Latest News
of JULY 2016

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July 31, 2016

U.S. WORRIED ABOUT HUNGER-STRIKING CUBAN DISSIDENTS

  WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The United States is concerned about the physical well-being of hunger-striking activists in Cuba and is closely watching their situation, the U.S. State Department said on Friday. 

     "We stand in solidarity with those who advocate for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly," State Department spokesman John Kirby told a briefing. "We have raised our concerns directly with the Cuban government, both in Washington and Havana," he added.

    Kirby said Washington was particularly concerned about the health of dissidents Carlos Amel Oliva, who leads the youth wing of a Cuban dissident group, and Guillermo Farinas. Farinas began a hunger strike earlier this month calling, for Raul Castro's government to end torture and human rights abuses. He was taken to Arnaldo Milian Castro Hospital in the city of Santa Clara on Thursday after becoming extremely weak and fainting eight days into the strike, The Miami Herald reported. Farinas and about 20 other rights activists are on hunger-strike in Cuba.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT! VENEZUELA INFORMS THE MEMBERS OF MERCOSUR THAT IT HAS ASSUMED PRESIDENCY PRO TEMPORE WITH THE BACKING OF URUGUAY
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA. --
Venezuela has informed the rest of the Mercosur countries that it has assumed the Presidency pro tempore of the regional organization, once Uruguay announced that it ends its term, according to a letter sent by the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry to their counterparts. "We are very happy to announce that effective today, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela will begin exercising the Presidency Pro Tempore of Mercosur, based on Article 12 of the Asuncion Treaty and Article 5 of the Ouro Preto Protocol—it has completed its pro tempore presidency of Mercosur," the statement read.

    The letter, sent by the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry to the ministries of Foreign Affairs of the Member countries of the Organization, stresses that the articles mentioned are the only instruments that govern the creation and continuity of the Presidency Pro Tempore" of Mercosur. Venezuela also notes that during the exercise of the Presidency, it "will make every effort to ensure the legality, institutionalism, legitimacy and performance of this important South American integration block, under a deeply unionist vocation".

     Venezuela made this announcement despite the fact that some members of the block, such as Paraguay and Brazil, argue that the Caribbean country is unfit to exercise the Presidency of the Mercosur since it doesn’t have the political and economic conditions to fulfill the position. Both countries also insisted that Venezuela should clarify the situation of human rights in the country. Rodolfo Nin Novoa, Uruguay's Foreign Minister announced he had notified other foreign ministers of the member states, as well as presented a report on the activities during their period ahead of the bloc. The Ministry also stated that it has respected the institutional regulations of Mercosur, international law and the sovereignty of states.

CHAVISTS DEMAND THE TSJ DECLARE ILLEGAL ANY ACT OR DECISION OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
      

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA  ---
A commission of Chavista lawmakers asked the Venezuelan Supreme Court of Justice, or TSJ, to declare illegal any act or decision of its legislature, the National Assembly, for having sworn in three indigenous opposition legislators who had been suspended for alleged electoral fraud. “We have introduced into both the Electoral Chamber and the Constitutional Chamber the request that yesterday’s measures or any measures taken by an illegally constituted National Assembly be declared illegal,” Chavista legislator Hector Rodriguez told reporters.

     The head of ruling party legislators also said they are requesting an evaluation of “the responsibilities” of the speaker of the legislature, opposition lawmaker Henry Ramos Allup, “for these illegal acts,” in reference to Thursday’s session when the three indigenous lawmakers were sworn in. Rodriguez believes that what the speaker did on Thursday by admitting three suspended opposition legislators was “contempt for the constitution” because, he said, the legislators sworn in had committed the crime of committing “fraud” in the legislative elections.

    “It is a notorious, publicly known fact that in the Dec. 6 elections in Amazonas state, electoral crimes were committed, as we have repeatedly shown,” Rodriguez said. The three indigenous opposition lawmakers suspended by the TSJ – Julio Ygarza, Nirma Guarulla and Romel Guzamana – rejoined the National Assembly on Thursday despite being barred from doing so, which could lead to the entire legislature being declared in contempt of the high court. The suspension of elected lawmakers representing Indians in the southern part of the country – three opposition members and one Chavista – was ordered in late December by the Electoral Chamber of the TSJ as a precautionary measure while the alleged irregularities in the election were being investigated.

July 30, 2016

U.S. URGES VENEZUELA TO ALLOW RECALL VOTE "IMMEDIATELY"

  WASHINGTON, D.C. -- John Kirby, the spokesman of the US Department of State, said his country is concerned about the unnecessary delays of a recall vote to cut the mandate of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro

     The United States on Thursday deplored the “unnecessary delays” of a recall vote against the mandate of President Nicolás Maduro and urged the Venezuelan government to pave the way “promptly” for the process to move forward, in a way to mirror “the will of the Venezuelan people.” “The US continues to be concerned about the unnecessary delays of the recall vote in Venezuela,” spokesman of the US Department of State John Kirby told Efe.

     "We urge the Venezuelan government to respect its own constitutional mechanisms and promptly allow this process to go forward without delay, in accordance with the will of the Venezuelan people,” Kirby added. He recalled that “the Constitution guarantees Venezuelans the right for their voices to be listened to through a recall vote.” US reactions came one day after Deputy and leader of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Diosdado Cabello, claimed he would do everything within his constitutional possibilities to prevent the recall vote from taking place this year.

CUBAN DISSIDENT GUILLERMO FARIÑAS HOSPITALIZED AFTER EIGHT DAYS ON HUNGER STRIKE
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA. --
Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas, leader of the Antitotalitario Front (Fantu), was taken Thursday to Arnaldo Milian Castro Hospital in the city of Santa Clara after growing extremely weak from a hunger strike that has stretched for eight days. Cuban activist Jorge Luis Artiles said that shortly after noon, Fariñas lost consciousness and went into a state of shock, fainting and not responding. Fariñas was treated in an observation room at the hospital, where he got an electrocardiogram and had his vital signs checked.

    In just over a week, Fariñas has lost about 26 pounds and his blood pressure has dropped significantly. Outside the hospital, where he is now with his mother Alicia Hernández Cabezas, a group of Fantu activists is monitoring the situation. Fariñas, who is recipient of the European Parliament 2010 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, is protesting the repression, raids and confiscations endured by Cuba’s “non-violent” dissident groups and he is calling for a commitment by the Cuban government to stop those acts.

     On Wednesday, the coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), José Daniel Ferrer, said in Miami that about 280 activists throughout the island had mobilized to support Fariñas and 20 other human rights activists currently on hunger strike in Cuba, incluing Carlos Amel Oliva, youth leader of the UNPACU, who has been on a hunger strike for two weeks. He also reported that during the day about 80 activists were detained but “continued fasting in the police stations.” Ferrer and other Cuban personalities like Ivan Hernández Carrillo gathered in Miami on Wednesday to support the Cuban strikers. The protesters —about 60 people— rallied and fasted outside the Versailles restaurant in Miami demanding an end to the dictatorship in Cuba.

VENEZUELA CUTS OIL SHIPMENT TO CUBA
      

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA  ---
Venezuela’s grim situation is impacting not only millions of households around the country — it is also sending panic waves across the Caribbean all the way to Cuba, a solid ally that for decades now has relied heavily on Chavismo’s generosity. Cuba, a communist country with a weak economy, has alienated itself from the rest of the world and has largely relied on Venezuela to stay financially afloat. But Venezuela’s falling oil prices is causing Cuba to distance itself from the South American country.

     So far this year Venezuelan oil shipments to the island have declined by 19.5 percent, forcing an energy rationing that is reminding people of the early 90s, when the Soviet Union dissolved and Cuba lost its top provider almost overnight. Now with Venezuela’s wealth slowly fading away, the geopolitical chessboard may change in a way that some say will inevitably drive Havana closer to the U.S. “Venezuela’s inability to help Cuba creates a void that will very likely be filled by the U.S.,” said foreign policy expert Giovanna De Michelle to Fox News Latino.

    Currently – and for more than a decade now – Venezuela supplies more than 50 percent of the island’s intake of oil at very preferential terms. In exchange, starting 2003 Cuba started providing human resources to Venezuela, mostly teachers and medical doctors to support Chavez’s various social programs, like Barrio Adentro and Misión Robinson, which focused on reducing analphabetism. According to the most recent information available, in 2013 Venezuela provided Cuba with 99,000 barrels of crude oil a day. To date, Cuba has sent approximately 200,000 workers to Venezuela. This oil-for-workers deal greatly benefitted both Castro’s and Chavez’s agendas: while Cuba kept running on cheap oil, Venezuela found a way to secure and preserve the social programs that are the backbone of Chavismo.

July 29, 2016

VENEZUELAN POLITICAL PRISONERS ALLEGE TORTURED, COERCED TO GET CONFESSIONS

  CARACAS, VENEZUELA-- The Organization of American States (OAS) should press authorities from Venezuela’s Maduro administration to release and drop criminal charges against anyone who has been arbitrarily detained and charged, Human Rights Watch said today. The OAS should also press Venezuela so its authorities investigate allegations that several detainees have been beaten and tortured in custody, and make the results of the investigations public. Since May 2016, the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional, SEBIN) and National Guard have detained 21 people on allegations that they were planning, fomenting, or had participated in violent anti-government actions.

      Since May 2016, the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional, SEBIN) and National Guard have detained 21 people on allegations that they were planning, fomenting, or had participated in violent anti-government actions. In several cases, detainees testified in court that they had suffered physical abuse that could amount to torture, including brutal beatings, electric shocks, and threats of rape or murder. The patterns of maltreatment they describe are consistent with cases Human Rights Watch has documented during the past two years in Venezuela. Some detainees said that they were tortured to coerce them into confessing to crimes, and that SEBIN agents taped their coerced confessions.

     Human Rights Watch conducted in-country research in June 2016, and interviewed family members and lawyers as well as one of the people detained, and reviewed key documents in judicial files in several cases, including police records and the direct testimony of 11 detainees, as well as statements by government officials. The 21 cases were from Caracas and Bolivar, Cojedes, and Zulia states. Most detainees were political activists who said that they were merely involved in political protest and advocacy, such as calling for the release of political prisoners or supporting the recall referendum against President Nicolás Maduro. The government linked 10 to an anti-government demonstration in which unidentified people had attacked police officers. Prosecutors asserted that most were caught participating in or preparing to commit acts of violence but did not provide credible evidence to support such assertions. Some testified that they had not participated in the demonstration at all.

VENEZUELA WORKERS AND BUSINESS OWNERS DENOUNCE NEW "FORCED LABOR" DECREE
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA. --
A decree by the embattled Nicolas Maduro administration ordering civil servants and private sector workers alike to work in the fields for two to four months at a time is raising eyebrows in Caracas. And that is saying a lot these days. “The will of the worker has been annulled,” wrote analyst Angel Alayon in a post Wednesday. The government of Maduro, which describes itself as socialist, already has vast control of the economy, including ownership of the company that provides the country with more than 90% of all its hard currency (state oil company PDVSA), price control and currency exchange controls.

    The move to force people to work in the fields -- as was called for during the Allende term in Chile and is still in force in Cuba to this day -- has been denounced by labor and business owners alike. The text (see below) says it’s “mandatory” to assist the government in growing crops and other agricultural activities. Froilan Barrios, a workers’ rights activist said that “actions such as this one represent a grave danger for everything we workers have won historically and culturally over the centuries. What little is left of the productive apparatus of the country is being completely dislocated and the Venezuelan economy loses its sense.”

    The President of Fedecamaras, the country’s main guild of business owners, Francisco Martines, said the government was treating the workers as chattel and that, in growing crops, 60 days was not enough to see a result. Venezuela has typically a dry season of six months and a rainy season of similar length. Venezuela has 3 million civil servants in a total population of about 30 million people and a severe shortage in key foodstuffs, some of which were, until very recently produced locally. Venezuela it April reported a high unemployment rate of more than 7%, but the government says it’s “the lowest in 20 years," according to Planning Minister Ricardo Menendez.

COLOMBIA TO DEPORT HUNDREDS OF CUBAN IMMIGRANTS
      

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA  ---
The start of an immigrant repatriation program was announced Tuesday, July 26, by Director for Colombian Migration Christian Krüger.

    Most citizens that enter Colombia illegally are Cuban, many of whom stay in warehouses or in shelters in Antioquia. After May 19, with the border closing between Panama and Colombia, more than 300 Cubans were intercepted, along with citizens from African countries. “We’re doing the paperwork to get into the warehouse where most immigrants are,” Kruger said.” Afterward, we will try to start the process we’re bound by law to follow, which involves deportation.”

    Many immigrants requested they be sent by plan, but Krüger said this was impossible. The Mexican government isn’t receiving those flights, and because officials did not want to make something as delicate as immigrant trfaficking seem like an everyday occurrence. According to Colombia Immigration offices, deportation will take place in one of two ways: Sending immigrants directly to their country of origin, or returning them to the border from which they arrived.

July 28, 2016

VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION LINKS DIALOGUE TO NEW PHASE OF RECALL REFERENDUM

  CARACAS, VENEZUELA--The Venezuelan opposition hopes that the electoral board will launch the next phase of the referendum to recall President Nicolas Maduro so that the proposed political dialogue with the mediation of the Union of South American Nations can take place. “The tone of our response will depend on the response of the National Election Council (CNE),” the executive secretary of the opposition MUD alliance, Jesus Torrealba, told EFE.

     The CNE is scheduled to announce on Monday whether opposition leaders attained the 1 percent threshold of signatures on the electoral roles, the criterion for beginning the next phase leading to the referendum, a phase during which 20 percent of the signatures on the roles must be collected from people favoring the referendum. Torrealba said that the bloc of opposition parties considers it to be necessary to engage in dialogue with Maduro and that they will take “all possible measures” to prevent the Venezuelan government from postponing the referendum until 2017 when, if the opposition wins, the vice president would assume power until Maduro’s mandate ends in 2019.

    Venezuelan Parliament president and opposition member Henry Ramos Allup said last Thursday that he would respond on the weekend and in the name of the entire opposition leadership to the invitation to dialogue made by Unasur chief Ernesto Samper. However, opposition figure Enrique Marquez, the first vice president of the legislature, told EFE on Tuesday that Samper’s letter had not been replied to while MUD awaits the election body’s pronouncement, which could, he said, accelerate the country’s political dialogue. Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and the ex-presidents of Panama and the Dominican Republic, Martin Torrijos and Leonel Fernandez, respectively, who have been acting as mediators to facilitate dialogue in Venezuela, have visited the country twice and met separately with representatives of both the government and the opposition.

THE REPRESENTATIVE OF THE VATICAN HAS NOT BEEN OFFICIALLY INVITED TO PARTICIPATE IN THE DIALOGUE
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA. --
The representative of the Holy See in Caracas, Monsignor Aldo Giordano, voiced the Vatican’s satisfaction with the confidence in the Church to join the group mediating in government-opposition talks. Papal Nuncio Monsignor Aldo Giordano, who is the representative of Pope Francis in Venezuela, on Tuesday claimed he hopes the events in the country may take place in peace.

     Giordano’s remarks came in reply to a question about an imminent opposition demonstration towards the National Electoral Council (CNE) should the body fail to announce the date to collect the signatures of 20% of registered voters to activate a recall vote against President Nicolás Maduro.

    “We are grateful for the confidence. The Vatican is always prepared to help when possible, when necessary. So far, we have not received a formal invitation from the government or the opposition; we have no information about a dialogue,” the clergyman said in reference to the Vatican’s involvement as part of a mediator group for potential government-opposition talks.

BIG LATIN AMERICA AIRLINE LATEST TO HALT FLIGHTS TO VENEZUELA
      

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA  ---
More signs of deep trouble in Venezuela. LATAM Airlines, the biggest Latin American carrier, is the latest to cut service to Venezuela. The Chile-based company said Monday it had suspended flights from Sao Paulo, Brazil and by August will suspend service from Lima, Peru and Santiago, Chile. The news comes amid a daunting economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. LATAM said that Venezuela is an important market and will "work to resume these services as soon as global conditions permit."

    On Sunday, Lufthansa, one of Europe's largest airlines, announced that it will also stop flying to the country, announced Sunday that beginning June 17, it will suspend flights indefinitely to Venezuela, which is grappling with a daunting economic and humanitarian crisis. During the European Winter Season, Lufthansa operates up to seven weekly flights between the carrier's Bavarian Hub in Munich and Cape Town, while Edelweiss serves the city with two weekly flights. Venezuela's economy has been hit hard by a sharp drop in the price of oil - the country's main source of income.

    "In this context, the companies will suspend, temporarily and for an indefinite period, their operations in Simon Bolivar international airport in Caracas", the statement said. Tony Tyler, the chief executive of airline industry body IATA, had warned in March that the few remaining airlines still operating in Venezuela "may throw in the towel". Inflation is forecast to exceed over 1,600 percent in 2017. Confirman que el gobernador Alberto Rodríguez Saá contrajo Gripe A Desde la residencia pidieron asistirlo, se le realizaron los estudios específicos y se determinó el diagnóstico. El de Rodríguez Saá es el segundo caso de influenza tipo A en la provincia. Lufthansa does not plan to shut its office in Caracas. A few weeks ago, Coca Cola was forced to halt its operations in Venezuela.

July 27, 2016

PARAGUAY AND BRAZIL REITERATE "VENEZUELA IS A NON FULL MEMBER OF MERCOSUR"

  ASUNCION, PARAGUAY--Paraguay announced officially that it will not be attending the Common Market Council of Mercosur in Montevideo next 30 July, if the agenda includes the transfer of the group's presidency to Venezuela. “Paraguay is still awaiting a reply from the presentation made for the Mercosur meeting with respect of Venezuela and the Ushuaia Protocol”, said Eladio Loizaga. Under current conditions Brazil and Paraguay will not accept a Venezuela presidency of Mercosur, and prefer Uruguay to continue with the chair

    “Paraguay is considering if we are to be coherent with our position, we will not participate in a meeting with the purpose to transfer the pro tempore presidency to Venezuela. Paraguay is still awaiting a reply from the presentation made for the Mercosur meeting with respect of Venezuela and the Ushuaia Protocol”, said foreign minister Eladio Loizaga. The minister was asked specifically about the Common Market Council meeting scheduled for Saturday 30 July to again address the Venezuela issue. The CMC brings together all the foreign ministers from member countries, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, and is the main decision making body behind the presidential summit.

    Uruguay which currently holds the Mercosur chair wants to comply with the group's rules and transfer the presidency for this half year to Venezuela (alphabetical order). Argentina supports the idea but has left Uruguay to play the game, against Paraguay and Brazil which loathe “ideological” Mercosur and the last mentor of that emphasis, Venezuela and president Nicolas Maduro. (The Kirchners are out in Argentina and so is the Lula da Silva-Rousseff tandem in Brazil). Under those circumstances Brazil and Paraguay will not accept a Venezuela presidency of Mercosur, and prefer Uruguay to continue with the chair given the crucial trade negotiations with the European Union.

LA ASAMBLE NACIONAL INVESTIGARA EL CASO DE LOS SOBRINOS DE LA PRIMERA DAMA DE VENEZUELA CILIA FLORES
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA. --
Francisco Flores de Freitas (31) and Efraín Antonio Campo Flores (30) are nephews of Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores and President Nicolás Maduro. The two men were detained in Haiti last year for alleged drug trafficking

      The National Assembly (AN) announced they would investigate the case of two nephews of Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores and President Nicolás Maduro, imprisoned in the United States for their alleged involvement in drug trafficking, according to a communiqué disclosed Monday by the opposition political force.
Opposition Deputy Delsa Solórzano claimed the investigation would begin at the Committee on Domestic Policy, AN, in the light of purported incriminating evidence against the two Venezuelan men. The evidence was presented recently by attorney for the Southern District of New Cork Preet Bharara, Efe reported.

     Last weekend Bharara introduced at court documents allegedly confirming that the nephews of the Venezuelan presidential couple confessed in 2015, following detention, that they planned to smuggle 800 kilos of cocaine into the US. Francisco Flores de Freitas (31) and Efraín Antonio Campo Flores (30) were arrested in Haiti last year by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and were extradited to New York.

NICOLAS MADURO RECEIVES MAJOR LOAN TO BOOST HIS FAILING ECONOMY
      

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA  ---
Venezuela is getting some financial relief as it burns through foreign reserves to pay for imports of badly needed food and medicine. On Monday, the Latin American Reserve Fund said it approved a three-year-loan of $482 million for Venezuela*s central bank. The loan represents about 5 percent of the central bank*s reserves, which have plunged to a 13-year low as a collapse in oil prices forces the government to scramble for hard currency amid widespread shortages of basic goods.

     In this particular case the Bank Central of Venezuela confirmed to the directory of the FLAR that the Court Supreme of Justice reviewed the autonomy of the Bank establish an external credit and therefore, it is authorized to sign loans with the Fund Latin American of reserves. Venezuela*s opposition has questioned the legality of the loan since it didn't have the blessing of congress. But the Colombia-based multilateral lender, which was created by regional governments in the 1970s to assist members in time of financial stress, said Venezuela*s Supreme Court signed off on the request.

    Despite the Venezuelan National Assemly statements, the directory of the FLAR proceeded to assess the application whose approval was confirmed by this body on Friday, July 22. Reiterated the directory of the body multilateral that "is eco-of it sovereignty and institutions of each one of them countries members and, therefore, not is its faculty to pronounce is to the respect". The Fund consists of Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

July 26, 2016

JAILED LEOPOLDO LOPEZ DENOUNCES VENEZUELA'S GOVERNMENT AT APPEAL HEARING

  CARACAS, VENEZUELA--   Jailed opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez angrily denounced Venezuela's government on Saturday at an appeals hearing that his supporters are hopeful will overturn a nearly 14-year sentence for inciting violence. A decision is expected within 10 days, according to Lopez's party, although government officials have yet to comment. Tension hung over the marathon proceedings, which ended after 2 a.m. local time, as dozens of Lopez supporters gathered outside the court house to demand his freedom as police in riot gear looked on warily.

    Inside the courtroom, Lopez angrily denied encouraging the use of violence during a wave of deadly anti-government protests in 2014 even while blasting President Nicolas Maduro. "I'm innocent of the crimes for which I've been charged," Lopez said at the trial, according to an audio recording released by his political party. But "I take responsibility for having denounced the Venezuelans government as corrupt, inefficient, anti-democratic and repressive." The conviction of Lopez, a Harvard-educated former mayor, has been widely condemned as a sham trial by foreign governments including the U.S.

    One of the prosecutors, after fleeing to the U.S., said he was pressured by his superiors to produce an arrest warrant and this week the star witness in the case, a language expert, came forward to say that her testimony had been twisted to suggest Lopez's fiery rhetoric was somehow a subliminal call for violent revolt. "This is the opportunity to redeem yourselves and be at ease with your conscience, with justice, with your families and our country," Franklin Nieves, the exiled prosecutor, said in video released this week addressing his former colleagues. "You know this trial was a farce." The government has been trying to lower tensions by inviting the opposition to talks aimed at resolving problems such as widespread food shortages. The main opposition coalition reiterated in a statement Friday that it's open to starting a dialogue with the government if its conditions are met and added that it is waiting on electoral authorities.

TOP COURT AUTHORIZES  CENTRAL BANK OF VENEZUELA TO INCUR FOREIGN DEBT WITHOUT CONGRESS APPROVAL
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA. --
The Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) empowered the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) to use international reserves without consulting the National Assembly. The Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) on Wednesday authorized the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) to request loans from the Latin-American Reserve Fund (FLAR), without the need for the approval of the opposition-controlled National Assembly (AN). The top court, based on a presentation by the chair of the Constitutional Chamber, Gladys Gutiérrez, claimed BCV “is a legal person with autonomy to exercise its powers efficiently,” which is of “special interest within the framework of the economic emergency state currently in effect,” AFP reported.

    According to the ruling, “previous control by the National Assembly would encroach upon the BCV constitutional autonomy.” The TSJ move came after the very BCV filed a request for interpretation. Since the opposition took control of the AN with a three fifths majority last January, this is the 18th TSJ decision against the AN competencies and actions, and in benefit of the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Given the large number of decisions, the Congress on Wednesday announced they would file a complaint against TSJ at the Organization of American States (OAS) claiming the top court has been blocking the legislative authority.

    National Assembly President Henry Ramos Allup has previously warned that credit operations the regime is negotiating abroad will be null if they are not authorized by the legislature. He wrote in his Twitter account: “Warning to foreign creditors: contracts in the national interest signed by the chavista government will be absolutely null and void without approval by the National Assembly”. For his part, Deputy José Guerra, who chairs the Assembly’s Finance Committee, wrote: “I second what was said by @hramosallup: credits planned by Merentes (Central Bank President) and Del Pino (Oil Minister and PDVSA President) will be null if not approved by the National Assembly. You are warned.” This could put on hold loan operations for US$ 5 billion recently announced by the Central Bank.

FBI INVESTIGATING SUSPECTED RUSSIAN HACK ON DNC EMAILS
      

      WASHINGTON, D.C.  ---
The FBI on Monday confirmed they are investigating a hack into the Democratic National Committee, the first acknowledgment from the agency that they are probing the incident, which US officials suspect came from a Russian cyber attack. Fallout over the emails led DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to announce her resignation Sunday. "The FBI is investigating a cyber intrusion involving the DNC and are working to determine the nature and scope of the matter," the agency said in a statement. "A compromise of this nature is something we take very seriously, and the FBI will continue to investigate and hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace."

     The suspected Russian hack is part of a wave of Russian cyber attacks aimed at political organizations and academic think tanks in Washington, US officials briefed on the investigations say. Over the weekend, Wikileaks began publishing emails from the DNC. The group didn't identify the source. But the campaign of presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton pointed the finger at Russia, saying the release of stolen emails was intended to help Republican nominee Donald Trump. The FBI has sent experts to meet with the Republican National Committee, as well as the major campaigns, to discuss their security measures, the officials say. No similar intrusions have so far been detected at the RNC or the campaigns of the two major party candidates, the officials say.

    Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union" Sunday about that "changes to the Republican platform to make it more pro-Russian," which could provide some of the motive behind the hacks. "I don't think it's coincidental that these emails were released on the eve of our convention here, and I think that's disturbing," he said. Trump told The New York Times in an interview last week, that if he's elected the US wouldn't defend NATO allies against Russian aggression if they haven't "fulfilled their obligation to us." Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., denied that his father's campaign had anything to do with encouraging Russians to hack the DNC. "I can't think of bigger lies, but that exactly goes to show you what the DNC and what the Clinton camp will do," Trump told Tapper on "State of the Union".

July 25, 2016

LEOPOLDO LOPEZ STRONG STATEMENT DURING HIS APPEAL HEARING

  CARACAS, VENEZUELA--  Imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo López said Friday during his appeal hearing that he is innocent of the crimes the public prosecutor's Office has charged him and said he assumes his responsibility for convening a peaceful protest and denunciate Venezuelan as a corrupt State". "

    “I’m innocent of the crimes for which the Prosecutor’s Office has indicted me, such as arson, damages, instigation and crime association. Lopez said during his hearing according to a statement released by his wife Lilian Tintori in hid official Twitter account. I take full responsibility for denouncing the Venezuelan government as corrupt, incompetent, anti-democratic and repressive, as is my constitutional right to do so, added the leader of the party will Popular sentenced last September to near 14 years of prison. "

    I take full responsibility for calling to protest peacefully in the terms established by the Constitution, as is my right and the right of all Venezuelans to do so. I take responsibility for exhorting Venezuelans to dream of a better country. I take responsibility for telling Venezuelans that a better country’s possible. I take responsibility for telling Venezuelans about the principle of coexistence enshrined in the Constitution, which establishes the mechanisms to consolidate and build these changes. I take my quota of responsibility. I deny the crimes of which the Prosecutor’s Office has accused me.”

VENEZUELA FIRST LADY'S NEPHEWS ADMITTED DRUG SMUGGLING TO USA
      

           WASHINGTON, D.C. --
Two nephews of Venezuela's first lady admitted being part of a cocaine smuggling scheme in a US sting operation before their arrest last year, according to recently filed court documents. Details of the alleged confessions by Efrain Antonio Campo Flores and Francisco Flores de Freita were recounted in documents US prosecutors filed Friday in the US federal court in Manhattan. The two -- sons of brothers of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's wife Cilia Flores -- were arrested in Haiti in November 2015 and flown to New York by US Drug Enforcement Administration agents.

    The pair are accused of plotting to smuggle at least five kilos (11 pounds) of cocaine into the United States. They were also accused of taking part in meetings to plan a shipment of cocaine to the United States via Honduras. The newly released court documents show how Campo and Flores and others worked together to try to send hundreds of kilograms of cocaine from Venezuela to Honduras so that the drugs could be imported into the United States. The drugs were purportedly to be bought by Mexican drug traffickers, who were in fact sources acting under instruction from the DEA.

    During recorded meetings in Venezuela, Honduras, and Haiti, the defendants discussed transporting multiple loads of cocaine via private aircraft, the papers said. The defendants understood that the narcotics would end up in the US in transactions "that they hoped would generate millions of dollars in proceeds." US officials believe much of the cocaine produced in Colombia passes through Venezuela before being transported to the United States and Europe. During an October meeting with DEA sources, Campo described connections to the Venezuelan government and later stated, "we're at war with the United States... with Colombia... with the opposition," according to the documents. The defendants, rather than the DEA, initiated the drug trafficking activities at issue in the case, prosecutors said.

FORMER ARGENTINE PRESIDENT CRISTINA FERNANDEZ IS 'NOT AFRAID OF JAIL'
      

      BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA---
Former Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner says she is not afraid of going to prison as a result of the corruption charges she faces. Fernandez has been accused of making fraudulent currency transactions during her time in office, a claim she denies. In an interview with several media outlets, she rejected the allegations as politically motivated.

    She says she is paying the price for her generous welfare and nationalisation policies. "When you make decisions like these, it's clear that you risk going to jail and being politically persecuted," she told a group of foreign correspondents at her Patagonian estate. "I'm not afraid of going to jail, at all."Fernandez led the country between 2007 and 2015 and was replaced in December by the centre-right Mauricio Macri. In May she was charged with allegedly ordering irregular central bank transactions in the US dollar futures market. Earlier this month her assets were frozen.

    Some of her closest aides are also being investigated for alleged mishandling of public funds. Her former public works secretary, Jose Lopez, was allegedly caught stashing bags of cash and jewels in a convent in Buenos Aires. Fernandez dismissed the incident as the kind of thing that could beset any government. "I don't want to minimise anything, but I think those are episodes that can take place for any government," she told the reporters. The Roman Catholic Church in Argentina has recently launched an investigation into whether four nuns at the Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima religious community helped to hide the hoard.

July 24, 2016

LEOPOLDO LOPEZ AWAITS APPEAL'S VERDICT

  CARACAS, VENEZUELA--  An appeal hearing into Venezuela's most prominent jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez ended on Saturday, with he and supporters saying his nearly 14-year sentence for inciting violence should be immediately overturned. "I am innocent of the crimes accused," said Lopez, 45, a hardline foe of President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government who has been in jail since February 2014. "I assume my full responsibility for denouncing the Venezuelan state as corrupt, inefficient, anti-democratic and repressive, as it is my constitutional right to do," he added, according to an audio from the hearing released by his team.

     Lopez's party Popular Will said only his mother and one lawyer were allowed into the Appeals Court for the session which began on Friday and ended around 2 a.m. local time (0600 GMT) Saturday. Outside the court in downtown Caracas, supporters waited with banners demanding "Free Leopoldo!," while security officers kept watch of the area where government and opposition supporters have clashed during previous hearings in the Lopez case. A decision on the appeal is due in 10 days, his party said, though there was no word from the judiciary or government. Lopez was imprisoned for fomenting 2014 anti-government protests that spiraled into violence, killing 43 people on both sides. His supporters and rights groups say his imprisonment was a travesty of justice.

    Lopez was accused of causing damages and fire, public incitement and planning to commit crimes. Though the Harvard-educated Lopez had publicly called for peaceful resistance to the Maduro government and was behind bars during most of the unrest, prosecutors said his speeches sent subliminal messages and constituted a call to violence. But one of the prosecutors, Franklin Nieves, fled to the United States last year, saying he was pressured to frame Lopez. "You know we received threats and orders to fabricate that case against Leopoldo Lopez. This is the opportunity to rectify," he said in a video message aimed at the judge and prosecutors at the appeal. "I guarantee you Leopoldo Lopez and the killers of the (2014) protests will stay in jail because they must pay for their crimes," said Diosdado Cabello, the No. 2 in Venezuela's ruling Socialist Party.

UNASUR'S SAMPER, MEDIATORS, OPPOSITION WEIGHT POTENTIAL TALKS
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
Secretary General of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) Ernesto Samper, and the three former Heads of Government José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (Spain), Leonel Fernández (Dominican Republic) and Martín Torrijos (Panama) mediating in Venezuela, on Thursday met with an opposition delegation to raise the question of potential talks with the Venezuelan government, dissent sources told Efe.

     During the meeting, participants tackled issues regarding such dialogue, told Efe Jesús Torrealba, who is the Executive Secretary of opposition umbrella group Unified Democratic Panel. The Venezuelan dissent is reluctant to hold a dialogue provided that the government fulfills a series of conditions, such as ensuring this year a recall vote to cut the mandate of President Nicolás Maduro, respecting the Congress authority, and “not using other powers to disregard the constitutional rule.”

     Cabello says “there will be no talks” with the opposition and that there will be no recall vote this year Former lieutenant Diosdado Cabello, Vice President of the ruling PSUV party, says there “will be no talks” with the opposition because it has made it a precondition that there must be set a timetable for a recall referendum, and there will be no recall referendum “this year…we guarantee it” and “at the rate we are going” there will be no vote “next year” either. He said the “chavistas” will negotiate “nothing” with the opposition and will not allow them to “set conditions”.

UNHCR WARNS AGAINST "SILENT" ARRIVAL OF VENEZUELANS IN COLOMBIA
      

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA---
Venezuela's economic crisis has sent a huge but largely ignored wave of people into Colombia, and many more could be on the way, a senior UN refugee official said. "It's a silent arrival of a lot of people who are crossing the border and staying illegally on the Colombian side," said Martin Gottwald, the United Nations Refugee Agency's representative in Colombia. No exact figures are available, but the number of Venezuelans fleeing to Colombia is already "quite large," and Colombia should prepare itself for more, Gottwald told AFP in an interview. "The avalanche is probably going to increase, with or without the reopening of the border," he said.

     Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro closed the countries' border in August 2015 after an attack on an army patrol. He blamed right-wing paramilitaries from Colombia. The leftist leader briefly reopened it last weekend to allow Venezuelans to stock up on food, medicine and other basic supplies amid severe shortages in Venezuela. Gottwald said a sizeable number of Venezuelans who entered Colombia probably never returned. "If you consider that 123,000 people crossed the border to stock up on supplies at the weekend, if a minimal percentage, let's say 10 percent, stayed (in Colombia), we're already talking about quite large numbers," he said.

    Venezuelans are also sneaking across the border even when it is closed, driven abroad by the economic crisis, violent crime and a health care system teetering on the brink of collapse. Gottwald urged the Colombian government to start putting contingency plans in place for the "worst-case scenario," in which "thousands upon thousands" of Venezuelans would stream into Colombia, he said. Venezuela's economy is reeling from the global crash in the price of oil, its main export. The plunge in crude revenues has unleashed a deep recession, chronic shortages and hyperinflation, threatening 17 years of socialist rule under Maduro and his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez.

July 23, 2016

LEADING CUBAN DISSIDENT, GUILLERMO FARIÑAS, BEGINS HUNGER STRIKE

  HAVANA, CUBA--  Renowned Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas said Thursday he has begun a hunger strike demanding the Raul Castro government end torture and other human rights abuses against opponents. Farina, awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov human rights prize in 2010, told AFP that he stopped consuming food and liquids on Wednesday to coincide with the first anniversary of the reestablishment of Cuba-US diplomatic relations. "We are not asking that the government stop arresting us -- that makes us proud --but that they stop the beatings, the tortures when they arrest us," Farinas said in a phone interview from his home in Santa Clara, in western Cuba.

     In a letter addressed to President Castro, the 54-year-old dissident said he would continue his fast until the leader pledged that his opponents would no longer be "tortured, beaten, threatened with death." "I will continue until they give me what I am asking or until death," he told AFP. Farinas over the years has gone on several hunger strikes to draw attention to what he says are oppressive policies carried out by the Havana regime, including a 2010 fast that left him near death. The Cuban government, which denies it has political prisoners, did not comment on Farinas's latest demands. According to the dissident, the opposition to the Castro regime faces "an escalation of violence" since the official re-establishment of ties between the former Cold War foes.

     "They (government leaders) feel legitimized by the governments of the United States and the European Union," he added. The 28-nation bloc is the island's second-largest trade partner after Venezuela. In March, the EU and Cuba signed a deal in Havana to normalize relations. The agreement entails "promoting dialogue and cooperation to foster sustainable development, democracy and human rights," the EU's top foreign affairs official, Federica Mogherini, said at the time. According to the Cuban Human Rights Committee, 93 prisoners are being held for "political reasons or charged and sentenced in politically motivated trials."

VATICAN INVITED TO MEDIATE IN VENEZUELA CRISIS
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
The Roman Catholic Church may soon join Ibero-American leaders seeking dialogue between Venezuela's feuding government and opposition, the head of a regional bloc said on Thursday. "I think it's good news this petition has been accepted by both sides. It will enrich us spiritually and, hopefully, politically," said former Colombian president Ernesto Samper, who heads the UNASUR bloc of South American states. With Venezuela enduring an unprecedented economic crisis, President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government is locked in a bitter standoff with the Democratic Unity opposition coalition.

    The opposition won control of the legislature in 2015 and is pushing for a recall referendum this year to try and remove Maduro, whom they blame for Venezuela's runaway inflation, product shortages and third year of recession. But Maduro, 53, the former bus driver who won election to succeed Hugo Chavez in 2013, accuses them of planning a coup and says the referendum will not happen. The government-leaning Supreme Court has shot down most of the legislature's measures. UNASUR's Samper, and three other former heads of state - Spain's Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, and Panama's Martin Torrijos - have for weeks been trying to bring both sides to the negotiating table.

     But the rhetoric remains bitter, and various opposition leaders say Maduro's public exhortations to support dialogue are a cynical attempt to buy time and cling to power. The opposition is suspicious of UNASUR and had been requesting a widening of potential mediators, including the Vatican. Pope Francis played a key role in facilitating Cuba and the United States' recent rapprochement, and the Church has said it is willing to help in Venezuela's crisis. Democratic Unity head Jesus Torrealba said the coalition would respond to Samper's invitation to dialogue at the weekend. But he added that the opposition maintained its condition for talks: a recall referendum this year, permission for international humanitarian aid to Venezuela, the freeing of jailed government opponents, and respect for the legislature.
 

McDONALD'S RESTAURANTS IN VENEZUELA STOP SELLING BIG MACS
      

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA----
The latest sign of deepening crisis in Venezuela? McDonald’s has been forced to suspend sales of Big Macs in the country because it can’t source one of the burger’s key components. Arcos Dorados, the world’s largest McDonald’s franchisee, said Thursday that it wasn’t able to supply the middle bun that separates the two burger patties. The Buenos Aires-based company, which operates more than 2,000 restaurants, says the stop-sale is only temporary, and that other sandwiches are available. “McDonald’s Venezuela is working to resolve this temporary situation,” Daniel Schleiniger, a spokesman for Arcos Dorados, tells Bloomberg.

     “Together with our supplier, we are evaluating the best options that will allow us to continue serving high quality food to our customers.” Venezuela is deep into a humanitarian crisis, and the country is suffering from food shortages. Venezuelans flooded into Colombia on Sunday after the border was temporarily reopened, allowing them to buy basic foods and toiletries — rare commodities in their home country. The country can’t pay to import some goods because its government is desperately strapped for cash after years of mismanagement of its funds, heavy spending on poorly run government programs, and lack of investment on its oil fields.

     The International Monetary Fund forecasts Venezuela’s economy will shrink 10% this year, worse than its previous estimate of 8%. It also estimates that inflation in Venezuela will catapult to 700% this year. Veneuzuela’s foreign reserves are now a mere $11.9 billion, according to its central bank. Two years ago it had $20 billion. The country has had to ship gold to Switzerland this year to help pay down its debts. The country could be quickly approaching an economic judgment day. It owes about $5 billion in a string of bond payments between October and November. Many experts believe the chance of default is very high.

July 22, 2016

HUGO CHAVEZ'S BROTHER DIES, MOTHER BLAMES NICOLAS MADURO

  CARACAS, VENEZUELA--  Aníbal Chávez, brother of the late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez, died on Sunday of complications of bacterial salmonella and brucellosis in the intensive care unit of the Military Hospital in Caracas, after having been transferred from the Varyná Clinic in Barinas and airlifted to the Santa Sofía Clinic in El Cafetal.

     The Venezuelan government made the death announcement, and Nicolás Maduro tweeted, “My condolences to the Chávez family on the passing of mayor Aníbal Chávez. Eternal honor, brother! Transmito mis condolencias a la familia Chávez Frías por la partida del Alcalde Aníbal Chávez¡Honor Eterno Hermano. Elena, the Chávezes’ mother, blames the Health Minister for Aníbal’s death, according to unofficial sources (link in Spanish, my translation): “If my son Hugo was alive, this tragedy would never had happened to my Aníbal, he would have been in Cuba, getting treatment.

     The ministers are responsible for such negligence.” “If he had been treated on time, he would be alive and recovering,” Siente América reports that Venezuela’s lack of clean water, hygiene products and medications is causing an increase in mange, yellow fever, hepatitis, diarrhea, and salmonella. The Health Ministry has not released official numbers since November 1, 2014. It speaks volumes that the Chávezes’ own mother realizes that health care is in such dismal state in Venezuela that Aníbal should have been sent to Cuba for treatment. Too bad Doña Elena didn’t think of calling her granddaughter María Gabriela for help.

SPANISH LAWYERS TRAVEL TO CARACAS TO STRENGTHEN LEOPOLDO LOPEZ'S DEFENSE
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
Despite the fact that the hearing was convened at the eleventh hour, Spanish lawyers Alberto Ruiz Gallardón and Javier Cremades are on their way from Spain to Caracas to join the counsels for the defense of opposition leader Leopoldo López. Spanish lawyers travel to Caracas to strengthen dissenter López’'s defense.

      Upon an appeal hearing of opposition leader Leopoldo López was convened for Friday, two of his Spanish lawyers, Alberto Ruiz Gallardón and Javier Cremades, immediately travelled to Caracas to reinforce the group of counsels for the defense. With only one day in advance, the First Chamber of the Caracas Court of Appeals convened the hearing of López, who was sentenced to almost fourteen years in prison.

     This official meeting coincides with the visit to Venezuela of Spanish former President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who is serving as a mediator for government-opposition talks. The Spanish lawyers deemed the court’s decision a strategy devised by the Venezuelan justice seeking to prevent them from taking part in the trial. In this connection, they claimed Zapatero had been briefed on the hearing, Efe reported. This is the third time Cremades and Ruiz Gallardón, a Spanish former Minister of Justice, travel to Caracas after two hearings were put off on June 20 and July 7.

107 CUBAN MIGRANTS HAVE ARRIVED IN THE FLORIDA KEYS IN THE LAST WEEK
      

      MIAMI, FLORIDA----
Some of the 39 Cuban migrants who arrived on two vessels from Santa Clara, Cuba to Summerland Key on Monday night. A total of 107 Cubans have arrived by sea since July 12. Monroe County Sheriff's Office Another three Cuban migrants arrived on the shores of the Florida Keys on Tuesday morning — the latest in a wave of arrivals that has brought more than 100 Cubans with dry feet to South Florida in the last week alone. Todd Bryant, U.S. Border Patrol Miami Division Chief, said three Cuban men arrived on Sugarloaf Key at about 6 a.m Tuesday. Their arrival marks the eighth landing by Cuban nationals in the Keys since July 12.

     On Monday, 51 Cubans arrived in three separate vessels. At 1:18 a.m., a group of nine Cubans arrived near Key Largo. The group was at sea for six days after departing from Punta Alegre in north central Cuba. At about 10 a.m., another three Cubans arrived in the Middle Keys community of Key Colony Beach after traveling for two days from Villa Clara, just west of Punta Alegre. Both groups traveled in a “single-engine rustic vessel” and arrived in good health, according to the U.S. Border Patrol. On Monday night at about 9, 39 Cubans made a three-day journey from Santa Clara, also in north central Cuba, and touched land near Sugarloaf Boulevard on Summerland Key in two “go-fast” type vessels, Bryant said. Four in the group were taken to the hospital and the other 35 — 30 men and five women — were all healthy.

     106 percentIncrease in Cuban migrant arrivals by boat to South Florida over this time last year On Sunday, another group of 13 Cuban men traveled from Ciego de Ávila in the southern central part of the island on a single-engine rustic vessel for four days before arriving in Marathon. The surge over the weekend, although slightly elevated, is in line with the usual summer uptick in arrivals due to better weather conditions for crossing the Florida Straits, said Becky Herrin, a spokeswoman for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. Earlier in the week, six Cubans from Havana arrived on a small fishing vessel in Key West and another 13, also from Havana, landed in Dry Tortugas National Park, west of Key West. Both groups arrived on Wednesday. On July 12, a 24-person group made it near Sand Key in Biscayne National Park on a “go-fast” vessel.

July 21, 2016

UN RIGHTS CHIEF AIRS CONCERNS ABOUT FOOD SHORTAGES IN VENEZUELA

  GENEVA, SWITZERLAND--  The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva asked the government of Nicolás Maduro to accept help in the form of food and medicines to relieve the shortages of staples facing Venezuela. The United Nations on Tuesday called on the government of Venezuela to accept the humanitarian assistance it has been offered to alleviate food shortages. "We urge the government to accept humanitarian aid to support efforts aimed at the distribution of food and adequate supply of medicines, as well as to ensure their fair distribution," remarked the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

     In the same statement, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed alarm over the arrests in recent weeks of hundreds of people who participated in protests for food. The Office further rejected the use of excess force by law enforcement officers against demonstrators during protests. "We call on the authorities to guarantee freedom of expression and association and peaceful assembly to facilitate protesters’ access to public spaces," added the UN Office, as quoted by Efe.

      In this connection, Colombian authorities confirmed that 130,000 Venezuelans crossed the border into Colombia last weekend at four border crossings open temporarily to buy food, medicines and other essential items. The office of human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein points to reports of rising protests demanding access to food, the arrest of hundreds of demonstrators and excessive use of force against protesters in recent weeks. Venezuela's government opened its long-closed border with Colombia over the weekend, prompting more than 120,000 Venezuelans to cross to buy as many basic goods as possible amid an economic crisis and 700-percent inflation in Venezuela.

VENEZUELA-COLOMBIA BORDER NOT OPEN NEXT WEEKEND
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
In the opinion of Táchira state governor José Vielma Mora, opening the Venezuela-Colombia border next weekend “would delay negotiations” for a standing measure

    In a meeting held on Monday in Cúcuta, Colombia, Táchira state governor
José Vielma Mora and Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín agreed not to allow the pedestrian passage across the Venezuela-Colombia border this weekend. William Villamizar, state governor of Norte de Santander also attended the meeting. In the opinion of Vielma Mora, opening the Venezuela-Colombia border next weekend “would significantly delay negotiations for the permanent and legal opening between the countries.”

    “We have defined that this weekend, as proposed by Colombia, we would better advance all the processes for final opening. This means that this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, the passage between the countries will not be granted,” he added. Earlier, the governor of Andean Táchira state met with representatives of the Chamber of Commerce of Cúcuta. “Taking advantage of tariff and tax preferences to energize the economy,” he twitted. The issue of the free zone was tackled in the meeting.

DICTATOR RAUL CASTRO ADMITS TROUBLES FROM SHORTER SUPPLY OF VENEZUELAN OIL
      

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA----
Cuban President Raúl Castro admitted that the domestic economy undergoes “adverse circumstances” due, among others, to Venezuela’s standstill and “contraction” in supply of Venezuelan oil. However, he ruled out a “collapse” or return to the Special Period. At the end of the plenary session of the Cuban National Assembly, Castro confirmed that the domestic economy has grown only 1% so far this year, half than expected, according to his speech disseminated by official means and cited by Efe.

    Such outcome is due to declining revenues from exports of goods, such as nickel and oil, and the plunge of their world prices, in addition to the effects on Cuba of the crisis in Venezuela, the main partner of the island. According to Castro, Venezuela is subject to “an economic war to weaken people support to its revolution.” For the first time, Raúl Castro publicly referred to “a contraction” in fuel supply from Venezuela, “applying additional pressure to the performance of the Cuban economy.”

    Since 2000, and by virtue of a partnership between the governments of Havana and Caracas, Venezuela has provided the island with approximately 100,000 barrels of oil per day in exchange for professional services. He remarked, however, that despite “the complex circumstances of the domestic economy, will not weaken the least” his commitment and support to the “Bolivarian and Chavista revolution” and to the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. He did not skip mentioning the “harmful effects” of the US embargo and recalled that Cuba may not use the US dollar in its international transactions despite the announcement made three months ago by US President Barack Obama concerning the termination of the ban.

July 21, 2016

UN RIGHTS CHIEF AIRS CONCERNS ABOUT FOOD SHORTAGES IN VENEZUELA

  GENEVA, SWITZERLAND--  The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva asked the government of Nicolás Maduro to accept help in the form of food and medicines to relieve the shortages of staples facing Venezuela. The United Nations on Tuesday called on the government of Venezuela to accept the humanitarian assistance it has been offered to alleviate food shortages. "We urge the government to accept humanitarian aid to support efforts aimed at the distribution of food and adequate supply of medicines, as well as to ensure their fair distribution," remarked the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

     In the same statement, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed alarm over the arrests in recent weeks of hundreds of people who participated in protests for food. The Office further rejected the use of excess force by law enforcement officers against demonstrators during protests. "We call on the authorities to guarantee freedom of expression and association and peaceful assembly to facilitate protesters’ access to public spaces," added the UN Office, as quoted by Efe.

      In this connection, Colombian authorities confirmed that 130,000 Venezuelans crossed the border into Colombia last weekend at four border crossings open temporarily to buy food, medicines and other essential items. The office of human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein points to reports of rising protests demanding access to food, the arrest of hundreds of demonstrators and excessive use of force against protesters in recent weeks. Venezuela's government opened its long-closed border with Colombia over the weekend, prompting more than 120,000 Venezuelans to cross to buy as many basic goods as possible amid an economic crisis and 700-percent inflation in Venezuela.

VENEZUELA-COLOMBIA BORDER NOT OPEN NEXT WEEKEND
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
In the opinion of Táchira state governor José Vielma Mora, opening the Venezuela-Colombia border next weekend “would delay negotiations” for a standing measure

    In a meeting held on Monday in Cúcuta, Colombia, Táchira state governor
José Vielma Mora and Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín agreed not to allow the pedestrian passage across the Venezuela-Colombia border this weekend. William Villamizar, state governor of Norte de Santander also attended the meeting. In the opinion of Vielma Mora, opening the Venezuela-Colombia border next weekend “would significantly delay negotiations for the permanent and legal opening between the countries.”

    “We have defined that this weekend, as proposed by Colombia, we would better advance all the processes for final opening. This means that this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, the passage between the countries will not be granted,” he added. Earlier, the governor of Andean Táchira state met with representatives of the Chamber of Commerce of Cúcuta. “Taking advantage of tariff and tax preferences to energize the economy,” he twitted. The issue of the free zone was tackled in the meeting.

DICTATOR RAUL CASTRO ADMITS TROUBLES FROM SHORTER SUPPLY OF VENEZUELAN OIL
      

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA----
Cuban President Raúl Castro admitted that the domestic economy undergoes “adverse circumstances” due, among others, to Venezuela’s standstill and “contraction” in supply of Venezuelan oil. However, he ruled out a “collapse” or return to the Special Period. At the end of the plenary session of the Cuban National Assembly, Castro confirmed that the domestic economy has grown only 1% so far this year, half than expected, according to his speech disseminated by official means and cited by Efe.

    Such outcome is due to declining revenues from exports of goods, such as nickel and oil, and the plunge of their world prices, in addition to the effects on Cuba of the crisis in Venezuela, the main partner of the island. According to Castro, Venezuela is subject to “an economic war to weaken people support to its revolution.” For the first time, Raúl Castro publicly referred to “a contraction” in fuel supply from Venezuela, “applying additional pressure to the performance of the Cuban economy.”

    Since 2000, and by virtue of a partnership between the governments of Havana and Caracas, Venezuela has provided the island with approximately 100,000 barrels of oil per day in exchange for professional services. He remarked, however, that despite “the complex circumstances of the domestic economy, will not weaken the least” his commitment and support to the “Bolivarian and Chavista revolution” and to the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. He did not skip mentioning the “harmful effects” of the US embargo and recalled that Cuba may not use the US dollar in its international transactions despite the announcement made three months ago by US President Barack Obama concerning the termination of the ban.

July 20, 2016

VIETNAM VETERAN WHO RESCUED DOZENS OF US SOLDIERS AWARDED MEDAL OF HONOR

  WASHINGTON, D.C.--  Nearly five decades after helping rescue dozens of American soldiers pinned down by enemy fire, a Vietnam War veteran received the nation's highest military honor for valor on Monday. President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to retired Lt. Col. Charles Kettles of Ypsilanti, Michigan during a ceremony Monday at the White House. Kettles led helicopter flights carrying reinforcements to U.S. soldiers and evacuated the wounded after they were ambushed in combat operations near Duc Pho in May 1967. Describing how one soldier hung on to the damaged helicopter's skid, President Obama said, "[you] couldn't make this up. It's like a bad Rambo movie."

    Kettles repeatedly returned to a landing zone under heavy fire. He is credited with helping to save 40 soldiers and four members of his unit. During the final evacuation effort, he was advised that eight soldiers had been unable to reach the helicopters, so he returned without benefit of artillery or tactical aircraft support. The Army said his helicopter was hit by a mortar round that damaged the main rotor blade and shattered both front windshields. Small arms and machine gun fire also raked the helicopter."In spite of the severe damage to his helicopter, Kettles once more skillfully guided his heavily damaged aircraft to safety," the Army said in describing his actions. "Without his courageous actions and superior flying skills, the last group of soldiers and his crew would never have made it off the battlefield."

    Obama says Kettles serves as a great inspiration for Americans at a time when the country has been suffering through a rough couple of weeks. He said Kettles shows how Americans look out for each other even when times are tough and even when the odds are against them. The Veterans History Project launched a formal campaign to upgrade Kettles' Distinguished Service Cross for his actions that day to the Medal of Honor. After the Pentagon agreed his actions merited an upgrade, Congress passed legislation waiving a time limitation for the award, and paving the way for Obama's action. "I didn't do it by myself. There were some 74 pilots and crew members involved in this whole mission that day, so it's not just me," Kettles says in a video on the Army's website. "The medal is not mine. It's theirs."

VENEZUELA REJECTS VISA FOR UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
Venezuela’s authorities have denied since 2014 the visas requested by the Representative in South America of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in order to conduct a work mission in the country, a spokesperson said on Tuesday. The Representative “has requested repeatedly a visa to visit the country, but he has failed to obtain it since 2016,” when the steps were undertaken, specified the OHCHR spokesperson, Ravina Shamdasani.

    Presently, there is no OHCHR staff in Venezuela. For this reason, the Representative in South America, Amerigo Incalcaterra, who works from Santiago de Chile, has asked the Venezuelan government for authorization to pay an official visit, Efe cited. “We have no office on site, but our offices (in the region) keep a watchful eye over the situation, which is a matter of great concern, because violence and insecurity are on the rise,” Shamdasani said.

    The spokesperson maintained that the OHCHR is deeply concerned about “food scarcity” and increasing protests “asking for access to food.” The OHCHR and the World Health Organization (WHO) convened for last Friday in Geneva –where both organizations have their world headquarters- a press conference on the state of affairs in Venezuela. The event was put off at the last minute with no explanation.

POLL FINDS 88 % OF LIKELY VOTERS WOULD CHOOSE TO OUST NICOLAS MADURO
      

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA----
Venezuela is seeing a groundswell of support for a presidential recall amid a grinding economic and political crisis, and if the vote is allowed to proceed, President Nicolás Maduro would be ousted by a decisive majority, a new poll found. Even as the conviction grows that a change at the top is the only way out of the malaise, it remains far from clear if the socialist administration will allow the recall to move forward. A poll by Caracas-based Venebarometro released Monday found that 58 percent said they were “very willing” to sign a recall petition versus just 40 percent in February. That figure is key, as organizers will need 20 percent of registered voters, or 3.9 million people, to sign a petition to trigger the recall.

    In addition, 65 percent said that if they were given a chance they would vote to oust Maduro. Only 29 percent said they wanted him to complete his term through 2019, while 6 percent remained undecided. When Venebarometro narrowed the field to those who said they were “likely voters” in a potential recall, the Maduro-ouster camp rose to 88.4 percent. That translates to 10.8 million votes, according to the firm. By law, at least 7.6 million people — the same number who elected Maduro in 2013 — need to vote to oust him for the measure to take effect.

    “The opposition is experiencing a groundswell of support for the referendum initiative,” said Michael McCarthy, a political analyst and international associate with Venebarometro. “The jump in those willing to sign the petition compared to February is noteworthy — that’s what makes the difference in activating the process Many fear the administration will drag its feet as long as possible. If the recall happens this year, it triggers new elections. If it happens after Jan. 10, however, Maduro’s vice president, Aristóbulo Istúriz, would complete the presidential term.

July 19, 2016

IN SECOND BORDER OPENING, OVER 123K VENEZUELANS CROSSED INTO COLOMBIA IN SEARCH OF FOOD

   SAN ANTONIO DE TACHIRA, VENEZUELA--  More than 100,000 Venezuelans, some of whom drove through the night in caravans, crossed into Colombia over the weekend to hunt for food and medicine that are in short supply at home. It was the second weekend in a row that Venezuela's socialist government opened the long-closed border with Colombia, and by 6 a.m. Sunday, a line of would-be shoppers snaked through the entire town of San Antonio del Tachira. Some had traveled in chartered buses from cities 10 hours away.

    Venezuela's government closed all crossings a year ago to crack down on smuggling along the 1,378-mile (2,219 kilometer) border. It complained that speculators were causing shortages by buying up subsidized food and gasoline in Venezuela and taking them to Colombia, where they could be sold for far higher prices. But shortages have continued to mount in Venezuela amid triple-digit inflation, currency controls that have restricted imports and investment and the world oil price slump that caused a collapse in the oil revenues that fund government spending.

    Although the border was heavily patrolled by Venezuelan troops, the crowds were mostly orderly amid an atmosphere of tense excitement. A few activists handed out anti-government pamphlets, looking to galvanize the frustration that has characterized food riots and long lines outside supermarkets in recent weeks. Some of those waiting to cross made anti-government chants and sang the national anthem, but there was no appetite for confrontation. They were focused on the prospect of getting at fully stocked supermarket shelves and the opportunity to buy even non-essential indulgences like nail polish and beer before the re-closing of border crossings Sunday night. "It's sad to be doing this, but we also know over there we'll find something," said Rosa Cardenas, a 70-year-old retired school teacher accompanied by a 5-month-old granddaughter.

VENEZUELA OILPRODUCTION JUST SANK TO A 13-YEAR LOW, AND THINGS ARE GOINT TO GET WORSE
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
Venezuela’s oil production plunged to a 13-year low in June as the economic crisis continues to eat into the nation’s only source of export revenue. Venezuela’s oil production has declined by 170,000 barrels per day since the start of 2016, dipping to 2.18 million barrels per day (mb/d) in June, according to the IEA’s latest Oil Market Report. Part of that was due to electricity blackouts that cut 120,000 barrels per day from the country’s output between April and June, but even with some of those issues resolved – rain has restored some output at hydroelectric dams – the IEA says that “further losses are expected in 2H16.”

    A year-on-year decline in oil production of 200,000 barrels per day “looks unavoidable as foreign oil service companies reduce their activity and international oil companies face repayment issues and daily operational challenges.” But 200,000 barrels per day could be just the start. Venezuela does have some of the largest oil reserves in the world, but much of its oil production occurs at mature fields that require maintenance. But maintenance requires cash, something that is increasingly scarce in the country. Venezuela’s state-owned PDVSA was already failing to properly invest in oil production even when oil prices were in triple-digit territory several years ago. In fact, production has been gradually declining for more than a decade.

    The problem is that the declines are now accelerating. In the mature oil fields around Lake Maracaibo in the west, wells are depleting as investment falls short. The IEA says that even in the Orinoco Belt in the southeast output is falling because PDVSA is struggling to process the heavy crude due to a shortage of light crude for blending. Venezuela has long predicted that it would be able to ramp up production from its heavy oil fields in the Orinoco Belt, which holds some of the largest heavy oil reserves in the world and accounts for half of the country’s output, in order to compensate for the aging fields in the Maracaibo region. The predictions were always overoptimistic, but now they are entirely off the table.

EUROPEAN UNION PLANS TO APPOINT SPANISH EX-PRESIDENT ZAPATERO "ENVOY" TO VENEZUELA
      

      madrid, SPAIN----
Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo on Monday claimed the European Union plans to appoint Spanish ex-President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero envoy to Venezuela, a move backed by Spain. Zapatero has been supported by the Union of South American Nations (Unasur). Margallo told Spanish TV channel Antena 3 that his government’s efforts in Venezuela aim “to seek a formula for talks leading to national reconciliation, to bolster political stability and the country’s recovery.” In this connection, he highlighted that he would welcome “all possible options” for attaining such purposes.

    “Zapatero has one (a formula), which does not match the proposals made by others leaders, including those in his own party, and which has not been welcomed by all the opposition sectors (in Venezuela),” the official added. The minister talked about Zapatero’s appointment with US Foreign Policy top representative Federica Mogherini and Zapatero himself, who in turn spoke with current Spanish Head of Government Mariano Rajoy. García-Margallo noted that the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) has given a green light to Zapatero’s eventual mediation.

    On behalf of the Spanish government, and together with Unasur, Zapatero has already engaged in mediation efforts in Venezuela along with Dominican and Panamanian former Presidents Leonel Fernández and Martín Torrijos, respectively. García-Margallo, also confirmed yesterday the support of the Government to the appointment of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero as special envoy of the EU for Venezuela. “We are going to contribute to any mediation proposal, no matter how distant the hopes of that having results are”, declared Margallo to Antena 3. The minister talked about this appointment with the representative of foreign policy of the EU, Federica Mogherini, whereas Zapatero talked with Mariano Rajoy. Venezuela’s situation will be analysed at the Council of Foreign Ministers of the EU on 18 July.

July 18, 2016

FORMER PANAMA DICTATOR MANUEL NORIEGA TO HAVE SURGERY ON BRAIN TUMOR

   PANAMA CITY, PANAMA--  Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, currently imprisoned for drug trafficking, political assassinations and money laundering during his rule, will undergo surgery to remove a benign brain tumor, his doctor said Friday.The tumor, called a meningioma, was detected several years ago and has kept growing, his doctor Eduardo Reyes told Reuters by telephone. Noriega, 82, would be transferred from prison to a hospital on Monday and was scheduled for surgery on Thursday, Reyes said. Noriega's doctor is Eduardo Reyes and he says a neurologist has scheduled the surgery for Thursday.

    Reyes said Saturday that representatives of the 82-year-old Noriega are requesting he be allowed to prepare for surgery at home to avoid infection. The tumor has caused severe headaches. In May, Reyes and Noriega's daughter Thays said the tumor had grown significantly and would require surgery. The daughter said then that he had experienced crises that could be attributable to the tumor. Noriega, who ruled Panama from 1983 to 1989, pleaded for forgiveness in a televised message to his country last year.

    "I apologize to anyone who feels offended, hurt, injured or humiliated by my actions or my superiors in compliance with orders, or my subordinates at the time of my civil and military government’s responsibility," Noriega said in June of last year. The plea was largely met with skepticism. Noriega was convicted to three, 20-year sentences for the political assassinations of opponent Hugo Spada, as well as Gen. Moses Giroldi, who attempted a rebellion against Noriega in 1989. Noriega, once a U.S. ally, allowed the U.S. to use Panama to support rebels fighting Nicaragua’s Sandinista government before the U.S. support of Noriega soured and the President George H.W. Bush ordered an invasion of the country in 1989.

DIOSDADO CABELLO WARNS CHAVISTAS NOT TO MEET WITH THE OPPOSITION
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
Lawmaker and vice president of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV, Diosdado Cabello, told Chavistas on Saturday that they are not authorized to meet with leaders of opposition parties, and said that anyone who knows about those meetings should report them to the party’s leaders. “Nobody here is authorized to meet with Voluntad Popular (VP) or Primero Justicia (PJ), no one is authorized to meet with Accion Democratica (AD), no one,” Cabello said in a speech to a Chavista crowd in the central Venezuelan state of Aragua.

     “You people have to be on the lookout and tell us who is going around (to those meetings),” he said. He warned that he himself is going to announce “publicly” who “is mixed up in this” as soon as he finds out. “The people don’t need more traitors negotiating” with opposition parties, he said. “There is no reaching a consensus with the right,” he said, and after noting that “there can’t be any weakness in the forces of revolution,” he added that “those who feel weak can go join the right” because the ruling party needs “real Chavistas.”

     “Don’t forget that we comrades are in the vanguard, and those who are in the vanguard have to realize they must set an example, those who are in the vanguard have to sacrifice themselves more than others, those who are in the vanguard must understand that being in the vanguard does not mean privileges,” he said. He also repeated what he said last Thursday, that there will be no talks with the United Democratic Roundtable, or MUD, since that opposition alliance has made the recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro a condition for dialogue, and that, Cabello said, is not going to happen. “There will be no referendum in 2016, say what you like, but no referendum will be held,” he said. “Gentlemen of the right, there’s a great scarcity of referendums for you guys, because you’re weak, because you’re malicious.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT! VENEZUELAN GOVERNMENT WANTS TO BE TRUSTWORTHY FOR THE PRIVATE SECTOR
      

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA----
Queues to buy inputs are a “big problem” in Venezuela; therefore the Venezuelan government is taking steps to lift production levels, promised Minister of Foreign Trade and Global Investment Jesús Faría during a recent interview on state-run TV channel VTV. The minister reported that the Venezuelan government has joined efforts with workers and most businesspersons to overcome current economic problems.

     As far as he is concerned, the government has strived to create a climate of trust and move closer to the private sector.In his judgment, attacks on the local currency, speculation, manipulation of the production apparatus and a 75% plunge in oil revenues have worsened the political, economic and social standoff in the country. “It is hard to govern, lead an economy, towards recovery, in conditions of political instability. Such political instability aims at deepening the economic crisis so as to produce social outbreak and for the social outbreak to swallow the revolutionary government and the Bolivarian revolution,” he affirmed.

    Faría reckoned that the domestic economy will recover gradually in the next few months, yet he did not specify day and time. Likewise, he cautioned that the second half of 2016 will be “of high political stress,” as the opposition will seek the activation of the recall referendum. “Raising production levels is a must, and we are preparing for that. Levels of imports, inputs and finished products; (levels) of foodstuffs, of all food items, have increased; that is good news,” he pointed out.

July 17, 2016

TURKEY COUP: PRESIDENT ERDOGAN SAYS MILITARY ELEMENTS GUILTY OF "TREASON"

   ISTANBUL, TURKEY--  Turkish forces sought to crack down on the last remnants of an attempted military coup on Saturday afternoon, as it crumbled after crowds answered President Tayyip Erdogan's call to take to the streets to support him. Erdogan, who had been holidaying on the coast when the coup was launched, flew into Istanbul before dawn on Saturday and was shown on TV appearing among a crowd of supporters outside Ataturk Airport, which the coup plotters had failed to secure. One hundred and sixty-one people were killed, including many civilians, after a faction of the armed forces tried to seize power using tanks and attack helicopters.

    Some strafed the headquarters of Turkish intelligence and parliament in the capital, Ankara, and others seized a major bridge in Istanbul. Erdogan accused the coup plotters of trying to kill him and launched a purge of the armed forces, which last used force to stage a successful coup more than 30 years ago. "They will pay a heavy price for this," said Erdogan, who also saw off mass public protests against his rule three years ago. "This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army." In the first signs of a crackdown, on Saturday morning the government announced 2,700 judges were suspended from duty.

    Yildirim told public television that while the death penalty is not permitted under the Turkish constitution, they will consider legal changes "to make sure this does not happen again." But the government declared the situation fully under control, saying 2,839 people had been rounded up from foot soldiers to senior officers, including those who had formed "the backbone" of the rebellion. A successful overthrow of Mr Erdogan, who has ruled the country of about 80 million people since 2003, would have marked another seismic shift in the Middle East, five years after the Arab uprisings erupted and plunged Turkey's southern neighbour Syria into civil war. Factions within the military carried out the attempted coup. The leader is not yet known, but the prime minister said colonels were involved. A lawyer for the Turkish government says "there are indications of direct involvement" in the coup attempt of a cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who is living in exile in Pennsylvania.

VENEZUELA'S NATIONAL ASSEMBLY DECLARES SUPREME COURT UNCONSTITUTIONAL
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
Venezuelan legislators demanded Thursday that three members of the country's Supreme Court step down. In a vote widely backed by the opposition, the National Assembly (AN) endorsed a controversial report claiming the current Supreme Court (TSJ) is unconstitutional. The report was produced by a special AN committee tasked with investigating the conduct of the high court. Presented to legislators earlier Thursday, the report alleged 13 of the TSJ's justices had been appointed in an unconstitutional manner.

    It also named three justices the committee had concluded were unfit for their positions, including Calixto Ortega, Lourdes Suarez and Cristian Zerpa. The report was authored by the opposition coalition, the MUD, which currently holds a majority in the AN. However, pro-government legislators have argued the AN does not have the authority to remove the sitting judges. However, A 2004 reform allows the AN to revoke a TSJ judge's position if legislators find they were appointed under false pretenses, such as using false credentials to obtain the position in the first place.

    The complaints against the three judges named in the AN's report centre around criticisms of a lack of impartiality and due process. Some of the fiercest attacks has been leveled at Zerpa, a former PSUV legislator who was appointed to the TSJ shortly after losing his AN seat in the December 2015 elections. MUD leaders have claimed Zerpa's appointment violated a Constitutional requirement that judges remain politically impartial. Zerpa and 12 other judges were appointed to the TSJ during the lame duck period between the December elections and the swearing in of the new MUD-dominated AN a month later in January. At the time, the MUD complained the move was a last minute power grab by the outgoing PSUV-majority AN and President Nicolas Maduro.

ARGENTINA JUDGE ORDERS THE SEIZURE OF CASH FROM FERNANDEZ'S DAUGHTERS SAFE DEPOSIT BOX
      

      BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA----
A judge on Friday ordered the seizure of more than $4.6 million from a bank safe deposit box belonging to former President Cristina Fernandez's daughter as part of an investigation into alleged money laundering. Fernandez called the probe "a media stunt" and said the money belongs to her family. She said that it came from changing savings in pesos to dollars and that she recently declared the sum to authorities. Argentine authorities had opened the box belonging to Fernandez's daughter, Florencia Kirchner, on Thursday night at the request of the daughter in an effort to clear her name.

    The ruling by Judge Julian Ercolini included two other bank accounts and came after a request by a local prosecutor Friday. Ercolini said in a statement that the seizure was needed "to preserve the state of things" and to ensure that the money "cannot be altered or modified." "That the funds in question have been duly declared is irrelevant because in the maneuvers being investigated, what is being discussed is its origin," said Ercolini, who is also investigating construction businessmen with close ties to Fernandez's family as part of a widening probe into allegations of money laundering.

    The judge is trying to determine whether Fernandez's family received payments through hotels it owns in southern Argentina from businessmen who benefited from the granting of public works contracts. Prosecutors say the alleged scheme would have allowed the money to be laundered. Local lawmaker Margarita Stolbizer recently asked authorities to look into "suspicious movements" in the accounts and safe box belonging to the former president's daughter. Kirchner said Friday that the money is partly from the inheritance left by her father, former President Nestor Kirchner, who died in 2010. "I asked them to open them because I have nothing to hide," she said on social media.
 

July 16, 2016

TRUCK PLOWS INTO BASTILLE DAY CROWD IN FRANCE; TERROR ATTACK KILLED 84, INJURED 100

   NICE, FRANCE--  French President Francois Hollande says the Bastille Day truck attack that killed 84 and injured 100 others in Nice has all the elements of a terrorist attack. "Nothing will make us give way in the fight against terrorism," Hollande said, addressing the nation early Friday. He cited the attacks in Paris last November, saying all of France is under the threat of Islamic State. “France as a whole is under the threat of Islamic terrorism. We have to demonstrate absolute vigilance and show determination that is unfailing.”

    The dead attacker, named as a 31-year-old French-Tunisian who lived in Nice, has not been confirmed to be working for Islamic State. President Hollande said authorities will continue to investigate his identity. Hollande said France's state of emergency, set to end later this month, will be extended another three months and 10,000 extra military personnel will boost the ranks of security forces across the country. He said France will strengthen its roles in Syria and Iraq. The driver steered his speeding truck into a crowd in Nice Thursday night at a celebration of Bastille Day, France's independence holiday. France's Interior Ministry put the death toll at 84 and said the driver was "neutralized," meaning he was shot to death by police. Officers later found the truck had been carrying explosives, grenades and other weapons.

    French news reports said the Paris prosecutor's office, which handles major terrorism cases, had been put in charge of the investigation. Nice, France's fifth-largest city and the capital of the Cote d'Azur region, was put on lockdown by security forces in case further attacks might be planned. A police car is parked near the scene of an attack after a truck drove on to the sidewalk and plowed through a crowd of revelers who'd gathered to watch the fireworks in the French resort city of Nice, southern France, Friday, July 15, 2016. Government officials in Nice said many police officers were among the dead. At least 18 of the survivors were said to be in critical condition.

VENEZUELA OPPOSITION LEADERS ASK FOR VATICAN MEDIATION
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA ---
Venezuela's opposition coalition called for the Vatican to join an international mediation effort with the government, but said it would not back down on a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro. An effort by former leaders of Spain, Panama and the Dominican Republic to launch dialogue "needs to be broadened," the MUD coalition said in a statement, released on Thursday. "We consider the participation of a representative of the Holy See to be fundamental," alongside that of former Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and former presidents Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic and Martín Torrijos of Panama, it said.

     If a Vatican official were included, and the recall vote against Maduro guaranteed, MUD said it was ready to enter discussions next Tuesday. The Venezuelan president, however, has demanded the talks take place "without conditions." His government has also launched hundreds of complaints over signatures gathered to hold the referendum aimed at ousting him. Venezuela is suffering a deep recession driven by falling prices for its oil exports. The crisis has prompted food shortages and deadly looting.

    The opposition blames the socialist president's economic mismanagement. Maduro meanwhile regularly accuses business elites of waging an "economic war" against him by hoarding supplies to aggravate the crisis. Archbishop Diego Padron, chairing an annual conference of Venezuelan bishops, said he was willing to help with the mediation bid. However he also said Maduro "lacked moral authority to call for dialogue and for peace" because of the government's inability to provide food and medicine for the country's population. In a sign of Maduro's concern at mounting social unrest, the president on Thursday replaced the head of the National Guard, even as he confirmed his defense minister, Vladimir Padrino Lopez, in his post.

INCREASE OF ATTACKS AGAINST FOOD DISTRIBUTION TRUCKS CAUSED BY HUNGER AND LAWLESSNESS
      

      CARACAS,  VENEZUELA----
Venezuelan media outlet Últimas Noticias reported Thursday that in the last three months there have been 18 robberies along the country’s Central Regional Highway, negatively affecting national food distribution. The recent surge in attacks against producers and their distributors are allegedly carried out by bachaqueros, buyers and re-sellers of food as well as other products, in addition to organized gangs. The Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) post in Tazón, Caracas officially documented the 18 robberies and five unsuccessful attempts against trucks carrying vegetables and fruits along the Central Regional Highway.

    Arelis Prado, representative of the Collective “Awakening 2021” from Minas de Baruta has worked with national producers from Tachira State to deliver and distribute vegetables in their community. However, constant attacks along roads have caused delays he expressed. “The first time the truck carried 150 bags of five kilos of different vegetables and fruits. They tried to rob the truck when it passed through Aragua State. They [the producers] decided to return and come two days later,” he explained. Not only have local networks been targeted but also government initiatives such as the Sardine Caravan coming out of Sucre state.

    Enio Aguilera, an owner of a truck that was wrecked during an attack, reported that seven vehicles were damaged on their way to the Socialist Fish Fair with the Sardine Caravan. “It was direct sabotage because we could not transport the fish to other parts of the country in the following days,” he explained. Last month, 400 people were arrested in Cumaná, Sucre for ransacking local stores out of frustrations with the current economic situation and inaccessibility of certain goods. Since then, the government has signed agreements with Trinidad and Tobago to provide food and other basic goods to locations across the country, including the Caribbean coastal state. The national government continues to search for answers to resolve the ongoing issues facing the country’s producers and distribution networks.

July 15, 2016

SPANISH FOREIGN MINISTER CLAIMS THE E.U. PLANS TO APPOINT ZAPATERO AS ENVOY TO VENEZUELA

     MADRID, SPAIN-- Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo on Monday claimed the European Union plans to appoint Spanish ex-President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero envoy to Venezuela, a move backed by Spain. However, the former candidate of the table of unit democratic (MUD) Henrique Capriles dismissed the mediation of Zapatero and accused him of travelling by aircraft of the State oil company PDVSA. After the first round exploratory, at the beginning of June in the Dominican Republic, the opposition has declined to resume the dialogue.

     García-Margallo told Spanish TV channel Antena 3 that his government’s efforts in Venezuela aim “to seek a formula for talks leading to national reconciliation, to bolster political stability and the country’s recovery.” In this connection, he highlighted that he would welcome “all possible options” for attaining such purposes. “Zapatero has one (a formula), which does not match the proposals made by others leaders, including those in his own party, and which has not been welcomed by all the opposition sectors (in Venezuela),” the official added.

    The minister talked about Zapatero’s appointment with US Foreign Policy top representative Federica Mogherini and Zapatero himself, who in turn spoke with current Spanish Head of Government Mariano Rajoy. García-Margallo noted that the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) has given a green light to Zapatero’s eventual mediation. On behalf of the Spanish government, and together with Unasur, Zapatero has already engaged in mediation efforts in Venezuela along with Dominican and Panamanian former Presidents Leonel Fernández and Martín Torrijos, respectively.

VENEZUELA OPPOSITION LEADERS ASK SPAIN'S ZAPATERO TO EXPAND DIALOGUE
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA ---
Two state governors of the Venezuelan opposition met on Tuesday with former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to request talks between the government and the opposition that would be expanded to include the social problems currently afflicting the Venezuelan people. The dialogue ought to include such subjects as “what’s happening with medicines and public services” and why all the violence, insecurity and scarcity of food? Because those subjects “are material for dialogue, because the dialogue should be very wide-ranging.

    What we can’t do is concentrate on just one thing,” said the governor of the western state of Lara, Henri Falcon. “Talks have no limits or borders. We can’t have complexes about talking,” Falcon said, adding that the idea is to “be seen by the country as acting responsibly.” Falcon said he requested the meeting as a citizen and governor, and that he asked Gov. Liborio Guarulla of the southern state of Amazonas to accompany him and his invitation was accepted. Lawmakers of the opposition alliance had a meeting Monday with the former head of the Spanish government, Zapatero, and Panamanian ex-President Martin Torrijos, two of the mediators of the dialogue project backed by the Union of South American Nations, or Unasur, and convened by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

    The opposition has laid down conditions for entering talks, including the expansion of international mediation to include the participation of the Vatican, changing the meetings back to Venezuela and scheduling a referendum on recalling Maduro. Zapatero has been in Venezuela since last Friday when he said he felt conditions were right for holding a useful talks between Maduro and the opposition. Since his arrival, Zapatero has also met with officials of the governing party, including lawmaker Diosdado Cabello and Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez.

VENEZUELA'S PRESIDENT NICOLAS MADURO EXTENDS FOR THE THIRD TIME STATE OF EMERGENCY DECREE
      

      CARACAS,  VENEZUELA----
President Nicolas Maduro has extended the country's state of "economic emergency" for another 60 days, an official newspaper reported, a sign of declining conditions in the crisis-hit country. The state of emergency, in place since January, was necessary due to "extraordinary... social, economic, political, natural and ecological" pressures, according to the presidential decree, signed by Maduro on Tuesday and released Wednesday. The declaration allows the government to seize assets of private companies to obtain essential food and goods. It was the third time the state of economic emergency has been extended.

    In May, Maduro declared a general state of emergency, broadening the scope of the economic emergency degree and allowing security units to tackle food and energy shortages and public unrest. Maduro is trying to cling to power and avert the total collapse of his oil-dependent country. This week, he greatly boosted the authority of his defense minister, making him responsible for distributing food, medicine and basic goods. The armed forces have also taken control of Venezuela's five main seaports. Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States, said Wednesday that Maduro's decision to turn key government functions over to the military is "not normal."

    An estimated 80 percent of food items, medicines and other basics are in short supply in Venezuela. Inflation hit 180 percent last year and the IMF has forecast it at 720 percent this year. Critics say the problem stems from the leftist government's model of tight grips on the economy and currency controls in place since 2003. Maduro says he is being targeted by US interests and local business elites bent on stoking grassroots anger and removing him from power. The Venezuelan opposition launched efforts to remove the president after winning control of the legislature in January. But Maduro has challenged his rivals through the Supreme Court, which they accuse him of controlling.

July 14, 2016

US CONGRESSMEN: NO COMMERCIAL FLIGHTS TO CUBA, YET

      WASHINGTON, D.C.-- Several members of Congress want to block the start of scheduled commercial flights between the United States and Cuba, saying that security measures on the island might not be sufficient. Rep. John Katko, R-New York, said the move has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the security of the flying public. "It may turn out there's nothing to be worried about, but we can't take a chance," Katko told reporters Tuesday, adding that he's concerned about the increased volume in flights.

     Currently, limited charter flights are permitted, but after President Barack Obama announced a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba, an agreement was signed between the two countries opening up scheduled commercial flights to 110 round trips a day. Katko, who is from Syracuse, specifically wants to know whether Cuban airports have efficient screening technology for passengers, luggage and cargo and whether the Cuban government will allow U.S. air marshals to fly on these flights. Katko said he's also concerned about how local airport workers will be vetted to avoid threats from insider threats.

     Katko said he's concerned that lapses in security at these airports could make Cuba the "new gateway into the United States for terrorists." The New York representative introduced legislation that would block the flights until the Transportation Security Administration provides a detailed report to Congress about security measures in place at all 10 of Cuba's international airports. The legislation also calls for the Government Accountability Office to conduct an independent audit of TSA's report to Congress; an agreement between the U.S. and Cuba that would allow air marshals on flights between the two countries; and an agreement is signed between the two countries allowing TSA full access to all Cuban airports with direct flights to and from the U.S. to conduct security assessments.

VENEZUELA MILITARY TAKES CONTROL OF FIVE PORTS IN ECONOMIC "WAR STRATEGY"
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA ---
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday ordered the military to take control of five ports as part of "war strategies" to provide food and medicine amid the economic crisis. The ports in the Venezuelan cities of Guanta, Puerto Cabello, Maracaibo and La Guaira, and the Guamache port on the island of Margarita, will be under the control of the military, which will monitor food processing plants and coordinate production and distribution of essential items.

     Maduro named Maj. Gen. Efraín Velasco Lugo as the new head of Venezuela's ports agency, Bolivariana de Puertos S.A. On Monday, Maduro announced the Great Mission of Sovereign Supplying, which, among other things, will determine the purchases and distribution of food, medicine and household goods. The effort, described by Maduro as "war strategies" amid a U.S.-backed "economic war" carried out by political enemies and corporations, will be led by Venezuelan Defense Minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino.

     During a televised address, Maduro said he introduced the measure to "establish order, state authority, coordination, support" for the Venezuelan economy. The economic crisis, which has created a devastating food and medicine shortage in Venezuela, prompted up to 35,000 people in the border town of San Antonio del Tachira to travel to the Colombian town of Cucuta to purchase basic goods. The border crossing linking the towns had been closed since August after three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian were injured in an attack by suspected smugglers in San Antonio del Tachira. The crossing was opened for 12 hours on Sunday to allow Venezuelans to buy goods.

VENEZUELAN MILITARY BEGINS OVERSEEING FOOD DISTRIBUTION
      

      CARACAS,  VENEZUELA----
The Venezuelan military began overseeing food distribution at ports, airports and businesses Tuesday as part of a plan by President Nicolas Maduro to alleviate acute shortages plaguing the country. "We have taken some ports and have started to go to some silos, warehouses, and public and private businesses," said Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, who is in charge of the program. The country, whose economy has been hard-hit by the plunging value of its main export, oil, is suffering from shortages of basic goods such as food, medicine, toilet paper and diapers.

     Padrino said that the distribution program is "a matter of the nation's security and defense." However Venezuelan bishops Tuesday denounced the increased militarization, calling it a "threat to tranquility and peace." Dozens of members of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces were deployed across Vargas, Miranda, Carabobo, Falcon, Lara, Zulia and Anzoategui states to inspect the distribution. Maduro said Monday that the goal of the program was to end corrupt practices, such as crooked officials turning food deliveries over to smugglers who resell the items. According to Maduro, such an act, which is punishable by five years in prison, is part of the "unconventional warfare" being waged by the opposition and right-leaning entrepreneurs.

     The Venezuelan opposition has launched recent efforts to remove Maduro from office via a referendum and blames the socialist president's economic mismanagement for the country's deep recession and shortages. "We will ensure that what arrives at the ports and heads down the road to consumers will not go towards resale," Francisco Arias, governor of Zulia, said on state-run television. On Monday the government ordered the takeover of operations at facilities where US consumer goods giant Kimberly-Clark had just shut down. The American company announced on Saturday it would cease production. It said it was impossible to get enough hard currency to buy raw materials, and that inflation was surging.

July 13, 2016

BEIJING'S SOUTH CHINA SEA CLAIMS REJECTED BY HAGUE TRIBUNAL

       BEIJING, CHINA-- An international tribunal in The Hague delivered a sweeping rebuke on Tuesday of China’s behavior in the South China Sea, including the construction of artificial islands, and found that its expansive claim to sovereignty over the waters had no legal basis. The tribunal also said that Beijing had violated international law by causing “severe harm to the coral reef environment” and by failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from harvesting endangered sea turtles and other species “on a substantial scale.”

    The landmark case, brought by the Philippines, was seen as an important crossroads in China’s rise as a global power. It is the first time the Chinese government has been summoned before the international justice system, and the decision against it could provide leverage to other neighboring countries that have their own disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea. “It’s an overwhelming victory. We won on every significant point,” said the Philippines’ chief counsel in the case, Paul S. Reichler. “This is a remarkable victory for the Philippines.”

    But while the decision is legally binding, there is no mechanism for enforcing it, and China, which refused to participate in the tribunal’s proceedings, reiterated on Tuesday that it would not abide by it. “The award is invalid and has no binding force,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “China does not accept or recognize it.” The foreign secretary of the Philippines, Perfecto Yasay, said Manila welcomed the decision as “significant” and called on “all those concerned.

CITIBANK WILL CLOSE VENEZUELA'S CURRENCY ACCOUNTS
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA ----
Embattled Venezuela seems to be too much to take for Citibank, as Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolás Maduro said on Monday that the US-based bank will shut down his government’s foreign currency accounts within a month. Maduro asserted the move was part of a “financial blockade”, writes the FT’s Andres Schipani. “Without warning Citibank says that in 30 days it will close the Central Bank and the Bank of Venezuela’s accounts. That is called financial blockade,” he said in a speech, adding his government uses Citibank for transactions in the United States and elsewhere.

    “Do you think they’re going to stop us with a financial blockade? No, gentlemen, this is a different world. Nobody stops Venezuela. With Citibank or without Citibank, we march on,” he said, adding, “with Kimberly or without Kimberly, we march on”, referring to Kimberly-Clark, the international maker of personal care products which has halted operations there. Following a periodic risk management review in Venezuela, Citi has decided to discontinue correspondent banking and the servicing of certain accounts in the country.

    This decision is not a reflection of our commitment to a country we have served for almost 100 years. We value our dialogue with the President’s administration and hope to address its concerns in the interest of continuing to serve our clients. Ravaged by a recession, galloping inflation and food shortages, critics would argue Venezuela is now being “stopped” first and foremost by the mismanagement of Mr Maduro’s government. But in a time-honoured tradition officials have pointed fingers at political foes and local businessmen, accusing them of waging an “economic war” against the country.

VENEZUELA TAKES OVER KIMBERLY-CLARK FACILITIES
      

      CARACAS,  VENEZUELA----
Venezuela's embattled government said Monday it would take over operations at facilities where US consumer goods giant Kimberly-Clark just shut down, citing unworkable economic conditions. "We are going to sign, at the workers' request... to authorize immediate occupation of the workplace known as Kimberly-Clark de Venezuela... by its workers," Labor Minister Oswaldo Vera said at the facility's plant in the central city of Maracay.

    The country's economy has been hard hit by the plunging value of its main export, oil. Analysts also criticize its state-led economy of gross mismanagement leading to shortages of toilet paper, diapers and food. Vera signed the document to loud cheers; he said machines would be back in operation within hours. "As of today, Kimberly-Clark's doors are open and its production on line," the minister said, recalling that President Nicolas Maduro has warned that companies that cease production stand to lose their facilities.

    The American company announced on Saturday it would cease production. It said it was impossible to get enough hard currency to buy raw materials, and that inflation was surging. "Kimberly-Clark made the decision to suspend operations in response to the continued deterioration of the economic conditions in the country," a statement read. "The company was forced into this action due to circumstances beyond its control and acted appropriately in executing the suspension of operations." Kimberly-Clark said it "remains concerned for the safety of its former employees in Venezuela.

July 12, 2016

MERCOSUR WILL DEFINE THIS THURSDAY TRANSFER OF PRESIDENCY PRO TEMPORE

       MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY--Montevideo-without any agreement ended the meeting of Foreign Ministers and Deputy Foreign Ministers of Mercosur who discussed on Monday in Montevideo the transfer of the Presidency pro tempore of the block to Venezuela. "Each one of those countries is keeping its original position", declared the Uruguayan Chancellor n Rodolfo Nin Novoa on behalf of his Mercosur partners. "We have accordingly given ourselves until the next Thursday, a fourth intermediate, so each minister can make the necessary consultations with all the member countries," he added. "

     In this way, he refuted the statement made minutes earlier by the Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez, who had assured international journalists that “In the next few days, the Presidency pro tempore will be delivery from Uruguay to Venezuela." For this reason, Nin Novoa made emphasis in clarifying that the block is still "discussing" and "analyzing" their options. Although the position of Uruguay, the current President pro tempore of the group, is that Venezuela takes that position, Brazil and Paraguay do not support it. Brazil already proposes the postponement of the discussion of transfer until August, as its Foreign Minister said last week in Montevideo, adding that he was concerned with the situation in Venezuela.

    "Paraguay, for its part, has repeatedly pointed out that it considers that the Government of Nicolás Maduro seeks to silence the National Assembly. "We want that whoever represents us have the credentials required in the Treated of Asuncion", Chancellor Paraguayan Eladio Loizaga emphasized next to his Uruguayan colleague. It is worthy mentioning, he continues, that AFP informed that Rodriguez even said that the Paraguayan Foreign Minister and Undersecretary for Latin America and the Caribbean of the Brazilian Foreign Ministry, Pablo Estivallet "hid themselves in the bathroom because they didn’t want to face Venezuela". The answer provided by the Paraguayan Minister was: "Yes, if we were in the bathroom it was because a physiological necessity called on us.”

THOUSANDS OF VENEZUELANS HAVE CROSSED THE COLOMBIAN BORDER TO BUY FOOD
      

           CUCUTA, COLOMBIA ----
  More than 35,000 Venezuelans crossed the border into this Colombian city on Sunday, mainly to stock up on food and medicine, thanks to the “humanitarian corridor” opened by the two governments, authorities told EFE. The human wave came over the Simon Bolivar and Francisco de Paula Santander international bridges linking Venezuela and Cucuta, the capital of Colombia’s Norte de Santander province.

    “More than 35,000 people, which is a very significant figure, crossed the border and by midday about 10,000 had already returned to Venezuela. We hope that the rest also do so in an orderly way by the end of the day,” the director of the Colombian government’s Borders for Prosperity Plan, Victor Bautista, told EFE by telephone. The official, who was dispatched by Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Antela Holguin to oversee the situation in Cucuta and coordinate government actions there, added that given the massive inflow of Venezuelans the decision was made to expand the hours during which they may make purchases in Cucuta.

     “We decided to expand the schedule to 8 p.m. and, if necessary, to midnight so that they can enter (Colombian) territory to do their shopping,” he said. The border crossing points between Venezuela’s Tachira state and Colombia’s Norte de Santander province were closed last Aug. 19 by order of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as part of a campaign to fight smuggling and alleged paramilitaries, a measure that later was expanded to all crossing points between the countries, which share a border of 2,219 kilometers (1,376 miles).

KIMBERLY-CLARK HALTS VENEZUELA OPERATIONS ON DETERIORATING ECONOMY
      

      CARACAS,  VENEZUELA----
Personal care products maker Kimberly-Clark Corp. KMB.N on Saturday said it was halting its Venezuela operations due to the deteriorating economic situation that includes soaring consumer prices and shortages of basic goods. Irving, Texas-based Kimberly-Clark, the maker of Huggies diapers and Kleenex tissues, said that over the last two months it had already halted most of its production lines.

     It said it had been unable to obtain raw materials or hard currency and had been adversely affected by high inflation. "The combination of these factors makes it impossible to continue our business at this time," Kimberly-Clark said in a statement. "Kimberly-Clark will not continue producing, distributing or selling its product lines for institutional or mass consumption while this suspension is in effect." The OPEC nation's economy is in free fall due to low oil prices and a collapsing socialist economic model.

     Venezuelans routinely spend hours in line to find basic products ranging from food and medicine to personal care items such as diapers, sanitary napkins and toilet paper. Many of those items are subject to price controls set below the cost of production, which has left companies with few incentives to produce them and fueled a smuggling trade by those who buy them and resell them at a hefty markup. Kimberly-Clark in 2013 agreed to invest the equivalent of $37 million to boost toilet paper production, according to a state media report at the time, as part of efforts to ease an embarrassing shortage of the product. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blames the country's problems an on "economic war" by business leaders with the backing of Washington.

July 11, 2016

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA URGES NICOLAS MADURO TO RESPECT THE AUTHORITY OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

       MADRID, SPAIN-- The President of the United States, Barack Obama, urged the President of the Republic o Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, to follow the rules of law and to respect the authority of the National Assembly. " He spoke with newspaper reporters from Spain, where he arrived Saturday. "We urge the Government of Venezuela that it abide by the rule of law and the authority of the National Assembly, let released political prisoners and respect the democratic process, including efforts to convene a recall in accordance with Venezuelan laws and Constitution".

     Last Wednesday thw President made similar comments in Canada. In a joint press conference in Ottawa during the North American Leaders Summit, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Obama said: “Together we call on the government of Venezuela and the opposition to engage in meaningful dialogue and we urge the Venezuelan government to respect the law and authority of the National Assembly,” Obama said.

    The conservative Venezuelan opposition is pushing for a recall against Maduro and is awaiting for the government to approve the signatures submitted to prompt a vote. Conservative legislators won control of the Venezuelan National Assembly, the equivalent of Congress, in December 2015 elections. In response to Obama’s remarks, Maduro said Thursday in a statement that his American counterpart has an, “interventionist obsession,” which he deems “unacceptable.” “It is contradictory and illogical to urge the Venezuelan government to disregard the state of law with the sole end of satisfying the antidemocratic interests of the Venezuelan opposition,” Maduro stated. Venezuela has been in a state of crisis for several months as its economy collapses and its politics sit at a tense standstill. The oil-rich country is also suffering major food and medicine shortages.

RAMOS ALLUP: VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION TO DIALOGUE WITH "WHOEVER" IF CONDITIONS ARE ACCEPTED
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA ----
Venezuelan National Assembly speaker and opposition leader Henry Ramos Allup said on Saturday that the coalition he represents is ready to sit down to talks with “whoever” to save the country, but only if the conditions presented Thursday are accepted. “If we have to sit down at the table to talk with (evil spirits like) Mandinga or La Sayona or Lucifer, with whoever to save this country... we will do it, because a goal of my life is saving Venezuela above all else,” Ramos Allup said at an event in Brion Plaza in the Caracas municipality of Chacaito. On Friday, former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, one of the promoters of dialogue in Venezuela, returned to the Caribbean country and said conditions are right for talks between the Venezuelan government and the opposition, and the two sides could meet starting as early as next Tuesday, July 12.

    Ramos Allup recalled on Saturday that to enter into talks with the Venezuelan government, first, the conditions presented by the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD, must be complied with because none of them are negotiable. “We’re defending our constitutional rights. Holding a recall referendum this year is not negotiable, the election of governors is not negotiable, the situation of our prisoners and exiles is not negotiable, the humanitarian crisis is not negotiable, respect for the sovereignty of the people is not negotiable,” he said. “And if they don’t like it, well, we won’t sit down to talks,” the speaker said.

    Ramos Allup made his statement after saying that “the world” wants the Caribbean nation to begin a useful dialogue. He said the talks should be held at the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, at the Episcopal Conference of Venezuela, or in Panama, but not in the Dominican Republic, because the president of that country, Danilo Medina, wants everything done in favor of the Venezuelan government. At the same time, the executive secretary of the MUD, Jesus Torrealba, said the talks should take place in Venezuela, because he doesn’t believe in secret diplomacy and recalled that the mediation commission should be expanded because “what’s important” is to “create confidence.” “The rights contemplated in the Magna Carta are not negotiable; they must be put into effect.

HENRIQUE CAPRILES SEES NO ROOM FOR VENEZUELA DIALOGUE AS CRISIS GROWS
      

      CARACAS,  VENEZUELA----
Opposition governor and two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said the time for dialogue with Venezuela’s government to resolve a simmering political and economic crisis had long passed. “There has been no dialogue here, the culture of dialogue has been destroyed,” Capriles said at a Friday news conference in Caracas. “The government is only interested in a show and in buying time.” Capriles urged the opposition alliance to remain unified but also to review its agenda to stay in line with the demands of ordinary Venezuelans as they face the worst recession in decades and the world’s fastest inflation.

    He said there should be no mediated talks with the government until the national electoral board, or CNE, sets a date for the opposition’s recall referendum on the rule of President Nicolas Maduro. Capriles’s comments came as former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has been in Caracas pushing for mediated talks with the the South American regional bloc known as Unasur. The state-run Telesur network reported in late May that leaders of the ruling socialist party and opposition had met in the Dominican Republic.

    On Friday, Maduro’s government filed a suit against the leadership of opposition-controlled National Assembly at the Supreme Court for usurping its powers, Elvis Amoroso, the government’s legal representative, said on state television. Since winning control of congress in December elections, the opposition has seen its central initiatives and majority narrowed by the court. “We can’t keep going to the table with the mediators until the mediators themselves tell the government to respect the constitution and set a date for the referendum,” Capriles said. “Are we properly reading the crisis in the country? We have to get out of our comfort zone and and defend the people so that there’s a solution this year, because we don’t want a social explosion or coup.”

July 10, 2016

IT IS CONFIRMED THAT MERCOSUR WILL DISCUSS THE VENEZUELA CRISIS ON JULY 11

       ASUNCION, PARAGUAY-- PARAGUAY is opposed to the transfer of Mercosur heaquarters, currently in the hands of Uruguay, be transferred to Venezuela. Paraguay strongly believe that Mercosur leadership must be assumed by a country with demonstrated "democratic credentials,” respect for human rights and recognized economic stability ."

     The meeting of Foreign Ministers of Mercosur, as summoned by Paraguay, will be to discuss the transfer of the temporary Presidency of the bloc to Venezuela. It will be held "YES or YES" next Monday in Montevideo, reported Paraguayan Foreign Minister, Eladio Loizaga. The official added that his counterpart from Argentina, Susana Malcorra, confirmed her participation and that the Foreign Minister of Brazil, José Serra, possibly will not be present because of a scheduled trip to China. He would be represented by his Deputy Ministers.

    The meeting, in which the Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Delcy Rodríguez, has not been invited, was requested in May by the Paraguayan Foreign Minister, who proposeg that the meeting be done within the framework of the Ushuaia Protocol on human rights and respect for democracy as established by Mercosur. Paraguay strongly reiterated that it opposes the transfer of the Mercosur headquarters, currently in the hands of Uruguay, to to Venezuela. It is reiterated that the position must be assumed by a country with "democratic credentials, respect for human rights and strong economic stability."

DICTATOR RAUL CASTRO SAYS CUBAN ECONOMY NOT ON VERGE OF COLLAPSE
      

           HAVANA, CUBA ----DICTATOR
Raul Castro acknowledged on Friday that Cuba’s economy is going through some “adverse circumstances” that make spending cuts a necessity, but rejected “omens” of an imminent collapse. In the first half of the year, the economy grew by 1 percent, just half of the projected increase, Castro told the National Assembly. That result, he said, was conditioned by such factors as lower than expected export revenues plus “a certain drop in the fuel supply from Venezuela compared to the amount contracted,” and the continued effects of the U.S. economic embargo.

     Under these adverse circumstances, the Cabinet adopted a series of measures aimed at “protecting the chief activities that ensure a strong economy, and minimizing the elements most unfavorable for the people,” Castro said in a speech cited by official media. The president rebuffed “speculations” whose purpose is to “sow pessimism and uncertainty” about an “imminent collapse” of the economy with a consequent “return to the toughest phase of the special period” decreed in the early 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of annual subsidies from Moscow. “We don’t deny there might be some difficulties, even more than at present, but we’re prepared and in better shape than we were then to counteract them,” he said.

     After warning that there is no room for improvisation “and even less for defeatism,” Castro said it is necessary “to reduce all expenditures that are not absolutely essential,” while promoting the efficient use of available resources. The measures to be rolled out by the government will also be aimed at concentrating investments in activities that produce revenues, substitute imports and help strengthen infrastructure. “To sum it up, the idea is not to detain the nation’s development in the slightest degree,” said the Cuban president, who also guaranteed the preservation and higher quality of social services. Castro reaffirmed his mission to continue modernizing the island’s economic model “at a rate that we determine will forge the consensus and unity of the Cuban people in the construction of socialism.”

NORTH KOREA FIRES MISSILE FROM A SUBMARINE BUT IT APPEARS TO HAVE FAILED
      

      SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA----
North Korea fired a ballistic missile from a submarine on Saturday but it appears to have failed soon after launch, South Korea's military said. The launch comes at the end of a week of sharply rising tensions on the peninsula. It is only a day after the U.S. and South Korea pledged to deploy an advanced anti-missile system to counter threats from Pyongyang, and two days after North Korea warned it was planning its toughest response to what it deemed a "declaration of war" by the United States. That followed Washington's blacklisting of the isolated state's leader Kim Jong Un for alleged human rights abuses.

     The South's Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the missile was launched at about 11:30 a.m. Seoul time (0230 GMT) in waters east of the Korean peninsula. The missile was likely fired from a submarine as planned but appears to have failed in the early stage of flight, the Joint Chiefs said. Neighboring Japan, the United States, and South Korea's military condemned the missile launch as a flagrant violation of U.N. sanctions. South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the missile's engine successfully ignited but the projectile soon exploded in mid-air at a height of about 10 km (6 miles), and covered not more than a few kilometers across the water.

     The South's military declined to confirm those details citing its policy of not publicly commenting on intelligence matters. The missile was detected in the sea southeast of the North Korean city of Sinpo, South Korea's military said. Satellite images indicate Pyongyang is actively trying to develop its submarine-launched ballistic missile program in this area, according to experts. The U.S. Strategic Command, whose mission is to detect and prevent strategic attacks against the United States and its allies, said it had detected what it believed was a KN-11 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). It was fired from North Korea's east coast port of Sinpo and then fell into the sea between there and Japan, the command said in a statement.

July 9, 2016

LUIS ALMAGRO: THE DEMOCRATIC CHARTER IS ENABLED AND IN PROCESS OF IMPLEMENTATION

       WASHINGTON, D.C.-- The Secretary general of the OAS, Luis Almagro stressed that the Inter-American Democratic Charter (CDI) is activated and it is in the process of implementation. "the report presented by the Secretary-General during the OAS conference was the first step." Almagro made the statements during an interview granted to the channel of news Colombian NTN24. He asserted that "we are already immersed in the middle of the process of application of the Charter."

     When Almagro was questioned on the process of dialogue that has been proposed by the Commission led by former President Spanish Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, he said that it is “very important.” It is an instrument of dialogue but this instrument of dialogue has to produce concrete results (...) he has been impossible so far to the three expresidentes", said Almagro, who emphasized that there must be "a clear agenda" for the dialogue. He also said that the opinion of the Governor of the Miranda State Henrique Capriles is very important due to the fact that he "has very strongly represented an important sector, or all, of the Venezuelan opposition".

     "Almagro said that the process of the Democratic Charter is currently in "collective evaluation," that makes the third step the process. “The Charter is being applied since the moment the secretary general presented his report at the (Permanent) Council (on June 23). The process began when the agenda was accepted and the (special) meeting took place. The meeting was held in compliance with the Charter.” Almagro invoked the Charter based on Article 20, which authorizes him or any Member State to convene the Permanent Council to undertake a “collective assessment” upon considering there is “an alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs (a country’s) democratic order.”

PARAGUAYAN DEPUTIES REJECT VENEZUELA'S PRESIDENCY OF MERCOSUR
      

           ASUNCION, PARAGUAY ----
Paraguayan deputies claimed Venezuela faces “instability in the economic field,” adding that for such reason the Caribbean nation cannot hold the presidency of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur). The Chamber of Deputies of Paraguay on Wednesday approved a declaration against Venezuela’s pro tempore presidency of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur), a responsibility this country must take on in July for half a year.

     The declaration, which was approved by the parliament majority, was proposed by Deputy José María Ibáñez, who rejected Venezuela’s possible presidency claiming the Caribbean nation “is facing hard times with respect to civic liberties,” Efe reported. “There is instability in the economic field; a country with difficulties to provide its citizens’ with the basic food basket cannot lead the economic bloc, where an integration agenda is set,” Ibáñez stressed in an official communiqué. The document also backs the stance of Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes reiterating that Mercosur presidency must be held by a country with “internal tranquillity,” Paraguayan Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga said on Tuesday.

      In this connection, Loizaga requested his country to hold a meeting with Mercosur foreign ministers to tackle the issue of Venezuela before transferring the presidency. He added that such meeting would take place on July 11 in Montevideo, Uruguay. Foreign ministers of Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay plan to hold a meeting next July 11 in Montevideo, to discuss the political state of affairs in Venezuela, which is to take on the temporary presidency of Mercosur, reported Paraguayan Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga reported.

ARGENTINA: FORMER PRESIDENT CRISTINA FERNANDEZ HAS ASSETS FROZEN (Chavistas and Maduristas, Be Aware)
      

      BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA----
A judge in Buenos Aires has frozen the assets of former Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Fernandez has been accused of making fraudulent foreign currency transactions last year in the final months of her government. She has denied the allegations and accused the centre-right government of Mauricio Macri of plotting against her. Some of her closest aides are being investigated for alleged mishandling of public funds. "The harassment by what I call the 'judicial party' has become ridiculous," Ms Fernandez said in a press conference after appearing in court.

     Hundreds of police officers were deployed outside the court building where the hearing took place. Fernandez was charged in May for allegedly ordering irregular central bank transactions in the US dollar futures market. Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio, who is leading the investigation, is a declared opponent of the former president. Last week he ordered searches on several of her family's properties in the province of Santa Cruz in a separate probe on money laundering. Fernandez's supporters accuse Mr Macri of political persecution. Last month, one of Mrs Fernandez's top public works officials, Jose Lopez, was caught throwing bags filled with a total of nearly $9m (£6.7m) over the walls of a monastery in Buenos Aires province.

     He was arrested on suspicion of money laundering. Fernandez was married to the late Argentine President Nestor Kirchner. The former President is also to be investigated for alleged illicit enrichment, according to a complaint from the Social Democrat Deputy Margarita Stolbizer. Legislator accused Kirchner of hidden ownership of $ 5 million in safety deposit boxes in the Bank of Santa Cruz, the Patagonian province where the Kirchner family comes from. Another judge ordered to make an inspection of the Bank although the entity rejected the existence of the boxes.

July 8, 2016

U.S. CONGRESS APPROVES EXTENSION OF SANCTIONS AGAINST NICOLAS MADURO'S REGIME

       WASHINGTON, D.C.-- The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday extended sanctions imposed on the administration of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who reacted by calling U.S. lawmakers "terrorists" and banning them from Venezuela. Sanctions were first imposed on the South African country in 2014. The measure approved unanimously in the House extends the sanctions until the end of 2019. U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill. The measure would freeze the assets of Maduro and his senior aides, also denying them entry visas into the United States.

    The sanctions target Venezuelan government officials and others accused of violating human rights, suppressing political opposition and committing violence against peaceful protestors. "As the Venezuelan people are deprived of liberty, protest the lack of food or necessary supplies available, and live through a deteriorating economy, we should keep up the pressure on the oppressors by freezing assets and removing visas of human rights violators in Maduro's regime," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "As we send this bill to the White House for signature, I once again urge President Obama to add more names to the list of those sanctioned in order to fight for democracy in Venezuela."

     The 2014 sanctions were first imposed after violence and political arrests swept Venezuela. High-profile Venezuelan opposition officials were arrested, including Leopoldo Lopez, leader of the Voluntad Popular -- or Popular Will -- opposition party and former mayor of Chacao. Lopez was sentenced in September to nearly 14 years imprisonment. "I am proud that Congress has once again stood with the Venezuelan people by extending these sanctions, and now the Obama administration must do its part by fully implementing this law against the many human rights violators in the Maduro regime," Rubio said on Wednesday . "As the despicable Maduro regime continues to violate the rights of its own people, it is our duty as a country to continue to do everything we can to address the catastrophe that has become Venezuela."

VENEZUELA REJECTS NEW SANCTIONS APPROVED BY U.S. CONGRESS
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA ----
The statement from Caracas rejects the U.S decision announced Monday. The Venezuelan government rejected Tuesday aggressive new U.S.-imposed sanctions and stated that the measures flout international law.

     “The people of Venezuela ratifies its independence and sovereignty. We do not recognize … interference of any kind by foreign powers,” read a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It added, “The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela deplores the continued attacks by the Government of the United States” that “continue violating the principles of national sovereignty, equal rights and non-interference in the internal affairs inherent in international law.”

   Caracas also notes that the U.S. decision, taken Monday, “contravenes the will of all governments and peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean,” referring to the recent CELAC conference that expressed its “deep rejection” of such unilateral U.S actions. It drew attention to decisions by two other regional bodies, MERCOSUR and UNASUR, which both recently urged the U.S. government to refrain from unilateral sanctions that "do not contribute to stability, social peace and democracy."

U.S. WARNS ITS CITIZENS OF TRAVEL TO VENEZUELA
      

      WASHINGTON, D.C.----
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens that violent crime in Venezuela is pervasive, both in the capital Caracas and throughout the country. Security restrictions on U.S. government personnel may restrict the services the Embassy can provide. All U.S. direct-hire personnel and their families assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Caracas are subject to an embassy movement policy which limits their travel abilities within Caracas and in other parts of the country for their safety and well-being. Country-wide shortages of food, water, medicine, electricity, and other basic goods have led to violence and looting. This replaces the Travel Warning issued on September 18, 2015.

     Venezuela has one of the world's highest crime rates and, according to the non-governmental organization Venezuelan Violence Observatory, has the second highest homicide rate. Violent crime - including murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, and carjacking - is endemic throughout the country. Drug traffickers and illegal armed groups are active in the Colombian border states of Zulia, Tachira, and Apure. Armed robberies and street crime take place throughout Caracas and other cities, including in areas generally presumed safe and frequented by tourists.

     Heavily armed criminals are known to use grenades and assault rifles to commit crimes at banks, shopping malls, public transportation stations, and universities. Criminals may take advantage of power outages to target victims when lights and security alarms are nonfunctional. Although Venezuela is a signatory to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the Venezuelan government sometimes fails to notify the U.S. Embassy when U.S. citizens are arrested, and/or delays or denies consular access to arrestees. In cases where individuals hold dual citizenship we are not guaranteed consular access to the detained individuals. Regardless, the U.S. Embassy makes it a priority to request access to U.S. citizens, but U.S. citizens cannot assume a consular officer will visit them within 24-72 hours of an arrest.
 

July 7, 2016

BEIJING'S NEWSPAPER: CHINA PREPARE FOR WAR IN SOUTH CHINA SEA

       PEKIN, CHINA-- An editorial in the Chinese government-run newspaper, the Global Times, asserts that Beijing is “prepared for any military confrontation” with the United States or the Philippines in response to an expected verdict later this month on the Philippines’ territorial case against China at The Hague. “China is a peace-loving country and deals with foreign relations with discretion, but it won’t flinch if the US and its small clique keep encroaching on its interests on its doorstep,” the article asserts. “China hopes disputes can be resolved by talks, but it must be prepared for any military confrontation. This is common sense in international relations.”

     The author asserts that China should be ready to “let the US pay a cost it cannot stand if it intervenes in the South China Sea dispute by force.” The case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration is a challenge to China’s “nine-dash line,” a border China claims in the South China Sea that overlaps with the exclusive territory of the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, and Malaysia, and touches Indonesian waters. China claims the fishing grounds and islands within are “historically” Chinese territory, and has spent the past two years building military and civilian facilities in the Spratly and Paracel Islands and the Scarborough Shoal, causing untold environmental damage and threatening its neighbors with military force.

     “We’ve pointed out many times recently that as for the relevant dispute, China does not accept any decision imposed by a third party as a means of resolution, nor any solution plan that is forced upon China.” The Chinese government has repeatedly asserted it will disregard any verdict from The Hague. “It is fairly generally accepted under international law that the excess of power may be treated as a nullity. That’s exactly the position taken by China,” a separate Global Times article asserts. “The Arbitral Tribunal exercised jurisdiction ultra vires and any of its decisions have no legal effects.” The Chinese military is beginning drills Tuesday near the Paracel Islands, claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines, scheduled to end on July 11, the day before the verdict. Chinese authorities have claimed both that the drills are “routine” and that they are meant for “peacekeeping” in the region against competing claimants.

PROPERTIES OF EX-ARGENTINE LEADER CRISTINA FERNANDEZ RAIDED IN PROBE
      

           BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA ----
Authorities on Thursday raided several properties owned by former Argentine President Cristina Fernandez as part of an investigation into possible illegal enrichment during her time in office. Fernandez used her Twitter account to decry the searches of her properties in southern Argentina under a court order, calling the move political persecution by her successor.

     Separately, a federal court on Thursday ordered that Fernandez be included in an investigation of alleged money laundering by Lazaro Baez, a businessman who was recently arrested. Baez benefited from public works contracts and other projects during the 12 years that Fernandez and her late husband and predecessor as president, Nestor Kirchner, were in power. The raids in southern Argentina came in a case that was begun after an opposition legislator charged that the renting of properties by the Los Sauces real estate company, established by Kirchner and owned by Fernandez, covered up payments to the couple for granting lucrative contracts.

    Fernandez blamed conservative President Mauricio Macri, who replaced her in December. "It has been years, even decades, since we last saw this kind of abuse of power and political persecution," Fernandez said on Twitter. "This is not the first, nor will it be the last case that they're going to make up." During her eight years in the presidency, Fernandez was dogged by corruption allegations. Since leaving office, she has also been included in investigations involving allegations of defrauding the state as part of her government's handling of the dollar futures market. She has denied any wrongdoing.

US HOLDS MORE OIL RESERVESS THAN SAUDI ARABIA, VENEZUELA, NEW STUDY SHOWS
      

      WASHINGTON, D.C.----
The US holds the world's biggest recoverable reserves of oil putting it ahead of OPEC giants Saudi Arabia and Venezuela as well as Russia, according to an independent study by Norwegian research group Rystad Energy. In estimates which include potential reserves in recent discoveries and in yet to be discovered fields, US reserves total 264 billion barrels, ahead of 256 billion barrels in Russia and 212 billion barrels in Saudi Arabia. For the US, more than half of the remaining oil reserves are made up of unconventional shale oil with Texas alone holding over 60 billion barrels of shale oil, Rystad said Monday citing the new data.

    Under a more conservative measure based on proven and probable reserves in existing fields, however, the US holds 40 billion barrels of oil, well below Saudi Arabia's 120 billion barrels but almost double Venezuela's 22 billion barrels, the Rystad figures show. Rystad differentiates its estimates from those such as BP's closely-watched Statistic Review, which are based on reporting from national authorities often using an "opaque" set of reporting standards. Some OPEC countries like Venezuela, for example, report official reserves apparently including yet undiscovered oil, Rystad noted, while others like China and Brazil report conservative estimates based only on existing fields. Rystad's own figures include just crude and condensate, whereas BP's figures also include natural gas liquids.

     "An established standard approach for estimating reserves is applied to all fields in all countries, so reserves can be compared apple to apple across the world, both for OPEC and non-OPEC countries," Rystad said in a statement. Under the report, Venezuela sees the biggest impact from Rystad's reserves criteria compared the country's official reported proven oil reserves. Widely reported to hold the world's biggest oil reserves ahead of Saudi Arabia, Venezuela only holds 95 billion barrels of reserve under Rystad's widest measure, well below the official estimates of 301 billion barrels. Excluding estimates of yet to be discovered oil in Venezuela, the OPEC member's oil reserves are on par with Brazil at 41 billion barrels, making it OPEC's sixth largest reserves holder, the data shows. As a result, total OPEC oil reserves, excluding undiscovered fields, make up just over half of the global total. By contrast, BP estimates that more than than 70% of the world's reserves sits in OPEC member countries.

July 6, 2016


SOCIALIST INTERNATIONAL ADVOCATES RECALL REFERENDUM IN VENEZUELA THIS YEAR

       GENEVA, SWITZERLAND -- World parties to the Socialist International issued a communiqué during their meeting held on July 1-2 at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva. There, they voiced concern about Venezuela’s state of affairs and made an appeal for “a real and effective dialogue between the Venezuelan government and opposition.” Likewise, they highly recommend holding the recall referendum this very year.

      "Socialist International jumps in solidarity with the statement of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, last June 1, whereby it expresses support to the initiative of ex presidents José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain, Leonel Fernández of the Dominican Republic, and Martín Torrijos of Panama," reads the communiqué posted on the SI website.

     The alliance of leftist parties “deplores that the government of President (Nicolás) Maduro promotes conflict of powers, using for that purpose the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) against the autonomous decisions of the legislative power.” According to them, the TSJ judgments “clearly disrupt the decisions of that legislative body, thus violating the spirit of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and compromises democratic values based on common respect, balance and autonomy of the State powers.”

PARAGUAY RECOMMENDS A MEETING FOR MERCOSUR TO DEAL WITH VENEZUELA'S POLITICAL MATTERS
      

           ASUNCION, PARAGUAY ----
Paraguay set the meeting of foreign ministers of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) for July 11 in order to address Venezuela’s political situation. Foreign ministers of Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay plan to hold a meeting next July 11 in Montevideo, to discuss the political state of affairs in Venezuela, which is to take on the temporary presidency of Mercosur, reported Paraguayan Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga reported.

     Loizaga said that the date for the event was provided by Rodolfo Nin Novoa, from Uruguay, which nowadays holds Mercosur presidency. Lozaiga is responsible for the coordination of the meeting together with his counterparts Susana Malcorra of Argentina and José Serra of Brazil. “Venezuela’s situation gets complicated day after day and we need as the head of Mercosur a country with internal quiet, quiet, peace, in order to go ahead with the challenges we have in the upcoming semester,” Loizaga told reporters. Last Monday, Nin Novoa declared that legally Venezuela should take on the temporary presidency of Mercosur, which rotates every six months.

    This time, it would take place without the customary summit of Heads of State due to the present political atmosphere in Venezuela and Brazil. Last May, Paraguay requested the meeting of foreign ministers to address the Venezuelan case within the framework of the Ushuaia Protocol on human rights and observance of democracy in Mercosur. Paraguay is the only country that has given explicit support to Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) to implement the Inter-American Democratic Charter against Venezuela, EFE reported.

BRAZIL RECOMMENDS TO POSTPONE VENEZUELA ASSUMPTION OF MERCOSUR PRESIDENCY
      

      MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY----
  The Brazilian government wants to postpone until August the discussion on the transfer of the rotating Presidency of Mercosur from Uruguay to Venezuela, issue that has plunged the bloc into a crisis, reported Tuesday Brazilian Foreign Minister José Serra, in Montevideo. Serra travelled to Uruguay, where he met with President Tabare Vazquez and with his counterpart Rodolfo Nin Novoa, to bring postpone a decision “until the middle of august" on this thorny issue, said at a press conference. "

    The Brazilian government is trying to block Venezuela from taking the rotating presidency of the Mercosur trade group this month, a move it would make in part to prevent beleaguered Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro from strengthening his grip on power. That move has yet to be decided and has not been discussed with other members of Mercosur, an aide to Brazil's interim President Michel Temer told Reuters. Under suspended President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil gave strong, although recently quiet, support to Venezuela's former President Hugo Chavez and his successor Maduro, who took over when Chavez died in 2013.

     The possible move against Venezuela would further pivot Brazil's foreign policy to the right under Temer. Temer's Foreign Minister Jose Serra has said he wants to focus Brazil's foreign policy more on trade with the United States and the European Union and less on taking what he called ideological stances driven by Rousseff's leftist Workers Party. Serra also wants to see Brazil freed from the Mercosur rule banning members from signing bilateral trade deals unless all members agree. That rule stands in the way of the Temer government's effort to open up Brazil's economy, one of the most closed in Latin America because of high tariffs and a lack of trade agreements.

July 5, 2016


MAURICIO MACRI: VENEZUELAN GOVERNMENT "VIOLATES ALL HUMAN RIGHTS" OF ITS PEOPLE AND APPROVES THE RECALL VOTE

       BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA -- Argentinean President Mauricio Macri claimed his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolás Maduro “has driven the Venezuelan people to famine and abandon.” In an interview released Monday by Spanish daily ABC, Argentinean President Mauricio Macri said the government of his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolás Maduro “has violated all human rights.” In this regard, he advocated a recall vote as soon as possible to cut Maduro’s term in office.

     “This is a government that has disregarded all human rights, which all of us are working for and defending,” Macri told ABC during an interview ahead of his tour of Europe. The Venezuelan government “has led the Venezuelan people to famine and abandonment. For such reason, they need a recall vote, they need to hold elections as soon as possible,” he added. Macri’s remarks contrast with Argentina’s lukewarm stance during a special meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) to weigh the possible enforcement of the Inter-American Democratic Charter against Venezuela, a debate where no measures were adopted.

    The Venezuelan opposition expected Buenos Aires to back OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, who invoked the legal instrument for alleged human rights abuses in the country. However, in the end, Argentina suggested talks to resolve the political crisis. Macri denied that his government’s stance has changed in this connection. “We continue doing the same. We are seeking different paths that may lead us to this result, which includes elections soon. We have always ratified our commitment to the defense of human rights in Venezuela,” he stressed.

MORE THAN 100 CUBAN DISSIDENTS WERE ARRESTED DURING THE WEEKEND
      

           HAVANA, CUBA-- --
Cuban dissidents reported Monday that more than 100 arrests were made on the island over the weekend at marches and demonstrations around the country, though all who were jailed have now been set free with the exception of Carlos Amel Oliva. Oliva, of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), arrived in Havana on Thursday, June 30th, from a visit to Washington, D.C. The car he was traveling in was intercepted by Castro’s secret police, as it made its way from Havana to Santiago de Cuba.

     Ladies in White leader Berta Soler said that in Havana, 37 members of the women's group and another 27 people were also detained during the group's traditional Sunday march and were kept locked up for more than five hours. At the same time, another 30 dissidents and seven Ladies in White were arrested as they were leaving their homes to prevent them from taking part in the march. Soler said that most of the detentions were made violently and that this was the "18th repressive Sunday" during which state security "increased the size of the mobs that it mobilizes to repress the opposition in Havana."

     For his part, former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer, head of the opposition Patriotic Union of Cuba, or UNPACU, said that in the city of Santiago de Cuba, 117 members of his organization were arrested, while 10 were detained in Guantanamo and another 10 in Las Tunas, at the same time that seven were jailed in Havana for taking part in the Ladies in White march. He added that in the town of Palmarito de Cauto, in the Santiago de Cuba municipality of Melia, four UNPACU activists were stripped naked and beaten. "This is a clear message from the regime that it is ready to reestablish relations with the United States and the European Union but not with democratic Cubans or those who could threaten their hold on power," Ferrer told EFE.

EIGHT CUBA VOLLEYBALL PLAYERS DETAINED IN FINLAND OVER SUSPECTED RAPE
      

       HELSINKI, FINLAND--
  Eight Cuba national team volleyball players have been detained on Sunday in connection with an aggravated rape case, local police said. Three of the unnamed players were picked up by police early Saturday, after a complaint was made, and questioned with the aid of an interpreter.

    The police gave no further information about the suspected rape. Finnish news agency STT reported the incident occurred at a hotel in Tampere, where the Cuban team was staying. The other five, including the national team captain, were brought in for questioning on Sunday after a match in the Volleyball World League taking place in the southern Finnish town of Tampere. The police did not divulge the circumstances of the alleged rape attack. According to local press. the alleged crime took place in the Tampere hotel where the Cuban team are staying.

    The first three players questioned on Saturday will appear before a judge on Monday or Tuesday who will free them or place them under provisional detention. Three Cuban players were notable by their absence from the match on Saturday when they lost to the Finnish team. Their no-show led some media outlets to suspect that they had defected. “That’s not the case,” said police commissioner Joni Lansipuro. The Cuban men's team was playing in a World League tournament in the city of Tampere in central Finland.

July 4, 2016


IN VENEZUELA, 'CHAVISTAS' SAY NICOLAS MADURO MUST GO

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA-- Wearing a Hugo Chavez-inspired black beret and a Palestinian Keffiyeh around his neck to show he supports the oppressed, socialist politician Juan Barreto says Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro’s time has come. And it is time for him to go. In an interview last week on Union Radio, Barreto said of his friend Maduro that the embattled president was not yet willing to step down. But Barreto and other “Chavistas” are working on him. “It looks like we have an alliance of social democrats to resolve the problems in the government,” the former congressman told Union.

    “Maduro is a social democratic, a progressive with a streak of anti-imperialist angst that makes it hard for him to look for allies even within his own base.” Something may be cooking in Latin America’s most distressed economy. We could see military forces move in and pave the way for a political transition. For the market makers that like to play “regime change”, such speculation could create a floor on debt prices and potentially offer an opportunity to buy PDVSA bonds. Barreto, ex-congressman and a former mayor of Caracas, is part of a group of Chavistas who have grown tired of watching Maduro destroy Chavez’s good name. Once known as a champion of the poor, his hand picked successor has turned Chavez-style politics into the laughing stock of South America.

    The economy is in a shambles, and low income locals, long the base of the Chavez-Maduro camp, are struggling to get by. Barreto’s interview reflects the frustration of the political establishment, as well. Last week’s radio broadcast was the first hint of a possible resignation. The primary concern for the United Socialist Party (PSUV) of Chavez is the “guilty by association” with Maduro. He has been nothing short of a disaster for the country. A vote of no confidence from a pending recall referendum will undermine PSUV’s political support for the next election cycle. Local elections are scheduled for the end of the year.

CENTRAL BANK OF VENEZUELA SEEKS US$ 1 BILLION FROM LATIN AMERICAN RESERVE FUND
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA-- --
According to sources at the Latin American Reserve Fund (FLAR), Venezuela’s Central Bank (BCV) requested a US$ 1 billion loan, but received only US$ 400 million, drawn against the BCV’s own reserve with the institution. The same source reports that in order to get a billion-dollar loan the agreement would require approval by Venezuela’s National Assembly, in order to comply with FLAR rules which requires clear guarantees. This is not the first time the BCV seeks financial aid from international institutions. For over a year it has been drawing from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as well as engaging in gold swaps through foreign banks.

     BCV authorities are concerned about the drop in international reserves, which are now at an all-time low of around US$ 12 billion. The FLAR is a financial organization composed of Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Peru, and Venezuela. Among its objectives is to support the balance of payments (imports versus exports) of the countries which are members, through short- and long-term credit facilities. The FLAR resources come from the contributions that annually make the central banks of the Member countries. It is not the first time that the Central Bank goes to any of the agencies to which it is attached to ask for financial aid.

    For more than one year the issuing entity has been consuming their special drawing rights (SDR that had deposited in the International Monetary Fund). Also gold swaps is have been doing for cash, through banking intermediaries abroad. Officials of the BCV are concerned by the decline in international reserves, which at present have reached historic low levels. The current total is 12 billion dollars on the average. Although the issuing entity has not officially reported the decline in savings accounts, sources indicated unofficially that this would be due to the fall in the delivery of dollars by Petroleos de Venezuela. The State is obliged to cancel commitments by the order of 8.1 billion dollars in the remainder of the year, just at a time when the production has been falling.

PVSDA PRODUCTION DOWN 30% IN 6 YEARS, OILFIELDS DECLINE, NEEDS US$ 70-80 BARREL PRICE FOR INVESTMENTS (NOW IS US$ 39)
      

         HAVANA, CUBA--
Venezuela’s crude oil production has shrunk around 30% over the past 6 years according to official data from state oil company PDVSA and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Production fell from 3.12 million barrels per day to an all-time low of 2.18 MBD, some 900,000 barrels, around 30%.

     In May, PDVSA denied a drop in production this year but did not provide details on pumping. Last week, at a public ceremony, President Nicolas Maduro himself urged Oil Minister Eulogio Del Pino “to start raising the nation’s oil production during next semester”. Eudis Girot, Executive Director of the United Oil Workers Federation, reported the industry is producing only 2.4 MPD, one million barrels less than in 2008. He says “the company has been abandoned, our drills are in broken down deposits, our own fleet is destroyed”. Oil expert Victor Maldonado says “if there are no resources there is no investment, which is key to developing the industry”.

    ECOANALITICA Director Alejandro Grisanti says “Venezuela is not getting US$ 500 million every month, or US$ 6 billion per year”, due to the drop in production. At a recent meeting Oil Minister Del Pino admitted investments to meet global oil demand require prices between US$ 70-80 per barrel. He says half of the investments scheduled for 2016 were deferred due to low prices, adding “that will obviously impact production”. He also admitted there is a 20-25% “natural decline” in oilfields which forces them to “replace 600,000 BPD, simply to maintain (current) production”.

July  3, 2016


LEONEL FERNANDEZ ASKS OAS FOR CAUTION BEFORE INVOKING DEMOCRATIC CHARTER

       SALAMANCA, SPAIN-- Former Dominican president Leonel Fernandez asked the Organization of American States (OAS) to be cautious before invoking the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Asked at a press conference in Salamanca about the invocation conducted by the OAS Permanent Council by its Secretary General Luis Almagro, Fernandez also asked that it should be clear "why" this Charter is invoked.

     The Inter-American Democratic Charter, adopted by the OAS in 2001, is aimed at safeguarding democracy of its member states and, according to Article 20, when "an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime" takes place, it means any State or the Secretary General may "request the immediate convocation of the Permanent Council to undertake a collective assessment of the situation." Leonel Fernandez is part, along with the ex-presidents Omar Torrijos (Panama) and Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (Spain), of a commission set up by the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) to achieve "peace and coordinate a dialogue" in Venezuela.

    For Fernandez, the most important of what is happening now in Venezuela is that "it has given priority to a dialogue as the civilized and democratic way to solve the present crisis in Venezuela.” The main objective of the Commission created by Unasur is, according to the former Dominican president, to "promote a dialogue" in Venezuela on themes as justice, peace and democratic coexistence, that would facilitate freedom of the political prisoners. In addition, it would help to resolve the serious economic problems confronting the country which include "the shortages of medicines and food".

CUBA PLANS CUTS IN FUEL, ELECTRICITY CONSUMPTION
      

           HAVANA, CUBA-- --
Cuba has ordered some state firms and joint ventures to reduce fuel and electricity consumption, a senior diplomat and the director of a foreign joint venture said on Thursday, in the latest sign a crisis in ally Venezuela is hurting the economy. While it was not clear exactly what triggered the cuts, Cuba's President Raul Castro warned in December that the economy would go through a rough patch in 2016, citing the impact of low oil prices on the trade relationship with Venezuela. Cuba has a history of energy rationing, especially in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the Communist government struggled to survive under a severe U.S. embargo.

     The current restrictions will not be so severe, but they come at a time when Cubans' expectations are higher thanks to the detente with Washington and economic reforms. The extent of the rationing, which is expected to take effect in July and be announced next week at a session of the National Assembly, is expected to depend on the sector but there are signs some of the belt-tightening could be quite sharp. "I saw a copy of the Economy Ministry instructions to the state oil and electricity monopolies yesterday; it stated quotas would be reduced up to 50 percent through the end of the year," the foreign director of a joint venture said on condition of anonymity.

     So far Venezuela seems to be meeting its oil commitments to Cuba although cash payments for doctors and other Cuban professionals have dried up in the past 18 months, experts say. "There does not seem to have been a cutback in crude oil and or petroleum products deliveries by Venezuela to Cuba, according to marine traffic reports," Jorge Pinon, director of the Latin America and Caribbean Energy Program at the University of Texas, said. "They may be expecting one in the future, building inventories or simply trying to save money or trying to insure there are no blackouts for residents as electricity demand increases," he said.

ISLAM THRIVES IN COMMUNIST CUBA
      

         HAVANA, CUBA--
   As Cuban salsa beats pulsate along Obispo Street in the oldest section of this Caribbeancapital, bearded men raise their hands to their ears and face east toward Mecca. They whisper in union "Allahu akbar" ("God is great" in Arabic). They recite verses of the Koran. They bend down and place their head, knees and hands on Oriental rugs. Together, they represent a thriving group of Islamic followers in the most unlikely of places: communist Cuba.

     As Muslims across the globe celebrate the holy month of Ramadan, which kicked off in early June, they are joined by a small but vibrant community of Muslims — about 10,000, based on their own estimate — who are blending Islamic values and Latin American customs in Cuba. They are now holding their daily prayers inside Cuba's first mosque on an island more associated with Catholicism and Santeria. "Islam has been important in Cuban culture since the arrival of Christopher Columbusto the island," said Marta Linares Gonzalez, 60, who converted to Islam and picked the Islamic name Fatima. "He came with Moorish slaves, who are part of the Spanish culture."

     Shortly after Fidel Castro took control of Cuba in 1959, he instituted a communist government, complete with prohibitions on religion. Catholic churches were shuttered, religious schools of all kinds were forced to pack up and leave the island and everyday Cubans took to praying to God in private. As the years passed, Cuba's government started easing those restrictions. They allowed for a freer expression of Catholicism, the predominant religion on the island, and Santeria, the blend of African, Caribbean and Catholic beliefs that has become popular throughout Cuba.

July  2, 2016


OAS LEGAL ADVISOR: "THE DEMOCRATIC CHARTER IS ALREADY BEING APPLIED TO VENEZUELA"

       Washington, d.c.--  In order to stop controversy in Venezuela around the possible enforcement of the OAS Inter-American Democratic Charter, one of its authors, OAS legal advisor, Uruguayan jurist Jean Michael Arrighi explained that the legal instrument was activated on the country on June 23

   American Democratic Charter, Secretary of Legal Affairs of the Organization of American States (OAS) Jean Michael Arrighi said the legal instrument is already being applied on the South American nation. The board of the opposition-controlled National Assembly (AN) on May requested OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro to enforce the Charter. Almagro took an unprecedented step when adopting such initiative for the first time against the will of the country involved.

    “The Charter is being applied since the moment the secretary general presented his report at the (Permanent) Council (on June 23). The process began when the agenda was accepted and the (special) meeting took place. The meeting was held in compliance with the Charter,” Arrighi told Efe. Almagro invoked the Charter based on Article 20, which authorizes him or any Member State to convene the Permanent Council to undertake a “collective assessment” upon considering there is “an alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs (a country’s) democratic order.”

PARAGUAY PRESIDENT HORACIO CARTES CLAIMS VENEZUELAN GOVERNMENT VIOLATES HUMAM RIGHTS OF ITS OWN PEOPLE
      

           ASUNCION, PARAGUAY-- --
Paraguay President Horacio CarteS pointed out that the moment has come to voice Paraguay’s “deep solidarity” to the Venezuelan people for them to enjoy “respect for public liberties.” Cartes on Friday said “the world has witnessed abuses suffered by the Venezuelan people,” and he added that Paraguay, as a Member State of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) cannot “remain silent” with respect to this situation. “When human rights and fundamental liberties are not observed, just like it is happening in Venezuela right now, we cannot remain silent,” Cartes stressed during a speech at the Congress apropos the annual report of the Executive Office.

    In this connection, he said that Paraguay’s deep solidarity must be conveyed to the Venezuelan people so that they may enjoy “respect for their public liberties in full observance of their Constitution.” Cartes’ remarks followed comments made by Paraguayan Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga rejecting Venezuelan presidency of Mercosur, which is currently in the hands of Uruguay and must be transferred in July. The government of Paraguay regrets the fact that Uruguay and Argentina have resolved to transfer to Venezuela the pro tempore presidency of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur), without consulting the other members of the bloc, said on Wednesday Paraguayan Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga.

    The decision to suspend the Mercosur presidential summit scheduled for July and to hand over Mercosur presidency to Venezuela "was made unilaterally," Loizaga complained after a meeting he held on Wednesday with Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes. The Paraguayan top diplomat also said he spoke with Foreign Minister of Brazil José Serra, who also was surprised by the decision announced on Monday in Montevideo by the foreign ministers Rodolfo Nin Novoa of Uruguay and Susana Malcorra of Argentina, DPA reported. "The presidency of Mercosur is not just anything; it has international legal representation," said Loizaga and again rejected the transfer of Mercosur presidency to Venezuela where, he said, "the situation is deteriorating day after day." "This is further compounded by the announcement that groups related to the Venezuelan president are calling for the dissolution of the National Assembly," noted Loizaga.

U.S. ACCUSES HAITI AND VENEZUELA OF COMPLICITY IN PEOPLE TRAFFICKING
      

         WASHINGTON, D.C. --
  The United States on Thursday included Haiti, Venezuela and Belize on its list of countries that are not doing enough to combat people trafficking, a measure that could lead to sanctions, while Colombia and Chile were given the best marks in the hemisphere in a report on the problem. Eight nations appear for the first time on the black list in the State Department’s annual “Trafficking in Persons” report, published on Thursday. They include: Haiti, Myanmar, Suriname, Sudan, Djibouti, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Papua New Guinea.
 
     They join a score of countries appearing once again this year in the lowest category, including Venezuela, Belize, Equatorial Guinea, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Algeria, South Sudan and Mauritania. President Barack Obama now has 90 days to decide if sanctions will be imposed on the nations on the black list, and those sanctions could include freezing non-humanitarian and non-commercial aid or denying the countries loans from multilateral institutions. In its 2015 report, the State Department decided to remove Cuba from the black list after that nation had appeared in that category since 2003, and in the document published on Thursday, Havana was still excluded from the worst category.

     Cuba appears, however, in the next-lowest category, that of being placed on the “Watch List,” along with Bolivia, Costa Rica, China, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Ukraine, among others. “When we talk about “human trafficking,” we’re talking about slavery, modern-day slavery that ... claims more than 20 million victims (at) any given time” worldwide and supports an illicit industry bringing in $150 billion, Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday at the presentation of the report. People trafficking victims “are enforced to endure ... a living hell in modern times that no human being should ever have to experience,” he added.

July  1st., 2016


PRESIDENT OBAMA WARNS VENEZUELA NOT TO BLOCK 'LEGITIMATE' RECALL DRIVE AND FREE POLITICAL PRISONERS'

OTTAWA, CANADA--  US President Barack Obama issued a stern warning to Venezuela's government Wednesday to not block the opposition's "legitimate" efforts to hold a referendum to recall the country's embattled president Nicolas Maduro. "The democratic process should be respected," Obama said at a North American summit as he stood alongside Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. "And that includes legitimate efforts to pursue a recall referendum consistent with Venezuelan law," Obama added.

     Venezuela is undergoing deep political conflict that has raised tensions in the volatile South American nation as it struggles with an economic crisis. Obama described the situation as "very serious," and signaled that he, Trudeau and Pena Nieto were united in their position on Caracas. "Together we're calling on the government and opposition to engage in meaningful dialogue and urge the Venezuelan government to respect the rule of law and the authority of the national assembly," Obama said.

    He also added that "political prisoners should be released." Venezuela's opposition blames Maduro for a deep economic crisis that has caused widespread food shortages and deadly looting. The opposition has launched efforts to remove the leader since they took control of the assembly in January. But Maduro has challenged them through the Supreme Court, which his rivals say he controls.

NICOLAS MADURO REJECTS PRESIDENT OBAMA STATEMENT AND SAYS THERE IS AN 'INTERVENTIONIST OBSESSION'
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA-- --
The Venezuelan government expressed on Thursday its rejection to the statements of American President, Barack Obama, in favor of dialogue with the opposition and his request for recall referendum that is been pushes against the President of that country, Nicolas Maduro. "It is unacceptable, the interventionist obsession of the US Government, which in addition to consider Venezuela a threat to the security and foreign policy of the United States, desires to instruct the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela on essential elements of its institutional life"

      It is an "Interventional obsession of the US Government, which in addition to consider Venezuela a threat to its security and foreign policy, desires to instruct the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela on the essential elements of its institutional life."  The Chavist Government's statement is in rejection of a statement msde on Wednesday by Obama in Otawa, Canada.

     At the same time, the governing left-wing alliance in Venezuela, known as the Great Patriotic Pole, denounced a “U.S. re-colonization plan” in Latin America. “Faced with this growing interference, we will not hand over our resources or our nation. Fascism will never come to Venezuela,” ruling Socialist Party official Blanca Eekhout said at a press conference. The alliance has been vociferous in its criticisms of President Obama Administration for its stance against Venezuela. Eekhout said the left-wing parties had come together to “prevent” an eventual “intervention” in the South American nation, and referred to the fall of left-wing governments in Argentina and Brazil as an example.

PARAGUAY REJECTS VENEZUELA PRESIDENCY OF MERCOSUR
      

         ASUNCION, PARAGUAY --
 Foreign Minister of Paraguay Eladio Loizaga said his nation was not informed of the decision to transfer the pro tempore presidency of Mercosur to Venezuela. The government of Paraguay regrets the fact that Uruguay and Argentina have resolved to transfer to Venezuela the pro tempore presidency of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur), without consulting the other members of the bloc, said on Wednesday Paraguayan Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga.

     The decision to suspend the Mercosur presidential summit scheduled for July and to hand over Mercosur presidency to Venezuela "was made unilaterally," Loizaga complained after a meeting he held on Wednesday with Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes. The Paraguayan top diplomat also said he spoke with Foreign Minister of Brazil José Serra, who also was surprised by the decision announced on Monday in Montevideo by the foreign ministers Rodolfo Novoa of Uruguay and Susana Malcorra of Argentina, DPA reported.
 
     "The presidency of Mercosur is not just anything; it has international legal representation," said Loizaga and again rejected the transfer of Mercosur presidency to Venezuela where, he said, "the situation is deteriorating day after day." "This is further compounded by the announcement that groups related to the Venezuelan president are calling for the dissolution of the National Assembly," noted Loizaga. Traditionally, the presidency is passed on by the heads of state. Such a summit, planned for July 12 in Uruguay's capital of Montevideo, was cancelled due to the political situation in Venezuela. Despite Paraguay's protests, Uruguay has maintained that President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela will assume the role as planned.

 

 

 

 

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