CIA director General David Petraeus has warned that the “New World Order” is under threat of total collapse. In a speech to lawmakers on Wednesday, General Petraeus said that a World War 3 scenario between the West and Russia/China will occur soon that will end up destroying the New World Order. “Americans should not take the current international order for granted. It did not will itself into existence. We created it. Likewise, it is not naturally self-sustaining. We have sustained it. If we stop doing so, it will fray and, eventually, collapse.” Many of Petraeus’s remarks hinted at pushing back against statements and policies from President Trump, who had considered Petraeus as a candidate for his secretary of State.

    In speaking about the threat from extremists, Petraeus stressed that the majority of Muslims who reject extremism are the “most important ally” in fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al Qaeda. His comments come amid continued backlash at Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days, suspending all refugees for four months and halting Syrian refugees indefinitely. Critics have called the order a Muslim ban and said it plays into extremists’ narrative that the West is at war with Islam. “We must also remember that Islamic extremists want to portray this fight as a clash of civilizations, with America at war against Islam,” Petraeus said Wednesday. “We must not let them do that; indeed, we must be very sensitive to actions that might give them ammunition to use in such an effort.”

     Petraeus also warned that adversaries such as Russian President Vladimir Putin are seeking to encourage American ambivalence about its defense and institutions such as NATO. “President Putin, for instance, understands that, while conventional aggression may occasionally enable Russia to grab a bit of land on its periphery, the real center of gravity is the political will of the major democratic powers to defend Euro-Atlantic institutions like NATO and the EU,” Petraeus said. “That is why Russia is tenaciously working to sow doubt about the legitimacy of these institutions and our entire democratic way of life.” Trump has said he wants to improve relations with Russia and has called NATO obsolete. Former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin, who spoke at Wednesday’s hearing alongside Petraeus, also warned about the difficulty in dealing with Russia.


-- Scores of Cubans meet every day at the Gateway to the Americas International Bridge in Nuevo Laredo on the US border after an odyssey through 10 countries, never knowing if they would achieve their dream of entering the United States, but with the conviction that returning to the island is “not an option.” More groups of Cubans kept arriving over the weekend until their number now tops 400. They have found refuge in a number of “migrant houses” maintained by several churches that traditionally provide lodging for Central Americans seeking to cross the border illegally to find asylum in the United States.

     Every day the Cubans gather there, just steps away from Laredo, Texas, hoping for news about the border being opened to receive them. “We’ve been here 16 days and Mexican migration authorities have never bothered us,” Yamira Gonzalez, who left Cuba with her sister and a minor, told EFE. Gonzalez said that local authorities offer them medical care and ask whether there is anybody with chronic illnesses so they can see to their medication. “They make everything normal while we’re resolving our status with the United States,” she said. Most of them left Cuba with tourist visas for Guyana and roundtrip tickets that cost them $259 (240 euros) each. They sold everything they owned to finance the trip, paying a series of “coyotes” (people traffickers) along the way.

     Their odyssey took them through 10 countries, dangerous rivers, dense jungles and the threat of criminal gangs. Those who arrived after Jan. 12 were unable to achieve their dream of reaching the “promised land,” since that day the government of then-US President Barack Obama eliminated the “wet-foot, dry-foot” statute that permitted them legal asylum. “Why did we come here? In Cuba we have no rights,” said Yeleni Diaz, who left the island because she found the system of government unbearable. “My husband spent three years in jail and I could never agree with the Cuban president because of his disgusting policies. Fidel passed the presidency on to his brother, and Raul will pass it on to his sons. In what country have we ever seen the same president for 60 years?” she said. Diaz said that Cubans who left after “wet-foot, dry-foot” was revoked are in a state of extreme anxiety. “Returning to Cuba is not an option,” said Lester Diaz, who lived in Havana. “It’s unfair what is happening to us.”


   The United States will upgrade and build facilities on Philippine military bases this year, Manila's defense minister said on Thursday, bolstering an alliance strained by President Rodrigo Duterte's opposition to a U.S. troop presence. The Pentagon gave the green light to start the work as part of an Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), a 2014 pact that Duterte has threatened to scrap during barrages of hostility towards the former colonial power. "EDCA is still on," Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told a news conference.

    EDCA allows the expansion of rotational deployment of U.S. ships, aircraft and troops at five bases in the Philippines as well as the storage of equipment for humanitarian and maritime security operations. Lorenzana said Washington had committed to build warehouses, barracks and runways in the five agreed locations and Duterte was aware of projects and had promised to honor all existing agreements with the United States. This week, Republican U.S. Senator John McCain, who headed the U.S. Senate's Armed Services Committee, proposed $7.5 billion of new military funding for U.S. forces and their allies in the Asia-Pacific.

     The geopolitical landscape in Asia has been shaken up by Duterte's grudge against Washington, his overtures towards erstwhile adversary China, and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, whose administration has indicated it may take a tough line on China's activities in the South China Sea. The Philippines has said it wants no part in anything confrontational in the strategic waterway and will not jeopardize promises of extensive Chinese trade and investment, and offers of military hardware, that Duterte has got since he launched his surprise foreign policy shift. Lorenzana said the Philippines had asked China for two to three fast boats, two drones, sniper rifles and a robot for bomb disposal, in a $14 million arms donation from China. The arms package would be used to support operations against Islamist Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippines, he said.

February 2,  2017


WASHINGTON, D.C.  -- Rex Tillerson won confirmation Wednesday to become secretary of state, placing a lifelong oil company executive at the helm off what President Trump has promised will be an “America first” foreign policy. The final vote was 56-43, with four members of the Democratic caucus in favor of confirmation: Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Angus King (I-Maine), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.). Tillerson takes office after a chaotic debut for the Trump administration that saw big swings away from the national security and foreign policy policies in place under the Obama administration

     The State Department he now heads has a central role in refugee resettlement and other immigration and travel-related policies now at issue in a White House order suspending the admission of refugees and restricting entry for citizens from several Muslim-majority nations. One of his chief outside backers, former defense secretary Robert M. Gates, said Sunday that the immigration order is likely to make Tillerson's job as chief diplomat harder. Gates, a Republican who recommended Tillerson to Trump as a dark horse candidate, is among a long bipartisan list of foreign policy experts who have argued that actions that appear to target Muslims play into the hands of extremists who claim that the United States is at war with Islam.

     Tillerson’s confirmation was not in doubt despite Democratic opposition. The vote followed announcements of support from three Republicans who had earlier expressed reservations about the recently retired ExxonMobil CEO. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had approved Tillerson along party lines, a show of Republican unity that masked discomfort among some conservatives over Trump’s approach to Russia and human rights issues. The department he heads was in unusual turmoil before the executive order was announced Friday. A large number of senior Foreign Service officers resigned or were nudged out of top positions last week, signaling an intent by the Trump administration to install many new faces. There are vacancies at the top of major department offices, including those responsible for the Mideast and Europe.


        WASHINGTON, D.C.
-- President Trump's national security adviser delivered strong words for Iran from the White House podium Wednesday, condemning the regime's test of a ballistic missile. "As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice,” Michael Flynn said in a statement sharply critical of the Obama administration's policy toward Iran. Flynn was responding to an Iranian missile launch Sunday and a separate attack by Iranian-backed Houthi militants against a Saudi naval vessel — a key first test of Trump's reaction to foreign provocation.

     "The Obama administration failed to respond adequately to Tehran’s malign actions, including weapons transfers, support for terrorism, and other violations of international norms," Flynn said. "The Trump administration condemns such actions by Iran that undermine security, prosperity, and stability throughout and beyond the Middle East and place American lives at risk." In his first appearance in the White House briefing room, Flynn called that agreement "weak and ineffective." "Instead of being thankful to the United States for these agreements, Iran is now feeling emboldened," he said.

     Iran confirmed on Wednesday it had tested a new missile but said it did not breach a nuclear accord reached with world powers or a U.N. Security Council resolution that endorsed the pact. However, Flynn said the missile launch violated the 2015 security council resolution. The Islamic Republic has test-fired several ballistic missiles since the nuclear deal in 2015, but the latest test was the first since Trump took office last month. Flynn, in his first appearance in the White House press briefing room, said the missile launch and an attack against a Saudi naval vessel by Iran-allied Houthi militants off the coast of Yemen underscored "Iran’s destabilizing behavior across the Middle East." Trump has frequently criticized the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by the administration of his predecessor, President Barack Obama.


        WASHINGTON, D.C.  --
   Hundreds of American diplomats defied a White House warning on Tuesday, sending a memo to the State Department's leadership that criticizes President Donald Trump's temporary travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries. It is believed to be one of the most popularly supported statements of dissent in the department's history. A State Department official said the cable was received just a day after White House spokesman Sean Spicer suggested those disagreeing with Trump's new policy should resign.

     The official did not have an exact number of signatories, but said more than 800 indicated they would sign after drafts of the cable circulated over the weekend. The official wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly and demanded anonymity. The document argues that the executive order Trump signed last week runs counter to American values and will fuel anti-American sentiment around the world. "A policy which closes our doors to over 200 million legitimate travelers in the hopes of preventing a small number of travelers who intend to harm Americans from using the visa system to enter the United States will not achieve its aim of making our country safer," the diplomats wrote in the so-called "dissent cable."

     "This ban stands in opposition to the core American and constitutional values that we, as federal employees, took an oath to uphold," a draft of the cable said. The final version wasn't immediately available. In response to reports of the cable Monday, Spicer said of the diplomats: "They should either get with the program or they can go." He dismissed the criticism from what he called "career bureaucrats." While he later said Trump appreciates the work of public servants, Spicer said they should respect the desires of the American people and the importance Trump places on protecting the country. "If somebody has a problem with that agenda, that does call into question whether they should continue in that post or not," Spicer said.

February 1st.,  2017


WASHINGTON, D.C.  -- Acting US Attorney General Sally Yates on Monday ordered attorneys at the Department of Justice not to defend President Donald Trump’s executive order barring US entry to refugees and citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations. In a letter sent to the attorneys in the Justice Department, Yates said she was not “convinced” that the executive order Trump signed last Friday was “lawful.” Yates is an appointee from the Barack Obama administration and is serving as acting attorney general until the US Senate confirms Trump’s nominee for the post, Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions.

     “I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right,” Yates told the Justice Department attorneys in the letter. “At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful,” she added. Lawsuits against the order have been filed in Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Washington and California. Trump could fire Yates over her largely symbolic gesture but, if he did so, the post would remain vacant until Sessions – who will probably reverse her decision, as expressed in her letter – is confirmed. The magnate sparked enormous controversy and confusion, both domestically and abroad, last Friday by signing the executive order designed to combat jihadist terrorism.

     The order suspends for 120 days the entry of all refugees and the issuing of visas for 90 days for citizens from seven countries, which have histories of terrorism and terrorist activity – Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Iran – until new mechanisms can be put in place to screen them more effectively. Meanwhile, Obama said he is “heartened” by American civic engagement against the crackdown on immigration ordered by his successor in the White House, his spokesman Kevin Lewis said Monday in a statement. “Citizens exercising their Constitutional right to assemble, organize and have their voices heard by their elected officials is exactly what we expect to see when American values are at stake,” Lewis said in presenting the first message from Obama since he left the White House.


        WASHINGTON, D.C.
-- President Donald Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates Monday night for "refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States," the White House said. "(Yates) has betrayed the Department of Justice," the White House statement said. Dana Boente, US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, was sworn in at 9 p.m. ET, per an administration official. A few hours later, Boente issued a statement rescinding Yates' order, instructing DOJ lawyers to "defend the lawful orders of our President." Trump didn't call Yates to dismiss her, she was informed by hand-delivered letter, according to a different administration official.

     The dramatic move came soon after CNN reported Yates told Justice Department lawyers not to make legal arguments defending Trump's executive order on immigration and refugees. Who might Trump pick for Supreme Court? 02:47 The move set up a clash between the White House and Yates, who was appointed by President Barack Obama and was set to serve until Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump's nominee for attorney general, if confirmed. "My responsibility is to ensure that the position of the Department of Justice is not only legally defensible, but is informed by our best view of what the law is after consideration of all the facts," she said in a letter. "In addition, I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution's solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right."

     Trump's executive order, signed Friday, bars citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for the next 90 days, suspends the admission of all refugees for 120 days and indefinitely suspends the Syrian refugee program. Yates' decision came amid a flood of protests against the executive order nationwide and after four federal judges ruled against Trump's order, staying its impact on people who were detained at US airports over the weekend. Trump tweeted his response shortly after the news broke, saying Democrats have stymied Sessions' confirmation, enabling Yates. "The Democrats are delaying my cabinet picks for purely political reasons. They have nothing going but to obstruct. Now have an Obama A.G.," he said.


   Attacks against the Catholic Church in Venezuela are growing in number and intensity, the church said Monday. During Sunday mass in Caracas, a Chavista biker gang interrupted the service, sequestered the flock and forced them to listen to a pro-government tirade, days after Vatican-brokered talks between the embattled government of Nicolas Maduro and the opposition broke down. Monsignor Diego Padron, president of the Venezuelan Episcopalian Conference, said during a radio interview Monday morning that the attacks were not isolated incidents but events “staged to intimidate”.

     “These events, you have to really look at them with precaution and care because I am under the impression that they are no longer isolated events, like they use to say in police jargon,” Monsignor Padron said during Monday’s emission of “The Union is the Strength”, a radio show conducted by opposition politician Jesus “Chuo” Torrealba. “There seems to be some line, or element unifying (the events). And we have to denounce it, because if we do not denounce it, the alarm will not reach the people. It is necessary that our Catholic people, that the religious people, are aware of this situation”.

     Meanwhile, Sunday afternoon, in a pro-government section of Caracas, an armed band took over the San Pedro Claver Church during mass in the “23 de Enero” neighborhood. “Chavismo” and that section of Caracas have a long story: in 1992, when his coup attempt failed, Chavez took refuge in what was then the Army Museum. He surrendered there and was spared. The building is home to the Chavez mausoleum, since 2013, and it has its own chapel, where images of Chavez are venerated and candles lit to them. On Sunday, however, the “chavistas” decided to go one step further: they shut down the Church’s gates, prevented the flock from leaving and forced them to listen to a political speech, according to local and social media. Monsignor Jesus Gonzalez de Zarate had to negotiate with the occupiers before they left, the opposition organization MUD reported.