Latest News
of JANUARY  2017

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January 31, 2017

WHITE HOUSE: DIPLOMATS OWE TO FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS OR RESIGN

    
WASHINGTON, D.C.  -- The White House clashed Monday with a large group of American diplomats who are voicing dissent with Donald Trump's temporary travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim majority countries, challenging them to resign if they aren't on board. "They should either get with the program or they can go," Sean Spicer, Trump's press secretary, said. In startling language, Spicer 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. "This is about the safety of America," he said. The comments came after diplomats circulated a memo arguing that the executive order Trump signed last week will not make the U.S. safe, 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 a so-called "dissent cable" being drafted for State Department leadership.

     "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. U.S. officials said at least several hundred diplomats indicated they would sign the memo and that it was expected to be formally submitted later Monday. The final number of signatories will not be available until it is submitted, the officials said. The officials disclosed internal discussions on condition they not be quoted by name, in part because they feared retaliation. Spicer defended the executive order and said its impact had been "blown way out of proportion and exaggerated."

VENEZUELA IS DUBBED THE MOST CORRUPT NATION IN THE AMERICAS

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA
-- On the heels of the International Anti-Corruption Day and as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) urged governments to jointly tackle the issue of corruption by changing their attitudes towards the problem, News Americas Now decided to look at some of the most corrupt countries in the Americas – both the Caribbean and Latin America.

     Corruption is defined as comprising illegal activities, which are deliberately hidden and only come to light through scandals, investigations or prosecutions.
Venezuela took the top place for most corrupt in the Americas according to Transparency International. This nation has ranked at a low 19 on the TI Index for the past three years – between 2012 and 2014. Overall, on the global ranking, out of a total of 175 nations, tVenezuela scored 161. A higher score signifies the least corrupt nations where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 very clean.

    In Venezuela corruption is rampant in the main oil industry. Large-scale corruption is alleged to have taken place at the state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), and other state entities. Political power is concentrated in the executive, with many opportunities for corruption. Capital controls, for example, allow officials to purchase U.S. dollars at a fixed peg and then sell them on the black market for as much as a 1,100 percent profit which has led to widespread smuggling and other illegal activities.

VENEZUELAN ATTORNEY GENERAL ORDERED AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE ALLEGED BRIBERY OF CONSTRUCTION COMPANY ODEBRECHT

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --
   Venezuela's Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Díaz on Thursday said the Public Ministry launched an investigation into accusations officials under late former President Hugo Chavez and his replacement Nicolas Maduro received nearly $100 million in bribes from Brazilian company Odebrecht. Ortega Díaz highlighted that the authorities of Switzerland were asked to provide information on Venezuelans’ bank accounts in that country and said she would request the collaboration of the Brazilian Attorney General Office to coordinate investigations.

     "An arrest warrant was issued against a person for his alleged involvement in the Odebrecht case," Ortega Díaz during her In tune with the Public Ministry radio program. Ortega Díaz said she will coordinate with the attorney general of Brazil to send a Venezuelan prosecutor to Brazil to interview Marcelo Odebrecht, the Brazilian company's CEO and tycoon sentenced in March to 19 years in prison. Ortega Díaz also said authorities in Switzerland requested information regarding the accounts of several Venezuelan officials over alleged links to the bribes, including a list of all Venezuelans who received deposits from Odebrecht directly or indirectly.

     The company is accused of paying about $98 million in bribes to Venezuelan officials from 2006 through 2015 to obtain and hold public works contracts. Odebrecht in December agreed to pay at least $2.6 billion in criminal penalties over its role in the massive corruption scandal. Brazilian construction company Odebrecht paid approximately USD788 million in bribes in 12 countries in Latin America and Africa, including Brazil, according to documents published by the US Department of Justice, according to the Efe news agency. Dozens of Brazilian business leaders and politicians have been indicted for corruption, money laundering and racketeering over the scandal in Petrobras, a semi-public oil and gas company. Politicians are accused of accepting bribes -- either personal bribes or bribes distributed to their political party -- in exchange for lucrative government contracts for Odebrecht and Braskem.

January 30, 2017

MIAMI'S 'LITTLE HAVANA' HAS BEEN DESIGNATED NATIONAL TREASURE OF THE UNITED STATES

    
MIAMI, FLORIDA --  Little Havana, the historic heart of Miami’s large Cuban exile community, on Friday became an officially designated national treasure of the United States. The honor was proclaimed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation at a ceremony including Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and representatives of local organizations. “Little Havana has been the destination for hundreds of thousands of Latin American immigrants since the 1960s seeking the promise of a new life in America,” the Cuban-born Regalado said, calling the neighborhood a southern counterpart of New York’s Ellis Island, where millions of new arrivals to the US were processed. Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust, stressed that Little Havana continues to be “a thriving, entirely unique place that thousands of people currently call home.”

     The National Trust is working with partners in the area, including Dade Heritage Trust, to ensure that Little Havana “remains a healthy, vital and affordable urban neighborhood,” Meeks said. Little Havana occupies only 7 percent of the surface area of the City of Miami, yet it accounts for nearly 20 percent of rental units and more than a quarter of those that go for less than $1,000 a month, according to figures from the National Trust. Meeks spoke of a need to protect Little Havana from some of the negative outcomes that often accompany urban redevelopment, such as the destruction of historic buildings and the displacement of existing residents.

    Foreseeing Trump’s crackdown on “sanctuary” jurisdictions, the county asked the feds to review its status last year. A decision is still pending. In an interview with the Miami Herald, Gimenez, a Republican who attended Trump’s inauguration last week but said he voted for Hillary Clinton, said he made a financial decision. Last year, the county declined to hold some 100 inmates wanted by the feds. Keeping them in local jails would have cost about $52,000 — a relative drop in the bucket for a county with a total annual budget of $7 billion. In contrast, the county’s 2017 budget shows it’s counting on receiving some $355 million in federal funds — money that subsidizes elderly services, beds for the homeless, police officers and other government expenses. It’s unclear how much of that comes from the sort of grants Trump has threatened to deny sanctuary municipalities.

MIAMI-DADE MAYOR ORDERS JAILS TO COMPLY WITH PRESIDENT TRUMP CRACKDOWN ON 'SANCTUARY' CITIES

        MIAMI, FLORIDA
-- Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered the county jail to comply with federal immigration detention requests, effectively undoing the county’s position as a “sanctuary.” Fearing a loss of millions of dollars for defying immigration authorities, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Thursday ordered county jails to comply with federal immigration detention requests — effectively gutting the county’s position as a “sanctuary” for immigrants in the country illegally.

     Gimenez cited an executive order signed Wednesday by President Donald Trump that threatened to cut federal grants for any counties or cities that don’t cooperate fully with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  Since 2013, Miami-Dade has refused to indefinitely detain inmates who are in the country illegally and wanted by ICE — not based on principle, but because the federal government doesn’t fully reimburse the county for the expense.

     The White House. “In light of the provisions of the Executive Order, I direct you and your staff to honor all immigration detainer requests received from the Department of Homeland Security,” Gimenez wrote Daniel Junior, the interim director of the corrections and rehabilitation department, in a brief, three-paragraph memo. Unlike cities like San Francisco, Miami-Dade never declared itself a “sanctuary” and has resisted the label ever since the Justice Department listed the county as one in a May 2016 report.

NEWLY ORGANIZED 'ANTI-COUP SQUAD' IN VENEZUELA MONITORS, HUNTS OPPONENTS PERCEIVED AS RISK

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --
   Following on his predecessor’s footsteps, President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela dreams of coups-de-etats and how to prevent them. He started off the New Year with an announcement that may have raised concern anywhere but here, where Venezuelans are busy juggling every day with scarcity, hyperinflation and hunger. Hugo Chavez’s handpicked successor said he had created an “anti-coup command,” a select committee made up of five firebrand Chavistas with the task of preventing any attempt to destabilize and ultimately overthrow the socialist regime.

     Maduro announced the creation of the anti-coup command in a television transmission on Jan. 8: "Surrender, because the anti-coup command has arrived and is dedicated 24 hours a day to take preventive, legal and corrective measures against all coup and terrorist sectors," he said. Since the announcement, half a dozen heavyweight opposition members have been captured and thrown to jail -- most of them under weapon charges of some kind. Congressman Gilber Caro and his friend Stacy Escalona have been accused of illegal possession of an automatic rifle and C-4 explosives, a similar charge to that pressed against Maracaibo councilmember Jorge Gonzalez, who is behind bars for nearly a month for allegedly carrying explosives and cartridges in his car.
 

     Two retired generals have also been targeted by the newly-created command – Gen. Raul Baduel, a former ally of Chavez and now an adversary of Maduro and Gen. Ramón Lozada – as well as activist Irwin Roca and councilmember Roniel Farias. All of them are suspected to be connected in one way or another with the “Alcatraz Plan,” purportedly conceived to release opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez from jail and unseat Maduro. Rocío San Miguel, director of non-governmental organization Control Ciudadano, said the actions of the anti-coup command indicate it is part of a “selective criminalization apparatus” to infuse fear into opposition parties. “By using the political and military intelligence bodies, the government establishes a route of criminal imputation based on false positives to incriminate - with the help of the military justice - some previously selected emblematic factors of the opposition,” San Miguel said to Fox News. “Anyone can fall under the selective sphere of the anti-coup command,” she warned.

January 29, 2017

VENEZUELA'S NICOLAS MADURO CALLS DONALD TRUMP A "BANDIT, PELUCON" FOR HIS MEXICO REMARKS

    
CARACAS, MEXICO -- "I completely reject Donald Trump's statements. Rogue. Thief, ignorant, prejudiced hombre." How dare you mess with our brothers. Your country has already persecuted and exploited them enough," the socialist leader said in a typically boisterous diatribe on national TV and radio. "He who messes with Mexico, messes with Venezuela," Maduro said in a speech. The Venezuelan leader described Trump as a "pelucon," a term for old, long-haired aristocrats that is frequently used by Maduro to insult his opponents.

    "I condemn all of Donald Trump's comments," said Maduro, himself known for strong and colorful political language. "He's a bandit, a thief." On Tuesday, Mexico's interior minister lashed out at the Republican candidate, calling Trumps comments about Mexico "prejudiced and absurd." "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best," he said. "They're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing their problems." "They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists, and some I assume are good people, but I speak to border guards and they tell us what we are getting," the billionaire said.

     Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong dismissed the remarks as "absurd" and accused Trump of looking to stir up controversy. The Venezuelan leader described Trump as a "pelucon," a term for old, long-haired aristocrats that is frequently used by Maduro to insult his opponents. "I condemn all of Donald Trump's comments," said Maduro, himself known for strong and colorful political language. "He's a bandit, a thief." On Tuesday, Mexico's interior minister lashed out at the Republican candidate, calling Trumps comments about Mexico "prejudiced and absurd."

US STATE DEPARTMENT REX TILLERSON: WE WILL SEEK A DEMOCRATIC TRANSITION IN VENEZUELA

        WASHINGTON, D.C.
-- Rex Tillerson, the United States Secretary of State under President Donald Trump’s Administration, aims to review the options for an eventual transition in Venezuela, according to his answers to the questions made by the senators assessing his confirmation, as well as to information from the EFE news agency.

     According to the latter agency, Tillerson’s written answers were published via the website ‘Latin America Goes Global’, which specializes in the United States’ policy towards Latin America. Such answers were compiled after the designate’s confirmation hearing before the Senate, held last January 11. In one of his statements, the former CEO of oil company ExxonMobil promises to make “every effort” regarding Venezuela and the different outlooks the country is currently facing.

    According to EFE’s report, Tillerson noted, “If confirmed, I would urge close cooperation with our friends in the hemisphere, particularly Venezuela’s neighbors Brazil and Colombia, as well as multilateral bodies such as the OAS, to seek a negotiated transition to democratic rule in Venezuela.” With this transition, in his opinion, “In the end, it will be rebuilt political institutions, led by brave Venezuelan democracy and human-rights advocates, that will pave the way for the kinds of reforms needed to put Venezuela on the path to economic recovery.”

VENEZUELA PARLIAMENT REJECTS RUSSIAN "INTERVENTIONIST COMMUNIQUÉ'

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --
  Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly legislature held a session in Petare, one of the world's largest slums, to reject an "interventionist communique" by Russia's Foreign Ministry. The Venezuelan opposition, consolidated in the Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition, on Thursday held what is being considered a historic session in the Mesuca Sports Complex within what is regarded as the largest slum in Latin America on the outskirts of Caracas. Members allied to President Nicolas Maduro did not attend. "The National Assembly went to the streets," the unicameral legislative body said in a statement.

    In the meeting, the parliament members discussed and ultimately unanimously approved a measure rejecting a statement by Russia's Foreign Ministry issued last Friday that said the opposition was leading a "color revolution" -- a non-violent resistance movement that leads to massive protests and, sometimes, to the resignation or overthrow of leaders considered by opponents as authoritarian. Russia's Foreign Ministry said the opposition's "radical solutions" to solve Venezuela's political crisis further destabilized peace and urged for negotiations between the opposition and Maduro's regime to continue. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Shoigu has previously suggested "color revolutions" is a new form of warfare.

    "In addition, an 'Agreement in rejection of the interventionist communique of the Russian Ministry on the political situation in Venezuela' was approved unanimously," the National Assembly added. "Historic day for the National Assembly. Today meets from Mesuca accompanied by the people who elected it," National Assembly lawmaker Rafael Guzmán said in a statement. Also on Thursday, the opposition coalition said it would no longer re-engage in political crisis talks with Maduro, which were first held in December under Vatican mediation. "We must remind the Russian Federation and the national government that all interference is reprehensible," González said. "Friends from Russia, we remind you that it was the executive who broke the agreements at the table, did not release the political prisoners, did not open the humanitarian channel, mocked not only the Venezuelan people, but the intermediaries and the representatives of the Vatican."

January 28, 2017

CONVICTED MEXICAN DRUG KINGPIN "EL CHAPO" GUZMAN HAS BEEN EXTRADITED TO THE UNITED STATES 

        WASHINGTON, D.C. 
-- Convicted Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has been extradited to the United States, Mexico's government said Thursday.  Several U.S. jurisdictions want to try the former leader of the Sinaloa cartel on federal drug trafficking charges, including prosecutors in San Diego, New York, El Paso, Texas, Miami and Chicago. A U.S. official told NBC News Thursday evening that Guzman was in the air being flown to the U.S. by Mexican authorities. He is charged in six separate indictments in the U.S. connected to the Sinaloa cartel, the Justice Department said. Guzman was recaptured in January of 2016 in the town of Los Mochis, almost six months after he used a tunnel to escape from a maximum-security Mexican prison in a brazen jailbreak.

     "El Chapo" Guzman, Mexico's most notorious cartel kingpin twice made brazen prison escapes and spent years on the run as the country's most wanted man, was extradited to the U.S. on Thursday to face drug trafficking and other charges. Mexico's Foreign Relations Department announced Guzman was handed over to U.S. authorities for transportation to the U.S. on Thursday, the last full day of President Barack Obama's administration and a day before Donald Trump is to be inaugurated. The U.S. Justice Department issued a statement confirming that Guzman was en route to the United States and expressed gratitude to Mexico for its cooperation. A senior U.S. official said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration took custody of Guzman in Ciudad Juarez, which is across the border from El Paso, Texas, and a plane carrying him departed for New York at 5:31 p.m. EST.

    The convicted Sinaloa cartel boss has been held most recently in a prison near Ciudad Juarez. He was recaptured a year ago after escaping from a second maximum-security prison through a tunnel dug to his cell. He had fought extradition since then. Guzman faces the possibility of life in a U.S. prison under multiple indictments in six jurisdictions around the United States, including New York, San Diego, Chicago and Miami. A federal indictment in the Eastern District of New York, where Guzman is expected to be prosecuted, accuses him of overseeing a trafficking cartel with thousands of members and billions of dollars in profits laundered back to Mexico. It says Guzman and other members of the Sinaloa cartel employed hit men who carried out murders, kidnappings and acts of torture.

NORTH KOREA THREATENS TO "NUKE" TRUMP'S INAUGURATION

     WASHINGTON, D.C.  --
  North Korea is “readying two intercontinental ballistic missiles” to “nuke” Donald’s Trump inauguration, it’s been reported. Military officials say the rogue state wants to send a “strategic message” to the incoming US president by timing launches to ruin his big day on Friday. In a statement, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the reports could not be confirmed but that the military was monitoring the situation closely. However, according to news reports in South Korea, two missiles have already been placed on mobile launchers. The devices “are estimated to not exceed 15m [49 feet] in length, making them shorter than the North’s existing ICBMs.”

     An ICBM test in the coming days is “highly plausible,” Andrei Lankov, a professor at Seoul’s Kookmin University, told CNN. “Judging by earlier behavior, they usually like to greet a newly elected American president with some kind of nice surprise like a nuclear (test) or missile launch,” he said. “Because President-elect Trump tweeted that ‘it won’t happen,’ such a launch could be seen as a serious humiliation for (the US).” The news comes as satellite imagery shows increased activity at a major North Korean nuclear site, according to a new report. Any potential ICBM test, while a propaganda win for Pyongyang, would also reveal a great deal about the progress of North Korea’s weapons program.

     Military experts predicted that any test would only involve a missile with a range of under 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles), less than half the usual ICBM range of 5,500 kilometers (3,400 miles). US-based monitoring project 38North said evidence suggested Pyongyang may also be preparing to resume operations at a plutonium production reactor at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center 90 kilometers (56 miles) north of the capital. “Stepped-up activities throughout the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center indicate that it is operating at a level somewhat above what has been observed during the past five years,” the report said. “The exact implications of that activity remain unclear except to reaffirm that the Yongbyon facility remains the center of North Korea’s nuclear program.”

January 27, 2017

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, MEXICAN PRESIDENT PEÑA PRIETO AGREE TO END PUBLIC RIFF ABOUT BORDER WALL, MEXICO SAYS

    
WASHINGTON, D.C.  -- President Donald Trump and his Mexican counterpart shared a "constructive and productive" phone call Friday morning, agreeing to put aside their public spat over the building of a border wall, Mexico's government said. Without providing a clear resolution for how the two country's will mend the rift, the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto said the pair "acknowledged their clear and very public differences in position on this sensitive issue." Trump, since taking office a week ago, has ratcheted up calls to build a wall along the nations' shared border — and force Mexico to foot the bill.

     "The Presidents also agreed at this point not to speak publicly about this controversial issue," the Mexican government's statement said. The White House released a similarly worded readout of the phone call, but did not include the Mexican government's assertion that Trump and Peña Nieto would remain mum about the border wall and how to pay for it. At a news conference Friday afternoon with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump told reporters the phone call with Peña Nieto was "very, very friendly," appearing to try to smooth over a relationship that has grown increasingly tense this week.

     Mexico's President to Trump: We Do Not Believe in Walls. But Trump remained firm on protecting American interests, and reiterated that he would not allow the United States to be "out-negotiated" and have Mexico "beat us to a pulp" when it comes to trade deals. He also complained that the two nations' shared border is "soft and weak." "We are going to be working on a fair relationship and a good relationship," Trump said of the U.S.'s ties with Mexico, without delving into the war of words prompted over Trump's desire to build a border wall. The phone call was "mutually arranged" by both administrations, the White House said. It came after Peña Nieto on Thursday nixed next week's scheduled meeting with Trump over his rhetoric. That prompted the White House to punch back — floating the possibility of a 20 percent tax on Mexican products imported into America.

VENEZUELA OPPOSITION ABANDONS VATICAN -BROKEN TALKS, PROPOSES NEW DIALOGUE

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA 
-- The Venezuelan opposition alliance announced on Thursday that it would be definitively abandoning Vatican-brokered talks with the government, but members of that coalition later told EFE it would present a proposal for a fresh dialogue process with new mediators. After announcing it would no longer participate in talks that had begun in late October under the auspices of the Union of South American Nations and the Vatican, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) said it had agreed to propose a new negotiations process under a different format. It did not offer any details of the proposal.

     The decision to abandon the initial process came despite the international mediators’ attempts to relaunch conversations between President Nicolas Maduro’s leftist government and the MUD. “The dialogue experiment that occurred in Venezuela between Oct. 30 and Dec. 6 is a closed chapter that will not be reopened,” said the coalition in a statement, blaming the decision on non-compliance with earlier agreements. The talks had entered a review phase in early December. Msgr. Claudio Maria Celli, the Vatican’s special mediator in the talks, had said on Dec. 6 that the talks would be relaunched on Jan. 13. But Maduro’s opponents said they had carefully studied the observers’ latest proposal and that review had convinced them of the need to prepare a new text.

     “One in which not just the political organizations, but the entire democratic society presents the international community its demands and proposals for restoring the constitutional order in Venezuela and returning our country to democracy,” the statement added. The MUD said the situation in Venezuela was not just a political power struggle. “It’s an existential struggle of an entire nation against an ideological project,” the statement read, referring to the so-called “21st century socialism” advocated by Maduro and his mentor and predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez. The opposition urged the Venezuelan people to continue to engage in peaceful protests as part of a sustained movement to pressure Maduro into moving up the next presidential election, which is currently scheduled for late next year.

LUIS ALMAGRO OF OAS SAYS WE MUST "ACT NOW" IN VENEZUELAN CRISIS

        Washington, d.c.  --
  Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS) asserted the need to “act now” in Venezuela. In an interview with the newspaper El Observador, he asserted that the mediation of Unasur and the Vatican has not yielded results, and alleged that the crisis in the South American country “has reached its limit.” Almagro said that there are more reasons now, than before, to invoke the Democratic Charter. “People have been deprived of their Constitutional right to recall President Maduro, political prisoners are still incarcerated, violence is rampant, and there is widespread hunger.”

     Almagro added that “the international community can not wait any longer and must act now.” The representative of the OAS also said that the dialogue between the regime of Nicolás Maduro and the opposition has taken minimal steps, yet political pressure should be applied in order to “ensure that political prisoners are released so that Venezuelans can vote and decide on their future, and respect the separation of powers of the state.” After mentioning that Venezuela is “on an increasingly authoritarian trajectory” and “with an unsustainable humanitarian crisis,” Almagro explained the progress made in invoking the Democratic Charter. Article 20 is very clear as to the steps to be taken and indeed the Democratic Charter has already been invoked.

      It is now up to OAS member states to decide what action they want to take. At this time they are in the stage of collective evaluation and it is the states that have the impetus to move this urgent agenda forward. On the process of peace talks in Colombia, Almagro said he welcomes the will and efforts of both the government of Juan Manuel Santos and members of the FARC. “We have supported the peace process promoted by President Santos from the beginning and we are deeply committed to the desire of the Colombian people to live in peace.” Regarding the OAS agenda for 2017, the secretary general said that “this year will be key for promoting democratic principles and human and civil rights that make the Americas a continent of peace.”

January 27, 2017

MEXICAN PRESIDENT CANCELS PLANNED D.C. MEETING WITH TRUMP

    
MEXICO CITY,    -- El presidente de México Enrique Pena Nieto on Thursday canceled a planned Jan. 31 meeting with President Donald J. Trump, hours after Trump tweeted that the meeting should be scrapped if Mexico won't pay for a border wall. Pena Nieto's message on Twitter ended days of uncertainty about how he would respond to Trump's aggressive stance toward the country, and illustrated the challenges world leaders are likely to face in dealing with Trump's voluble, Twitter-based diplomacy. It also signaled a remarkable souring of relations between the U.S. and its immediate southern neighbor, one of America's largest trading partners and a country with which it shares a nearly 2,000-mile border.

     Mexico reaffirms its willingness to work with the United States to reach agreements that benefit both nations," he added. White House press secretary Sean Spicer responded to the Mexican president's announcement, saying: "We'll look for a date to schedule something in the future. We will keep the lines of communication open." Earlier Thursday, Trump had tweeted that "If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting" in Washington D.C. Trump said Wednesday he would start building a U.S.-Mexico border wall and has vowed to make Mexico pay for it. Mexico opposes the wall and has repeatedly said it won't pay.

     Officials had said Mexico was "considering" canceling after the border wall announcement, but Trump appeared to beat Mexico to the punch in that game of brinkmanship. Former foreign relations secretary Jorge Castaneda told local media that after Trump's tweet, "Pena Nieto has no other choice but to say 'I'm not going.'" Trump's unpredictable style appeared to catch Mexico's normally quiet and cautious diplomacy off guard. "I think that, in general, diplomacy is not conducted via Twitter," Finance Secretary Jose Antonio Meade told Radio Formula. Mexico's best-known opposition politician, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, tweeted that "in the face of Trump's latest outburst, don't go to the meeting, and submit an urgent complaint to the U.N. for human rights violations."

FLORIDA GOVERNOR SCOTT  THREATENS TO CUT FUNDING TO PORTS MAKING BUSINESS DEALS WITH CUBA'S APARTHEID DICTATORSHIP

        MIAMI, FLORIDA 
-- Florida Gov. Rick Scott threatened Wednesday to strip state funds from two South Florida seaports ready to sign business deals with the Cuban government. Over three posts on Twitter, the governor said he would ask state lawmakers to restrict dollars for ports that “enter into any agreement with [the] Cuban dictatorship” — as Port Everglades and the Port of Palm Beach plan to do Thursday and Friday, respectively.

     “We cannot condone Raul Castro’s oppressive behavior,” Scott tweeted in English and Spanish, using the preferred social media platform of his friend, President Donald Trump. “Serious security/human rights concerns.” Scott’s position came a day after the first legal cargo from Cuba in more than half a century — artisanal charcoal — arrived Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades. The Port of Palm Beach is located in Riviera Beach. Jackie Schutz, a Scott spokeswoman, said the governor takes issue with the ports inking memorandums of understanding with the Cuban government because he “firmly” believes the U.S. should not do business with Cuba “until there is freedom and democracy.”

     “What I don’t believe is in our ports doing business with a ruthless dictator,” Scott told reporters in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday. The governor will make his request to the Legislature, which ultimately sets the state budget and can ignore Scott if it wishes. The Florida Department of Transportation’s budget shows more than $37 million budgeted for Port Everglades projects over the next five years — including $23 million for a dredging the port has sought for three decades — and $920,000 for the Port of Palm Beach.

PORT EVERGLADES CANCELS SIGNING OF PACT WITH CUBA AFTER GOVERNOR SCOTT THREATENS TO CUT FUNDING

     MIAMI, FLORIDA  --
   Rick Scott, Governor of Florida, comments on ports in Florida doing business with the "ruthless dictator" Raul Castro". The governor was in Fort Lauderdale today to announce tax cuts for this year's budget. A high-level Cuban business delegation toured Port Everglades and met with port officials Thursday, although the planned highlight — the signing of a cooperation pact — was canceled after Gov. Rick Scott threatened to cut off state funding to any port that entered into an agreement with Cuba. The governor took to Twitter Wednesday morning, saying he would ask Florida legislators to restrict funds for ports that “enter into any agreement with [the] Cuban dictatorship.” For Port Everglades that could have meant a $37 million cut over the next five years.

      Although the Legislature, which sets the state budget, could have ignored the governor’s request, the possibility was worrisome enough that Port Everglades officials huddled for most of the day Wednesday considering options. At issue was a non-binding memorandum of understanding that was to be signed by Port Everglades and the National Port Administration of Cuba. It was to cover future cooperation and could have led to joint marketing studies and training, sharing of data helpful in forecasting future trade flows, and perhaps even joint marketing of Cuban ports and Port Everglades, according to Jim Pyburn, port director of business development. The port finally issued a statement Thursday morning:

     “The National Port Administration of Cuba has indicated to Port Everglades administration that there is no need for a memorandum of understanding at this time. However, today’s business meeting and related activities will continue as planned.” Cuban Ambassor José Ramón Cabañas tweeted a photo of the Cuban delegation visiting Port Everglades on Thursday. Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said in an email to the Herald: “The Governor appreciates the port choosing not to do business with the Castro dictatorship.” The Cubans lunched with executives from the cruise lines and Crowley Maritime, which has been offering shipping service to Cuba for the past 15 years, and planned to cap the day with a “Doing Business with Cuba” seminar for about 150 members of the local business community.

January 26, 2017

PRESIDENT TRUMP SIGNS EXECUTIVE ORDERS ON BORDER WALL, US 'SANCTUARY CITIES

    
WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- President Donald Trump signed directives on Wednesday to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and strip funding from cities that shield illegal immigrants as he charged ahead with sweeping and divisive plans to transform how the United States deals with immigration and national security. The Republican president is expected to take additional steps in the coming days to limit legal immigration, including executive orders restricting refugees and blocking the issuing of visas to people from several Muslim-majority Middle Eastern and North African countries including Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Yemen.

     The intent of those proposals is to head off Islamist violence in the United States, although critics have said it soils America's reputation as a welcoming place for immigrants of all stripes. Trump signed two executive orders, directing the construction of a wall along the roughly 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) U.S.-Mexico border, moving to peel away federal grant money from "sanctuary" states and cities that harbor illegal immigrants and beefing up the force of immigration agents. We are in the middle of a crisis on our southern border: The unprecedented surge of illegal migrants from Central American is harming both Mexico and the United States," Trump said in remarks at the Department of Homeland of Security after signing the directives.

    "And I believe the steps we will take starting right now will improve the safety in both of our countries," Trump said, adding: "A nation without borders is not a nation." His plans prompted an immediate outcry from immigrant advocates and others who said Trump was jeopardizing the rights and freedoms of millions of people while treating Mexico as an enemy, not an ally. Local officials in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Denver, Washington, San Francisco and Seattle offer some forms of protection to illegal immigrants. Billions of dollars in federal aid to those cities, often governed by Democrats, could be at risk. "The American people are no longer going to have to be forced to subsidize this disregard for our laws," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.

VENEZUELA STATE GOVERNOR HENRIQUE CAPRILES PROTEST ON EXPRESSWAY TO DEMAND ELECTIONS

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA 
-- The governor of the central Venezuelan state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles, led a demonstration of about 100 citizens Tuesday on the Francisco Fajardo Expressway in Caracas to demand that elections for the country’s governors and mayors be held this year. Opposition Gov. Henrique Capriles was accompanied by the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, fellow opposition member Freddy Guevara, and by other anti-Chavista lawmakers, along with scores of banner-waving members of the opposition who blocked traffic for almost an hour on the capital’s principal east-west thoroughfare.

     “Yesterday we said... everything has to be done as a surprise so the government takes notice and begins to remember the Constitution and that it must respect it,” Capriles told journalists in reference to his statement Monday that the next demonstrations will neither be announced nor will they be conventional. The governor said he came to that decision after seeing the massive police deployment in the Venezuelan capital Monday and everywhere else that the MUD opposition alliance had called for people to march as a way of demanding elections of governors and mayors this year.

    The CNE electoral authority said last October that the election of governors would be held “at the end” of the first quarter of 2017 – despite the Constitution indicating that the date should be in December 2016 – and that elections for mayors would be in the second quarter of 2017. However, the governor insisted on Tuesday on the need to pressure the electoral authority, which, according to the MUD, up to now has only shown an intention to keep delaying elections and to “suspend” the right to vote. “Every government action will get a reaction from those who want this country to change and from those of us who want the Constitution to be respected,” Capriles said.

PARAGUAY DOES NOT SUPPORT TALKS IF VENEZUELA FAILS

     ASUNCION, PARAGUAY  --
   Paraguayan Foreign Minister, Eladio Loizaga, said that the Unasur’s secretary general and the former presidents, mediators in the talks between the opposition and the Venezuelan government, have not reported on what they are doing on behalf of the members of the organization. Paraguay does not agree that the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) is in favor of the talks’ process in Venezuela unless the government of Nicolás Maduro demonstrates its "democratic commitment."

     "We have expressed our reservations because we believe that Celac also has to make a call to Venezuela to respect the rule of law and what the division of powers implies in a democratic system," Paraguayan FM Eladio Loizaga said in an interview with the news agency Efe, at the V Summit of the CELAC that began today in the Dominican Republic. As reported by Efe, several diplomatic sources confirmed that Venezuela presented a proposal to include in the documents of the summit express support for the process of talks in that country; however, no consensus has been reached and the Latin American foreign ministers are still debating about it.

    Meantime, the issue of the Venezuelan government-opposition talks had not been included in Celac official agenda, but Venezuela requested support. The foreign ministers of the Member States of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) agreed to back the talks between the Venezuelan government and the opposition; however, they declined a proposal from the Venezuelan government for the bloc to condemn alleged meddling of the United States. Diplomatic sources said that the decision was adopted during the meeting of foreign ministers held in Bávaro, Punta Cana, ahead of the Fifth Summit of Heads of State and Government of Celac, which opened on Wednesday evening and end on Thursday.

January 25, 2017

FORMER REP. MIKE POMPEO (R-KAN.) HAS BEEN CONFIRMED AS DIRECTOR OF THE CIA BY THE US SENATE

    
WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- Mike Pompeo was confirmed as CIA director by the Senate on Monday, putting the conservative Kansas congressman in charge of an agency that is bracing for its most contentious relationship with the White House in decades. The vote was 66-32. Pompeo was sworn in Monday evening by Vice President Pence. As CIA director, Pompeo will be responsible for managing a global spying network at a time of escalating security problems, including renewed aggression from Russia, the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and the splintering terrorism threat posed by the Islamic State.

     But, at least initially, Pompeo’s most vexing task may involve finding a way to establish a functional relationship between the CIA and President Trump. The new commander in chief traveled to CIA headquarters Saturday, in a trip that was an effort to create a fresh start with an agency he has frequently treated with contempt. Instead, what Trump delivered Saturday was a stream-of-consciousness airing of grievances, attacking Democrats and journalists. Trump skipped most of the daily intelligence briefings offered him after his election victory. He has dismissed the agency’s conclusions on critical issues, particularly its determination that Russia interfered in last year’s election to help him win. Most recently, Trump accused intelligence officials of orchestrating a Nazi-like campaign to smear him.

    Trump has expressed confidence in Pompeo, a businessman who served as a tank commander in the Army and graduated at the top of his class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. “Intelligence agencies are vital and very, very important,” Trump said at his news conference this month. He singled out Pompeo, saying that his administration was “putting in some outstanding people.” His comments signaled that his hostility toward the agency might subside when his designated director is in charge. But CIA veterans say that Pompeo may face more fundamental challenges, including whether he will be listened to at the White House and able to insert hard information into debates presided over by a president who has suggested he sees information on WikiLeaks as more reliable than the contents of intelligence briefs.

VENEZUELAN PARLIAMENT LEADER REJECTS  NEGOTIATION WITH NICOLAS MADURO

        WASHINGTON, D.C. 
-- Henry Ramos Allup, leader of Venezuela's National Assembly, on Monday said his political party will not re-engage in negotiations with President Nicolas Maduro's regime and instead said protests need to continue to pressure Venezuela's electoral council to establish the date of regional and gubernatorial elections. Photo courtesy of National Assembly. Allup's comments clash with a proposal by some members in the opposition coalition seeking a diplomatic solution to Venezuela's political crisis. Allup, one of the most influential opposition political figures in Venezuela, serves as the Democratic Action party's general secretary.

    The Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD, opposition coalition is considering re-engaging in talks with Maduro after receiving a request from Union of South American Nations Secretary-General Ernesto Samper and several former world leaders, such as the former president of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, former president of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández, and former president of Panama, Martín Torrijos. The Vatican is also engaged in the effort. Aldo Giordano, the apostolic nuncio in Venezuela, also co-signed a document delivered by Samper and the former presidents to Maduro and the opposition coalition/ On Monday, Allup said he and his party would reject the attempts to facilitate dialogue between both sides.

    In a speech during an opposition rally on Monday, Allup said the Democratic Action party would not co-sign the document because it had too many demands that Maduro's government would never approve -- without offering details on what was proposed. Allup said protests need to continue to pressure Venezuela's National Electoral Council, or CNE, to establish the date of regional and gubernatorial elections. The CNE in October officially delayed gubernatorial and regional elections, originally set for December, possibly by up to half a year and a whole year, respectively. "The only way out of the country's current political and economic situation is through street pressure to demand the National Electoral Council's date of regional elections," Allup said.

AFTER RELEASE OF DISSIDENT ARTIST, MANY POLITICAL PRISONERS STILL REMAIN IN CASTRO'S JAILS

     HAVANA, CUBA  --
   It is hard to believe but recently released Cuban dissident artist Danilo “El Sexto” Maldonado is one of the lucky dissidents in Cuba. Unfortunately, many other political prisoners continue to rot in the gulags of the apartheid Castro dictatorship. “El Sexto free. Others yet to be freed. Let us not forget them.” – Jorge Olivera, former Cuban prisoner of conscience, January 21, 2017 over twitter. Danilo Maldonado, also known as El Sexto was held in a Cuban prison without charges from November 26, 2016 until January 21, 2017 when he was suddenly freed.

    What happened on November 26th? The Cuban totalitarian dictatorship announced that Fidel Castro had died and El Sexto broadcast himself writing “Se fue” [He’s gone] over social media. A short time later state security rounded him up and imprisoned him. The good news is that he is free now, although not allowed to travel outside of Cuba. However others were badly beaten or are still imprisoned for refusing to mourn the death of Fidel Castro or criticizing the legacy of the dead dictator. Not as lucky as El Sexto was Carlos Alberto González Rodríguez, age 48, who painted “Down with Castro” graffiti in Las Tunas and was sentenced to two years in prison under the charge of “Peligrosidad Social Pre-Delictiva” (Pre-Crime Social Dangerousness).

    Eduardo Cardet, national coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement imprisoned since returning to Cuba on November 30, 2016 after criticizing the legacy of Fidel Castro and his regime over mass media. Cardet is being threatened with three years in prison and has been badly beaten on more than one occasion. One need not be a political dissident to get into trouble. Darío Pérez Rodríguez, age 49, resident in the Eastern city of Holguín on January 4, 2017 was sentenced by the municipal tribunal to a year prison for “defaming the martyrs of the Homeland”, a crime found in Article 204 of the Penal Code. What did he do? He refused the order issued at his workplace to watch Fidel Castro’s funeral on television.

January 24, 2017

DONALD TRUMP SIGNS EXECUTIVE ORDER TO FORMALLY WITHDRAW THE US FROM THE TRANS-PACIFIC TRADE DEAL

    
WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- U.S. President Donald Trump formally withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal on Monday, distancing America from its Asian allies as China's influence in the region rises. Fulfilling a campaign pledge to end American involvement in the 2015 pact, Trump signed an executive order in the Oval Office pulling the United States from the 12-nation TPP. "Great thing for the American worker," Trump said as he signed the order on his third full day in office. The Republican says the trade deal would have damaged U.S. manufacturing.

     The accord, backed heavily by U.S. business, was negotiated by former President Barack Obama's administration but never approved by Congress. It had been the main economic pillar of the Obama administration's "pivot" to the Asia-Pacific region to counter China. Trump has sparked worries in Japan and elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific with his opposition to the TPP and his campaign demands for U.S. allies to pay more for their security. Harry Kazianis, Director of Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest think tank in Washington, said Trump must now find an alternative way to reassure allies in Asia. "This could include multiple bilateral trade agreements. Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam should be approached first as they are key to any new Asia strategy that President Trump will enact," he said.

    Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said abandoning TPP was the "wrong decision" and a "serious mistake that will have lasting consequences for America's economy and our strategic position in the Asia-Pacific region." "This decision will forfeit the opportunity to promote American exports, reduce trade barriers, open new markets, and protect American invention and innovation. It will create an opening for China to rewrite the economic rules of the road at the expense of American workers. And it will send a troubling signal of American disengagement in the Asia-Pacific region at a time we can least afford it," said McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain emphasized the importance of a "positive trade agenda" in the Asia-Pacific region that keeps America "competitive in one of the most economically vibrant and fastest-growing regions in the world."

ISRAEL ACCEPTS INVITATION FROM PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP TO VISIT US 

        WASHINGTON, D.C. 
-Israel's prime minister on Sunday accepted an invitation to visit the White House next month in hopes of forging a "common vision" for the region with President Donald Trump that could include expanded settlement construction on occupied territories and a tougher policy toward Iran. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his plans to head to Washington in early February hours after delaying a vote on an explosive proposal to annex one of the West Bank's largest settlements, apparently to coordinate his policy toward the Palestinians with the new administration. The move put on hold legislation that threatens to unleash fresh violence and damage already faded hopes for Palestinian independence. It also may have marked Trump's first presidential foray into Middle East diplomacy.

    After eight years of frosty relations with President Barack Obama, Netanyahu has welcomed Trump's election as an opportunity to strengthen ties between the two allies. Israeli media reported that Netanyahu was gearing up plans to expand settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem — a policy that had been condemned by Obama. Late Sunday, the two men held what Netanyahu's office described as a "very warm conversation" by phone. It said they discussed the international nuclear deal with Iran, which both men have harshly criticized, and the Palestinian issue. "The prime minister expressed his desire to work closely with President Trump to forge a common vision to advance peace and security in the region, with no daylight between the United States and Israel," the statement said. It said a date for Netanyahu's visit would be finalized in the coming days.

    The White House said Trump told Netanyahu that peace with the Palestinians "can only be negotiated directly between the two parties" and that the U.S. will work closely with Israel on that goal. With Trump signaling a more tolerant approach toward the much-maligned settlement movement, Israel's nationalist right now believes it has an ally in the White House, and Israeli hard-line leaders make no secret they will push for aggressive action in the occupied West Bank. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the pro-settlement Jewish Home Party, has been pushing Netanyahu to abandon the internationally backed idea of a Palestinian state and to annex the Maaleh Adumim settlement near Jerusalem. But after convening his Security Cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu said his Cabinet ministers, including Bennett, had decided "unanimously" to delay action on the annexation plan until he goes to Washington to meet with Trump.
Trump retiró a EEUU del tratado de libre comercio Transpacífico.

FIRST NORTH KOREA CHALLENGE TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: TWO NORTH KOREA ICBMs PLACED IN POSITION

     PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA  --
   A South Korean official told NHK two new two-stage missiles, "similar" to the midrange ballistic missile Musudan, is being deployed north of Pyongyang. File Photo by KCNA. North Korea placed two new intercontinental ballistic missiles into position in an area north of Pyongyang, a Japanese television network reported. NHK reported Sunday two ICBMs that may be equipped with newly developed engines might have been deployed ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump's inauguration Friday.

     A South Korean military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity told NHK the two missiles can be "launched at any time." Last week, Yonhap reported two new road-mobile ICBMs were recently captured by South Korea military intelligence. The new road-mobile ICBMs appear to be shorter than Pyongyang's other versions, including the 19-20 meters in length KN-08 and the 17-18-meter-long KN-14, officials had told the South Korean news agency. According to NHK, the South Korean official said the "two-stage missile is similar to the medium-range ballistic missile Musudan. The first stage of the missile is different from the Musudan, and may be equipped with a newly developed engine." China, which shares an 880-mile border with North Korea, is wary of Pyongyang's provocations and has warned its neighbor about weapons development.

     The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, a nongovernmental organization in Hong Kong, said Sunday China has installed a new radar at a missile base in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, in northeastern China. The center quoted data on movements, provided by Chinese missile analysts, that states the People's Liberation Army Rocket Force has deployed high-performance radar at missile base 51 in Sujiatun, in order to closely monitor the movements of North Korea's ICBMs. The analysts pointed out the radar at the Shenyang base will be able to easily monitor and track a North Korea launch of an ICBM. The PLARF is a Chinese tactical missile force of about 110,000 troops, with headquarters for operations located at Qinghe, Beijing. PLARF oversees subordinate missile bases in Shenyang, Qimen, Luoyang, Kunming, Baoji, Huaihua and Xining.

January 23, 2017

DONALD TRUMP PRAISES THE CIA, BRISTLES OVER INAUGURAL CROWD COUNTS

    
WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- During his first full day in office, President Donald Trump visited the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Virginia to thank intelligence officers for their service. “There is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump,” said the president. The White House During his first full day in office, President Donald Trump visited the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Virginia to thank intelligence officers for their service. “There is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump,” said the president. The White House

    President Donald Trump moved to repair his tumultuous relationship with America's spy agencies on his first full day in office, but his bridge-building visit to CIA headquarters Saturday quickly morphed into a platform for the new commander in chief to complain about media coverage of his inauguration, misstating the size of his crowd. Standing in front of a memorial for fallen CIA agents, Trump assured intelligence officials, "I am so behind you." He made no mention of his repeated criticism of the intelligence agencies following the election, including his public challenges of their high-confidence assessment that Russia meddled in the White House race to help him win.

    "There is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and CIA than Donald Trump," he said, blaming any suggestion of a "feud" on the media. Trump's decision to travel to CIA headquarters so quickly after taking office was seen as an attempt at a fresh start with the intelligence agencies he will now rely on for guidance as he makes weighty national security decisions. Following his private meeting with top CIA leaders, Trump said the U.S. had been "restrained" in its efforts to combat terrorism, calling the threat "a level of evil we haven't seen."

SECRETARY OF STATE DESIGNATE REX TILLERSON'S CONFIRMATION ANSWERS QUESTIONS ON CUBA 

        WASHINGTON, D.C. 
-- “I will press Cuba to meet its pledge to become more democratic and consider placing conditions on trade or travel policies to motivate the release of political prisoners.” And also states later that he will “determine how best to pressure Cuba to respect human rights and promote democratic changes.” But then, when pressed more directly on whether he supports Vice President Pence’s call to roll back the Obama-era regulations governing in U.S. policy to Cuba, he says he will roll them back. He also adds rather curiously, “I will work bilaterally and multilaterally to identify training and technical assistance opportunities to assist with judicial reform, if I am confirmed.”

     Despite the Obama Administration’s controversial and misguided decision to normalize relations with Cuba and its hope that this could lead to improved governance and human rights, Cuban officials continue to arrest dissidents and violate the rights of citizens, and tourism revenues benefit only government officials and a small minority of the population. How do you plan to approach the United States’ relationship with Cuba? I will support human rights defenders and democracy activists in Cuba? What bilateral and/or multilateral pressure will you exert to lessen authoritarian rule in Cuba?

    If confirmed, I will engage with Cuba but continue to press for reform of its oppressive regime. I will support human rights defenders and democracy activists in Cuba, empower civil society, defend freedom of expression, and promote improved Internet access and I will ask our allies to do the same.I will continue to support programs that promote democratic voices and initiatives in Cuba like Radio and TV Marti. I will also engage bilaterally and multilaterally to bring American fugitives to justice. There will be a comprehensive review of current policies and executive orders regarding Cuba to determine how best to pressure Cuba to respect human rights and promote democratic changes.

NICOLAS MADURO FIRES CENTRAL BANK PRESIDENT NELSON MERENTE, REPLACES HIM WITH RICARDO SANGUINO

     Caracas, Venezuela  --
   Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro on Sunday named economist and parliamentarian Ricardo Sanguino as President of the Central Bank of Venezuela. Central Bank President Nelson Merentes was reportedly asked to resign and tendered his resignation on Friday. "In full use of my powers, in my position as Head of State and President of Venezuela, I have decided to nominate the economist Ricardo Sanguino, a man of great experience, Caracas and Tachira, as president of the BCV," said Nicolás Maduro live on TV during his Sunday TV Show In Contact with Maduro.

     "I want us to start a new phase of development of the Central Bank of Venezuela in the fight against the internal and international mafias that hit our currency and that the BCV goes to our vanguard, next to the people always," said the president. Venezuela's currency has fallen to 3700 bolivars per dollar on the black market, and according to Central Bank documents leaked last week, inflation is over 800% and the economy collapsed 18%. Maduro said that he knows Sanguino and described him as "one of the most studious and knowledgeable men in the economic, financial and monetary life of the country.

    Sanguino has been a National Assembly deputy since 2000, and has been President and Vice-President of the Finance and Budget Committee of the National Assembly. The Central Bank head serves a seven year term. Merentes first became President of the Central Bank in April of 2009 and also served as Minister of Finance from April of 2013 to January of 2014. He had first been appointed as Minister of Finance beginning in July of 2001, and has also served as Minister of Science and Technology. He has PhD in mathematics.  As Venezuela´s economy has tanked, the central bank has stopped releasing quarterly and monthly economic indicators. Long seen as a pragmatic figure, Merentes, who completed a PhD. in mathematics in Budapest in 1991 before returning to Venezuela as a university professor, has disappointed economists by not pushing through major reforms in the Socialist-led OPEC country.

January 22, 2017

JAMES MATTIS IS SWORN IN AS DEFENSE SECRETARY, PLEDGES TO BUILD ALLIANCES

    
WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- Congress has granted only one exception to the law. Army Gen. George C. Marshall, an active-duty five-star general, was defense secretary for about a year beginning in 1950.(Jason Aldag, Dan Lamothe/The Washington Post)Retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis was confirmed and sworn in as President Trump’s defense secretary Friday, breaking with decades of precedent as a recently retired general became the Pentagon’s top civilian leader. Mattis, 66, was approved with a 98-1 vote after the presidential inauguration and then sworn in by Vice President Pence.

     The new Pentagon chief released a statement to U.S. troops afterward that credited not only them, but intelligence personnel as “sentinels and guardians of our nation” — rhetoric that is in line with Mattis’s past statements, but stands in contrast to the way Trump has criticized the value of U.S. intelligence in recent weeks. Mattis also pledged to work with the State Department to strengthen U.S. alliances abroad, some of which have been rattled by Trump questioning their worth. “We need only look to you, the uniformed and civilian members of the Department and your families, to see the fundamental unity of our country,” Mattis’s statement said. “You represent an America committed to the common good; an America that is never complacent about defending its freedoms; and an America that remains a steady beacon of hope for all mankind.”

     Many lawmakers and long-time foreign policy observers hope Mattis can be a moderating voice of experience in an administration that has notably few senior officials with national security experience in Washington. He will lead the Defense Department’s 1.9 million active-duty service members and reservists and oversee a budget of more than $580 billion as Trump prepares to expand the military. Mattis becomes the first senior military officer to serve as defense secretary since President Truman nominated Army Gen. George C. Marshall for the job in 1950, as the U.S. military struggled in the Korean War. Mattis retired in spring 2013 as the chief of U.S. Central Command after a career in which he became one of the most influential officers of his generation and commanded troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

JOHN F. KELLY CONFIRMED AS HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY 

        WASHINGTON, D.C. 
-- The Senate confirmed John F. Kelly as secretary of homeland security on Friday, putting the blunt-spoken retired Marine general in charge of securing the nation’s borders, including construction of the controversial southwest border wall that was a centerpiece of President Trump’s campaign. Senators approved Kelly’s nomination to run the Department of Homeland Security, a sprawling entity of more than 240,000 employees who do everything from protecting the president to safeguarding the nation’s electrical grid.

     Kelly, who retired in February as chief of the U.S. Southern Command, is part of the first wave of Cabinet secretaries who will begin to implement the expansive plans of the nation’s 45th president. DHS will be at the forefront of some of the most highly charged parts of that agenda, including the wall, which would be designed to keep out illegal immigrants. Kelly appeared to play down the wall’s importance at his recent confirmation hearing, telling a Senate committee that “a physical barrier in and of itself will not do the job’’ and that technology such as drones and sensors are also needed to secure the border.

     A widely respected officer who served for more than 40 years, Kelly won strong support from Republicans, who hailed his military experience and the border expertise he gained at Southern Command. “General Kelly has devoted his life to service, and I’m thankful that the full Senate has recognized that he is the right person to be the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Democrats also spoke about him in mostly positive terms, though Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), a member of the Senate committee, announced this week she would vote against him.

HELEN AGUIRRE FERRE HAS BEEN APPOINTED TRUMP'S MEDIA ADVISOR

     WASHINGTON, D.C.   --
  President Donald Trump named Helen Aguirre Ferre as his director of media affairs and special assistant Thursday, raising further alarm over the potential anti-Cuban stance of the new U.S. administration. The Florida-born journalist, whose parents are Nicaraguan, is a fierce opponent of the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro. As an opinion writer for Miami-based Diario Las Americas, Aguirre Ferre published a series of articles condemning Fidel’s government, claiming the revolutionary had “enslaved the Cuban people” and warning that “the total tyranny of Fidel Castro is a threat to the United States.”

     She was accused of receiving money to maintain an anti-Cuban radio program, operated by Radio and TV Marti, and was paid by the U.S. government to write inflammatory opinion pieces against the Cuban Five, Cuban revolutionaries accused of espionage. During the trial against the revolutionaries, Aguirre Ferre reportedly received a total sum of US$6,025, according to a sworn declaration by defendant Attorney Martin Garbus. Garbus testified that the then-editor of Diario Las Américas used her position of a seemingly independent newspaper to “influence the outcome of the judicial process, paid for by the government.”

     When news of the payments came to light, the newly-appointed Trump advisor argued there was no conflict of interest. Aguirre Ferre was appointed the Republican National Committee’s Hispanic communications director in June 2016. She assumed the post after her predecessor left, saying she was “uncomfortable working for Mr. Trump.” While the Nicaraguan Republican has voiced similar objections against Trump, Aguirre Ferre insisted she took the post to ensure a Republican won the White House. Since being appointed media advisor, Aguirre Ferre has purged her Twitter feed of all anti-Trump posts. Aguirre Ferre will join a new Trump administration, noted for its number of millionaires and lack of diversity.

 

January 21, 2017

DONALD TRUMP SAID HE INTENDS TO SHOW OFF THE COUNTRY'S MILITARY

    
WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- Donald Trump's transition team thought about having tanks and missile launchers in the mogul's inaugural parade, a source said Thursday. A member of staff brought up the idea of a military parade similar to displays of power seen in Russia and North Korea, an insider involved in inaugural planning told the Huffington Post. But the military turned down the idea in part because they were concerned about the image of tanks and missile launchers parading down Pennsylvania Avenue, the source said.

     They also feared the heavy equipment might damage the roads in Washington, DC. The president-elect has vowed to show off the country's military in parades - and even though his inaugural march might not feature heavy machinery, it will involve more military honors than usual. A member of Donald Trump's team thought about having tanks and missile launchers in the president-elect's inaugural parade, an insider said Thursday.

     A member of Donald Trump's team thought about having tanks and missile launchers in the president-elect's inaugural parade, an insider said Thursday. Trump is pictured with his wife Melania arriving for his pre-inaugural concert 'They were legit thinking Red Square/North Korea-style parade,' an insider with knowledge of inaugural preparations told the Huffington Post. It seemed to make sense that the military would refuse out of concerns for the city's roads, according to a Department Of Defense official. 'I could absolutely see structural support being a reason [not to use tanks],' the official said.

DONALD TRUMP FLIP-FLOPS ON IMMIGRATION: WHAT HE SAID BEFORE AND AFTER THE ELECTION 

        WASHINGTON, D.C. 
-- President Donald Trump founded his presidential campaign platform on tough talk about massive deportations and the wall he would build on the Mexican border, ideas he has somewhat toned down since his electoral victory, though he has not spelled out his actual plans in detail. Trump, who will take office as US president on Jan. 20, has gone from calling Mexicans “criminals, drug dealers, rapists” to saying that undocumented immigrants are “fantastic people.” He has not explained, however, whether this more laid-back tone will lead to policies more favorable to undocumented immigrants and to Mexico, whose peso has sunk to its lowest exchange rate against the US dollar ever since Trump said “We’re going to build a wall.”

    And despite the Mexican government’s denial, Trump said once again in his Jan. 11 press conference that the next-door nation is going to pay for it, “whether it’s a tax or whether it’s a payment,” and insisted on the urgency of starting construction, the reason Vice President-elect Mike Pence is already pushing the measure in Congress. A classic of Trump’s campaign rallies were his backers chanting for the wall to be built, which, up to now, is the only campaign promise the billionaire has kept intact. The greatest change as far as immigration policy goes regards deportations, since Trump now says that he will expel foreigners with criminal records, close to 3 million, instead of the 11 million undocumented estimated to live in the United States.

    In his first interview as president-elect on Nov. 13, Trump said his government will decide on the future of the other undocumented immigrants – between 8 and 9 million – once border security has been strengthened. Trump’s promise to expel the undocumented with criminal records is no different from the deportation priority established by outgoing President Barack Obama, who has deported 2.7 million people from the United States. What concerns many activists is that Trump might keep his promise to revoke the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) that Obama established by executive order in 2012 and has served to halt the deportation of some 750,000 undocumented young people who came to this country as children and are known as “dreamers.”

MEXICO DEPORT CUBANS AWAITING TRAVEL DOCUMENTS TO TRY TO REACH THE U.S.

     MEXICO CITY, MEXICO  --
  A group of 91 Cubans who were stranded in Mexico following an end to migration policy that would have allowed them entry to the United States was deported to the island Friday, the Mexican authorities announced. “In compliance with the provisions of the Migration Law, 91 Cuban nationals were sent to their country this morning from the airport in Tapachula Chiapas, after Cuban authorities issued a recognition of their nationality,” according to a statement issued by the Mexican National Institute of Migration (INM).

    The group included 20 women and 71 men who, according to the INM, were waiting to obtain transit documents to continue their their journey to the U.S. border. Yadel González Sagre, who had been in Tapachula for 19 days, was among those returned to the island. He said he and others were taken from the Siglo XXI Migrant Station early Friday. “Suddenly they told us that they were going to deport us and they got us all out of there. It was terrible, they beat us and threatened us. Then they pushed us into buses and from there they took us directly to the airport and they have been sending us in small groups,” González said via text messages.

     González said he feared returning to a life he described as “hell” in his native Havana. “We live in a country without rights,” he said. In its statement, the INM pointed out that Mexico’s Migration Law provides undocumented foreigners the ability to obtain transit documents that allow them to legally travel through Mexico for up to 20 days so that they can legalize their migration status to leave the country. In the case of 91 Cubans, the Consulate General of Cuba formally recognized and agreed to take back its citizens, allowing Mexican authorities to carry out deportations, INM said. Since the Jan. 12 end to U.S. immigration policy known as wet foot, dry foot, hundreds of Cubans have been stranded in Mexico and elsewhere in their attempt to reach the United States.

January 20, 2017

AFTER NICOLAS MADURO FAILS TO HONOR COMMITMENTS, VATICAN PULLS OUT OF DIALOGUE IT SPONSORED

    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA   -- The Pope’s special envoy to the Vatican-sponsored dialogue meetings between the embattled government of Nicolas Maduro and the opposition in Venezuela will no longer attend the meetings, the opposition reported Thursday. Opposition spokesman Jesus Chuo Torrealba, secretary general of the MUD opposition roundtable, posted a letter from Monsignor Aldo Giordano, saying that the Papal envoy, Monsignor Claudio Maria Celli, will stop participating in the meetings. “I wish to inform you that H.E. Mons. Claudio Maria Celli, the Pope’s Delegate to the Dialogue Roundtable in Venezuela, has renounced his visit to Venezuela for the next few days and will thus not participate in the possible meetings foreseen for these days”, Monsignor Giordano wrote to Torrealba, according to the posting.

     “The undersigned, H.E. Mons. Aldo Giordano, Apostolic Nuncio for Venezuela, has been designated as Delegate of the Holy See for these eventual encounters”, the later continues before ending with the petition: “May God bless our beloved country Venezuela!” There have been only two such meetings since October of 2016, after Maduro’s decision to halt a recall process against him triggered a serious political crisis that compounded the present economic crisis. A third meeting, scheduled for January 13th never took place and the opposition is now instead preparing for a big, nationwide march January 23rd. "23 de Enero" is a celebrated date that marks the fall of the last military regime in 1958, protesting Maduro as illegitimate and asking for new Presidential elections.

    Torrealba also published his response to the Giordano letter, in which he told the Monsignor MUD understands and accepts the Vatican’s decision not to send the special envoy again, a development he blamed on the Maduro government’s inobservance of the agreements reached during the two previous meetings. “We equally understand today the reasons that the Holy See to not send, in the present circumstances, the Pope’s Delegate to Venezuela," wrote Torrealba to Monsignor Giordano. “The demands made of the government by the opposition, and backed by the Vatican’s Secretary of State H. E. Mons. Pietro Cardinal Parolin in a letter to Maduro, “are still unfulfilled”. "In diplomacy, abse

January 19, 2017

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, MEXICAN PRESIDENT PEÑA PRIETO AGREE TO END PUBLIC RIFF ABOUT BORDER WALL, MEXICO SAYS

    
WASHINGTON, D.C.  -- President Donald Trump and his Mexican counterpart shared a "constructive and productive" phone call Friday morning, agreeing to put aside their public spat over the building of a border wall, Mexico's government said. Without providing a clear resolution for how the two country's will mend the rift, the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto said the pair "acknowledged their clear and very public differences in position on this sensitive issue." Trump, since taking office a week ago, has ratcheted up calls to build a wall along the nations' shared border — and force Mexico to foot the bill.

     "The Presidents also agreed at this point not to speak publicly about this controversial issue," the Mexican government's statement said. The White House released a similarly worded readout of the phone call, but did not include the Mexican government's assertion that Trump and Peña Nieto would remain mum about the border wall and how to pay for it. At a news conference Friday afternoon with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump told reporters the phone call with Peña Nieto was "very, very friendly," appearing to try to smooth over a relationship that has grown increasingly tense this week.

     Mexico's President to Trump: We Do Not Believe in Walls. But Trump remained firm on protecting American interests, and reiterated that he would not allow the United States to be "out-negotiated" and have Mexico "beat us to a pulp" when it comes to trade deals. He also complained that the two nations' shared border is "soft and weak." "We are going to be working on a fair relationship and a good relationship," Trump said of the U.S.'s ties with Mexico, without delving into the war of words prompted over Trump's desire to build a border wall. The phone call was "mutually arranged" by both administrations, the White House said. It came after Peña Nieto on Thursday nixed next week's scheduled meeting with Trump over his rhetoric. That prompted the White House to punch back — floating the possibility of a 20 percent tax on Mexican products imported into America.

VENEZUELA OPPOSITION ABANDONS VATICAN -BROKEN TALKS, PROPOSES NEW DIALOGUE

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA 
-- The Venezuelan opposition alliance announced on Thursday that it would be definitively abandoning Vatican-brokered talks with the government, but members of that coalition later told EFE it would present a proposal for a fresh dialogue process with new mediators. After announcing it would no longer participate in talks that had begun in late October under the auspices of the Union of South American Nations and the Vatican, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) said it had agreed to propose a new negotiations process under a different format. It did not offer any details of the proposal.

     The decision to abandon the initial process came despite the international mediators’ attempts to relaunch conversations between President Nicolas Maduro’s leftist government and the MUD. “The dialogue experiment that occurred in Venezuela between Oct. 30 and Dec. 6 is a closed chapter that will not be reopened,” said the coalition in a statement, blaming the decision on non-compliance with earlier agreements. The talks had entered a review phase in early December. Msgr. Claudio Maria Celli, the Vatican’s special mediator in the talks, had said on Dec. 6 that the talks would be relaunched on Jan. 13. But Maduro’s opponents said they had carefully studied the observers’ latest proposal and that review had convinced them of the need to prepare a new text.

     “One in which not just the political organizations, but the entire democratic society presents the international community its demands and proposals for restoring the constitutional order in Venezuela and returning our country to democracy,” the statement added. The MUD said the situation in Venezuela was not just a political power struggle. “It’s an existential struggle of an entire nation against an ideological project,” the statement read, referring to the so-called “21st century socialism” advocated by Maduro and his mentor and predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez. The opposition urged the Venezuelan people to continue to engage in peaceful protests as part of a sustained movement to pressure Maduro into moving up the next presidential election, which is currently scheduled for late next year.

LUIS ALMAGRO OF OAS SAYS WE MUST "ACT NOW" IN VENEZUELAN CRISIS

        Washington, d.c.  --
  Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS) asserted the need to “act now” in Venezuela. In an interview with the newspaper El Observador, he asserted that the mediation of Unasur and the Vatican has not yielded results, and alleged that the crisis in the South American country “has reached its limit.” Almagro said that there are more reasons now, than before, to invoke the Democratic Charter. “People have been deprived of their Constitutional right to recall President Maduro, political prisoners are still incarcerated, violence is rampant, and there is widespread hunger.”

     Almagro added that “the international community can not wait any longer and must act now.” The representative of the OAS also said that the dialogue between the regime of Nicolás Maduro and the opposition has taken minimal steps, yet political pressure should be applied in order to “ensure that political prisoners are released so that Venezuelans can vote and decide on their future, and respect the separation of powers of the state.” After mentioning that Venezuela is “on an increasingly authoritarian trajectory” and “with an unsustainable humanitarian crisis,” Almagro explained the progress made in invoking the Democratic Charter. Article 20 is very clear as to the steps to be taken and indeed the Democratic Charter has already been invoked.

      It is now up to OAS member states to decide what action they want to take. At this time they are in the stage of collective evaluation and it is the states that have the impetus to move this urgent agenda forward. On the process of peace talks in Colombia, Almagro said he welcomes the will and efforts of both the government of Juan Manuel Santos and members of the FARC. “We have supported the peace process promoted by President Santos from the beginning and we are deeply committed to the desire of the Colombian people to live in peace.” Regarding the OAS agenda for 2017, the secretary general said that “this year will be key for promoting democratic principles and human and civil rights that make the Americas a continent of peace.”

January 27, 2017

MEXICAN PRESIDENT CANCELS PLANNED D.C. MEETING WITH TRUMP

    
MEXICO CITY,    -- El presidente de México Enrique Pena Nieto on Thursday canceled a planned Jan. 31 meeting with President Donald J. Trump, hours after Trump tweeted that the meeting should be scrapped if Mexico won't pay for a border wall. Pena Nieto's message on Twitter ended days of uncertainty about how he would respond to Trump's aggressive stance toward the country, and illustrated the challenges world leaders are likely to face in dealing with Trump's voluble, Twitter-based diplomacy. It also signaled a remarkable souring of relations between the U.S. and its immediate southern neighbor, one of America's largest trading partners and a country with which it shares a nearly 2,000-mile border.

     Mexico reaffirms its willingness to work with the United States to reach agreements that benefit both nations," he added. White House press secretary Sean Spicer responded to the Mexican president's announcement, saying: "We'll look for a date to schedule something in the future. We will keep the lines of communication open." Earlier Thursday, Trump had tweeted that "If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting" in Washington D.C. Trump said Wednesday he would start building a U.S.-Mexico border wall and has vowed to make Mexico pay for it. Mexico opposes the wall and has repeatedly said it won't pay.

     Officials had said Mexico was "considering" canceling after the border wall announcement, but Trump appeared to beat Mexico to the punch in that game of brinkmanship. Former foreign relations secretary Jorge Castaneda told local media that after Trump's tweet, "Pena Nieto has no other choice but to say 'I'm not going.'" Trump's unpredictable style appeared to catch Mexico's normally quiet and cautious diplomacy off guard. "I think that, in general, diplomacy is not conducted via Twitter," Finance Secretary Jose Antonio Meade told Radio Formula. Mexico's best-known opposition politician, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, tweeted that "in the face of Trump's latest outburst, don't go to the meeting, and submit an urgent complaint to the U.N. for human rights violations."

FLORIDA GOVERNOR SCOTT  THREATENS TO CUT FUNDING TO PORTS MAKING BUSINESS DEALS WITH CUBA'S APARTHEID DICTATORSHIP

        MIAMI, FLORIDA 
-- Florida Gov. Rick Scott threatened Wednesday to strip state funds from two South Florida seaports ready to sign business deals with the Cuban government. Over three posts on Twitter, the governor said he would ask state lawmakers to restrict dollars for ports that “enter into any agreement with [the] Cuban dictatorship” — as Port Everglades and the Port of Palm Beach plan to do Thursday and Friday, respectively.

     “We cannot condone Raul Castro’s oppressive behavior,” Scott tweeted in English and Spanish, using the preferred social media platform of his friend, President Donald Trump. “Serious security/human rights concerns.” Scott’s position came a day after the first legal cargo from Cuba in more than half a century — artisanal charcoal — arrived Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades. The Port of Palm Beach is located in Riviera Beach. Jackie Schutz, a Scott spokeswoman, said the governor takes issue with the ports inking memorandums of understanding with the Cuban government because he “firmly” believes the U.S. should not do business with Cuba “until there is freedom and democracy.”

     “What I don’t believe is in our ports doing business with a ruthless dictator,” Scott told reporters in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday. The governor will make his request to the Legislature, which ultimately sets the state budget and can ignore Scott if it wishes. The Florida Department of Transportation’s budget shows more than $37 million budgeted for Port Everglades projects over the next five years — including $23 million for a dredging the port has sought for three decades — and $920,000 for the Port of Palm Beach.

PORT EVERGLADES CANCELS SIGNING OF PACT WITH CUBA AFTER GOVERNOR SCOTT THREATENS TO CUT FUNDING

     MIAMI, FLORIDA  --
   Rick Scott, Governor of Florida, comments on ports in Florida doing business with the "ruthless dictator" Raul Castro". The governor was in Fort Lauderdale today to announce tax cuts for this year's budget. A high-level Cuban business delegation toured Port Everglades and met with port officials Thursday, although the planned highlight — the signing of a cooperation pact — was canceled after Gov. Rick Scott threatened to cut off state funding to any port that entered into an agreement with Cuba. The governor took to Twitter Wednesday morning, saying he would ask Florida legislators to restrict funds for ports that “enter into any agreement with [the] Cuban dictatorship.” For Port Everglades that could have meant a $37 million cut over the next five years.

      Although the Legislature, which sets the state budget, could have ignored the governor’s request, the possibility was worrisome enough that Port Everglades officials huddled for most of the day Wednesday considering options. At issue was a non-binding memorandum of understanding that was to be signed by Port Everglades and the National Port Administration of Cuba. It was to cover future cooperation and could have led to joint marketing studies and training, sharing of data helpful in forecasting future trade flows, and perhaps even joint marketing of Cuban ports and Port Everglades, according to Jim Pyburn, port director of business development. The port finally issued a statement Thursday morning:

     “The National Port Administration of Cuba has indicated to Port Everglades administration that there is no need for a memorandum of understanding at this time. However, today’s business meeting and related activities will continue as planned.” Cuban Ambassor José Ramón Cabañas tweeted a photo of the Cuban delegation visiting Port Everglades on Thursday. Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said in an email to the Herald: “The Governor appreciates the port choosing not to do business with the Castro dictatorship.” The Cubans lunched with executives from the cruise lines and Crowley Maritime, which has been offering shipping service to Cuba for the past 15 years, and planned to cap the day with a “Doing Business with Cuba” seminar for about 150 members of the local business community.

January 26, 2017

PRESIDENT TRUMP SIGNS EXECUTIVE ORDERS ON BORDER WALL, US 'SANCTUARY CITIES

    
WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- President Donald Trump signed directives on Wednesday to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and strip funding from cities that shield illegal immigrants as he charged ahead with sweeping and divisive plans to transform how the United States deals with immigration and national security. The Republican president is expected to take additional steps in the coming days to limit legal immigration, including executive orders restricting refugees and blocking the issuing of visas to people from several Muslim-majority Middle Eastern and North African countries including Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Yemen.

     The intent of those proposals is to head off Islamist violence in the United States, although critics have said it soils America's reputation as a welcoming place for immigrants of all stripes. Trump signed two executive orders, directing the construction of a wall along the roughly 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) U.S.-Mexico border, moving to peel away federal grant money from "sanctuary" states and cities that harbor illegal immigrants and beefing up the force of immigration agents. We are in the middle of a crisis on our southern border: The unprecedented surge of illegal migrants from Central American is harming both Mexico and the United States," Trump said in remarks at the Department of Homeland of Security after signing the directives.

    "And I believe the steps we will take starting right now will improve the safety in both of our countries," Trump said, adding: "A nation without borders is not a nation." His plans prompted an immediate outcry from immigrant advocates and others who said Trump was jeopardizing the rights and freedoms of millions of people while treating Mexico as an enemy, not an ally. Local officials in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Denver, Washington, San Francisco and Seattle offer some forms of protection to illegal immigrants. Billions of dollars in federal aid to those cities, often governed by Democrats, could be at risk. "The American people are no longer going to have to be forced to subsidize this disregard for our laws," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.

VENEZUELA STATE GOVERNOR HENRIQUE CAPRILES PROTEST ON EXPRESSWAY TO DEMAND ELECTIONS

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA 
-- The governor of the central Venezuelan state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles, led a demonstration of about 100 citizens Tuesday on the Francisco Fajardo Expressway in Caracas to demand that elections for the country’s governors and mayors be held this year. Opposition Gov. Henrique Capriles was accompanied by the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, fellow opposition member Freddy Guevara, and by other anti-Chavista lawmakers, along with scores of banner-waving members of the opposition who blocked traffic for almost an hour on the capital’s principal east-west thoroughfare.

     “Yesterday we said... everything has to be done as a surprise so the government takes notice and begins to remember the Constitution and that it must respect it,” Capriles told journalists in reference to his statement Monday that the next demonstrations will neither be announced nor will they be conventional. The governor said he came to that decision after seeing the massive police deployment in the Venezuelan capital Monday and everywhere else that the MUD opposition alliance had called for people to march as a way of demanding elections of governors and mayors this year.

    The CNE electoral authority said last October that the election of governors would be held “at the end” of the first quarter of 2017 – despite the Constitution indicating that the date should be in December 2016 – and that elections for mayors would be in the second quarter of 2017. However, the governor insisted on Tuesday on the need to pressure the electoral authority, which, according to the MUD, up to now has only shown an intention to keep delaying elections and to “suspend” the right to vote. “Every government action will get a reaction from those who want this country to change and from those of us who want the Constitution to be respected,” Capriles said.

PARAGUAY DOES NOT SUPPORT TALKS IF VENEZUELA FAILS

     ASUNCION, PARAGUAY  --
   Paraguayan Foreign Minister, Eladio Loizaga, said that the Unasur’s secretary general and the former presidents, mediators in the talks between the opposition and the Venezuelan government, have not reported on what they are doing on behalf of the members of the organization. Paraguay does not agree that the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) is in favor of the talks’ process in Venezuela unless the government of Nicolás Maduro demonstrates its "democratic commitment."

     "We have expressed our reservations because we believe that Celac also has to make a call to Venezuela to respect the rule of law and what the division of powers implies in a democratic system," Paraguayan FM Eladio Loizaga said in an interview with the news agency Efe, at the V Summit of the CELAC that began today in the Dominican Republic. As reported by Efe, several diplomatic sources confirmed that Venezuela presented a proposal to include in the documents of the summit express support for the process of talks in that country; however, no consensus has been reached and the Latin American foreign ministers are still debating about it.

    Meantime, the issue of the Venezuelan government-opposition talks had not been included in Celac official agenda, but Venezuela requested support. The foreign ministers of the Member States of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) agreed to back the talks between the Venezuelan government and the opposition; however, they declined a proposal from the Venezuelan government for the bloc to condemn alleged meddling of the United States. Diplomatic sources said that the decision was adopted during the meeting of foreign ministers held in Bávaro, Punta Cana, ahead of the Fifth Summit of Heads of State and Government of Celac, which opened on Wednesday evening and end on Thursday.

January 25, 2017

FORMER REP. MIKE POMPEO (R-KAN.) HAS BEEN CONFIRMED AS DIRECTOR OF THE CIA BY THE US SENATE

    
WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- Mike Pompeo was confirmed as CIA director by the Senate on Monday, putting the conservative Kansas congressman in charge of an agency that is bracing for its most contentious relationship with the White House in decades. The vote was 66-32. Pompeo was sworn in Monday evening by Vice President Pence. As CIA director, Pompeo will be responsible for managing a global spying network at a time of escalating security problems, including renewed aggression from Russia, the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and the splintering terrorism threat posed by the Islamic State.

     But, at least initially, Pompeo’s most vexing task may involve finding a way to establish a functional relationship between the CIA and President Trump. The new commander in chief traveled to CIA headquarters Saturday, in a trip that was an effort to create a fresh start with an agency he has frequently treated with contempt. Instead, what Trump delivered Saturday was a stream-of-consciousness airing of grievances, attacking Democrats and journalists. Trump skipped most of the daily intelligence briefings offered him after his election victory. He has dismissed the agency’s conclusions on critical issues, particularly its determination that Russia interfered in last year’s election to help him win. Most recently, Trump accused intelligence officials of orchestrating a Nazi-like campaign to smear him.

    Trump has expressed confidence in Pompeo, a businessman who served as a tank commander in the Army and graduated at the top of his class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. “Intelligence agencies are vital and very, very important,” Trump said at his news conference this month. He singled out Pompeo, saying that his administration was “putting in some outstanding people.” His comments signaled that his hostility toward the agency might subside when his designated director is in charge. But CIA veterans say that Pompeo may face more fundamental challenges, including whether he will be listened to at the White House and able to insert hard information into debates presided over by a president who has suggested he sees information on WikiLeaks as more reliable than the contents of intelligence briefs.

VENEZUELAN PARLIAMENT LEADER REJECTS  NEGOTIATION WITH NICOLAS MADURO

        WASHINGTON, D.C. 
-- Henry Ramos Allup, leader of Venezuela's National Assembly, on Monday said his political party will not re-engage in negotiations with President Nicolas Maduro's regime and instead said protests need to continue to pressure Venezuela's electoral council to establish the date of regional and gubernatorial elections. Photo courtesy of National Assembly. Allup's comments clash with a proposal by some members in the opposition coalition seeking a diplomatic solution to Venezuela's political crisis. Allup, one of the most influential opposition political figures in Venezuela, serves as the Democratic Action party's general secretary.

    The Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD, opposition coalition is considering re-engaging in talks with Maduro after receiving a request from Union of South American Nations Secretary-General Ernesto Samper and several former world leaders, such as the former president of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, former president of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández, and former president of Panama, Martín Torrijos. The Vatican is also engaged in the effort. Aldo Giordano, the apostolic nuncio in Venezuela, also co-signed a document delivered by Samper and the former presidents to Maduro and the opposition coalition/ On Monday, Allup said he and his party would reject the attempts to facilitate dialogue between both sides.

    In a speech during an opposition rally on Monday, Allup said the Democratic Action party would not co-sign the document because it had too many demands that Maduro's government would never approve -- without offering details on what was proposed. Allup said protests need to continue to pressure Venezuela's National Electoral Council, or CNE, to establish the date of regional and gubernatorial elections. The CNE in October officially delayed gubernatorial and regional elections, originally set for December, possibly by up to half a year and a whole year, respectively. "The only way out of the country's current political and economic situation is through street pressure to demand the National Electoral Council's date of regional elections," Allup said.

AFTER RELEASE OF DISSIDENT ARTIST, MANY POLITICAL PRISONERS STILL REMAIN IN CASTRO'S JAILS

     HAVANA, CUBA  --
   It is hard to believe but recently released Cuban dissident artist Danilo “El Sexto” Maldonado is one of the lucky dissidents in Cuba. Unfortunately, many other political prisoners continue to rot in the gulags of the apartheid Castro dictatorship. “El Sexto free. Others yet to be freed. Let us not forget them.” – Jorge Olivera, former Cuban prisoner of conscience, January 21, 2017 over twitter. Danilo Maldonado, also known as El Sexto was held in a Cuban prison without charges from November 26, 2016 until January 21, 2017 when he was suddenly freed.

    What happened on November 26th? The Cuban totalitarian dictatorship announced that Fidel Castro had died and El Sexto broadcast himself writing “Se fue” [He’s gone] over social media. A short time later state security rounded him up and imprisoned him. The good news is that he is free now, although not allowed to travel outside of Cuba. However others were badly beaten or are still imprisoned for refusing to mourn the death of Fidel Castro or criticizing the legacy of the dead dictator. Not as lucky as El Sexto was Carlos Alberto González Rodríguez, age 48, who painted “Down with Castro” graffiti in Las Tunas and was sentenced to two years in prison under the charge of “Peligrosidad Social Pre-Delictiva” (Pre-Crime Social Dangerousness).

    Eduardo Cardet, national coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement imprisoned since returning to Cuba on November 30, 2016 after criticizing the legacy of Fidel Castro and his regime over mass media. Cardet is being threatened with three years in prison and has been badly beaten on more than one occasion. One need not be a political dissident to get into trouble. Darío Pérez Rodríguez, age 49, resident in the Eastern city of Holguín on January 4, 2017 was sentenced by the municipal tribunal to a year prison for “defaming the martyrs of the Homeland”, a crime found in Article 204 of the Penal Code. What did he do? He refused the order issued at his workplace to watch Fidel Castro’s funeral on television.

January 24, 2017

DONALD TRUMP SIGNS EXECUTIVE ORDER TO FORMALLY WITHDRAW THE US FROM THE TRANS-PACIFIC TRADE DEAL

    
WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- U.S. President Donald Trump formally withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal on Monday, distancing America from its Asian allies as China's influence in the region rises. Fulfilling a campaign pledge to end American involvement in the 2015 pact, Trump signed an executive order in the Oval Office pulling the United States from the 12-nation TPP. "Great thing for the American worker," Trump said as he signed the order on his third full day in office. The Republican says the trade deal would have damaged U.S. manufacturing.

     The accord, backed heavily by U.S. business, was negotiated by former President Barack Obama's administration but never approved by Congress. It had been the main economic pillar of the Obama administration's "pivot" to the Asia-Pacific region to counter China. Trump has sparked worries in Japan and elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific with his opposition to the TPP and his campaign demands for U.S. allies to pay more for their security. Harry Kazianis, Director of Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest think tank in Washington, said Trump must now find an alternative way to reassure allies in Asia. "This could include multiple bilateral trade agreements. Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam should be approached first as they are key to any new Asia strategy that President Trump will enact," he said.

    Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said abandoning TPP was the "wrong decision" and a "serious mistake that will have lasting consequences for America's economy and our strategic position in the Asia-Pacific region." "This decision will forfeit the opportunity to promote American exports, reduce trade barriers, open new markets, and protect American invention and innovation. It will create an opening for China to rewrite the economic rules of the road at the expense of American workers. And it will send a troubling signal of American disengagement in the Asia-Pacific region at a time we can least afford it," said McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain emphasized the importance of a "positive trade agenda" in the Asia-Pacific region that keeps America "competitive in one of the most economically vibrant and fastest-growing regions in the world."

ISRAEL ACCEPTS INVITATION FROM PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP TO VISIT US 

        WASHINGTON, D.C. 
-Israel's prime minister on Sunday accepted an invitation to visit the White House next month in hopes of forging a "common vision" for the region with President Donald Trump that could include expanded settlement construction on occupied territories and a tougher policy toward Iran. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his plans to head to Washington in early February hours after delaying a vote on an explosive proposal to annex one of the West Bank's largest settlements, apparently to coordinate his policy toward the Palestinians with the new administration. The move put on hold legislation that threatens to unleash fresh violence and damage already faded hopes for Palestinian independence. It also may have marked Trump's first presidential foray into Middle East diplomacy.

    After eight years of frosty relations with President Barack Obama, Netanyahu has welcomed Trump's election as an opportunity to strengthen ties between the two allies. Israeli media reported that Netanyahu was gearing up plans to expand settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem — a policy that had been condemned by Obama. Late Sunday, the two men held what Netanyahu's office described as a "very warm conversation" by phone. It said they discussed the international nuclear deal with Iran, which both men have harshly criticized, and the Palestinian issue. "The prime minister expressed his desire to work closely with President Trump to forge a common vision to advance peace and security in the region, with no daylight between the United States and Israel," the statement said. It said a date for Netanyahu's visit would be finalized in the coming days.

    The White House said Trump told Netanyahu that peace with the Palestinians "can only be negotiated directly between the two parties" and that the U.S. will work closely with Israel on that goal. With Trump signaling a more tolerant approach toward the much-maligned settlement movement, Israel's nationalist right now believes it has an ally in the White House, and Israeli hard-line leaders make no secret they will push for aggressive action in the occupied West Bank. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the pro-settlement Jewish Home Party, has been pushing Netanyahu to abandon the internationally backed idea of a Palestinian state and to annex the Maaleh Adumim settlement near Jerusalem. But after convening his Security Cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu said his Cabinet ministers, including Bennett, had decided "unanimously" to delay action on the annexation plan until he goes to Washington to meet with Trump.
Trump retiró a EEUU del tratado de libre comercio Transpacífico.

FIRST NORTH KOREA CHALLENGE TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: TWO NORTH KOREA ICBMs PLACED IN POSITION

     PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA  --
   A South Korean official told NHK two new two-stage missiles, "similar" to the midrange ballistic missile Musudan, is being deployed north of Pyongyang. File Photo by KCNA. North Korea placed two new intercontinental ballistic missiles into position in an area north of Pyongyang, a Japanese television network reported. NHK reported Sunday two ICBMs that may be equipped with newly developed engines might have been deployed ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump's inauguration Friday.

     A South Korean military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity told NHK the two missiles can be "launched at any time." Last week, Yonhap reported two new road-mobile ICBMs were recently captured by South Korea military intelligence. The new road-mobile ICBMs appear to be shorter than Pyongyang's other versions, including the 19-20 meters in length KN-08 and the 17-18-meter-long KN-14, officials had told the South Korean news agency. According to NHK, the South Korean official said the "two-stage missile is similar to the medium-range ballistic missile Musudan. The first stage of the missile is different from the Musudan, and may be equipped with a newly developed engine." China, which shares an 880-mile border with North Korea, is wary of Pyongyang's provocations and has warned its neighbor about weapons development.

     The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, a nongovernmental organization in Hong Kong, said Sunday China has installed a new radar at a missile base in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, in northeastern China. The center quoted data on movements, provided by Chinese missile analysts, that states the People's Liberation Army Rocket Force has deployed high-performance radar at missile base 51 in Sujiatun, in order to closely monitor the movements of North Korea's ICBMs. The analysts pointed out the radar at the Shenyang base will be able to easily monitor and track a North Korea launch of an ICBM. The PLARF is a Chinese tactical missile force of about 110,000 troops, with headquarters for operations located at Qinghe, Beijing. PLARF oversees subordinate missile bases in Shenyang, Qimen, Luoyang, Kunming, Baoji, Huaihua and Xining.

January 23, 2017

DONALD TRUMP PRAISES THE CIA, BRISTLES OVER INAUGURAL CROWD COUNTS

    
WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- During his first full day in office, President Donald Trump visited the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Virginia to thank intelligence officers for their service. “There is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump,” said the president. The White House During his first full day in office, President Donald Trump visited the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Virginia to thank intelligence officers for their service. “There is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump,” said the president. The White House

    President Donald Trump moved to repair his tumultuous relationship with America's spy agencies on his first full day in office, but his bridge-building visit to CIA headquarters Saturday quickly morphed into a platform for the new commander in chief to complain about media coverage of his inauguration, misstating the size of his crowd. Standing in front of a memorial for fallen CIA agents, Trump assured intelligence officials, "I am so behind you." He made no mention of his repeated criticism of the intelligence agencies following the election, including his public challenges of their high-confidence assessment that Russia meddled in the White House race to help him win.

    "There is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and CIA than Donald Trump," he said, blaming any suggestion of a "feud" on the media. Trump's decision to travel to CIA headquarters so quickly after taking office was seen as an attempt at a fresh start with the intelligence agencies he will now rely on for guidance as he makes weighty national security decisions. Following his private meeting with top CIA leaders, Trump said the U.S. had been "restrained" in its efforts to combat terrorism, calling the threat "a level of evil we haven't seen."

SECRETARY OF STATE DESIGNATE REX TILLERSON'S CONFIRMATION ANSWERS QUESTIONS ON CUBA 

        WASHINGTON, D.C. 
-- “I will press Cuba to meet its pledge to become more democratic and consider placing conditions on trade or travel policies to motivate the release of political prisoners.” And also states later that he will “determine how best to pressure Cuba to respect human rights and promote democratic changes.” But then, when pressed more directly on whether he supports Vice President Pence’s call to roll back the Obama-era regulations governing in U.S. policy to Cuba, he says he will roll them back. He also adds rather curiously, “I will work bilaterally and multilaterally to identify training and technical assistance opportunities to assist with judicial reform, if I am confirmed.”

     Despite the Obama Administration’s controversial and misguided decision to normalize relations with Cuba and its hope that this could lead to improved governance and human rights, Cuban officials continue to arrest dissidents and violate the rights of citizens, and tourism revenues benefit only government officials and a small minority of the population. How do you plan to approach the United States’ relationship with Cuba? I will support human rights defenders and democracy activists in Cuba? What bilateral and/or multilateral pressure will you exert to lessen authoritarian rule in Cuba?

    If confirmed, I will engage with Cuba but continue to press for reform of its oppressive regime. I will support human rights defenders and democracy activists in Cuba, empower civil society, defend freedom of expression, and promote improved Internet access and I will ask our allies to do the same.I will continue to support programs that promote democratic voices and initiatives in Cuba like Radio and TV Marti. I will also engage bilaterally and multilaterally to bring American fugitives to justice. There will be a comprehensive review of current policies and executive orders regarding Cuba to determine how best to pressure Cuba to respect human rights and promote democratic changes.

NICOLAS MADURO FIRES CENTRAL BANK PRESIDENT NELSON MERENTE, REPLACES HIM WITH RICARDO SANGUINO

     Caracas, Venezuela  --
   Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro on Sunday named economist and parliamentarian Ricardo Sanguino as President of the Central Bank of Venezuela. Central Bank President Nelson Merentes was reportedly asked to resign and tendered his resignation on Friday. "In full use of my powers, in my position as Head of State and President of Venezuela, I have decided to nominate the economist Ricardo Sanguino, a man of great experience, Caracas and Tachira, as president of the BCV," said Nicolás Maduro live on TV during his Sunday TV Show In Contact with Maduro.

     "I want us to start a new phase of development of the Central Bank of Venezuela in the fight against the internal and international mafias that hit our currency and that the BCV goes to our vanguard, next to the people always," said the president. Venezuela's currency has fallen to 3700 bolivars per dollar on the black market, and according to Central Bank documents leaked last week, inflation is over 800% and the economy collapsed 18%. Maduro said that he knows Sanguino and described him as "one of the most studious and knowledgeable men in the economic, financial and monetary life of the country.

    Sanguino has been a National Assembly deputy since 2000, and has been President and Vice-President of the Finance and Budget Committee of the National Assembly. The Central Bank head serves a seven year term. Merentes first became President of the Central Bank in April of 2009 and also served as Minister of Finance from April of 2013 to January of 2014. He had first been appointed as Minister of Finance beginning in July of 2001, and has also served as Minister of Science and Technology. He has PhD in mathematics.  As Venezuela´s economy has tanked, the central bank has stopped releasing quarterly and monthly economic indicators. Long seen as a pragmatic figure, Merentes, who completed a PhD. in mathematics in Budapest in 1991 before returning to Venezuela as a university professor, has disappointed economists by not pushing through major reforms in the Socialist-led OPEC country.

January 22, 2017

JAMES MATTIS IS SWORN IN AS DEFENSE SECRETARY, PLEDGES TO BUILD ALLIANCES

    
WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- Congress has granted only one exception to the law. Army Gen. George C. Marshall, an active-duty five-star general, was defense secretary for about a year beginning in 1950.(Jason Aldag, Dan Lamothe/The Washington Post)Retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis was confirmed and sworn in as President Trump’s defense secretary Friday, breaking with decades of precedent as a recently retired general became the Pentagon’s top civilian leader. Mattis, 66, was approved with a 98-1 vote after the presidential inauguration and then sworn in by Vice President Pence.

     The new Pentagon chief released a statement to U.S. troops afterward that credited not only them, but intelligence personnel as “sentinels and guardians of our nation” — rhetoric that is in line with Mattis’s past statements, but stands in contrast to the way Trump has criticized the value of U.S. intelligence in recent weeks. Mattis also pledged to work with the State Department to strengthen U.S. alliances abroad, some of which have been rattled by Trump questioning their worth. “We need only look to you, the uniformed and civilian members of the Department and your families, to see the fundamental unity of our country,” Mattis’s statement said. “You represent an America committed to the common good; an America that is never complacent about defending its freedoms; and an America that remains a steady beacon of hope for all mankind.”

     Many lawmakers and long-time foreign policy observers hope Mattis can be a moderating voice of experience in an administration that has notably few senior officials with national security experience in Washington. He will lead the Defense Department’s 1.9 million active-duty service members and reservists and oversee a budget of more than $580 billion as Trump prepares to expand the military. Mattis becomes the first senior military officer to serve as defense secretary since President Truman nominated Army Gen. George C. Marshall for the job in 1950, as the U.S. military struggled in the Korean War. Mattis retired in spring 2013 as the chief of U.S. Central Command after a career in which he became one of the most influential officers of his generation and commanded troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

JOHN F. KELLY CONFIRMED AS HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY 

        WASHINGTON, D.C. 
-- The Senate confirmed John F. Kelly as secretary of homeland security on Friday, putting the blunt-spoken retired Marine general in charge of securing the nation’s borders, including construction of the controversial southwest border wall that was a centerpiece of President Trump’s campaign. Senators approved Kelly’s nomination to run the Department of Homeland Security, a sprawling entity of more than 240,000 employees who do everything from protecting the president to safeguarding the nation’s electrical grid.

     Kelly, who retired in February as chief of the U.S. Southern Command, is part of the first wave of Cabinet secretaries who will begin to implement the expansive plans of the nation’s 45th president. DHS will be at the forefront of some of the most highly charged parts of that agenda, including the wall, which would be designed to keep out illegal immigrants. Kelly appeared to play down the wall’s importance at his recent confirmation hearing, telling a Senate committee that “a physical barrier in and of itself will not do the job’’ and that technology such as drones and sensors are also needed to secure the border.

     A widely respected officer who served for more than 40 years, Kelly won strong support from Republicans, who hailed his military experience and the border expertise he gained at Southern Command. “General Kelly has devoted his life to service, and I’m thankful that the full Senate has recognized that he is the right person to be the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Democrats also spoke about him in mostly positive terms, though Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), a member of the Senate committee, announced this week she would vote against him.

HELEN AGUIRRE FERRE HAS BEEN APPOINTED TRUMP'S MEDIA ADVISOR

     WASHINGTON, D.C.   --
  President Donald Trump named Helen Aguirre Ferre as his director of media affairs and special assistant Thursday, raising further alarm over the potential anti-Cuban stance of the new U.S. administration. The Florida-born journalist, whose parents are Nicaraguan, is a fierce opponent of the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro. As an opinion writer for Miami-based Diario Las Americas, Aguirre Ferre published a series of articles condemning Fidel’s government, claiming the revolutionary had “enslaved the Cuban people” and warning that “the total tyranny of Fidel Castro is a threat to the United States.”

     She was accused of receiving money to maintain an anti-Cuban radio program, operated by Radio and TV Marti, and was paid by the U.S. government to write inflammatory opinion pieces against the Cuban Five, Cuban revolutionaries accused of espionage. During the trial against the revolutionaries, Aguirre Ferre reportedly received a total sum of US$6,025, according to a sworn declaration by defendant Attorney Martin Garbus. Garbus testified that the then-editor of Diario Las Américas used her position of a seemingly independent newspaper to “influence the outcome of the judicial process, paid for by the government.”

     When news of the payments came to light, the newly-appointed Trump advisor argued there was no conflict of interest. Aguirre Ferre was appointed the Republican National Committee’s Hispanic communications director in June 2016. She assumed the post after her predecessor left, saying she was “uncomfortable working for Mr. Trump.” While the Nicaraguan Republican has voiced similar objections against Trump, Aguirre Ferre insisted she took the post to ensure a Republican won the White House. Since being appointed media advisor, Aguirre Ferre has purged her Twitter feed of all anti-Trump posts. Aguirre Ferre will join a new Trump administration, noted for its number of millionaires and lack of diversity.

 

January 21, 2017

DONALD TRUMP SAID HE INTENDS TO SHOW OFF THE COUNTRY'S MILITARY

    
WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- Donald Trump's transition team thought about having tanks and missile launchers in the mogul's inaugural parade, a source said Thursday. A member of staff brought up the idea of a military parade similar to displays of power seen in Russia and North Korea, an insider involved in inaugural planning told the Huffington Post. But the military turned down the idea in part because they were concerned about the image of tanks and missile launchers parading down Pennsylvania Avenue, the source said.

     They also feared the heavy equipment might damage the roads in Washington, DC. The president-elect has vowed to show off the country's military in parades - and even though his inaugural march might not feature heavy machinery, it will involve more military honors than usual. A member of Donald Trump's team thought about having tanks and missile launchers in the president-elect's inaugural parade, an insider said Thursday.

     A member of Donald Trump's team thought about having tanks and missile launchers in the president-elect's inaugural parade, an insider said Thursday. Trump is pictured with his wife Melania arriving for his pre-inaugural concert 'They were legit thinking Red Square/North Korea-style parade,' an insider with knowledge of inaugural preparations told the Huffington Post. It seemed to make sense that the military would refuse out of concerns for the city's roads, according to a Department Of Defense official. 'I could absolutely see structural support being a reason [not to use tanks],' the official said.

DONALD TRUMP FLIP-FLOPS ON IMMIGRATION: WHAT HE SAID BEFORE AND AFTER THE ELECTION 

        WASHINGTON, D.C. 
-- President Donald Trump founded his presidential campaign platform on tough talk about massive deportations and the wall he would build on the Mexican border, ideas he has somewhat toned down since his electoral victory, though he has not spelled out his actual plans in detail. Trump, who will take office as US president on Jan. 20, has gone from calling Mexicans “criminals, drug dealers, rapists” to saying that undocumented immigrants are “fantastic people.” He has not explained, however, whether this more laid-back tone will lead to policies more favorable to undocumented immigrants and to Mexico, whose peso has sunk to its lowest exchange rate against the US dollar ever since Trump said “We’re going to build a wall.”

    And despite the Mexican government’s denial, Trump said once again in his Jan. 11 press conference that the next-door nation is going to pay for it, “whether it’s a tax or whether it’s a payment,” and insisted on the urgency of starting construction, the reason Vice President-elect Mike Pence is already pushing the measure in Congress. A classic of Trump’s campaign rallies were his backers chanting for the wall to be built, which, up to now, is the only campaign promise the billionaire has kept intact. The greatest change as far as immigration policy goes regards deportations, since Trump now says that he will expel foreigners with criminal records, close to 3 million, instead of the 11 million undocumented estimated to live in the United States.

    In his first interview as president-elect on Nov. 13, Trump said his government will decide on the future of the other undocumented immigrants – between 8 and 9 million – once border security has been strengthened. Trump’s promise to expel the undocumented with criminal records is no different from the deportation priority established by outgoing President Barack Obama, who has deported 2.7 million people from the United States. What concerns many activists is that Trump might keep his promise to revoke the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) that Obama established by executive order in 2012 and has served to halt the deportation of some 750,000 undocumented young people who came to this country as children and are known as “dreamers.”

MEXICO DEPORT CUBANS AWAITING TRAVEL DOCUMENTS TO TRY TO REACH THE U.S.

     MEXICO CITY, MEXICO  --
  A group of 91 Cubans who were stranded in Mexico following an end to migration policy that would have allowed them entry to the United States was deported to the island Friday, the Mexican authorities announced. “In compliance with the provisions of the Migration Law, 91 Cuban nationals were sent to their country this morning from the airport in Tapachula Chiapas, after Cuban authorities issued a recognition of their nationality,” according to a statement issued by the Mexican National Institute of Migration (INM).

    The group included 20 women and 71 men who, according to the INM, were waiting to obtain transit documents to continue their their journey to the U.S. border. Yadel González Sagre, who had been in Tapachula for 19 days, was among those returned to the island. He said he and others were taken from the Siglo XXI Migrant Station early Friday. “Suddenly they told us that they were going to deport us and they got us all out of there. It was terrible, they beat us and threatened us. Then they pushed us into buses and from there they took us directly to the airport and they have been sending us in small groups,” González said via text messages.

     González said he feared returning to a life he described as “hell” in his native Havana. “We live in a country without rights,” he said. In its statement, the INM pointed out that Mexico’s Migration Law provides undocumented foreigners the ability to obtain transit documents that allow them to legally travel through Mexico for up to 20 days so that they can legalize their migration status to leave the country. In the case of 91 Cubans, the Consulate General of Cuba formally recognized and agreed to take back its citizens, allowing Mexican authorities to carry out deportations, INM said. Since the Jan. 12 end to U.S. immigration policy known as wet foot, dry foot, hundreds of Cubans have been stranded in Mexico and elsewhere in their attempt to reach the United States.

January 20, 2017

AFTER NICOLAS MADURO FAILS TO HONOR COMMITMENTS, VATICAN PULLS OUT OF DIALOGUE IT SPONSORED

    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA   -- The Pope’s special envoy to the Vatican-sponsored dialogue meetings between the embattled government of Nicolas Maduro and the opposition in Venezuela will no longer attend the meetings, the opposition reported Thursday. Opposition spokesman Jesus Chuo Torrealba, secretary general of the MUD opposition roundtable, posted a letter from Monsignor Aldo Giordano, saying that the Papal envoy, Monsignor Claudio Maria Celli, will stop participating in the meetings. “I wish to inform you that H.E. Mons. Claudio Maria Celli, the Pope’s Delegate to the Dialogue Roundtable in Venezuela, has renounced his visit to Venezuela for the next few days and will thus not participate in the possible meetings foreseen for these days”, Monsignor Giordano wrote to Torrealba, according to the posting.

     “The undersigned, H.E. Mons. Aldo Giordano, Apostolic Nuncio for Venezuela, has been designated as Delegate of the Holy See for these eventual encounters”, the later continues before ending with the petition: “May God bless our beloved country Venezuela!” There have been only two such meetings since October of 2016, after Maduro’s decision to halt a recall process against him triggered a serious political crisis that compounded the present economic crisis. A third meeting, scheduled for January 13th never took place and the opposition is now instead preparing for a big, nationwide march January 23rd. "23 de Enero" is a celebrated date that marks the fall of the last military regime in 1958, protesting Maduro as illegitimate and asking for new Presidential elections.

    Torrealba also published his response to the Giordano letter, in which he told the Monsignor MUD understands and accepts the Vatican’s decision not to send the special envoy again, a development he blamed on the Maduro government’s inobservance of the agreements reached during the two previous meetings. “We equally understand today the reasons that the Holy See to not send, in the present circumstances, the Pope’s Delegate to Venezuela," wrote Torrealba to Monsignor Giordano. “The demands made of the government by the opposition, and backed by the Vatican’s Secretary of State H. E. Mons. Pietro Cardinal Parolin in a letter to Maduro, “are still unfulfilled”. "In diplomacy, abse

PRESIDENT OBAMA CONCEDES HE WON'T CLOSE GUANTANAMO PRISON AFTER ALL 

    
WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- The White House said Tuesday that the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba will still be open when President Barack Obama leaves office, conceding that a core campaign promise will go unfulfilled. Administration officials had long insisted that the president was continuing to work toward closing the facility even when it became obvious that it would no longer be possible for practical reasons before President-elect Donald Trump takes office Friday. White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that the administration determined it wouldn't happen when they realized they did not have enough time left to comply with the 30-day deadline for notifying Congress in advance of a detainee transfer.

    "At this time, I don't anticipate that we will succeed in that goal of closing the prison," Earnest said. "But it's not for a lack of trying, I assure you." Over the weekend, the U.S. transferred 10 low-level detainees from Guantanamo to Oman. That lowered the number of detainees to 45, with a few more releases expected in the administration's final days. Trump said during the campaign that he not only wants to keep Guantanamo open but "load it up with some bad dudes." Earlier this month, he said there should be no further releases of men he called "extremely dangerous people." The U.S. began using its military base on southeast Cuba's isolated, rocky coast to hold prisoners captured after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack and at the start of the war in Afghanistan.

     At its peak, the facility held nearly 680 detainees. It was down to 242 when Obama took office in 2009, pledging to close what had become a source of international criticism over the treatment of detainees and the notion of holding people indefinitely, most without charge. Congress thwarted Obama's effort to close the detention center with restrictions on transfers, including the requirement of a 30-day notice, and a ban on moving detainees to the U.S. for any reason, including trial. The administration launched a case-by-case review process to winnow down the population, moving 193 prisoners to 42 countries for repatriation, resettlement or prosecution. Earnest blamed politics for failing to close the detention center, which he called a waste of money and "recruiting tool" for terrorists. "Members of Congress in both parties, frankly, played with this issue," he said.

VENEZUELA'S NICOLAS MADURO: TRUMP CAN'T BE WORSE THAN OBAMA

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA
-- Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Monday that “we have to wait” to see how US President-elect Donald Trump performs in the White House, adding that a “hate campaign” had been waged against the New York mogul and that he did not think he could be “worse” than outgoing President Barack Obama. “We have to wait. Regarding President Donald Trump, the big international media have speculated a lot and we’re surprised by the campaign of hate that there is against (him), brutal, in the entire world, in the Western world and in the United States,” Maduro told reporters at the Miraflores presidential palace. “I want to be prudent and say, we hope, that he won’t be worse than Obama,” Maduro added.

    The president insisted that people must wait to see how Trump behaves “both in the domestic policy of the United States as well as in international policy,” and he “confirmed” that he wanted to have “relations of respect, communication and cooperation” with Washington. “We hope big changes come in world politics, one of the changes that surely will be very important will be what they call ‘the Trump era.’ I think that the ... changes will be marked by pluripolarity and multicentrism, the epoch of the unipolar world is over and Venezuela is in the wave of those changes,” he said. Obama ordered a one-year extension of the “national emergency” declared in 2015 against Venezuela, where, he said, the situation had not improved and the government had continued to erode human rights guarantees.

     Maduro said that Obama leaves a legacy of “wars” in Africa and Asia, “he leaves a world plagued with terrorism and in Latin America three coups d’etat will be remembered,” namely the ousters of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo in 2012 and Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff in 2016. He also attributed to Obama “coup attempts against (Bolivia’s Evo Morales), campaigns to isolate Nicaragua, coup and assassination attempts against Rafael Correa of Ecuador and all that he’s done to the Venezuelan people, the economic war, the financial blockade.” Maduro said that Obama’s decision to renew “the brutal executive order” in which he “declared Venezuela to be an unusual and extraordinary threat” was an “expression of regrettable hatred.”

HUNDREDS OF U.S. MARINES LAND IN NORWAY, IRKING VLADIMIR PUTIN

     WASHINGTON, D.C.  --
  Some 300 U.S. Marines landed in Norway on Monday for a six-month deployment, the first time since World War Two that foreign troops have been allowed to be stationed there, in a deployment which has irked Norway's Arctic neighbor Russia. Officials played down any link between the operation and NATO concerns over Russia, but the deployment coincides with the U.S. sending several thousand troops to Poland to beef up its Eastern European allies worried about Moscow's assertiveness.

      Marines from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina landed a little after 10 am CET (0900 GMT) at a snow-covered Vaernes airport near Trondheim, Norway's third-largest city, where temperatures were reaching -2 degrees Celsius (28 degrees Fahrenheit). U.S. troops are to stay in Norway for a year, with the current batch of Marines being replaced after their six-month tour is complete. A spokesman for the Norwegian Home Guards, who will host the Marines at the Vaernes military base, about 1,500 km (900 miles) from the Russian border, said the U.S. troops will learn about winter warfare. "For the first four weeks they will have basic winter training, learn how to cope with skis and to survive in the Arctic environment," said Rune Haarstad, a Home Guard spokesman. "It has nothing to do with Russia or the current situation." In March the Marines will take part in the Joint Viking exercises, which will also include British troops, he added.

      The ability and will to use military means to achieve political goal. The Russian Embassy in Oslo did not immediately reply to a request for comment by Reuters on Monday. It questioned the need for such a move when it was announced in October. "Taking into account multiple statements of Norwegian officials about the absence of threat from Russia to Norway we would like to understand for what purposes is Norway so ... willing to increase its military potential, in particular through stationing of American forces in Vaernes?" it told Reuters at the time. A spokeswoman for Norwegian Ministry of Defence also said the arrival of U.S. Marines had nothing to do with concerns about Russia. However, in a 2014 interview with Reuters, Norway's Defence Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide said Russia's annexation of Crimea showed that it had the ability and will to use military means to achieve political goal.

January 17, 2017

CHINA: 'GLOVES OFF' IF TRUMP USES TAIWAN AS BARGAINING CHIP
 
    
BEIJING, CHINA  -- China state media blasted U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump after he told The Wall Street Journal the "one-China" policy is negotiable. The China Daily said Monday Trump is reinforcing the impression that he intends to use Taiwan as a bargaining chip in relations with Beijing. It warned the result would be "a period of fierce, damaging interactions," as Beijing will have no choice but to "take the gloves off." Taiwan expert Bruce Jacobs of Australia's Monash University told VOA the Chinese reaction is what one might have expected. “You would expect them to say that. One could argue that’s a negotiating term. It depends on how the Trump government decides to move forward,” he said.

    “The arguments that the Chinese would use are that the breaking of relations with Taiwan was part of the deal that was done so the United States could establish relations with China. But in fact, it wasn’t quite so clear cut and as I’ve said Taiwan is now a democratic nation, which has never really being ruled by China; never been ruled by the people’s Republic of China,” Jacobs added. The Global Times on Sunday dismissed Trump as a rookie who will meet strong countermeasures if he impairs the "one-China" principle. The paper said the mainland will be prompted to speed up Taiwan reunification as a result of “this despicable strategy.”

     Jacobs said mainland China today is nationalistic and pushing hard against Taiwan and in the South China Sea, which adds to global tensions and gives the Chinese military leverage to push for ever-higher defense budgets. “I think he [Trump] is right in saying the one china policy should be discussed, because it’s based on false history. But there is also a couple of other things which were false about it such as saying the United States recognizes that Taiwan is part of China. That’s not true,” Jacobs said. The United States, he added, recognizes that China claims Taiwan belongs to it. “So in that aspect I think what Trump is done is raised an important issue that needs to reconsidered. But for him to say that Taiwan should be a bargaining chip in some training negotiations is completely wrong and illegitimate. Taiwan is a separate nation. It’s a middle size nation. And it should not be coming a bargaining chip,” Jacobs added.

PHILIPPINES PRESIDENT DUTERTE SAID HE HAS ORDERED HIS TROOPS TO BOMB EXTREMISTS WHO FLEE WITH THEIR CAPTIVES

        MANILA, PHILIPPINES
-- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he has ordered his troops to bomb extremists who flee with their captives in a bid to stop a wave of kidnappings at sea, calling the loss of civilian lives in such an attack "collateral damage." Duterte has previously stated that he had told his Indonesian and Malaysian counterparts their forces can blast away as they pursue militants who abduct sailors in waters where the three countries converge and bring their kidnap victims to the southern Philippines. He said in a speech late Saturday that he had given the same orders to Filipino forces.

     He said he instructed the navy and the coast guard that "if there are kidnappers and they're trying to escape, bomb them all." "They say 'hostages.' Sorry, collateral damage," he said in a speech to business people in Davao, his southern hometown. He said such an approach would enable the government to get even with the ransom-seeking militants. "You can't gain mileage for your wrongdoing, I will really have you blasted," he said. His advice to potential victims? "So, really, don't allow yourselves to be kidnapped." Duterte's remarks reflect the alarm and desperation of the Philippines, along with Malaysia and Indonesia, in halting a series of ransom kidnappings primarily by Abu Sayyaf militants and their allies along a busy waterway for regional trade.

     On Saturday, ransom-seeking Abu Sayyaf gunmen freed a South Korean captain and his Filipino crewman who were abducted three months ago from their cargo ship. The gunmen handed skipper Park Chul-hong and Glenn Alindajao over to Moro National Liberation Front rebels, who turned them over to Philippine officials in southern Jolo town in predominantly Muslim Sulu province. The Moro rebels, who signed a 1996 peace deal with the government, have helped negotiate the release of several hostages of the smaller but more violent Abu Sayyaf, which is blacklisted by the U.S. as a terrorist organization for kidnappings, beheadings and bombings.

AS REQUESTED BY PRESIDENT OBAMA, OMAN ACCEPTS 10 GUANTANAMO PRISONERS 

     WASHINGTON, D.C.  --
 The Arabian Sea nation of Oman said Monday it has taken in 10 Guantánamo captives for the Obama administration, which is in a final push to thin the detention center population by Inauguration Day. A Pentagon official who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed that the transfer had taken place, downsizing the detainee population to 45. Neither Oman nor the official provided the identities of the 10 men who were sent there. A brief announcement from the Omani News Agency in Muscat said Sultan Qaboos Bin Said agreed to take in the men “in consideration to their humanitarian situation.” It described their status there as in “temporary residence.”

     There was no immediate explanation of the reference to their stay being temporary. But U.S. diplomats have in the past negotiated transfers to security arrangements that withhold travel documents from the freed captives for a specific time period, in some instances two years. Before this transfer, 19 of the 55 captives at the prison were cleared to go to nations offering security assurances that satisfied Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. More transfers are expected. One of those cleared for release before Monday’s transfer is a man from Saudi Arabia, which has typically taken back its cleared citizens.

    Monday’s transfer makes Oman the largest Guantánamo resettlement nation. The sultanate, which is said to have a special rehabilitation and reintegration program, previously took in 20 captives from Guantánamo in three transfers of 10, four and six men in January 2016 and in 2015. President-elect Donald Trump tweeted two weeks ago for a cessation in transfers, a request the Obama White House has rejected. All the men sent to Oman earlier were from neighboring Yemen. It is U.S. policy not to repatriate Yemeni detainees from Guantánamo to their turbulent, violence-plagued nation. But this week’s transfer is believed to include captives of other nationalities.

January 16, 2017

CUBANS DEPORTED UPON ARRIVAL AT MIAMI AIRPORT
 
    
MIAMI, FLORIDA  -- It seems that Immigration authorities in Miami are interpreting the new rules for Cuban “migrants” very strictly. Cubans arriving at the airport — NOT Cubans arriving on rafts — are now being sent back to Castrogonia immediately, simply because they requested asylum. This event could become a test case for the interpretation of the new rules. Over one hundred Cubans at Miami International Airport are now in limbo. They are the first arrivals from Castrogonia to be subjected to Obama’s new interpretation of the Cuban Adjustment Act. According to channel 41 AméricaTeVé, all of these Cubans arrived legally, with the proper visas. Trouble surfaced immediately when they asked for asylum in the U.S. under the Cuban Adjustment Act. Some of these Cubans have been deported and sent back to Castrogonia.

    Some who have been allowed to stay remain in a legal twilight zone. A relative of some of these would-be refugees said to channel 41 that Immigration officials announced that everyone who arrived before 5 pm could stay in the U.S., but anyone who arrived after 5 p.m. would be deported back to Castrogonia immediately. All Cubans who have arrived in the past two days have been held in a special area at the airport. Some of those who were waiting for the arrival of For decades, American immigration authorities have essentially greeted Cuban migrants who have arrived on U.S. soil without visas as if they were documented immigrants — detaining them briefly only for background checks and then quickly admitting them into the country with an automatic parole certificate, which allowed them to apply for permanent residence after more than a year in the country.

    That welcoming stance changed radically Thursday when the Obama administration repealed the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy under which undocumented Cuban migrants who reached American territory were allowed to stay and eventually get green cards and U.S. citizenship, while those interdicted at sea were generally returned to Cuba or taken to the Guantánamo Naval base for possible relocation to a third country. That means that the Cuban migrants will be given an opportunity to voluntarily return to their country or be placed in deportation proceedings, unless they request asylum which — if denied — would lead to removal proceedings and likely a deportation order from an immigration judge. Cuban migrants who reach U.S. soil will no

CUBANS STRANDED IN MEXICO AFTER US 'SLAMS DOOR SHUT'

        MEXICO CITY, MEXICO
-- President Barack Obama's decision to end a long-standing policy granting temporary residency rights to Cubans arriving in the US without a visa has left many would-be migrants stranded. BBC Mundo's Valeria Perasso has been speaking to one Cuban father and daughter waiting in Mexico and now facing an uncertain future. Jose Enrique Manresa and his daughter Arianne were hoping finally to reach the US this week after a 48-day journey from their home in Cuba through South and Central America. "We've lost everything." says Mr Manresa. "We risked everything on our journey and if we don't have the right to live in the US after all that, then there's no hope for us."

    For 20 years Cubans have benefited from a policy introduced in the US by presidential decree which gave them the right to enter the country without a visa and remain for one year in order to apply for legal residenceraise money to reach the US with his daughter Since the rapprochement between Washington and Havana began in 2015, Cubans have been bracing themselves for the policy to be cancelled and the past two years have seen a sharp rise in the numbers of people seeking to move to the US while they still can. But no-one was anticipating this week's sudden announcement. Manresa and his daughter were in a shelter in Tapachula, south-east Mexico, when they heard the news. "We are so sad," said Mr Manresa, one of 20 Cubans living in the shelter. "We are all calling our families in Cuba, we are desperate. I had to sell everything."

    Mr Manresa's story is typical for his generation. He has a degree in finance and economics and has worked for the Cuban state since the age of 22. After 25 years, his salary as a manager overseeing five shops for a soft drinks company was the equivalent of just $20 (£16.40) a month. Seeing no prospect of life improving he decided to take his chances and try to make it to the US to start a new life with his daughter. It was a long, risky and expensive journey. "I sold everything: my house, my appliances," he explains. "I got into a lot of debt as well to gather the $10,000 I needed to pay for the journey." Manresa's first destination was British Guyana where he paid the bulk of his money to traffickers who then took him on a complicated journey via Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala before finally reaching Mexico. At the start of their journey he and his daughter were part of a group of 150 Cubans, but by the time they finally made it to the Mexican border there were just 20 people left.

SOME CUBAN FELONS, INCLUDING 2,000 MURDERERS, COULD FACE DEPORTATION UNDER NEW OBAMA POLICY

     WASHINGTON, D.C.  --
 The sudden end of America’s “wet foot, dry foot” policy and special immigration privileges for Cubans may open the door for another move that would have a major impact on thousands of South Florida families: deporting convicted Cuban felons back to the island. The U.S. government counts 28,400 of them, with the vast majority free after serving prison time for their felony convictions in the United States. After decades of maintaining a hard line to never take them back, Cuban officials said Thursday that they would consider the proposition — which has been one of the topics in negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba since diplomatic relations were restored in 2015.

    It appears unlikely there would be a mass deportation by the U.S., but both sides signaled a diplomatic opening for case-by-case negotiations. Gustavo Machin, deputy director of the U.S. section of Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, said his government would consider cases of Cubans who have “broken laws” in the United States and “can no longer remain” in the country. The issue is controversial, to say the least, because among the large number of Cuban felons now facing removal to their homeland are those convicted of committing more than 2,000 murders in the United States, according to the Department of Homeland Security. For decades, all of the released felons have been allowed to live in Florida and other parts of the United States under the supervision of immigration authorities because the federal government had no diplomatic relations with Cuba to deport them since the early 1960s.

    Of the total facing deportations, about 18,000 live in Florida. But now that President Barack Obama has repealed the wet foot, dry foot policy allowing Cubans who reach U.S. soil to stay, the removal of thousands of Cuban nationals convicted of felony crimes in this country seems at least possible. Although there is no specific mention of the felon issue in the new U.S. migration accord with Cuba, one section addresses Cuban immigrants who “remain” in America “in violation of U.S. law.” It further says the U.S. government “shall focus on individuals ... determined to be priorities for return.” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told reporters on Thursday that “under our agreement with Cuba, there was also the possibility that the Cubans will accept back migrants outside of this arrangement, but on a case-by-case basis.”

January 15, 2017

OBAMA EXPECTS TRUMP TO RESPECT NEW MIGRATION PACT HE SIGNED WITH CUBA
 
    
WASHINGTON, D.C.  -- Part of President Barack Obama’s motivation in ending a practice that gave undocumented Cuban migrants who reached US soil the right to remain appears to have been a desire to discourage Donald Trump from reversing the process of normalization with Cuba. Trump, who takes office Jan. 20, “will notice that the steps we’ve taken (with Cuba) make sense, they are serving our interests,” Obama adviser Mark Feierstein said Friday in an interview with EFE. Feierstein, the National Security Council director for Latin America, said he was confident that the Trump administration would maintain the “great majority” of the accords reached with Cuba in the context of the rapprochement begun in December 2014.

     The new president and his team will realize that “it makes no sense” to bar US residents from traveling to Cuba and stop American companies from investing on the island “while the rest of the world can” do those things. Obama said Thursday that he decided to end what is known as “wet foot/dry foot” because the policy belongs to “a different era.” The policy mandated repatriation to Cuba for the vast majority of undocumented Cubans intercepted at sea, while those who managed to enter the territory of the United States were welcomed with open arms. “By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries. The Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed, just as it has been accepting the return of migrants interdicted at sea,” Obama said, referring to a formal agreement signed Thursday in Havana.

    Trump has threatened to reverse the normalization with Cuba unless Havana makes certain concessions, but the White House said Friday that Obama expected the new president to honor the migration pact. Spokesman Josh Earnest cited a tradition of presidents’ respecting the executive accords signed by their predecessors, and he existence of “convincing reasons to continue normalizing relations” with Cuba. Cuba has long demanded an end to wet foot/dry foot, which the Havana government says encourages Cubans to embark on risky sea journeys in hopes of reaching the US. In the past, most of the migrants arrived by sea, but a new trend has seen thousands leaving Cuba by air for South America and then making their way overland through Central America, spurring complaints from the region’s governments.

CUBAN MIGRANTS IN PANAMA ASK US FOR EXEMPTIONS FROM NEW IMMIGRATION RULING

        PANAMA CITY, PANAMA
-- The more than 70 Cubans at an inn operated by the Catholic charitable mission Caritas asked Friday for the United States to make an exception for those who had left the island and were already crossing Central America before the “wet foot/dry foot” immigration policy was revoked. “We only ask that they make an exception for those of us who were already on our way, that they let us continue and don’t immediately apply the measure and that they give us time to reach the United States,” the young Yancys Ricars, who left Cuba in early December with her mother and daughter, told EFE.

     The US and Cuba announced Thursday a migration accord that immediately eliminates the “wet foot/dry foot” policy adopted in 1995, which gave Cubans the chance to obtain permanent residence a year after reaching the US, even if they did so illegally – except if they were intercepted at sea, in which case they could be returned to Cuba. “I would a thousand times rather tramp through the Darien jungle (the natural border between Colombia and Panama) than go back to Cuba. May we please reach the United States!” cried Ulises Ferrer from Havana, who came to this inn with his 4-year-old daughter and his pregnant wife almost two weeks ago. The new accord also put an end to the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program (CMPPP), which was launched in 2006 and allowed professional Cuban doctors to seek asylum in the US after bailing out of their international missions or from courses they were taking abroad.

    “You’re the ones who will pay for the broken dishes of this migration accord,” said the Caritas social director in Panama, Victor Berria. The measure announced Thursday was long demanded by the Cuban government, which has sought to halt the exodus of Cubans in recent years, which became even more desperate following the diplomatic thaw that a year ago caused a humanitarian crisis by fleeing islanders crowding into Central America. Thousands of Cubans were left stranded in Panama and Costa Rica, because Nicaragua closed it borders for alleged reasons of national security. The situation soon got critical. According to figures of Panama’s National Migration Service, the Central American country in 2016 took in more than 27,000 migrants without papers, most of them Cubans but also including Haitians, Africans and Asians.

US CONGRESS SETS SETS FOR OBAMACARE REPEAL

     WASHINGTON, D.C.  --
 The US House of Representatives passed a bill on Friday that lays the groundwork for the process of repealing President Barack Obama’s healthcare plan. By a vote of 227-198, the House approved its version of a measure that cleared the Senate on Thursday. Nine Republicans joined the 191 House Democrats in voting “no.”

    The effect of the legislation will be to permit Republicans to use a procedure known as budget reconciliation to dismantle elements of the 2010 Affordable Care Act – dubbed Obamacare – even in the face of united Democratic opposition. Republicans have been fighting to repeal Obamacare since the GOP took control of the House in the 2010 congressional elections, while scrapping the ACA in favor of an unspecified alternative was one of President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promises.

     Once a Republican is in the White House, there will be little to stop the GOP from scrapping the ACA, though Trump has said he would like to retain some features of the program, such as the ban on health insurers’ denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. The Senate version of the bill calls for an Obamacare repeal measure to be presented by Jan. 27, a week after Trump’s inauguration, but some Republican senators have expressed concern about the lack of a plan to replace the ACA. “This is a critical first step toward delivering relief to Americans who are struggling under this law,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said Friday. “We will make sure that there is a stable transition period so that people don’t have the rug pulled out from under them,” the Wisconsin Republican said.
 

January 14, 2017

PRESIDENT OBAMA: CUBANS TO BE TREATED LIKE OTHER MIGRANTS
 
    
WASHINGTON, D.C.  -- President Barack Obama said on Thursday that he decided to end a practice that gave undocumented Cuban migrants who reached US soil the right to remain and become permanent residents because the “wet foot/dry foot” policy belongs to “a different era.” The policy mandated repatriation to Cuba for the vast majority of undocumented Cubans intercepted at sea, while those who managed to enter the territory of the United States were welcomed with open arms.

     “Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with US law and enforcement priorities,” the president said in a statement. Cuba has long demanded an end to wet foot/dry foot, which the Havana government says encourages Cubans to embark on risky sea journeys in hopes of reaching the US. Wet-foot/dry foot “was put in place more than 20 years ago and was designed for a different era,” Obama said Thursday. Some change to the policy, which is based on the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, has been expected since the US and Cuba restored diplomatic relations as part of a process of normalization started in December 2014.

    “By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries. The Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed, just as it has been accepting the return of migrants interdicted at sea,” Obama said. The decision to abandon wet foot/dry foot comes just eight days before Obama is to be succeeded by Republican Donald Trump, who has threatened to reverse the normalization with Cuba unless Havana makes certain concessions. Rapprochement with Cuba is seen as one of the major accomplishments of Obama’s second term. In March, he became the first sitting US president since 1928 to visit the Caribbean island.

VENEZUELA GOVERNMENT ATTACK ON OPPOSITION INTENSIFIES

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA
-- A lawmaker and three city councilmen have been arrested by the SEBIN national intelligence service in Venezuela between Wednesday and Thursday, in what is looking more and more like an intensifying anti-opposition crackdown from embattled President Nicolas Maduro. Besides the elected officials, two activists of “Primero Justicia”, an opposition party, were arrested while demonstrating in favor of Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles. City councilman Roniel Farias was arrested by SEBIN Thursday afternoon in Bolivar, Venezuela’s top gold-mining state, bringing the total of opposition politicians arrested since Wednesday so far to four. Wednesday, both Congressman Gilber Caro of the “Voluntad Popular” party, and Jorge Luis Gonzalez, a city councilman in oil-rich Zulia state with “Primero Justicia”, were arrested and are still in custody.

    In the case of Deputy Caro, the lawmaker has been accused by Vice President Tarek El Aissami Wednesday night during a press conference of carrying an assault rifle and plastic explosive with terrorist purposes. Congressmen in Venezuela are constitutionally protected from arrest but that did not stop the government. Thursday saw the arrest of two more councilmen: Romer Rubio, also in Zulia and Farias in Bolivar. Caro and Gonzalez were supposedly linked to a terrorist plot Thursday morning by Interior Minister Nestor Reverol, who answers to El Aissami. On Monday, Caro was one of the 106 lawmakers that voted a motion declaring Nicolas Maduro had abandoned the post and duties of President and asked for new Presidential elections to be held in 30 days.

    The next day, Tuesday, Maduro told lawmakers to “abide by the consequences” of the vote, and swore in a new “anti-coup command” made up of the country’s highest military, police and cabinet officials, all reporting to El Aissami, including Interior Minister Reverol and Defense Minister General Vladimir Padrino. Additionally, the Comptroller General’s Office announced it has a decision ready in a corruption case against Henrique Capriles, a leader of the opposition who ran for President against both Chavez and Maduro. Capriles, the governor of Miranda state, has denounced the attack as politically motivated in an attempt to block him from holding government office and promised not to negotiate with Maduro.

THOUSANDS OF US TROOPS ON RUSSIA'S DOORSTEPS IN POLAND DEPLOYMENT

     WASHINGTON, D.C.  --
 Thousands of U.S. troops crept up on Russia's doorstep Thursday, rolling into Poland amid a slew of unanswered questions about their future in the region. It marked the first deployment of armored brigade combat teams and armor to Europe after a long drawdown from the continent. For decades, Poland had asked for help in keeping Moscow at bay, but at the same time, President-elect Donald Trump has signaled he could try to pursue a friendly relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

     Still, the president-elect said Wednesday nothing was off the table. "I don't know that I'm going to get along with Vladimir Putin. I hope I do. But there's a good chance I won't." Russia clearly wasn't happy with the deployment. "We perceive it as a threat," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. "These actions threaten our interests, our security, especially as it concerns a third party building up its military presence near our borders." Moscow also announced it deployed anti-aircraft missile systems around the city. Russia had already been using the s-400 Triumph air defense system, capable of hitting moving targets including missiles and planes, in Syria.

    At the same time, Russia said on Thursday that the deployment of United States troops and tanks in Poland poses a threat to Moscow. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian media that Moscow interprets this deployment as a threat to Russia and as actions that endanger his country’s interests and security. “Any country can regard a buildup of foreign military presence near its borders negatively and it will do so. This is precisely the way we see it,” Peskov said, according to TASS. The spokesman added that it is also a third country, rather than a European state, that increases its military presence on Russia’s European borders.

January 13, 2017

JAMES 'MAD DOG' MATTIS CALLS RUSSIA 'ADVERSARY,' CLAIMS CONFIDENCE IN INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY
 
    
WASHINGTON, D.C.  --  President-elect Donald Trump's pick to lead the Pentagon told Congress on Thursday the United States must be ready to confront Russian behavior in areas where the two countries cannot cooperate, even as he backed Trump's bid to engage with Moscow. The remarks by retired Marine General James Mattis in written responses to questions from Congress appeared set to endear him to Russia-wary Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is expected to back his nomination. "We engaged with Russia even during the darkest days of the Cold War, and I support the President-elect's desire to engage with Russia now," Mattis wrote.

    "At the same time, when we identify other areas where we cannot cooperate, we must confront Russia's behavior, and defend ourselves if Russia chooses to act contrary to our interests." Due to enter the White House in eight days, Trump on Wednesday acknowledged that Russia likely hacked the Democratic National Committee and emails of top Democrats during the 2016 presidential election campaign, a conclusion reached by U.S. spy agencies. Mattis cited Russian involvement in hacking and information warfare among the challenges posed by Moscow. Others include treaty violations, using tactics short of open war to destabilize other countries and "alarming messages from Moscow regarding the use of nuclear weapons," he wrote.

    Senator John McCain, the Republican chairman of the committee, said he "could not be happier" about Mattis' nomination. He warned sternly against optimism about engaging with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "Putin wants to be our enemy. He needs us as his enemy. He will never be our partner," McCain exclaimed in his opening remarks. "He believes that strengthening Russia means weakening America. We must proceed realistically on this basis." Mattis, who retired from the military in 2013, is technically ineligible for the job since he has not been a civilian for at least seven years. That means Congress would need to grant him a waiver, something it has not done since 1950, but appears inclined to do now. In his opening statement, Mattis said he can lead the military as a civilian, even after a 44-year military career. "I recognize my potential civilian role differs in essence and in substance from my former role in uniform," Mattis said.

VENEZUELA SUPREME COURT DECLARES CONGRESS DECISIONS VOID

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA
-Venezuela's Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the new National Assembly's decisions are void unless three banned opposition lawmakers are removed from office, deepening a power struggle over the opposition's new legislative majority. Already beset by a deep economic crisis, Venezuela now seems to be sliding into a protracted period of political turmoil as both a newly-emboldened opposition and President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government play hardball with each other. The Supreme Court in December blocked four lawmakers - three opposition and one allied with the government - from taking office after the Socialist Party made allegations of irregularities during last month's legislative election.

    The opposition dubbed the ruling a bid to strip it of its super majority, and defiantly swore in the three barred opposition lawmakers anyway, one of a number of tussles between the newly convened congress and the court. "Decisions taken or to be taken by the National Assembly while these citizens are incorporated will be absolutely null," the court, which almost always rules in favor of the ruling Socialists, said in a statement on Monday. The Socialists said congress was now effectively powerless unless the lawmakers, who hail from the southern jungle state of Amazonas, were removed. "The logical, sane and democratic step is for the National Assembly's leadership to revoke the swearing-in of these lawmakers," said Socialist Party No. 2 and former National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.

    "If the National Assembly is in contempt, nobody is going to recognize it," he said. The Supreme Court's constitutional chamber had stepped in during similar situations in the past, he said. The opposition said the measure was an authoritarian grab. "The big loser is going to be Maduro because he's going to create a constitutional crisis. He wants to immobilize the National Assembly, like Fujimori," said Ramon Escovar, a lawyer advising the opposition bloc, referring to Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori's dissolution of congress in 1992. The opposition plan to introduce an amnesty law on Tuesday for jailed politicians and activists, while government lawmakers intend to push for a declaration of "national emergency" over the economic crisis. The opposition also wants to sack Supreme Court justices sworn in by the then Socialist-led congress last month, which the opposition said would then allow for the ban on the three lawmakers to be lifted.

CUBAN DISSIDENT OSCAR ELIAS BISCET DETAINED BY STATE SECURITY AGENTS

     HAVANA, CUBA --
  Cuban dissident Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet, recipient of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, was taken into custody by police and state security agents Wednesday morning in Havana and briefly detained. Miami-based Inspire America Foundation, a super PAC that supports pro-democracy leaders and policies in Cuba and the Americas, said Biscet, a former political prisoner, was picked up outside his Havana home by four police operatives and two state security agents and put into a patrol car.

     By Wednesday afternoon, he was released with a warning about his activities, said Inspire America founder Marcell Felipe, who spoke with Biscet via telephone. “While in custody he was told to give up his work and that he was getting old and that he was being watched and would go to prison if he continued,” said Felipe. Three other dissidents — Eduardo Quintana Suárez, José Omar Lorenzo Pimienta, and Yoan Álvares — also were detained. Inspire America said they had planned to meet in a Havana park to distribute a newsletter celebrating the 4th anniversary of the Emilia Project, a campaign to gather signatures on a document that asks for a new democratic and free parliament to be created to replace Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power and demands that a new constitution be drafted on the principles of democracy and freedom.

    Biscet, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2007, is one of the directors of the Emilia Project and was arrested in 2002 as part of the “Black Spring” roundup of dissidents. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison but was released in 2011. The independent Cuban news service 14yMedio also reported that Karina Gálvez, an economist and member of the editorial board of the magazine Convivencia, was detained Wednesday morning and taken to state security headquarters in Pinar del Río. Her home was reportedly searched for nearly four hours. During his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Rex Tillerson, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, said that since the Obama administration’s opening toward Cuba and the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Cuba hasn’t done enough to defend human rights.

January 12, 2017

SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE TILLERSON CRITICAL OF US APPROACH TO CUBA
 
    
WASHINGTON, D.C.  --   Rex Tillerson, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for Secretary of State, testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee January 11, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.  President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, criticized the United States' normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba saying the communist island has not made enough concessions. Appearing at a Senate confirmation hearing, Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, said Cuba's leaders haven't done enough on human rights for their citizens.

    "We did not hold them accountable for their behavior, and their leaders received much, while their people received little," he said. "That did not help Cubans or Americans." Tillerson did not specify whether he wants to reverse executive actions taken by President Obama to ease the trade embargo Washington imposed on Cuba in 1961. Obama has taken several administrative steps since the two governments resumed diplomatic relations in 2015, but only Congress can overturn the embargo. During his election campaign Trump raised the possibility of reopening negotiations with Cuba to seek concessions from Havana.

    Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, the former top Democrat on the panel, has begun questioning Tillerson. Menendez noted that Tillerson received the Order of Friendship award from Russia and had direct and personal access over the course of his tenure at ExxonMobil with Putin. Menendez said that Exxon employed D.C.-based lobbyists to lobby against sanctions against Russia after its invasion of eastern Ukraine. Menendez said that sanctions are one of the most essential diplomatic tools in the U.S. arsenal and he pointed out that while Tillerson said during the hearing that sanctions are a “powerful tool,” his previous comments indicate otherwise. Asked if he has changed his view on sanctions, Tillerson said, “When sanctions are imposed, they are, by design, going to harm American business.” He added that sanctions are “a powerful tool” and that the U.S. must design them, target and enforce them well.

MEXICO SAYS IT WILL NEGOTIATE WITH DONALD TRUMP

        MEXICO CITY, MEXICO
  -- Mexico's new Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Videgaray said Tuesday, Jan. 10, that the country isn’t only willing to negotiate changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement, it wants negotiations as soon as possible. Luis Videgaray says there’s “enormous uncertainty” following the U.S. election of Donald Trump as president. Mexico's new foreign relations secretary said Tuesday his country isn't just willing to negotiate changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement, it wants to start talks as soon as possible.

     Luis Videgaray said there's "enormous uncertainty" following the U.S. election of Donald Trump as president. Trump has pressured companies not to move jobs to Mexico, warned he would tax those who do, and has vowed to renegotiate NAFTA. Videgaray said in a Radio Formula interview that Trump's actions have caused concern, adding "that is why this (negotiation) process is so important, to dispel this uncertainty." He said talks should start "as soon as possible." Mexico's peso weakened further Tuesday, closing at an interbank rate of 21.73 to $1.

    Videgaray said his government's main concern would be "how to protect jobs in Mexico," and said "there are a lot of reasons to think the negotiation would be favorable for Mexico." He said Mexico is willing to negotiate over Trump's plan to build a border wall. But Videgaray said Mexico won't pay for the wall, calling that "unacceptable. Mexican manufacturing sectors such as the auto industry have benefited greatly from NAFTA, which went into effect in 1994. But wages haven't risen much and Mexican farmers complain about massive imports of U.S. grain and other farm products.

CONOCOPHILLIPS SUES RUSSIA'S ROSNEFT & VENEZUELA'S PDVSA FOR FRAUD IN CITGO TRANSFER

     NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK --
ConocoPhillips, the second largest independent exploration and production company based on reserves and oil production in the U.S., has filed suit against Venezuela’s state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. and Russia's state-controlled oil company Rosneft, challenging PDVSA's pledge of part of its U.S.-based Citgo refinery. The Houston, Texas-based ConocoPhillips claims PDVSA fraudulently transferred 49.9% of Citgo Holding Inc. as collateral for a loan from Russia’s Rosneft PJSC, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Wilmington, Delaware. While the suit alleges the loan was for $1.5 billion, Venezuela has declined to confirm the amount.

     The suit is the latest salvo in the legal war between ConocoPhillips and PDVSA over the cash-strapped Venezuelan energy company’s handling of the Citgo assets. In October, ConocoPhillips sued PDVSA for using the other 50.1% of Citgo to back a $2.8 billion debt swap. The U.S. firm says the deal is intended to monetize Citgo while avoiding paying reparations to foreign operators for Venezuelan oilfield seizures. ConocoPhillips says that it's companies are "multi-billion dollar creditors of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (“Venezuela”), Venezuela’s national oil company, PDVSA, and two of PDVSA’s subsidiaries, PPSA and PDVH." The government of Hugo Chavez expropriated 3 of ConocoPhillips multibillion dollar investments in Venezuela in 2008.

    Analysts believe that ConocoPhillips, which is suing Venezuela over the expropriations at the World Bank's International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), will be awarded a judgment of between $4 to $5 billion by the end of the year. In 2014, ConocoPhillips also brought two other suits against Venezuela at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) for contractual losses. Those suits are ongoing. After the Latin American Herald Tribune broke the story about Russia's investment in December, PDVSA President Eulogio Del Pino admitted the Rosneft transaction, but also seemed to give weight to the lawsuit's argument by virtually admitting that Venezuela had levered up CITGO to frustrate the large amount of legal claims coming down against the country.

January 11, 2017

VENEZUELAN NATIONAL ASSEMBLY DECLARES NICOLAS MADURO TO HAVE ABANDONED HIS POST
 
    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --   The Venezuelan National Assembly, where the political opposition holds sway, on Monday declared President Nicolas Maduro to have “abandoned his post” and demanded new elections as a way out of the country’s political crisis so that “it may be the people who express themselves with their votes.” “The only way to resolve the serious problems besetting the country is to return power to the people of Venezuela and ... (convene) ... free and plural elections,” the legislature declared in an agreement that received the votes of 106 opposition lawmakers. A majority of lawmakers in the chamber feel that Maduro’s exercise of his office is at the margin of the constitutional duties of the presidency and they blame him for the “serious rupture of the constitutional order,” for violating human rights and for the “devastation of the economic and social bases” of the nation.

    According to the Venezuelan Constitution, the president’s absolute failure to fulfill his duties could be caused by his death or resignation, if he were to be removed by the country’s Supreme Court, his physical or mental incapacity, the popular revocation of his mandate or “the abandonment of his post, as declared by the National Assembly.” If one of these circumstances were to occur, the Constitution obliges Venezuelan authorities to hold national, direct and secret elections. The Constitution also establishes that the president “is responsible for his actions and the fulfillment of the obligations inherent in his office” and that “he is obliged to ... guarantee the rights and freedoms of Venezuelans.”

    Among the reasons given by the congressional opposition for declaring that Maduro had abandoned his office is that he has failed to carry out the “inherent” duties of the presidency by failing to “fulfill” the constitutional order by, among other things, suppressing “the separation of powers ... via his support for the partisan occupation of the Supreme Court and the National Electoral Council.” Thus, the parliament blames Maduro for implementing a “coup d’etat,” “deferring” the holding of regional elections that should have come about in 2016 and being negligent in recovering the territory of Essequibo, also claimed by Guyana, and failing to find a peaceful settlement to that dispute. The opposition lawmakers also accused him of carrying out and, in fact, increasing “political persecution” of opponents.

NICOLAS MADURO CREATES "ANTI-COUP COMMAND" IN VENEZUELA AMID IMPEACHMENTS EFFORTS

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA
  -- Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro continues to seek out alleged coups against his administration, having just announced the creation of a new anti-treason committee. Maduro appointed Executive Vice President Tareck El Aissami as the new head of the “National Anti-coup Command” on Sunday, January 8, with other members of the group set to be sworn in on Tuesday, January 10.

    Maduro again threatened the opposition, especially new President of the National Assembly Julio Borges. Borges said he will defeat Maduro in a way that Henry Ramos Allup, the previous President of the National Assembly, did. “I am going to delegate the battle against coup d’état to a special anti-coup command for peace and sovereignty,” Maduro said. “(They will) devote 24 hours a day to taking preventive, legal and corrective measures against all internal coup and terrorist sectors.” He explained that the command will attend to alleged coup plans that are political, economic and at all levels of governance.

    Subcommands will reportedly be created in all the states of Venezuela with the participation of the Armed Forces, the police forces and the central government. The Anti-coup Command will be composed of Minister of the Office of the President El Aissami, Defense Minister Carmen Meléndez, Deputy to the National Assembly Vladimir Padrino Lopez and Minister of People’s Power for Interior Relations Diosdado Cabello. Director of the Political Police Sebin Gustavo González, General Commander of the Bolivarian Militia César Vega and General Director of the Bolivarian National Police Franklin García Duque are also involved.

U.S. CHARGES FLORIDA MEN WITH LAUNDERING MONEY FOR VENEZUELAN OFFICIALS

     NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK --
A Florida construction equipment exporter's owners were arrested on Wednesday on charges they illegally transferred over US$ 100 million from businesses largely in Venezuela to U.S. and foreign bank accounts belonging to Venezuelan government officials and others. Luis Diaz Jr., 74, and his son, Luis Javier Diaz, 49, were charged in a criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court with conspiring to commit money laundering and operate an unlicensed money transmitting business.

    Both men, who run Miami Equipment & Export Co, according to their firm's website, were arrested in Miami, said a spokesman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. The case came amid U.S. Justice Department investigations that have focused on individuals tied to the Venezuelan government and their suspected roles in various bribery and drug-trafficking s schemes. As per the complaint, the family's company, beginning in 2010, facilitated hundreds of hundreds of transmissions of funds into the United States on behalf of an unnamed large consortium of Venezuelan construction companies.

     At the consortium's request, they also transmitted money to unnamed Venezuelan government officials, including one who oversaw the award of certain contracts on which the Venezuelan companies bid, the complaint alleged. the complaint said. During the period in question, a Portuguese shell company controlled by the individual linked to Venezuelan officials received at least US$ 17 million, the complaint said. The case is U.S. v. Diaz, et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 16-mj-8150.

January 10, 2017

NICOLAS MADURO HIKES VENEZUELA'S MONTHLY MINIMUM WAGE BY 50%

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA
  --  Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced on Sunday that he has decided to raise the monthly minimum wage by 50 percent from 27,092 bolivars to 40,638 bolivars, the latter amount equivalent to about $60 at the official exchange rate of 678 bolivars per US dollar. During his weekly television program, the president said that this salary hike is the first of the year but the fifth that he has ordered over the past 12 months, for a total annualized increase of 536 percent.

     Over that time the oil-producing country’s economic crisis has deepened and inflation, which stood at about 181 percent at the close of 2015, worsened in 2016.  Maduro said that the new minimum wage will also be received by all retirees in Venezuela, a total of more than three million people, according to government figures, and that the 50 percent increase also will be applied to the entire salary of public employees. The president also said that in “the coming days” he will raise the value of the monthly food allowance, which currently stands at 63,720 bolivars.

    Starting in January, when the pay hike will take effect, millions of public and private sector workers will have the right to a total income of 104,358 bolivars per month, equivalent to $154. Maduro also said that his government will work to bring the unemployment rate down to 4.5 percent and raise the formal employment index from 62 percent to 70 percent. “While there is an economic war going on, we will continue ... (to help) the Venezuelan family defend itself, while we’re stabilizing” the country economically, he said. Venezuela’s biggest employer, Fedecamaras, said that the pay increase was announced “without consultation” by the government and could reduce employment and result in the closure of companies that cannot deal with the hike.

PYONGYANG ASPIRES TO HAVE INTERCONTINENTAL MISSILE READY BY LATE 2017

     PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA --
The North Korean regime aims to complete the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile by late 2017 or early 2018, a former North Korean diplomat taking refuge in South revealed in an interview Sunday with the Yonhap news agency. “North Korea has set the goal of developing miniaturized nuclear weapons that can fit atop a missile capable of reaching the United States by the end of 2017 or early 2018,” revealed Thae Yong-ho, the former number two of the Pyongyang Embassy in London who defected to South Korea in the summer with his wife and two children. The timing would not be random “as it takes into account political transitions in South Korea and the US,” Thae told Yonhap.

    Pyongyang is finalizing preparations to launch another such projectile, as announced by North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un in his New Year speech, when he said his country was in the final phase of preparations to rehearse the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Thae said Kim’s message seeks to demonstrate Pyongyang’s arms capabilities, with the aim of establishing conditions under which it could hold a dialogue with Seoul and Washington. North Korea, which has already launched missiles on six other occasions, is currently developing the KN-08, a ballistic missile designed to be fired from a mobile platform and which may have a range of 13,000 kilometers (8,078 miles), enough to reach the US.

    The Kim regime said the missiles were used to put observation satellites into orbit, but the United Nations suspect them to be covert arms tests as the rockets use the same technology as intercontinental ballistic missiles. Pyongyang conducted two nuclear tests in 2016 – following those in 2006, 2009 and 2013 – in which it launched more than 20 medium-range missiles, including the Musudan and those launched from a submarine. The regime said it could manufacture a small nuclear warhead that could be mounted on the missile’s head, but experts have cast doubt on this. Since Thae defected to South Korea in July 2016 he has undertaken public activities and has even expressed willingness to travel to the US to talk about Pyongyang’s real intentions behind its nuclear development.

January 9, 2017

DONALD TRUMP NOMINATES FORMER SENATOR DAN COATS AS INTELLIGENCE CHIEF
 
    
Washington, D.C.  --   President-elect Donald Trump nominated former Indiana Senator Dan Coats as U.S. director of national intelligence, giving the retired Republican lawmaker oversight of the spy agencies that have drawn skepticism from Trump. “Dan has clearly demonstrated the deep subject matter expertise and sound judgment required to lead our intelligence community,” Trump said Saturday in a statement. “He will provide unwavering leadership that the entire intelligence community can respect, and will spearhead my administration’s ceaseless vigilance against those who seek to do us harm.”

    Coats, 73, probably would face close questioning by both Republicans and Democrats about how he views the intelligence community’s conclusions that Russia hacked Democratic Party computer systems in order to meddle in the U.S. presidential campaign, which Trump has repeatedly questioned.  The current director of national intelligence, James Clapper, and other spy chiefs briefed Trump on Friday about the Russian hacking and shortly after released a declassified report on their findings. Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered cyber and disinformation attacks to influence the U.S. presidential campaign and developed “a clear preference” for Trump to win, the report said.

     Trump seemed to slough off the briefing on Saturday, saying on Twitter that only “fools” would think it’s bad to have a good relationship with Russia. When questioned at a Senate hearing on Jan. 5 if Trump’s public criticism is hurting morale among intelligence officers, Clapper said: “I hardly think it helps.” Trump said Friday in a statement that the intelligence briefing on the election hacks was constructive and that he has “tremendous respect” for intelligence officials’ work. Trump didn’t comment directly on Putin or Russian interference in the presidential campaign in his statement, but said he’ll seek a plan to “aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks.” Coats was among several U.S. officials who landed on a Kremlin blacklist in 2014, banning them from entry into Russia, for opposing Russia’s seizure of Crimea.

A SUSPECTED TERRORIST AND DRUG TRAFFICKER JUST BECAME VENEZUELA'S VICE PRESIDENT

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA
  --  Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the successor to the late socialist President Hugo Chavez, announced on Wednesday that former minister Tareck El Aissami would become vice president of the country. That means that, in a country of complete and utter chaos — where people are starving, healthcare is nonexistent, electricity is scarce, and vigilante justice is becoming a norm — a suspected terrorist is one heartbeat away from the highest office in the land. And if Maduro is ousted, as his opposition is calling for, El Aissami will become the president of a failed state in America's backyard.

     Chavez's socialist regime had strong ties to hardline Islamists. From 2007 to at least 2010, there was a flight from Caracas, Venezuela, to Tehran, Iran, that made a stop in Damascus, Syria. Only government officials with a special clearance were permitted to fly on it, and there were often very few passengers. The flights mostly carried drugs, weapons, cash and terrorists, according to US government testimony and a report by Brazilian paper Veja. This is where El Aissami comes in. Veja reported that when he was interior minister under Chavez, El Aissami participated in a clandestine program to provide Venezuelan passports to terrorists in Damascus, according to former Chavez loyalists. A former governor of Venezuela's Aragua state, the Wall Street Journal once said of El Aissami: "One part master of Middle-Eastern networking, one part honorary Cuban revolutionary, and one part highly ambitious chavista, El Aissami is a dream come true for Tehran and Havana. That makes him a powerful man in Venezuela."

     Joseph Humire, coauthor of "Iran's Strategic Penetration in Latin America" and founder of the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS) think tank, testified to the same effect before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs last year. "Over the years, El Aissami developed a sophisticated, multi-layered financial network that functions as a criminal-terrorist pipeline bringing militant Islamists into Venezuela and surrounding countries, and sending illicit funds and drugs from Latin America to the Middle East. "His financial network consists of close to 40 front companies that own over 20 properties with cash, vehicles, real estate and other assets sitting in 36 bank accounts spread throughout Venezuela, Panama, Curacao, St. Lucia, Southern Florida and Lebanon. This network became integrated with the larger Ayman Joumaa moneylaundering network that used the Lebanese Canadian Bank to launder hundreds of million of dollars and move multi-ton shipments of cocaine on behalf of Colombian and Mexican drug cartels as well as Hezbollah. "This immigration scheme is suspected to also be in place in Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia, as well as some Caribbean countries."

VATICAN SEEKS TO REVIVE FALTERING TALKS BETWEEN OPPOSITION AND GOVERNMENT IN VENEZUELA

     CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
Vatican wants Venezuela's leftist government to sort out faltering talks with the Opposition. A Vatican representative sought on Tuesday night to rescue faltering talks between Venezuela's leftist government and the opposition, after President Nicolas Maduro's rivals said they would sit out further meetings unless concessions were made. Venezuela's opposition snubbed a scheduled meeting with government officials on Tuesday, saying the government's earlier electoral and foreign aid promises had not been kept. Hopes for real rapprochement during the formal talks, which began in October with facilitators from the Vatican, have always been slim.

     The two sides are at loggerheads, with the opposition seeking the ouster of socialist Maduro, while authorities have vowed he would not leave office before his term ends in 2019. "We'll only sit down with the government again once they meet what was agreed on," said Jesus Torrealba, Opposition Coalition Leader after a meeting with facilitators.The two sides had previously reached tentative agreements, including potentially letting foreign donors provide food and medicine to the country and working toward replacing directors of the national elections authority, whom the opposition has called government puppets. The opposition has also pushed for the release of what it says is over 100 jailed activists. A few have been released since the start of talks, but the opposition said it was insufficient.

     Both sides, however, will continue to meet with the dialogue's facilitators,Torrealba said. He added that they had made proposals to restart the dialogue "so that it can be useful for the country and yield results." The Vatican's envoy, Claudio Maria Celli, said after meetings with both sides that they would hold technical meetings until January 13 to discuss issues including "justice and human rights" as well as "generating confidence in the electoral schedule." "We must begin a stage that will bring us towards the reactivation, consolidation and sustainability of dialogue," said Celli, reading a statement supported by representatives of both sides. He did not provide details about the proposals.
Dialogue has divided the diverse opposition coalition, with some activists and politicians feeling the government was duping them to buy time. The situation in oil-rich Venezuela has worsened in recent months, with a recession leaving millions unable to find or afford food amid shortages and spiralling inflation. The opposition blames Maduro, who has an approval rating of around 20% and has been vying to remove him via a recall referendum. The former bus driver and union leader has said the opposition is seeking a coup against him and has vowed to finish his term.

January 8, 2017

US TANKS, EQUIPMENT ARRIVE FOR NATO EXERCISES IN EASTERN EUROPE
 
    
BREMERHAVEN, GERMANY --  Hundreds of U.S. tanks, trucks and other military equipment arrived by ship in Germany on Friday to be transported by rail and road to eastern Europe as part of a NATO buildup that has drawn Russia's ire. Two shiploads arrived in the northern port of Bremerhaven and a third was due in a few days, bringing the fleets of tracked and wheeled vehicles for use by around 4,000 U.S. troops being deployed for exercises in NATO states near Russia. U.S. and Polish forces will participate in a large "massing" exercise in Poland at the end of January as part of a series of measures aimed at reassuring U.S. allies in Europe after Russia's 2014 annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine.

     "The best way to maintain the peace is through preparation," Major General Timothy McGuire told reporters when asked if the large deployment was meant to send a message to Russia. "This is just showing the strength and cohesion of the alliance and the U.S. commitment to maintain the peace on the continent," he said. NATO countries say their planned deployments to eastern NATO countries are purely defensive, but Russia has rebuked what it sees as an aggressive western buildup in eastern Europe. In addition to U.S. troops going to Poland, NATO members Germany, Canada and Britain are also sending battalions of up to 1,000 troops each to the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

     They say the four battalions, backed by additional U.S. forces on rotation, are justified by Moscow's annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. Those actions alarmed the Baltic states, which worry they could be the next targets of Russian pressure. Among their equipment will be 87 Abrams M1A1 tanks, 20 Paladin artillery vehicles and 136 Bradley fighting vehicles. The equipment will be used by the U.S. Army's 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, arriving this month from Fort Carson, Colorado for the first of what Washington promises will be back-to-back nine-month rotations in the "foreseeable future." Beginning in February, U.S. military units will spread out across Poland, the Baltic states, Bulgaria, Romania and Germany for training, exercises and maintenance. The Army is also sending its 10th Combat Aviation Brigade with about 50 Black Hawk and 10 CH-47 Chinook helicopters and 1,800 personnel, as well as a separate aviation battalion with 400 troops and 24 Apache helicopters.

VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT NICOLAS MADURO STRONGLY REJECTS COLOMBIA-NATO COOPERATION

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA
  --   In a communiqué released this week by the Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government of Caracas voiced “deep concern” about the statements made by the Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas on December 28, 2016 regarding Colombia’s intention to relaunch talks with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to strengthen their relationship. Following the announcement made by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos relating talks with the OTAN aimed at establishing a cooperation program in the areas of information and the fight against organized crime, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro strongly rejected the initiative and urged Bogotá’s Executive Office to reconsider the decision.

      Colombia’s intention to establish an alliance with the NATO dates to June 2013, when the government signed an agreement with the military alliance. It was the first agreement of that nature between the NATO and a Latin American nation, and stipulated, among others, the development of peace and human rights missions, military justice, improvements in defense and security, and anti-drug trafficking efforts. Back in the day, the governments of Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela voiced their rejection of the alliance, as they deemed it a threat to the stability of Latin America and the Caribbean. However, the Colombian Congress backed the agreement, which was signed on June 25, 2013 by the government representation.

     The document was declared inadmissible by the Solicitor’s Office of Colombia almost two years later, in February, 2015, as it found that the purpose was not clearly defined. Later, in June 2015, the Constitutional Court of Colombia repealed the agreement, on the grounds of procedural flaws on the part of the Colombian Congress. The proposal for a new cooperation and security agreement between Colombia and the OTAN was summited to the Colombian Senate, and it was passed in the second debate on October 26, 2016. Then on Christmas Eve, President Santos announced NATO’s would relaunch talks to start the cooperation program that was suspended. Venezuela’s first reaction came on December 26 in another communiqué.

LOOTING, PROTESTS IN MEXICO OVER GAS PRICE HIKES TURN DEADLY

      MEXICO CITY, MEXICO  --
The death toll in protests and looting fueled by anger over gasoline price hikes in Mexico rose to six Friday when authorities confirmed that two men died in a confrontation between protesters and police in the central state of Hidalgo. There were four previous deaths in looting-related incidents and over the course of the week, at least 300 stores were looted and more 1,000 people were detained, officials said. The protesters in Hidalgo were blocking a highway on Thursday and confronted police who were trying to keep order, when gunfire broke out.

     Two people also were found dead near looting in the eastern port city of Veracruz. Earlier, officials said a bystander was run over and killed by a driver fleeing police in another part of Veracruz state, and a police officer was killed trying to stop robberies at a gas station in Mexico City. In the northern city of Monterrey, officials said a crowd of protesters had smashed some of the stained glass windows of the Nuevo Leon state capital building. Several reporters were hurt, and 182 people were detained. The country's business chambers said the combination of highway, port and terminal blockades and looting this week forced many stores and businesses to close and threatened supplies of basic goods and fuel. The scenes of mass lootings came as parents were trying to buy presents for the Jan. 6 Three Kings Day holiday.

     The looting and protests quieted somewhat Friday, but protesters continued to post themselves at highway toll booths with banners. Mexicans were enraged by the 20 percent fuel price hike announced over the weekend as part of a government deregulation of the energy sector. While acknowledging the anger, President Enrique Pena Nieto said Thursday he would forge ahead anyway with the deregulated price scheme, which would do away with fuel subsidies and allow gasoline prices to be determined by prevailing international prices. "I know that allowing gasoline to rise to its international price is a difficult change, but as president, my job is to precisely make difficult decisions now, in order to avoid worse consequences in the future," Pena Nieto said in a televised address. "Keeping gas prices artificially low would mean taking money away from the poorest Mexicans, and giving it to those who have the most."

January 7, 2017

DURING A PARADE PRESIDED BY RAUL CASTRO, CUBAN SPECIAL TROOPS CHANTED: "OBAMA, OBAMA, WE'LL MAKE YOU A HAT OUT OF BULLETS IN YOUR HEAD"
 
    
HAVana, cuba --  In a particularly absurd display of military might and tropical folklore, Raúl Castro presided over a military parade in Havana on Monday to honor his dead brother and mark the 58th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. But instead of railing against the Republican winner of the U.S. presidential election, who has already taunted and threatened the Cuban government with his infamous tweets, the theme was anti-Obama. Apparently everybody loves a winner, and Raúl Castro is no exception. He’s ready to ditch President Barack Obama, who opened up to Cuba like no other U.S. president before him.

     “Commander-in-Chief, command us. Command over this land. We are going to make war if imperialism comes. Obama! Obama! With what fervor we’d like to confront your clumsiness, give you a cleansing with rebels and mortar, and make you a hat out of bullets in your head.” Even by Cuba’s Kafkian standards, threatening to shoot an American president in the head is way out there. Too reprehensible for words. But the ungrateful display is even more remarkable because Obama has been nothing but a friend to Cuba, unilaterally lifting so many trade and travel restrictions that it worked to his political detriment at home.

     Cuba would not be facing a recession now had Raúl Castro been a true reformer and taken advantage of the opportunities the Obama administration offered him to diversify the economy, allowing private businesses to thrive and the Cuban people to directly benefit from the opening. If Castro had not been so easily spooked by Obama’s charisma, instead of half-empty flights to the island there would be waiting lists to fly and sail to Cuban ports. Instead of brutal repression of dissidents and independent journalists, there might be respect for basic human rights and tolerance for the political participation of all Cubans, not just those who support the Castro dynasty. Neither the White House nor the State Department would comment on the egregious military chant.

CUBA DISSIDENTS SAY ARBITRARY ARRESTS SOARED IN 2016

        HAVANA, CUBA
  --   Cuban opposition activists said Thursday that the number of arbitrary arrests of dissidents on the communist island soared to nearly 10,000 last year. "In 2016, we documented a total of 9,940 arbitrary detentions," the highest count since 2010, the Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission (CCDHRN) said in a report.

      It said incidents of dissidents being forbidden from leaving their homes to demonstrate increased in the run-up to US President Barack Obama's landmark visit to Cuba in March. The group gave no current figure for the number of dissidents currently in jail. In June 2016, it had put the figure at 82. The government in the one-party state denies holding any political prisoners. Cuba's longtime revolutionary leader Fidel Castro died on November 26 at age 90.

     He was hailed by supporters across the world as a hero who stood up for the poor. But many branded him a dictator who tolerated no dissent. He handed the reins of power in 2006 to his brother Raul, who became full president in 2008. The CCDHRN, led by dissident activist Elizardo Sanchez, is illegal like all opposition groups in Cuba, but is currently tolerated in practice by the government. Human rights group Amnesty International has listed Cuban graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado as a prisoner of conscience. He was arrested on November 26 for writing messages on public walls about the ex-leader's death.

FORMER HAITI COUP LEADER GUY PHILIPPE ARRESTED AND SENT TO THE USA

      PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI --
Former Haiti coup leader Guy Philippe, who has been wanted for more than a decade on drug charges in the United States, was arrested Thursday in Haiti and federal agents were bringing him to Miami. Philippe, 48, was arrested after he left a Haitian radio station, local media reported. Police fired several shots during the 10 minutes it took to take him into custody outside Scoop FM in Petionville. Late Thursday, he was transferred to the custody of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents.

     The ex-rebel leader, charged with drug trafficking by the DEA under a 2005 sealed indictment, had just been elected to a six-year term in the Haitian parliament as a senator from the Grand’Anse area of Haiti. Earlier in the day, before the radio interview, he had picked up his legislative certificate. The arrest came four days before newly elected lawmakers are set to be sworn in. As a senator, Philippe would have been entitled to immunity from arrest or prosecution during his term in office. A Miami defense attorney who has been representing Philippe confirmed that he was being held by the Haitian National Police. “I have been informed that he’s in custody,” attorney Richard Dansoh told the Herald. “It appears the arrest is legitimate.”

     He added that Philippe “has some real defenses,” possibly including sovereign immunity from prosecution. Philippe has long proven elusive to both Haitian and U.S. authorities. Several attempts to arrest him over the years have failed, including a recent effort by Haiti National Police after he was accused of involvement in an attack on the police headquarters in the southern Haitian city of Les Cayes. At least six people were killed in the attack. An arrest warrant was issued for him after the attack. And he has remained wanted in the United States for more than a decade on a Nov. 22, 2005, indictment charging him with conspiring to import cocaine into the U.S. and money laundering while he was a police official, according to law enforcement officials and others familiar with the case.

January 6, 2017

VENEZUELA'S NICOLAS MADURO NAMES NEW VICE PRESIDENT ARAGUA STATE GOV. TARECK EL AISSAMI, ACCUSED OF NARCO-TRAFFICKING
 
    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- Embattled socialist President Nicolas Maduro reshuffled his Cabinet on Wednesday and named a hard-line former interior minister ACCUSED OF NARCO TRAFFICKING as Venezuela's vice president. The No. 2 job being taken over by Aragua state Gov. Tareck El Aissami is an appointed position, and Maduro has swapped it out in the past. But the vice presidency holds extra significance this year as the opposition has vowed to force Maduro from office. That could lead to his vice president serving the rest of his term, which ends in 2019.

     The 42-year-old El Aissami is a rising star in the socialist party who got his start in the National Assembly and later as interior minister was in charge of public security. Maduro said that will again be his focus as vice president. "The top priorities will be the fight against criminals, the fight to clean up the national and regional police force, and the fight against the terrorists in the extreme right wing," Maduro said. Critics of the socialist administration denounced the appointment and said Maduro was putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. The opposition has accused El Aissami of participating in the drug trade and calls him "the narco of Aragua." El Aissami has called those who speak ill of him traitors who seek to harm Venezuela. El Aissami is one of several senior Venezuelan officials being investigated by U.S. prosecutors for possible involvement in drug trafficking, according to two people familiar with the investigations.

    They agreed to reveal that information only if not quoted by name because they weren't supposed to discuss the case. Maduro also appointed a number of ministers in what he called a "renewal" of his Cabinet. He named economist Ramon Lobo head of the ministry of economy and finance and Nelson Martinez as oil minister. The president's approval ratings have sagged below 20 percent as Venezuelans blame him for severe food shortages, the world's highest inflation and pervasive crime that has major cities under informal curfew. Outgoing Vice President Aristobulo Isturiz had initially been seen as a relative moderate, someone who might be able to build bridges between the opposition and the government. But the past year has seen both sides dig in deeper and pledge to destroy their political opponents.

NEW VENEZUELAN NATIONAL ASSEMBLY INSTALLED;  PRESIDENT JULIO BORGES REPLACES RAMOS ALLUP

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA
  - Venezuela's opposition, still smarting from its failure to remove President Nicolas Maduro last year, installed a new congress head on Thursday who demanded across-the-board elections and sought military help to end "dictatorship". In a renewal of Venezuela's bitter politics after the holiday lull, the ruling Socialist Party responded that the National Assembly was in contempt of the law. Maduro forecast its imminent "self-dissolution." The opposition coalition won control of the Assembly at the end of 2015 thanks to voter ire at Venezuela's unrelenting economic crisis. But authorities blocked their attempt to oust Maduro via a plebiscite last year.

     That has split the opposition between hardliners who believe civil disobedience is the only way to dislodge Hugo Chavez's unpopular successor, and moderates who fear that could spark bloodshed and backfire in the OPEC member nation with the world's largest oil reserves. Julio Borges, a veteran politician and lawyer, tore into the president as he took the post of assembly president. But he backed the moderates' push for solutions at the ballot box given what he deemed Maduro's "abandonment" of responsibilities. "With the greatest oil riches in the world, Venezuela's people seek food in rubbish ... the elderly faint in lines to seek food and medicines. It's as if we are victims of a curse," he said in an inauguration speech.

     "What to do faced with a government gone from authoritarianism to dictatorship? ... Fight, fearlessly and in every space, to save the constitution, Venezuela and the right to vote," Borges added, calling for fresh elections for mayors, governors, president and legislators. Given opponents' failure to hold a referendum in 2016 after government-leaning courts ruled a signature drive was fraudulent, it was unclear how they plan to force Maduro's hand. Mayoral and governorship elections are due anyway this year, but Maduro has said repeatedly he will not cut short his presidential term ending in January 2019. Borges, 47, who was hit in the face by a pipe-wielding government supporter last year and beaten up in congress in 2013, urged the armed forces to support new polls. "Turning a blind eye to tyranny is to deny history and your raison' d'etre," he said. "Do you want to be the proud heirs of Simon Bolivar's liberating army, or be remembered as the guardians of Nicolas Maduro?"

CATHOLIC PRIESTS IN VENEZUELA REPORTEDLY INSTRUCTED TO GIVE ANTI MADURO HOMILY

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
 On New Year’s Day, priests across Venezuela reportedly were instructed by Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, the archbishop of Caracas, to read a read a text during the homily encouraging parishioners to take a stand for democracy and not be intimidated by the socialist rule of Nicolas Maduro. Spanish newspaper ABC reported that the Vatican itself is encouraging the Catholic Church’s involvement in Venezuela’s acute financial and humanitarian crisis. The text of the homily was sent by the Vatican, according to the paper.

    The priests have been instructed that in the masses they deny the Chavista propaganda that attributes to an alleged "economic war" the shortage and shortage of basic products that Venezuela suffers. The homily of Cardinal Urosa refers to a "real situation of dictatorship", when in the legislatures of December 6, 2015, Venezuelans voted "not to agree with the current Government". For this reason, the archbishop of Caracas urges them "not to be intimidated" and "to put all their efforts and action to stop the march of the dictatorship and to eradicate it through the democratic path, in peaceful peace, by the peaceful way." The Church took a more active role in Venezuela’s politics in October, after the government blocked the opposition’s call for a referendum to recall Maduro.

    In last Sunday’s homily, priests across the country referred to a "real dictatorship situation” and urged Venezuelans "to put all their efforts into stopping the advance of the dictatorship and to eradicate it in a democratic way.” The extreme shortage of food and medicines, the text read, is caused by “an erroneous economic system, a socialist totalitarianism that gives government a total control of the economy." In Venezuela there are still 126 political prisoners, including Leopoldo López, founder of Voluntad Popular, and the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma. According to the Venezuelan Penal Forum, the Maduro regime imprisoned 56 dissidents in 2016 and released only 40. Vatican-sponsored talks between the two sides stalled last month after the opposition said they would not attend any further meetings unless more concessions were made by the government.

January 5, 2017

VENEZUELA'S INTERNATIONAL RESERVES HIT 21-YEAR END LOW
 
    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- Venezuela’s international reserves closed 2016 at $10.97 billion, the lowest year end close since at least 1995, reflecting the poor economic policies in 18 years of uninterrupted chavista government. Debt service of over $10 billion a year on a $125 billion foreign debt is what’s pushing the reserves down, Venezuelan economists say. “Basically, the government is burning through international reserves to pay for the debt,” tweeted economist Jesus Casique Thursday morning. Diminishing reserves, increasing foreign debt and liquidity have been concurrent, continuing and worrying trends during the 18 years of chavismo.

    Liquidity increased more than nine times between 2014 to 2016, from Bs1 trillion to almost Bs10 trillion. So, with rising liquidity due to high public spending, and low reserves, caused by service on very high debt, Venezuelans have less U.S. dollars backing more and more Bolivars. Venezuela started 2016 with reserves at $16.32 billion. That’s more than $5 billion gone in the past year, the majority of it from the sale of the gold (the same gold which Chavez made a big fuss about bringing back to Venezuela in 2011 and then had to be exported back to Switzerland). Venezuela started 2016 with $10.04 billion in gold. As of November, Venezuela reports that it had just $7.7 billion in gold left, and that is even with a year of rising gold prices.

     Venezuela's reserves are now down $31.25 billion from the high they reached at the close of 2008 of $42.226 billion during record high oil prices. Some, however, took it in stride: “Thank you, chavistas, for not stealing it all!”, tweeted political satirist @El PoliTwico, a local influencer. Venezuela's reserves did hit a low of $9.289 in March of 2002 as PDVSA and the population went on strike against the Chavez government and Chavez burned through the reserves to maintain power. By the end of 2002, however, the reserves were at $12.005 billion -- still above where they closed this past year. Analysts and journalists that do not keep a copy of Central Bank reserve data, however, are in for a nasty surprise when they visit the bank’s website: most historic data, available until just a few days ago, is gone (although the Latin American Herald Tribune and predecessor The Daily Journal maintain our own database).

RUSSIA DESTROYER IN PHILIPPINES AFTER PRESIDENT DUTERTE BREAKS OFF FROM U.S.

        MANILA, PHILIPPINES
  - A navy warship of Russia’s Pacific Fleet docked Tuesday in Manila for an unusual “goodwill” visit to mark the Philippines’ rapprochement with Russia and China, and estrangement from the United States. The Admiral Tributs, a 7,480 ton Udaloy-class anti-submarine destroyer will remain in Filipino waters until Saturday and participate in several joint naval drills, the Filipino navy said in a statement.

     The Russian warship’s visit – the third ever in history and the first in four years – seeks to promote goodwill and cement ties between Manila and Moscow, and improve maritime cooperation through naval diplomacy, said the statement. The move has confirmed a shift in the Philippines’ defense and foreign policy after the election of Rodrigo Duterte as the president in June 2016, who had promised to do away with the traditional military alliance with the U.S. Duterte, 71, has threatened to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement, in force since 1999, that permits, among other things, the use of Filipino bases by U.S. troops and regular joint military drills.

     The estrangement between Duterte and Obama comes after the U.S. severely criticized an ongoing anti-drugs movement in the Philippines that has over the past six months claimed more than 6,100 lives of alleged drug traffickers and addicts. Manila has also been working towards developing better defense ties with Beijing – with whom it is also embroiled in territorial disputes in the South China Sea – and Moscow. Duterte, who strongly criticized the U.S. and the West during his first bilateral meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin in Peru in November 2016, is set to visit Moscow later this year on Putin’s invitation.

NEARLY TWO DOZEN CUBAN MIGRANTS CELEBRATE NEW YEAR WITH FLORIDA KEYS LANDING

      MIAMI, FLORIDA  --
 They came ashore just east of Key Largo, first known rafters to reach the U.S. this year. A surge is underway, apparently, out fear that the U.S. will end the Cuban Adjustment Act. Twenty-two Cuban migrants landed in the Florida Keys on Friday, the first known island rafters to reach the United States in the new year. The landing, first reported by WPLG-ABC 10, raised to more than 100 the number of Cuban migrants who reached South Florida in the last two weeks. Rafters who have been interviewed recently in Miami have told el Nuevo Herald that an increasing number of Cuban migrants are leaving the island because they fear that the Cuban Adjustment Act is going to be abolished.

     Under the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, a result of the Cuban Adjustment Act, Cuban migrants who arrive on U.S. soil are allowed to stay while those intercepted at sea are generally returned home. Speculation has been growing about the possible end of the Cuban Adjustment Act since President Barack Obama in December 2014 ordered the restoration of U.S. relations with Cuba. The Border Patrol confirmed Friday’s Cuban migrant arrival in the Florida Keys, but gave no other details. However, figures from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) show an increase in the number of Cuban migrants without visas showing up along the U.S.-Mexican border and at international airports.

     Almost 41,000 Cuban migrants arrived at the border, South Florida beaches and international airport between Oct. 1, 2014 and Sept. 30, 2015. It was the largest number of Cuban migrants arriving in the United States in one year over the last decade. In its report, Local 10 News said CBP officers took the 22 Cuban migrants into custody after they came ashore at about 10 a.m., three miles south of Rodriguez Key, just east of Key Largo. The TV report quoted a witness as saying she spotted seven of the men climbing through the bushes, then gave them water and Gatorade. She added that the men told her they had spent three days without food or water on their small boat. The Border Patrol said by email Friday that the men were being held at their Marathon station pending their release.

January 4, 2017

NORTH KOREA ACCUSED OF 'MANIACAL RECKLESSNESS' AFTER MOST POWERFUL NUCLEAR TEST YET
 
    
PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA -- North Korea says it now has the power to mount a nuclear warhead on ballistic missiles that could be aimed at its enemies after conducting its biggest nuclear test yet, an explosion compared to the Hiroshima blast. The test, the country's fifth, was condemned by South Korea as "maniacal recklessness" and prompted the US to warn of "serious consequences." The test took place at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, in the north-east of the country, at around 9:30am as North Korea marked the 68th anniversary of the founding of the regime. Seismic monitors detected the blast immediately, recording it as a magnitude-five earthquake.
 

    "The blast is believed to have been about 10 kilotons, the most powerful by the North so far", officials of the Defence Ministry in South Korea told Yonhap News. North Korean state media confirmed that it had carried out a nuclear test later in the day, with the Korea Central News Agency claiming the test "finally examined and confirmed the structure and specific features of movement of [a] nuclear warhead that has been standardised to be able to be mounted on strategic ballistic rockets. "The standardisation of the nuclear warhead will enable the DPRK to produce at will and as many as it wants a variety of smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear warheads of higher strike power", KCNA added. "This has definitely put on a higher level the DPRK's technology of mounting nuclear warheads on ballistic rockets".
 

    International condemnation of the test was swift, with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, in Laos after a summit of Asian leaders, saying Kim was showing "maniacal recklessness" in completely ignoring the world's call to abandon his pursuit of nuclear weapons. Hwang Kyo-ahn, the South Korea prime minister, called an emergency meeting of the National Security Council. "The nuclear test conducted by the North is a violent action against the international goal of denuclearisation", he said. "Along with the international community, the government strongly condemns North Korea's grave provocation", added Mr Hwang, who chaired the meeting in the place of Ms Park. US President Barack Obama said any provocative actions by North Korea would have "serious consequences" .

SOUTH KOREA: DONALD TRUMP AWARE OF 'URGENCY' OF NORTH KOREA NUCLEAR THREAT

       
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA  --   U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's "clear warning" to North Korea shows he is aware of the urgency of the threat posed by its nuclear program and will not waver from a policy of sanctions against the isolated country, South Korea said on Tuesday. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said on Sunday his nuclear-capable country was close to test-launching an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), raising the prospect of putting parts of the United States in range. Trump dismissed the claim, saying on Twitter: "It won't happen." South Korea's foreign ministry said Trump's comment, his first mention of the North Korean nuclear issue since the U.S. election in November, could be interpreted as a "clear warning" to the North.
 

    "Because of our active outreach, President-elect Trump and U.S. officials are clearly aware of the gravity and urgency of the North Korean nuclear threat," ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck told a briefing. "They are maintaining an unwavering stance on the need for sanctions on North Korea and for close cooperation between South Korea and the U.S.". Trump has not outlined a policy on North Korea but during the U.S. election campaign indicated he would be willing to talk its leader, Kim, given the opportunity. He has also been critical of China over the issue. On Monday, Trump said China had benefited from its economic ties with the United States but would not use its influence to help control North Korea.

     Responding to the comment, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China had been pushing for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. "China's efforts in this regard are perfectly obvious," Geng told a news briefing. "As a permanent member of the UN Security Council we have proactively participated in relevant discussions on the North Korean nuclear issue and have jointly passed several resolutions with other parties. "This shows China's responsible attitude". The United States has for years dismissed North Korean calls for talks, insisting it must disarm first. Instead, the United States and ally South Korea have responded to two North Korean nuclear tests and various missile tests last year with ever-more severe sanctions.

MYSTERIOUSLY, VENEZUELA SELLS $5 BILLION IN BONDS TO ITSELF

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --
  The embattled government of Nicolas Maduro sold $5 billion in new debt bonds to itself via a Chinese bank without the mandatory approval of the Venezuelan National Assembly, according to an opposition lawmaker and a financial website Monday. “On December 29th the government of Maduro contracted in an illegal manner a loan with a Chinese bank for $5 billion,” lawmaker Jose Guerra tweeted Monday. Guerra also provided a link to Cbonds, a website that offers financial information. The post in Cbonds reads: “New bond issue: Venezuela has issued international bonds for USD 5 billion maturing in 2036 with a 6.5% coupon.”

     While this is the first bond deal for Haitong or any Chinese bank in Venezuela, analysts suggest that the relationship actually came about because of Espirito Santo, not China. The bonds, which have a 6.5% coupon and a 20 year maturity, have a number of features that concerned Dallen and other analysts. "First, they are apparently 'Physical Delivery'," says Dallen. "That means that these bonds are essentially bearer bonds that must be physically delivered to be paid and theoretically with coupons clipped and presented to receive interest." Bearer bonds and physical delivery have become very scarce in the last 40 years as most bonds are never physically issued anymore and exist only in the computerized records of brokers and custodians like Euroclear, Clearstream and DTC.

     "Most developed nations have done away with them," says Dallen. "But they are a favorite of drug dealers, money launderers and others who seek anonymity as well as a way to move large amounts of cash internationally in just a briefcase." "A backpack full of bolivar bills may be just enough for lunch in Venezuela, but now you can move $5 billion in a briefcase," points out Dallen. Two nephews of the President were recently convicted in New York of a multi-million dollar conspiracy to ship cocaine to the U.S.A. and many of the leading Chavez officials are wanted on drug trafficking or are already listed on the U.S. Treasury Department's OFAC list as "drug kingpins."

January 3, 2017

VENEZUELA'S CATHOLIC CHURCH SAYS POLITICAL CRISIS IS 'REAL SITUATION OF DICTATORSHIP'
 
    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- The Catholic Church leadership in Caracas, Venezuela, said the ruling government's failure to recognize the opposition-controlled National Assembly represents "a real situation of dictatorship." In a joint statement with other church officials, Archbishop of Caracas Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino said that President Nicolas Maduro and Venezuelan institutions' continued policy of declaring void the National Assembly disrespects elections carried out in December 2015 in which the opposition gained a majority of the unicameral legislature. "Failure to respect the Assembly constitutes a real situation of dictatorship for ignoring the popular will expressed in December of 2015 ... [when] the people indicated mostly not to agree with the current government," Savino and other church officials said in the statement that will be read aloud during mass on Jan. 1, the Catholic Church's World Day of Peace.

     The National Assembly was effectively stripped of power after the opposition gained control. The Supreme Tribunal of Justice, or TSJ, -- Venezuela's highest court -- late last year ruled the parliament void until three suspended opposition members were removed from parliament amid an investigation into electoral fraud. The removal of the three members would remove the opposition's two-thirds qualified majority, also known as supermajority. Despite the opposition yielding by allowing the suspended members to resign from their posts in November, the National Assembly is still not recognized by the TSJ, which alleges the parliament is in contempt because it oversteps its authority.

     Earlier this month, in a constitutional sidestep, the TSJ swore in new National Electoral Council, or CNE, which is supposed to be the responsibility of parliament. Throughout the year, the TSJ ruled unconstitutional or ruled void numerous bills that passed in the parliament, including one granting amnesty to political prisoners. Church leadership said the topic of political prisoners is one of the most urgent issues needed to be resolved in 2017. "We call for the release of prisoners for acts connected with political activities," the church leaders said. "Both the judiciary and the government have legal and constitutional instruments to immediately release the majority of those citizens, more than 100, who suffer unjust imprisonment."

PHILIPPINES PRESIDENT DUTERTE SEEKS 'STRATEGIC SHIFT' FROM US TO CHINA

       
MANILA, PHILIPPINES  --   The Philippines is tilting away from its traditional ally the United States towards China in a bid to "normalise" relations following a longstanding territorial dispute, the country's incoming ambassador to Beijing said Monday. Manila has been one of Washington's most loyal allies in Asia, but Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to end the decades-long alliance after the US criticised his bloody war on drugs that has killed over 5,000 people since he took office in June.

     His fiery rhetoric against the US has been followed by overtures to China as he has sought to assuage Beijing's concerns over Manila's competing claims to the South China Sea. The new Philippine ambassador to China, Jose "Chito" Sta. Romana, told AFP the move represented "a strategic shift in our foreign policy". "We were one-sidedly imbalanced in favour of the US," he said. "We are not abandoning our alliance with the US.... We are basically trying to normalise our relations with China." Beijing claims most of the South China Sea despite competing claims from the Philippines and other Asian countries, but a UN-backed tribunal ruled in July that China's claims had no legal basis in a resounding victory for Manila.

     Duterte's decision to set aside the territorial conflict in exchange for Chinese investment and aid has given Beijing a boost in its quest for more control over the strategically vital waters. The incoming envoy, a former Beijing-based journalist, said Manila was open to working with China to access resources in the disputed region. "The Chinese viewed the Philippines as a geopolitical pawn or Trojan horse of the US. Now they look at us as a friendly neighbour." He added that relations with the US plunged after Washington criticised Duterte's crackdown on crime. "The problem came after they began lecturing him. The president considers it an internal affair," he said.

JUDGE INDICTS FORMER ARGENTINE PRESIDENT IN CORRUPTION CASE

      BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA  --
  Former Argentine President Cristina Fernandez was indicted Tuesday in a corruption case involving public works. Federal Judge Julian Ercolini approved charges of illicit association and fraudulent administration against Fernandez, and two former aides: ex-Planning Minister Julio de Vido and former Public Works Secretary Jose Lopez. Also named was businessman Lazaro Baez, whose Austral Construcciones company allegedly benefited from irregular contracts.

     The judge's order froze the equivalent of up to $633 million of each defendant's assets, though it was not clear they have that much. The ruling published by official Center of Judicial Information said the defendants are accused of associating to illegally take public fund meant for public works between May 2003 and December 2015, largely in the southern province of Santa Cruz. The judge said 52 contracts worth about $2.9 billion were assigned to Baez's companies at prices that averaged 15 percent above the original budget. Fernandez's late husband Nestor Kirchner was president from 2003 until 2007.

     Fernandez made no immediate comment on the charge, but she has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and invited an audit of public works contracts during her administration. Her attorney, Gregorio Dalbon, said on his Twitter account that he was not worried about the indictment and said he would appeal. Illicit association carries a possible 10 year prison sentence, while fraudulent administration can lead to six years behind bars. Since leaving office in December 2015, Fernandez has alleged that she is the victim of persecution by her conservative successor, Mauricio Macri. In May, a judge indicted Fernandez on charges of manipulating currency exchange futures markets, allegedly causing economic damage to the government.

January 2, 2017

REBUFFING ISRAEL, U.S. ALLOWS CENSURE OVER SETTLEMENTS
 
    
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- After the United States chose to abstain from the vote, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution demanding that Israel end settlement construction in occupied Palestinian territory. Applause erupted in the room after the draft resolution was passed. Defying extraordinary pressure from President-elect Donald J. Trump and furious lobbying by Israel, the Obama administration on Friday allowed the United Nations Security Council to adopt a resolution that condemned Israeli settlement construction. The administration’s decision not to veto the measure reflected its accumulated frustration over Israeli settlements. The American abstention on the vote also broke a longstanding policy of shielding Israel from action at the United Nations that described the settlements as illegal.

     While the resolution is not expected to have any practical impact on the ground, it is regarded as a major rebuff to Israel, one that could increase its isolation over the paralyzed peace process with Israel’s Palestinian neighbors, who have sought to establish their own state on territory held by Israel. Applause broke out in the 15-member Security Council’s chambers after the vote on the measure, which passed 14 to 0, with the United States ambassador, Samantha Power, raising her hand as the lone abstention. Israel’s ambassador, Danny Danon, denounced the measure, and castigated the council members who had approved it. Mr. Netanyahu immediately retaliated against two of the countries that sponsored the resolution. He ordered Israel’s ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal to return home for consultations, canceled a planned visit to Israel next month by Senegal’s foreign minister and cut off all aid programs to Senegal.

     The vote came a day after Mr. Trump personally intervened to keep the measure, which had been originally proposed by Egypt, from coming up for a vote on Thursday, as scheduled. Mr. Trump’s aides said he had spoken to Mr. Netanyahu. Both men also spoke to the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Egypt postponed the vote under what that country’s United Nations ambassador called intense pressure. But in a show of mounting exasperation, four other countries on the Security Council — Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela — all of them relatively powerless temporary members with rotating two-year seats, snatched the resolution away from Egypt and put it up for a vote Friday.

ISRAEL PRIME MINISTER SUMMONS US AMBASSADOR TO PROTEST UN VOTE

       
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL  --    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoned the American ambassador Sunday to protest the Obama administration’s role in allowing an anti-settlement resolution to pass the U.N. Security Council, as his government accused the U.S. of helping orchestrate the vote. According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. ambassador Daniel Shapiro was called to the prime minister’s office where he was told the resolution would not help the peace process. “Acts such as these hinder peace and [do] not promote it. That was the message,” an Israeli official told the Journal. The U.S. abstained in Friday’s vote, allowing the council to approve it. The Israeli foreign ministry reportedly also summoned diplomats from 10 of the 14 countries that backed the resolution.

    The mounting tensions over Friday’s proceedings have sent already-frosty ties between the Obama and Netanyahu governments to their lowest level yet. The rare summoning of the American ambassador was only the latest flare-up. On Sunday, Israel’s government also accused the U.S. of pulling the strings in last week’s dramatic developments. “We have rather ironclad information from sources in both the Arab world and internationally that this was a deliberate push by the United States and in fact they helped create the resolution in the first place,” Netanyahu spokesman David Keyes said on Fox News’ “America’s News HQ.”

    Netanyahu made similar claims during a meeting with cabinet ministers. White House spokesman Eric Schultz, though, issued a statement Sunday defending President Obama's support for Israel and stressing that the U.S. did not draft the resolution. “The US did not draft this resolution nor did the US introduce this resolution,” he said. “The Egyptians, in partnership with the Palestinians, are the ones who began circulating an earlier draft of the resolution. The Egyptians are the ones who moved it forward on Friday. And we took the position that we did when it was put to a vote." The White House already has acknowledged Obama made the decision for U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power to abstain. Unclear was how involved the Obama administration was in crafting and pushing the resolution itself – which initially was put forward by Egypt, and then pursued as well by New Zealand, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela.

PRESIDENT OBAMA TO DISMANTLE VISITOR REGISTRY BEFORE DONALD TRUMP CAN REVIVE IT
      WASHINGTON, D.C. --
 The Obama administration is dismantling a dormant national registry program for visitors from countries with active terrorist groups — a program that President-elect Donald J. Trump has suggested he is considering resurrecting. The registry, created after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has not been in use since 2011, so the move is largely symbolic and appeared to be aimed at distancing the departing administration from any effort by the new president to revive the program, known as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or Nseers.

    Asked on Wednesday, in the aftermath of the Berlin attack, whether he still intended to set up a registry for Muslims and impose a temporary ban on Muslim immigrants, Mr. Trump said in Florida, “You know my plans.” Hours later, a spokesman said Mr. Trump was not reaffirming his earlier calls for a ban on immigration from Muslim countries but was referring to his more recent clarification that he would bar people from countries with a history of Islamist extremism. The move by the White House to formally end the registry is among the actions being taken in the final weeks of the administration that could prevent, or at least slow, what Democrats fear may be a swift rollback of President Obama’s efforts on immigration and climate change.

    Among the Republican proponents of the registry program is Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and a member of Mr. Trump’s transition team. Mr. Kobach, an anti-immigration hard-liner, helped to devise the program while at the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration. Last month, before a meeting with Mr. Trump, Mr. Kobach was photographed with a document of first-year proposals that included, under the rubric “Bar the Entry of Potential Terrorists,” a proposal to reintroduce the registry program. That information, as well as Mr. Trump’s comments on the campaign trail, prompted Democratic lawmakers, mayors from cities with large foreign-born populations and some business leaders in Silicon Valley to call on Mr. Obama to undo the legal framework that undergirds the program.

January 1st., 2017  

US EXPELS 35 RUSSIAN DIPLOMATS, CLOSE 2 COMPOUNDS
 
    
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Thirty-five Russian diplomats have been expelled from the US, according to a statement from State Department. President Obama described those expelled as “intelligence operatives,” also announcing the closure of two Russian compounds, in New York and Maryland. The Russian diplomats would be given 72 hours to leave US soil. They are expelled for acting in a "manner inconsistent with their diplomatic status," the statement reads. The Russian staff will also be denied access to the New York and Maryland compound as of noon on Friday, the source added.

     This is part of the measures introduced “in response to the Russian government’s aggressive harassment of US officials and cyber operations aimed at the US election,” Obama said in his statement, calling the measures “a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm US interests in violation of established international norms of behavior.” “All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” the president stressed, again blaming Moscow for orchestrating hacking attacks. “These data theft and disclosure activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government,” he said.

     “Moreover, our diplomats have experienced an unacceptable level of harassment in Moscow by Russian security services and police over the last year,” Obama added. According to the US leader, nine Russian entities, including the GRU (Russian Military Intelligence) and the FSB (Federal Security Service), were sanctioned. Four individual GRU officers of the GRU and three companies that “provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations” were also among the blacklisted. Obama said that that the newly announced measures weren’t “the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities.” “We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized,” Obama said.
 

NETANYAHU SLAMS JOHN KERRY'S SPEECH DEFENDING UN VOTE AS 'UNBALANCED'

       
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL  --   Israel fired back at Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasting Kerry’s lengthy televised rebuke of the Middle Eastern democracy. Netanyahu, speaking in Jerusalem just over an hour after Kerry’s speech had ended, said Kerry's rhetoric was "as unbalanced as the anti-Israel resolution passed [at the United Nations] last week." "Secretary Kerry paid lip service to the unrelenting campaign of terror that has been waged by the Palestinians against the Jewish State," he said, later adding: "Israelis do not need to be lectured about the importance of peace by foreign leaders." Israeli officials have said since the Security Council resolution was passed on

     Friday that the U.S. played a covert role in developing the proposal -- charges the U.S. has denied. Israel's government was enraged after the U.S. abstained from voting on the resolution, which called Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem a violation of international law. But Netanyahu on Wednesday made the firmest -- and most-high ranking -- accusation that America secretly worked toward advancing the resolution. "We have it on absolutely incontestable evidence the U.S. organized, advanced and brought this resolution to the Security Council," said Netanyahu, who promised to share the "sensitive" intelligence with the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump.

     Trump tweeted his support for Israel before Kerry even spoke, and Netanyahu quickly returned the goodwill on Twitter: "President-elect Trump, thank you for your warm friendship and your clear-cut support for Israel!" During his remarks, Netanyahu again looked past the Obama administration and addressed Trump. "Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump and with the American Congress – Democrats and Republicans alike – to mitigate the damage this resolution has done and ultimately repeal it," he said. Netanyahu said that while he sought peace, his Palestinian counterpart, President Mahmoud Abbas, has walked away from peace offers "time and time again."

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT VOICES SUPPORT FOR VENEZUELAN CONGRESS

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
 The legislative branch of the European Union expects the Venezuelan Congress to resume its functions and “relevant role in the balance of powers needed in any democracy.” The European Parliament on Thursday voiced hope that the new board of the opposition-controlled National Assembly (AN) in Venezuela, headed by lawmaker Julio Borges, may point the country’s re-institutionalization in the right direction.

     In a communiqué, the parliament said they expect the Venezuelan Legislature to resume its functions and “relevant role in the balance of powers needed for a democracy.” The European Parliament praised the beginning of the second legislative term of the National Assembly and expressed concern about the reality currently afflicting the Caribbean country; “We know that the solution to the crisis in Venezuela involves, necessarily, a political change, and the National Assembly has to play a decisive role face to the people’s outcry for the resumption of democracy,” private radio station Unión Radio quoted.

    In that regard, the legislative body of the European Union claimed its members follow closely what has been going on lately in Venezuela. They stressed they are “shocked and shaken by the unwise (government) economic measures and their tragic consequences, which intensify the people’s suffering and the persistent humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.”


 

 

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