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March 31, 2016

VENEZUELA CONGRESS APPROVED AMNESTY LAW

  
        CARACAS, VENEZUELA
Venezuela’s opposition-controlled legislature on Tuesday night approved an amnesty aimed at freeing dozens of jailed dissidents in a move set for challenges by the executive and the courts, threatening to add to the country’s economic, social and political problems. “This law is aimed at laying the foundations for national reconciliation,” said Delsa Solórzano, an opposition lawmaker. But it provoked a fiery response from Nicolás Maduro. “They are approving a law to protect killers, criminals, narco-traffickers and terrorists,” the president said on national television. “You can be sure it will not pass.”

     The law seeks to free more than 70 dissidents considered political prisoners, including the former mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma and the high-profile opposition leader Leopoldo López, who was sentenced to jail for nearly 14 years on what his supporters call trumped-up charges. On Tuesday families of those imprisoned chanted “Freedom!” and held placards inside the National Assembly calling for the amnesty. Amnesty was one of the electoral springboards for the opposition’s victory in the legislative elections in December 2015.

       But the executive and legislative branches have been at odds ever since, with Venezuela’s highest court — which critics say was hurriedly packed with supporters of the socialist government after last year’s election — constantly overruling the national assembly and limiting the lawmakers’ powers over the judges. While the embattled Venezuelan leader had already said he would veto the amnesty bill, Diosdado Cabello, a powerful socialist lawmaker and former president of the assembly, called the amnesty law “a coup against Venezuela’s people” and a “self-pardoning of murderers”. Opposition lawmaker Adriana Pichardo asked them to “stop lying to the people” as “none of the political prisoners is accused of homicide”, while the Caracas-based law professor José Ignacio Hernández wrote that “neither the President nor the Supreme Court can block the amnesty decreed by the Assembly”.

NICOLAS MADURO TO VETO AMNESTY FOR POLITICAL PRISONERS
      

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday promised to veto amnesty legislation for political prisoners which was approved by Venezuela’s opposition-led legislature. The new measure would set free political prisoners, criminals and gang leaders. National Assembly speaker Henry Ramos Allup said the measure passed after a second round of debate. "This law is aimed at laying the foundations for national reconciliation," said lawmaker Delsa Solorzano, who sponsored the legislation.

     President Maduro and his socialist party's minority lawmakers object to the new measure. “I am assured that this law will not pass. Laws protecting terrorists and criminals will not go,” President Maduro said during a televised speech while the National Assembly was preparing to approve the bill. “Do not go here, whatever you do, sir.” The measure demands to set free almost 76 “political prisoners" and hundreds of others who have been "persecuted and exiled". Maduro denies opposition accusations that his administration holds political prisoners, insisting they are simply "imprisoned politicians." His critics accuse him of arbitrarily arresting dozens of student demonstrators during the 2014 protests, jailing critics on fabricated coup plots and rigging legal proceedings against them.

     President Maduro gave a speech on national television while the debate was under way. "You can be certain that that law will not be making it through here, sir. Laws that are out to benefit terrorists and criminals, they will not make it to enactment. No matter what you do," President Maduro said. The Maduro government refuses to change economic policies that the opposition believes led to the worst economic crisis since the country's independence. New legislators plan to pressure the government into revealing inflation datas as well as launching investigations into corruption. Moreover, according to a poll, some 63.6 percent of Venezuelans say Maduro should be removed through a recall referendum if he doesn’t quit this year, while some 29.3 percent of Venezuelans want him to keep serving until his mandate ends in 2019.

VENEZUELA LAWMAKERS SAY TEN MORE MINERS SLAIN

         
CARACAS, VENEZUELAThe legislative commission investigating the disappearance of a group of gold miners this month in eastern Venezuela has received reports that another 10 miners were apparently slain as well, the panel’s chairman said Tuesday. “We have received 10 reports about 10 different missing persons from 10 different mining areas” in Bolivar state, where murdering miners “is a common practice,” opposition lawmaker Americo de Grazia said.

      He told reporters about the new reports by family members and witnesses after they heard that Bolivar Gov. Francisco Rangel had ignored a summons to appear Tuesday before the congressional investigative committee. “We’re concerned that the No. 1 authority in Bolivar state has not joined forces” with those cooperating with this commission “to clear up these crimes, to look into their causes and make sure they’re not repeated,” lawmaker Olivia Lozano added to what De Grazia had reported.

       Rangel dismissed the initial reports about the killings of the miners as rumor-mongering. De Grazia said Tuesday that, though authorities maintain that 17 miners were executed on March 4 and that the bodies were found 10 days later, witnesses insist that there were 28 bodies carried off in a truck. “That truck went through three military checkpoints with the 28 bodies” of miners riddled with bullets, and three police officers took part in the massacre, De Grazia said. Attorney General Luisa Ortega maintains that the dead miners were the 17 that were found and not the 28 originally reported.

March 30, 2016

ARGENTINA CUTS TIES WITH LEFTIST TV NETWORK TELESUR

  
        BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
Argentina’s pro-business government is pulling the plug on its involvement in the Spanish-language TV network that was started by the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez over what it said was the broadcaster’s blacklisting of alternative viewpoints. Telesur was launched in 2005 with funding from six regional governments aligned with Venezuela, including Cuba and Bolivia. On Sunday, the administration of Mauricio Macri announced that Argentina would unload its nearly 20 percent stake in the venture, which has presented itself as a leftist alternative to mainstream media coverage of Latin America.

     The country is leaving because it was shut out of financial and editorial decisions, Argentine Minister of Communication Hermann Lombardi said. “Argentina was a partner prohibited from sharing our view,” he told radio Vorterix. “It’s an interesting South American television project, but there was no pluralism at Telesur.” Relations between Argentina and Venezuela flourished during the administration of leftist Cristina Fernandez, but have grown chilly since conservative Macri took office in December. Telesur said in a written article that Macri had taken steps to undermine the diversity of media required by law that also includes smaller, alternative outlets.

     The network has sought to reshape views about Latin America with dispatches from correspondents around the region. Audiences in Latin America have embraced the network as a politicized alternative to CNN en Espanol and as one of the few outlets offering in-depth coverage of the region’s lesser-told stories and places. In 2014, Telesur unveiled an English-language website, and announced it would hire about 100 native English-speaking journalists and producers for the launch. Venezuela, the network’s prime champion, is in the midst of a grave economic crisis, and has been struggling to pay its debts and find the foreign currency to import food, medicine and other basics.

NICOLAS MADURO: ARGENTINA CAN'T "DISAPPEAR" LEFTIST TV NETWORK
      

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Monday that Argentina would not be able to "disappear" the Telesur regional television network as it erased the lives of people during the country's military dictatorship.

     "The same actors who disappeared 30,000 young people in Argentina are trying to disappear Telesur," Maduro said of the conservative Argentine government that announced Sunday it would pull its nearly 20 percent stake out of the Spanish-language network. Argentina said it was leaving because it had been shut out of financial and editorial decisions. Maduro said the left-leaning network started by his predecessor President Hugo Chavez would continue to inform the Argentine people and stand for truth and freedom of expression in Latin America.

     Venezuela's socialist president said in televised remarks on Monday that Argentine President Mauricio Macri could not make the network go away, or prevent people from accessing Telesur's reporting online. Argentina's Minister of Communications Hernan Lombardi said on Twitter that Maduro's statements did not merit a response. Argentina is the first partner to pull out since a coalition of governments launched the channel in 2005. As many as 30,000 people were killed or disappeared during a crackdown on leftists by Argentina's military dictatorship from 1976-83.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC ANTINARCOTICS SLAMS JUDGE FOR RELEASING SUSPECTS

         
SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLICThe National Drugs Control Agency (DNCD) on Sunday lashed out at an interim judge of La Romana for releasing five Venezuelans arrested Thursday at La Romana International Airport, with 359 kilos of cocaine allegedly brought on a plane from their country. The surprising release of the Venezuelans is the latest scandal involving an interim judges in drug trafficking and money laundering cases, where bribes are suspected.

     "The sentence which releases outright Carlos Justiniano, 55; Jorge Henriquez, 44; Gregory Frias, 23; Gerardo Diaz, 38, and Jean Carlos Diaz, 35 handed down by Judge Aristida Mercedes is unfortunate, misleading and a stimulus for international drug trafficking and money laundering structures and bolsters their attempts to use the country as a bridge to move drug shipments to the United States and Europe,” the DNCD said in a statement. It said the release encourages drug trafficking, significantly tarnishes the image of the Dominican justice, "which as we have said, it is committed to healthier interests, but a few, with actions like this, do a disservice to society," the DNCD said.

     The first four defendants were arrested at La Romana International Airport and the drug was seized inside a Cessna C404 airplane, registry YV2708, from Barquisimeto, Venezuela. The drug was in 349 bricks in three suitcases and two bags hidden on the plane, the DNCD said, adding that the arrests were the result of several weeks of vigilance of the network. La Romana judge Aristilda Mercedes released outright the five Venezuelans caught with 369 bricks of cocaine because the prosecution "didn’t produce at the hearing" the official warrant authorizing the search of the aircraft that brought the drug to the country. Resorting to extensive legalese, the La Romana Judge justified her ruling in the "case which pointed us to consider the request for the enforcement measure, as an instrumental part of ensuring the process in the other stages, in the knowledge that we based it on, ‘the principle of separation of functions." Despite judge’s ruling, Venezuelans in 369K cocaine case still in jail

March 29, 2016

A DOMINICAN JUDGE UNCONDITIONALLY FREED FIVE VENEZUELANS OF NARCO TRAFFICKING

  
        SNATO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Aristida Mercedes, a judge in La Romana, has just unconditionally freed five Venezuelans who had been arrested at the airport on Thursday with a consignment of 359 kg of cocaine presumed to be en route to the US.  The Drug Control Agency (DNCD), which had them under surveillance for several weeks, is not happy. The progress and dignity of the Republic continues firmly on the same lines, in the same direction, backwards. Dominican Republic antinarcotics slams judge for releasing suspects Santo Domingo.¬

     The National Drugs Control Agency (DNCD) on Sunday lashed out at an interim judge of La Romana for releasing five Venezuelans arrested Thursday at La Romana International Airport, with 359 kilos of cocaine allegedly brought on a plane from their country. The surprising release of the Venezuelans is the latest scandal involving an interim judges in drug trafficking and money laundering cases, where bribes are suspected. "The sentence which releases outright Carlos Justiniano, 55; Jorge Henriquez, 44; Gregory Frias, 23; Gerardo Diaz, 38, and Jean Carlos Diaz, 35 handed down by Judge Aristida Mercedes is unfortunate, misleading and a stimulus for international drug trafficking and money laundering structures and bolsters their attempts to use the country as a bridge to move drug shipments to the United States and Europe,” the DNCD said in a statement.

      It said the release encourages drug trafficking, significantly tarnishes the image of the Dominican justice, "which as we have said, it is committed to healthier interests, but a few, with actions like this, do a disservice to society," the DNCD said. The first four defendants were arrested at La Romana International Airport and the drug was seized inside a Cessna C404 airplane, registry YV2708, from Barquisimeto, Venezuela. The drug was in 349 bricks in three suitcases and two bags hidden on the plane, the DNCD said, adding that the arrests were the result of several weeks of vigilance of the network.

BRUTAL TERRORIST ATTACK IN PAKISTAN; EASTER BOMBINH KILLS 70
      

        LAHORE, PAKISTAN
Pakistan has decided to launch a paramilitary crackdown on Islamist militants in Punjab, the country's richest and most populous province, after an Easter Day bombing killed 70 people in the provincial capital Lahore, officials said on Monday. Sunday's suicide bombing at a public park was claimed by the Pakistani Taliban's Jamaat-ur-Ahrar faction, which once declared loyalty to Islamic State. The group said it was targeting Christians. The brutality of the attack, Jamaat-ur-Ahrar's fifth bombing since December, reflects the movement's attempts to raise its profile among Pakistan's increasingly fractured Islamist militants.

     At least 29 children enjoying an Easter weekend outing were among those killed when the suicide bomber struck in a busy park in the eastern city of Lahore, the power base of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Pakistan is a majority-Muslim state but has a Christian population of more than two million. Pope Francis condemned the attack as "hideous" and demanded that Pakistani authorities protect religious minorities. It was Pakistan's deadliest attack since the December 2014 massacre of 134 school children at a military-run academy in the city of Peshawar that prompted a government crackdown on Islamist militancy.

      Security and government officials told Reuters the decision had been made to launch a full-scale operation involving the paramilitary Rangers, who would have powers to conduct raids and interrogate suspects in the same way as they have been doing in the southern city of Karachi for more than two years. The move, which has not yet been formally announced, represents the civilian government once again granting special powers to the military to fight Islamist militants. "The technicalities are yet to be worked out. There are some legal issues also with bringing in Rangers, but the military and government are on the same page," said one senior security official, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to share details of the plan.
 

BRAZILIAN LAWYERS PUSH FOR DILMA ROUSSEFF IMPEACHMENT

         
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZILThe Brazilian bar association piled more pressure on President Dilma Rousseff, saying it will file a new request Monday to Congress for her impeachment, in a political crisis that threatens to topple her government. Lawmakers have launched a congressional committee charged with deciding whether to bring a motion to impeach Rousseff over corruption allegations. "Impeachment is enshrined in our constitution as a legal remedy for our democracy," bar association (OAB) president Claudio Lamachia told the O Globo newspaper on Sunday, saying Monday's action was endorsed almost unanimously by the bar as a defender of democracy. It was not a political decision, Lamachia added.

     Rousseff last week condemned the "fascist methods" of opponents seeking her ouster and said the roiling crisis would leave a "scar" if not resolved democratically. The leftist leader ruled out stepping down, despite mass protests and the impeachment proceedings in Congress. Brazil's largest party will decide on Tuesday to break away from President Dilma Rousseff's floundering coalition, party leaders said, sharply raising the odds she will be impeached amid a corruption scandal. The fractious Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) will decide at its national leadership meeting on the pace of disengagement from the Rousseff administration, in which it holds seven ministerial posts and the vice presidency.

      A formal rupture appears inevitable and will increase the isolation of the unpopular Rousseff, freeing PMDB members to vote for her impeachment. That makes it likely she will be temporarily suspended from office by Congress by early June and replaced by Vice President Michel Temer, leader of the PMDB, while the Senate decides if she should be permanently ousted. Temer aides said the vice president is ready to take over and move fast to restore business confidence in Brazil, in an effort to pull Latin America's largest economy out of a tailspin. Brazilian media reported over the weekend that a team of Temer aides is drawing up a plan for his first weeks as president. "On Tuesday we will be disembarking from this government. The vote for independence will win," PMDB Senator Valdir Raupp, who until recently had backed Rousseff, said by telephone.
Raupp said PMDB ministers would have to resign or leave the party, though a gradual withdrawal from those posts may take place as a compromise to keep the party united.

March 28, 2016

CUBAN MIGRANTS, SEVEN WITH GUNSHOT WOUNDS, FOUND OF KEY WEST

  
        MIAMI, FLORIDA
Seven Cuban migrants — all with gunshot wounds, possibly self-inflicted—were interdicted at sea Saturday afternoon off Key West, according to keysnet.com. The migrants were taken taken to Lower Keys Medical Center on Stock Island and airlifted to Miami trauma centers. The seven migrants were traveling on a makeshift raft with another 19 who were also interdicted but did not require medical attention, the U.S. Coast Guard District 7 public affairs office said, adding it's a criminal investigation. The ones not needing medical attention will likely be repatriated.

      Twenty-six Cuban migrants aboard a makeshift raft were found by the U.S. Coast Guard Saturday afternoon just south of Key West, the Coast Guard reports. Seven of those migrants had sustained gunshot wounds before being intercepted, the Coast Guard said. Six of those wounded people were airlifted to Lower Keys Medical Center where they received treatment for their injuries. Four of those migrants were treated and released and are now at Church World Services in Doral, Agent Frank Miller, of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, said.

      Those four migrants will be allowed to stay in the United Sates because they reached U.S. soil due to their injures, Miller said, as the U.S. wet foot, dry foot policy allows Cubans who've reached U.S. shores the opportunity to remain in the county. The two other injured migrants were airlifted to Ryder Trauma Center, according to a spokesperson at Lower Keys Medical Center. It is unclear if those two individuals will be permitted to remain in the country, Miller said. The remaining 20 migrants are expected to be returned to Cuba after receiving care, the Coast Guard said. The Coast Guard is investigating this incident and stresses it is not a criminal investigation. In a statement the U.S. Coast Guard discouraged attempts to illegally enter the United States by sea. "These trips are extremely dangerous and could lead to loss of life," the statement said.

ARGENTINA TO CUT TIES WITH TELESUR
      

        BUENOS AIRES.
Argentina's government has started the process of unloading its stake in teleSUR. Argentine Minister of Communication Hermann Lombardi announced Sunday that his government has begun the process of removing itself as a shareholder of teleSUR, a regional television station headquartered in Caracas, Venezuela. “We have agreed to start the process of terminating the participation of the Argentine state with teleSUR,” Lombardi told La Nacion.

     Once officially approved, teleSUR’s televised news content, which is currently broadcast to 80 percent of the country’s viewers, will be removed from the Argentine airwaves. Argentina has a 16 percent stake in La Nueva Television del Sur, the company that owns teleSUR and whose other shareholders are Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Uruguay. The decision to leave the regional television network, which was launched in 2005, was made jointly by Lombardi along with Public Communications Secretary Jorge Grecco.

      Shortly after the announcement several Twitter users took to social media to express their frustration with the decision. "teleSUR must be doing something amazing because so many oligarghs want to silence it. Today we are all teleSUR." "Now they want to take away teleSUR. With everything they are taking away, nothing surprises me. #sadness." The announcement also comes as the newly elected President Mauricio Macri has implemented an overhaul of the country's media laws. Argentines have protested against the news measures, saying that they amount to repression and censorship. Within days of taking office, Macri started taking steps to undermine the country’s Media Law, a 2009 communications policy designed to promote media diversity by limiting the dominance of big media corporations and creating space for smaller, alternative, and community outlets.

ARGENTINA, U.S. OPEN NEW PHASE IN BILATERAL RELATIONS WITH OBAMA'S VISIT

         
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINABarack Obama’s official visit to Argentina marks the start of “a new phase” in bilateral relations, Argentine President Mauricio Macri said Wednesday after talks with his U.S. counterpart. For the conservative Macri, who took office on Dec. 10, Obama’s visit has a “special significance.” For Obama, who is in the final stretch of his second term, Argentina now appears to be a strategic ally in South America. The two leaders appeared at a joint press conference at the Casa Rosada, the seat of the Argentine administration, where they spoke about recent advances in the bilateral relationship.

     There, Macri emphasized Obama’s “inspirational leadership” and said that they both share “a vision of the 21st century,” which he called the society of knowledge, of the development of science and technology and of innovation. “You ... proposed big changes, and you demonstrated that they were possible, that with daring, with conviction, the status quo could be challenged,” he added.  Meanwhile, Obama said he was “impressed” by the speed with which Macri – since becoming president – has implemented the reforms he promised for Argentina to create more sustainable and inclusive economic growth and to “reconnect” the South American country to the “world community.”

     The U.S. president, who arrived in Argentina after a three-day historic visit to Cuba, said that his conversation with Macri was “excellent.” Obama emphasized the new role Argentina has assumed after the tensions during the presidency of his predecessor, Cristina Fernandez, and hailed the “constructive” attitude of the government toward resolving in New York courts the conflict over the halt in debt repayments since 2001. On the first visit of a sitting U.S. president to Argentina in almost two decades, the two leaders “explored ... opportunities” for mutually dealing with “global challenges.” Macri emphasized the U.S. government decision to declassify the archives it possesses on Argentina’s brutal 1976-1983 military regime, which killed some 30,000 people in its “dirty war” against the left.

March 27, 2016

THE ROLLING STONES PLAY IN CUBA FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER

  
        HAVANA, CUBA
The Rolling Stones rocked out in Cuba last night as they put on a historic free gig for half a million jubilant fans in Havana, despite Pope Francis' attempt to stop the show. Pope Francis is thought to have got in touch with the band ahead of their performance on Good Friday to ask if they would postpone. Stones replied to the Vatican, saying other global music events were being held on Good Friday. 'Hello Havana! Good evening to my Cuban people,' Mick Jagger roared in perfect Spanish as he took to the stage. 'We know that years ago it was difficult to listen to our music here in Cuba, but here we are, playing for you in your beautiful land. I think that finally things have changed, haven't they?'

      The ageing rockers stormed onto the stage as they launched into the band's classic Jumpin' Jack Flash and followed with a two-hour string of classics. 'Time changes everything. We are glad to be here' the front-man said. The British band had been blocked from the radio in the communist country but their records have been secretly passed around fans for decades. Before their landing the band released a video in Spanish with English subtitles, saying: 'We have performed in many special places during our long career but this concert in Havana is going to be an historic event for us. We hope it will be for you too.'

      Hardcore fans slept overnight outside the Ciudad Deportiva, or Sports City, where a massive stage had been set up for the British rock legends. Tens of thousands more people streamed toward the outdoor sports complex throughout the day and officials were expecting 500,000 people to crowd into the stadium. Many of those waiting outside the concert gates to be among the first to get in were foreigners, for whom seeing Cuba was as novel as seeing the Rolling Stones is for Cubans. 'Hello Havana! Good evening to my Cuban people,' Mick Jagger roared in perfect Spanish as he took to the stage in a silk oxblood shirt and sequinned jacket.

GOOGLE OPENS ITS FIRST TECHNOLOGY CENTER IN CUBA
      

        HAVANA, CUBA.
Google has opened its first technology center in Cuba in the Havana studio of artist Alexis Leyva, better known as Kcho, offering no-cost access to the Internet at much faster speeds than those normally available on the island. The Google + Kcho.Mor center will give Cubans a chance to familiarize themselves with the latest generation of gadgets from the U.S. technology giant, such as the cardboard virtual reality goggles for use with mobile devices

      State telecom company Etecsa will provide the Internet connection, though at much faster speeds than those available at its roughly 60 Wi-Fi public hotspots across the Communist-ruled country. While showing EFE around the facility, Kcho said that the initial contact with Google took place last July during his visit to Washington for the re-opening of the Cuban Embassy. To make the idea a reality, he said, “we had to overcome old taboos and obstacles that the (U.S. Treasury Department’s) Office of Foreign Asset Control has against technological relations with Cuba.” OFAC is responsible for enforcing Washington’s 53-year-old economic embargo against Cuba.

      Kcho, who holds a seat in the Cuban parliament, said he hopes the center will serve as a bridge between universities and scientific institutions in the Caribbean country and the United States. “During his visit to Cuba (U.S. president) Barack Obama recognized our country’s achievements in health and education, and this site will help us to share that,” Kcho said. “I think that users of these kind of spaces will be the ones who show the world that the blockade (embargo) should not exist for one more day.” Obama, during his March 20-22 visit, said that all Cubans should have Internet access.

TUPAMARO DEPUTY LEGISLATOR ASSASSINATED BY ALLEGED PARAMILITARIES

         
CARACAS, VENEZUELAA deputy legislator for the pro-government coalition, the Great Patriotic Pole (GPP), was murdered on Thursday night in what Venezuelan authorities and political groups have decried as a politically motivated assassination.

     Deputy legislator César Vera (40) was shot dead in Táchira outside of a corner store at around 8.30pm. Two men described as paramilitaries by local law enforcement officials are wanted in connection to the murder. “He was approached by two subjects who, according to people present at the time… were on a motorbike… One of them took out a firearm and fired it,” said Ramón Cabeza, secretary of security for the Táchira state government, in comments to state TV channel VTV.

     “We are extremely dismayed by this vile act, carried out by paramilitary groups,” he added. Vera was a member of the longstanding radical leftist militia known as the Tupamaro movement and was elected as a deputy legislator for the GPP in the congressional elections of December 6th. The Tupamaros have publicly demanded action be taken in response to Vera’s murder. “We demand immediate justice. We will never allow them to kill our comrades in struggle. Here there is militancy in all terrains. Pay attention - we are not asking for favours,” reads a statement on the Tachira Tupamaro Twitter page.

March 26, 2016

PRESIDENT OBAMA AT WHITE HOUSE AFTER VISITING CUBA, ARGENTINA

  
        WASHINGTON, D.C. 
President Barack Obama returned to the United States after a trip to Latin America that included a stop in Argentina and a historic visit to Cuba where he met with President Raul Castro. Obama, his wife, two daughters and mother-in-law took off on Air Force One from Buenos Aires Ezeiza International Airport and landed at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington early Friday. They returned to the White House to begin preparations for the holiday weekend, including the famous Easter egg roll.

     Obama said the United States was slow to speak out on the atrocities committed during Argentina's former dictatorship but that his administration will "confront the past with honesty and transparency." "What happened here in Argentina is not unique to Argentina and it’s not confined to that past," said Obama in Buenos Aires. "Each of us have a responsibility each and every day to make sure that wherever we see injustice, wherever we see rule of law flouted that we are honest witnesses, that we are speaking out, that we are examining our own hearts and taking responsibility to make this a better place for our children and our grandchildren." Obama on Thursday visited a memorial park to victims of the so-called "Dirty War" on the 40th anniversary of the coup that installed a brutal military regime.

      The president said it takes courage for a society to address "uncomfortable" truths about the "darker parts of its past." "Confronting crimes committed by our own leaders, by our own people, that can be divisive and frustrating. But it’s essential to moving forward to building a peaceful and prosperous future in a country that respects the rights of all of its citizens," Obama said. Declassified U.S. documents have shown that the United States backed the regime that human rights activists say was responsible for the death or disappearance of some 30,000 people between 1976 and 1983 - the Dirty War period. Obama has said his administration will try to make amends by declassifying more documents which made further detail the role the United States played in the dictatorship.

U.S. ACCUSES 7 IRANIAN HACKERS OF ATTACKING FINANCIAL SYSTEM
      

        WASHINGTON, D.C..
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Thursday announced an investigation of seven Iranian hackers, who have been charged with attacking the U.S. financial system and a small dam in New York at the behest of the government in Tehran. “The attacks were relentless, systematic and widespread,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said at a press conference at the Justice Department. “They threatened our economic well-being and our ability to compete fairly in the global marketplace, both of which are directly linked to our national security.”

      Between the end of 2011 and mid-2013, the U.S. financial system was the target of a “coordinated, large-scale” campaign of attacks that cost the victims tens of millions of dollars, Lynch said. In the attacks, the servers of 46 financial institutions registered higher traffic than normal for 176 days, causing interruptions in online services, and hundreds of thousands of Americans could not access their bank accounts online, the AG said. The Department of Justice identified the seven hackers as Ahmad Fathi, 37; Hamid Firoozi, 34; Amin Shokohi, 25; Sadegh Ahmadzadegan, 23; Omid Ghaffarinia, 25; Sina Keissar 25, and Nader Saedi, 26.

      According to the DoJ, the Iranians were employees of the ITSecTeam (ITSEC) and Mersad Company, both based in Iran, and they allegedly acted in the name of the Iranian government and, specifically, the Revolutionary Guards, that country’s largest military body. FBI director James B. Comey said that his agency will find the people behind the cyber-attacks and will hold them responsible, wherever they are and whoever they are, adding that the accused are not in the United States and thus cannot be brought to trial at present. The government of Barack Obama has made cyber-security one of its priorities, and in recent months judicial proceedings against hackers have multiplied.

BELGIAN SUICIDE ATTACKERS MADE PARIS BOMBS, AUTHORITIES SAY

         
BRUSSELS, BELGIUMOne of the two men who blew themselves up at Brussels Airport on Tuesday was a bomb maker who helped produce at least two suicide vests used in the attacks that killed 130 people in and around Paris on Nov. 13, the Belgian authorities said on Friday. He is the most definitive link so far between the two sets of attacks. The bomb maker — Najim Laachraoui, 24, a Belgian citizen — was an accomplice of Salah Abdeslam, 26, who was captured in Belgium last Friday after a four-month global manhunt and charged with terrorist murder, officials said.

     Abdeslam is suspected of being the sole surviving direct participant in the Paris attacks, and his arrest appears to have accelerated the plot that culminated in the attack on Brussels, which killed 31 people.. Laachraoui traveled to Syria in February 2013. Last September, while using a false identity card, he and Mr. Abdeslam were stopped at the Hungarian-Austrian border, but not detained. He rented a house in Auvelais, Belgium, that was used by the attackers, and traces of his DNA were found in an apartment in the Schaerbeek section of Brussels that he used as a bomb-making lab.

       On Monday — three days after Abdeslam was captured in Molenbeek, the Brussels neighborhood where he grew up — the authorities asked for help finding. Laachraoui. Footage of a police operation in the Schaerbeek neighborhood in Brussels, where a man linked to a foiled attack in France was shot and detained. But it was too late. At 7:58 a.m. on Tuesday, he blew himself up at Brussels Airport, along with another suicide bomber, Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, 29. News agencies had widely reported Laachraoui’s death, but officials awaited DNA results before confirming the news. On Friday, the federal prosecutor in Brussels confirmed the death, and also disclosed that Laachraoui’s DNA had been found on suicide vests that were set off at the Stade de France, north of Paris, and in the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, on Nov. 13.

March 25, 2016

PRESIDENT OBAMA DANCES WHILE BRUSSELS BURNS

  
        BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA 
In Brussels police are still desperately hunting a dangerous terrorist after he fled a triple-suicide bombing in the city that left 34 dead, as officials search for news on U.S. citizens who went missing during the attack and medics tend to nine more Americans lying wounded in hospitals. Meanwhile in Buenos Aires President Barack Obama was dancing the night away with wife Michelle at a glitzy state dinner alongside Argentine President Mauricio Macri and his first lady Juliana Awada as part of a two-day state visit. Despite increasing calls from the likes of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz for the President to return home in the wake of the Brussels attack, Obama showed his determination to carry on regardless Wednesday night.

      At the end of the state dinner, the Obamas were pulled abruptly onto the dance floor by a pair of Latin dancers providing the entertainment. At first, the woman in the shimmering gold dress seemed content to twirl with her partner, but then she made a beeline for the president and beckoned him to the floor. The president, who has been known to break into song on occasion but has rarely shown off his moves, declined her invitation several times, but she wasn't to be deterred and she soon had him sashaying across the floor. It was unclear if the slightly clunky President had been having lessons. Mrs Obama meanwhile tangoed with the male dancer nearby.

      On Morning Joe, Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations praised Argentina for its democratic transition of power and thought Obama right in paying the South American country a visit, according to Politico.  Haass said.'However the advance person who let him do the tango, that person ought to be looking for work on somebody's – in somebody's campaign very, very far away.' 'That was a tremendous mistake,' he continued. 'It's fine to go to Argentina, you want to do the work, but you've got to be careful of these little photo ops and optics. Baseball games and tangos, that inconsistent with the seriousness of the day.' The more liberal co-host Mika Brzezinski thought the whole thing 'really strange to me.' Nicolle Wallace, the former communications director for President George W. Bush, called the double insult of the tango and the baseball game a 'communications crime.' Wallace called the moves 'out of step with the entire American public, not just Republicans.'

ISIS HAS SENT 400 FIGHTERS TO ATTACK EUROPE, OFFICIALS SAY
      

        WASHINGTON, D.C..
The Islamic State group has trained at least 400 fighters to target Europe in deadly waves of attacks, deploying interlocking terror cells like the ones that struck Brussels and Paris with orders to choose the time, place and method for maximum carnage, officials have told The Associated Press. The network of agile and semiautonomous cells shows the reach of the extremist group in Europe even as it loses ground in Syria and Iraq. The officials, including European and Iraqi intelligence officials and a French lawmaker who follows the jihadi networks, described camps in Syria, Iraq and possibly the former Soviet bloc where attackers are trained to attack the West.

      Before being killed in a police raid, the ringleader of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks claimed he had entered Europe in a multinational group of 90 fighters, who scattered "more or less everywhere." But the biggest break yet in the Paris attacks investigation — the arrest on Friday of fugitive Salah Abdeslam— did not thwart the multipronged attack just four days later on the Belgian capital's airport and metro that left 31 people dead and an estimated 270 wounded. Three suicide bombers also died. Just as in Paris, Belgian authorities were searching for at least one fugitive in Tuesday's attacks — this time for a man wearing a white jacket who was seen on airport security footage with the two suicide attackers. The fear is that the man, whose identity Belgian officials say is not known, will find Abdeslam's path instructive.

      After fleeing Paris immediately after the November attacks, Abdeslam forged a new network back in his childhood neighborhood of Molenbeek, long known as a haven for jihadis, and renewed plotting, according to Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders. "Not only did he drop out of sight, but he did so to organize another attack, with accomplices everywhere. With suicide belts. Two attacks organized just like in Paris. And his arrest, since they knew he was going to talk, it was a response: 'So what if he was arrested? We'll show you that it doesn't change a thing,'" said French Senator Nathalie Goulet, co-head of a commission tracking jihadi networks. Estimates range from 400 to 600 Islamic State fighters trained specifically for external attacks, according to the officials, including Goulet. Some 5,000 Europeans have gone to Syria. "The reality is that if we knew exactly how many there were, it wouldn't be happening," she said.

CARDINAL UROSA SAVINO: VENEZUELANS' HEARTS GROAN IN ANGUISH

         
CARACAS, VENEZUELA"The fundamental message of the (Catholic) Church is to follow Jesus Christ. Following Him means to set aside illicit drugs, administrative corruption, drug trafficking, hatred and pursuit of wealth"

     On the commemoration of Saint Paul's Nazarene, Caracas Archbishop, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, remembered on Holy Wednesday Jesus Christ's legacy: "Whoever follows me shall never walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." "The fundamental message of the (Catholic) Church is to follow Jesus Christ. Following Him means to set aside illicit drugs, administrative corruption, drug trafficking, hatred and pursuit of wealth," Cardinal Urosa Savino said.

       "The (Venezuelan) government has a moral, constitutional and legal duty to protect Venezuelans' lives and equity. Streets should be in the hands of citizens, instead of criminals," the priest said at Santa Teresa Basilica, downtown Caracas. "Venezuelans' hearts groan in anguish," he commented with regard to nationwide shortage. "The issue of food scarcity, the issue of crime, citizens don't know what to do. The government should take necessary measures to stop scarcity and make ends meet on citizens' salary," the Caracas archbishop remarked.

March 24, 2016

PRESIDENT OBAMA PRAISES ARGENTINA'S SWIFT PACE OF ECONOMIC REFORMS

  
        BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA 
President Barack Obama on Wednesday praised Argentina's new center-right leader, Mauricio Macri, for the swift pace of reforms to create a stronger economy and said Washington was ready to work more closely with Argentina after years of tension. Obama, on a two-day visit to Argentina that marks a rapprochement in relations, said the president was setting an example to neighbors in the region.  "I'm impressed because he has moved rapidly on so many of the reforms that he promised, to create more sustainable and inclusive economic growth, to reconnect Argentina with the global economy and the world community," Obama told a joint news conference after the two leaders held talks.

     In his first 100 days in office, Macri has distanced himself from South America's leftist bloc, old allies of former President Cristina Fernandez, and sought a thaw in relations with Western capitals as he seeks new investment in Latin America's No. 3 economy. Macri offers Obama a new ally in South America, a region where a strong leftist bloc turned its back on Washington over the past decade but is now shifting toward the political center ground as governments grapple with graft scandals and an economic slowdown. Obama's trip to Argentina to forge a new friendship follows a historic visit to Cold War foe Cuba that aimed to boost Obama's credibility across Latin America. For years, much of the region took a dim view of Washington's longstanding policy of trying to force change in Communist-ruled Cuba by isolating it, a strategy that Obama has cast aside.

      Describing Argentina as one of the most powerful countries in the Western hemisphere, Obama said it was a critical partner as the United States seeks to "promote prosperity and peace and opportunity in the region as a whole." Macri said Obama's visit marked the start of new "mature" relations in which the countries would cooperate on issues ranging from trade to fighting international drug trafficking. Earlier thousands of people cheered Obama's motorcade as it made its way along Buenos Aires' tree-lined boulevards, handing the U.S. leader a friendlier reception than his predecessor George W. Bush, whose presence at a Summit of the Americas in 2005 was met with protests and snubbed by then President Nestor Kirchner. Obama said Argentina could be an effective partner in the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime and said both countries would work together in response to the Zika virus that has spread across parts of South America at lightning speed.

PRESIDENT OBAMA INVOKES "FUTURE OF HOPE" FOR CUBAN PEOPLE
      

        HAVANA, CUBA.
IN his keynote speech on the last day of his three-day visit to Communist-run Cuba, Mr Obama said it was time for the United States and Cuba to leave the past behind and make a "journey as friends and as neighbours and as family, together" towards a brighter future. He urged Cubans to "leave the ideological battles of the past behind" and to define themselves not through their opposition to the US but just as Cubans. He said the time had come for US policy towards Cuba to change because it had not worked and was outmoded, a remnant of the Cold War.

     He also called for the lifting of the 54-year old US trade embargo against Cuba, a remark which was met by loud applause. The embargo remains one of the main sticking points in US-Cuban relations but can only be lifted by the US Congress. He insisted that the United States would respect the two nations' differences and would not attempt to impose changes on the communist-run island. But he also said he believed that citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear and to choose their government in free elections. The speech in the theatre was vintage Obama - it had a narrative, starting with the earlier, dark years of US-Cuban relations that date back to the 1950s. It also had personal elements - he said he was born in the year of the Bay of Pigs, and that afterwards the world nearly came to an end.

     Finally it had evocative language - "I know the history, but refuse to be trapped by it" - and a few jokes. And it built up to his larger point, which was his message for the Cuban people - choose democracy. It isn't perfect but it's the best system there is. He was a powerful speaker in the theatre, and he gave a speech that was eloquent and moving. He said it was no secret that the Cuban and US governments disagreed on many issues. Obama acknowledged that there were "flaws in the American system: economic inequality, the death penalty and racial discrimination". He said those were just a few samples and that Raul Castro had "a much longer list" of US shortcomings and had reminded President Obama of many of them. "But open debate is what allows us to get better," he said. "Democracy is the way to solve these problems," he added.

WHAT ARE CUBANS SAYING ABOUT CASTRO'S PERFORMANCE ALONGSIDE OBAMA?

         
HAVANA, CUBAPABLO PASCUAL MÉNDEZ PIÑA.- "There's no need to wait until 2018 to relieve Raúl. It must be done now. " "This man is decrepit, there is no doubt that others are ruling for him." "Although it sounds crazy, one misses Fidel." "What a debacle!" "As a Cuban I am embarrassed to have a president who cannot even produce arguments to respond to journalists' questions."

      "He did not even understand the questions put to him." "It seems that the responses were being dictated to him by earpiece, and he was answering: ‘I don't understand, I don't understand.'” "If the president is so doddering, what can we expect? We’re doomed." "They ought to ask Elizardo Sánchez the names of the political prisoners.” "He doesn't even know how many laws the Declaration of Human Rights has.” “It’s pathetic. They should get him to step down.”

      These were, among others, some of the reactions by viewers consulted by telephone after watching the press conference held at the Palace of the Revolution, after the official meeting between Obama and Raúl Castro.Many were upset by the rude manner in which Raúl treated the journalists who asked tough questions about human rights violations. The truth is that the performance by the Cuban president, who turns 85 in June, seemed to confirm suspicions that the nation is being governed by a shadow group acting behind the scenes.

March 23, 2016

PRESIDENT OBAMA IS HEADING TO ARGENTINA AFTER CUBA'S VISIT

  
        HAVANA, CUBA
President Obama will receive a warm welcome from Argentina’s new free-market president but face mass anti-American protests from regular Argentine’s when he stops here following his historic trip to Cuba this week. “We, Argentine’s, love to hate the U.S.,” said Gustavo Sierra, a journalist at the local newspaper Clarin. Obama, the first U.S. president to visit Argentina in more than two decades, hopes to strengthen economic and political ties with Latin America and conservative President Mauricio Macri during his two-day visit starting Wednesday.

     Macri took office in December with a vow to reverse many policies of his leftist predecessors, who imposed tight controls over the economy. One quick change: He lifted currency controls to allow a free exchange of the Argentine peso for U.S. dollars. Obama plans to tour and lay a wreath at the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral, where Pope Francis had served as archbishop. Obama also will hold a town hall with the Young Latin American Leaders Initiative before traveling The visit is controversial here because it comes on the 40th anniversary of the March 24, 1976, military coup that the U.S. initially supported, and resentment still lingers over the tens of thousands of people who disappeared or were killed under military dictatorship.

     Macri, 57, told the Associated Press last week that Obama’s visit is a chance to show that Argentina is cleaning up its act and wants to open the country to billions in investment. “A year from now, we hope to be growing, and we hope to be receiving investments from all over the world,” Macri said in the AP interview. Macri, the son of one of Argentina’s wealthiest businessmen, promised to renew relations with Western nations, especially the U.S., after a previous rapprochement with China and Russia under his left-wing predecessor, Cristina Kirchner “What I want most is to restore ties with the U.S., reinsert ourselves in the global community and copy Americans’ desire to progress and turn work into a cult. I hope this is the beginning of a great era for our country,” said Gabi Pusterla, an Argentine.

IN MEETING WITH DISSIDENTS, PRESIDENT OBAMA PRAISES 'COURAGE' OF POLITICAL PRISONERS
      

        HAVANA, CUBA.
President Obama met with dissidents and civil society leaders at the U.S. embassy in Havana Tuesday, saying they've shown "extraordinary courage" in the face of large-scale detentions of political prisoners by the Castro regime. "They have spoken out on behalf of the issues that they care deeply about," Obama said before the meeting, his last piece of business in Cuba before taking in a baseball game and departing for Argentina. "There are people here who have been detained. Some in the past, some very recently."

     After meeting one-on-one with Cuban President Raul Castro at the Palace of the Revolution Monday, Obama said it was important for him to engage the Cuban people as well as the government. "Much of this is a matter of us being able to hear directly from the Cuban people and making sure that they have a voice and making sure that their concerns and their ideas are helping to shape U.S. policy," he said. Among those in the room: Berta Soler, the leader of the Ladies in White movement whose members were arrested Sunday during one of their weekly protests of Cuba's treatment of political prisoners, and Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which has counted 2.555 political detentions in the first two months of 2016.

      Obama has had similar, lower-profile meetings in Miami and Panama since announcing the normalization of relations with Cuba in December, 2014. The White House said it intentionally selected a group of dissidents and civil society leaders with different perspectives and different concerns. “Cuba is not a monolith. The government itself is not a monolith. And certainly the government and civil society have differences,” said Deputy National Security AdviserBen Rhodes. “And so I think it's mainly an opportunity for him to hear from people who are active in different ways, and advocating for more rights, advocating for more opportunity about what their life is life and what they seek for the future.”  President Barack Obama and Cuban dictator Raul Castro prodded each other Monday over human rights and the longstanding economic embargo during a news conference that stunned Cubans unaccustomed to their leaders being aggressively questioned.

ISIS CLAIMS BRUSSELS ATTACKS THAT KILLED AT LEAST 30

         
BRUSSELS, BELGIUMIslamic State claimed responsibility for suicide bomb attacks on Brussels airport and a rush-hour metro train in the Belgian capital on Tuesday which killed at least 30 people, with police hunting a suspect who fled the air terminal. Police issued a wanted notice for a young man in a hat who was caught on CCTV pushing a laden luggage trolley at Zaventem airport alongside two others who, investigators said, had later blown themselves up in the terminal, killing at least 10 people. Officials said 20 died on the metro train close to European Union institutions. It was unclear still what caused the blast but a news agency linked to Islamic State said that too was a suicide attack.

     The coordinated assault triggered security alerts across Europe and drew global expressions of support, four days after Brussels police had captured the prime surviving suspect in IslamicState's attacks on Paris last November. Belgian authorities were still checking whether the attacks were linked to the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, according to Federal Prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw, although U.S. officials said the level of organization involved suggested they had previously been in preparation. Explosives and an Islamic flag were found after a flat was raided a week ago where a fresh fingerprint of Abdeslam's had put police on his trail. It was not clear if Abdeslam had been involved at that stage in the airport attack plan. A bomb and an Islamic State flag were also found later on Tuesday in a flat in Brussels.

     "A photograph of three male suspects was taken at Zaventem. Two of them seem to have committed suicide attacks. The third, wearing a light-colored jacket and a hat, is actively being sought," Van Leeuw told a news conference. A government official said the third suspect had been seen running away from the airport building. Local media said police had found an undetonated suicide vest in the area. Police issued a wanted notice on Monday, after questioning of Abdeslam, identifying 25-year-old Najim Laachraoui as linked to the Paris attacks. The poor quality of the images left open whether he might be the person caught on the airport cameras. A witness said he heard shouts in Arabic and shots shortly before two blasts struck in a packed airport departure lounge at the airport.

March 21, 2016

CUBA ARRESTS DOZENS OF HUMAN RIGHTS PROTESTERS BEFORE PRESIDENT OBAMA AMD HIS FAMILY ARRIVAL

  
        HAVANA, CUBA
Just hours before President Obamalanded Sunday in Cuba for his historic visit to the communist island, Cuban authorities arrested more than 50 dissidents who were marching to demand improved human rights. Members of the group, known as the Ladies in White, are used to the routine. They march each Sunday after Mass at a church in a suburb of Havana called Miramar and usually get arrested and detained for hours or days. Some in the group thought Cuban authorities would back off this Sunday out of respect for Obama's visit. Berta Soler, one of the founding members who has been marching since 2003, said while walking to the church Sunday morning that maybe they would be allowed to protest without getting arrested. "Everything looks good so far," she said.

    Despite dozens of international reporters in town for Obama's trip, the group was quickly rounded up in buses and police cars. "For us, it's very important that we do this so President Obama knows that there are women here fighting for the liberty of political prisoners," Soler said before being arrested. "And he needs to know that we are here being repressed simply for exercising our right to express ourselves and manifest in a non-violent way." Obama's three-day trip to Cuba is to highlight the new relationship between the Cold War foes. After more than five decades of political and economic isolation, the two nations announced in December 2014 that they would re-establish diplomatic relations. Embassies have since reopened in Havana and Washington, U.S. cellphones can be used in Cuba, U.S. airlines are planning direct flights to the island, and several U.S. companies have struck deals to trade with Cuba.

     Obama is expected to embrace those changes during his trip, but the issue of human rights has been the most difficult negotiating point leading up to his visit. Secretary of State John Kerry was supposed to visit the island ahead of Obama's trip but canceled because of disagreements over whom he could meet with. The White House has said that Obama will meet with a group of dissidents on Tuesday, but several have said they're unsure whether they'll be able to attend. Guillermo Farinas, a leading voice in Cuba's civil rights movement who is part of the group that could meet Obama, is camped out at a friend's house this week because he said Cuban authorities have ordered him to be on house arrest. He said many other dissidents like him are being blockaded in their homes ahead of Obama's visit. Because of that, he said Obama has a "moral responsibility" to strongly criticize Cuba's human rights record and push the government to improve before the U.S. further expands its relationship with Cuba. "The most important thing for us is that President Obama doesn't allow the Cuban government to use his visit to create an image of complicity with the actions of the totalitarian regime," Farinas said.

PROTESTERS AGAINST PRESIDENT OBAMA'S CUBA TRIP TAKE TO STREET IN LITTLE HAVANA
      

        MIAMI, FLORIDA.
Protesters take to the streets in Little Havana Sunday, March 20, 2016, in Little Havana against President Obama’s trip to Cuba. Protesters demonstrated in Little Havana Sunday, March 20, 2016, against President Obama's visit to Cuba. Silvia Iriondo, president of Mothers and Women for Anti-Repression says they are marching in solitary for those in Cuba that are repressed by the Castro regime in Cuba and that the Miami exile community will continue to support the people of Cuba's hope and aspirations for a free and Democratic Cuba. Gloria Argudin stood before hundreds of protesters in Little Havana. Her eyes welled with tears, her fists tightened with anger. "I'm ashamed of our president today," the 78-year-old said. "I was arrested in Cuba back then for not supporting Fidel. No matter what, I haven't lost the strength to fight. Please fight with me for a free Cuba."

     More than 200 protesters of all ages gathered in the core of Little Havana, Southwest Eighth Street and 13th Avenue, on Sunday morning. They called on President Barack Obama to end relations with Cuba, the homeland for many in Miami. The president's visit to Cuba stirred up a smorgasbord of emotions. Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos López-Cantera, the son and grandson of Cuban exiles, was one of them. "Today is a sad day for me," he said. "I never thought that I would see a president of the United States of America landing Air Force One in a communist Cuba. I grew up learning firsthand what it was like to flee communism and oppression.” "They have made it clear that they welcome American investment, and they welcome President Obama but there will be no change in the way Cuba conducts business," Coral Gables Commissioner Vince Lago said. "It's an embarrassment,” he said.

“The Cuban government has harassed and jailed hundreds of Cuban dissents in preparation for Obama’s visit. It's been 90 years since an American president went to Cuba. This is not the time or the place for the democracy of the U.S. to bend at the knees of the Cuban government." Sylvia Iriondo, president of M.A.R. por Cuba (Mothers and Women for Anti-Repression) in Miami, said she is "ashamed of President Obama." "When I heard that he was going to walk through the streets of Old Havana with his family, I could not help to think about the countless number of Cuban families that were uprooted, separated and destroyed because of the Castro regime," she said. "When I heard that President Obama was going to be photographed watching a baseball game in a stadium in Havana, I could not help but think that for the Cubans in the island, life is not a baseball game, or for that matter, any game."

DONALD TRUMP: RAUL CASTRO INSULTED PRESIDENT OBAMA AT THE AIRPORT IN HAVANA BY NOT WELCOMING HIM

         
WASHINGTON, D.C."Wow, President Obama just landed in Cuba, a big deal, a historic trip, and Raul Castro wasn't even there to greet him." He greeted Pope and others. No respect." Trump has said if elected president he would try to negotiate a better deal with Cuba, but has also said he's "fine" with the U.S. pursuing a new approach.

    His top GOP rival, Ted Cruz, is the son of a Cuban and opposes Obama's policy. Castro makes relatively few public appearances. But Castro did greet Pope Francis twice at the airport and on his last arrival during a September trip to Cuba and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill last month. President Barack Obama says his trip to Cuba is an "historic opportunity to engage with the Cuban people."

     Obama spoke to a few dozen embassy staff and families at a Havana hotel in his first stop after arriving in Cuba. He says it's wonderful to be in Cuba and is noting that an American president hasn't stepped foot in Cuba in nearly 90 years. Obama is recalling former President Calvin Coolidge's visit in 1928, when he arrived in a battleship. Obama says it took Coolidge three days to get to Cuba, but only took him three hours. Obama is singling out three Cubans who have worked at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Cuba for decades: a guard, driver and a worker from the visa section. He says they bring the Cuban and American people together. Before the U.S. reopened its embassy, it had only a U.S. interests sections in Havana.

March 20, 2016

U.S.: LIST OF DISSIDENTS PRESIDENT OBAMA WILL SEE IN CUBA "IS NON-NEGOTIABLE"

  
        WASHINGTON, D.C.
The list of Cuban dissidents who will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama when he visits the island “is non-negotiable,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Friday. “I would not be surprised if there are people on that list that the Cuban government prefer we not meet with,” Earnest told his daily press conference, as Obama prepares to leave Sunday for his state visit in Cuba. “But I can tell you the president is going to move forward in those meetings and have a conversation about human rights.

     The list of people invited to meet with the president in Cuba is non-negotiable,” Earnest said. The spokesman avoided giving any details about the dissidents who will take part in the meeting with Obama. The White House has only said that the president will meet with members of Cuban civil society, including well-known dissidents. However, a number of them have already confirmed to EFE that they have received their invitations by telephone, including Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White; former political prisoner Daniel Ferrer, head of the Patriotic Union of Cuba; and independent journalist Miriam Leiva.

      During his trip to Havana, the first of a sitting U.S. president since 1928, Obama will meet with Cuban President Raul Castro and give an “important speech” at Havana’s Gran Teatro on Tuesday, the day he will meet with dissidents and attend an exhibition baseball game between a Cuban team and the MLB Tampa Bay Rays. The state of rights and freedoms in Cuba is one of the thorniest issues the island and the U.S. must navigate in the new scenario created by the diplomatic thaw that began Dec. 17, 2014.

U.S. WARNS OF ZIKA RISK IN CUBA AHEAD OF PRESIDENT OBAMA'S TRIP
      

        WASHINGTON, D.C.
The United States is warning of the risk of Zika virus in Cuba just as President Barack Obama heads to the country. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it's adding Cuba to its travel notice for Zika. The notice warns travelers they are at risk of contracting the virus. Zika is spread though bites from a specific mosquito and is believed to carry particular risk for birth defects. The CDC advises pregnant women not to travel to places with Zika. Obama heads to Cuba on Sunday on a three-day trip. It's the first trip to the country by a sitting U.S. president in nearly 90 years. The Obama administration says the virus hasn't been a factor in Obama's travel decisions and isn't expected to be in the future.

     The first case of Zika was Cuba diagnosed in Cuba early this month. A 28-year-old Venezuelan doctor whose husband and brother-in-law previously contracted the virus in their home country. The patient arrived in Cuba on Feb. 21 to take a post-graduate course in medicine along with 37 others. She reported a fever a day later and was diagnosed with Zika on Monday. She was recovering well in hospital, the Health Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday. Her husband was diagnosed with Zika two months ago and her brother two weeks before she traveled, the statement said. Zika is carried by mosquitoes, which transmit the virus to humans, though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said on Feb. 23 it was investigating possible cases of sexual transmission.

       The World Health Organization declared the Zika outbreak, suspected of causing thousands of birth defects in Brazil, an international health emergency on Feb. 1, although much about the virus remains unknown. The patient arrived in Cuba on Feb. 21 to take a post-graduate course in medicine along with 37 others. She reported a fever a day later and was diagnosed with Zika on Monday. She was recovering well in hospital, the Health Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday. Her husband was diagnosed with Zika two months ago and her brother two weeks before she traveled, the statement said. Zika is carried by mosquitoes, which transmit the virus to humans, though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said on Feb. 23 it was investigating possible cases of sexual transmission.
 

DICTATOR RAUL CASTRO HONORS NICOLAS MADURO AHEAD OF PRESIDENT OBAMA VISIT TO CUBA

         
HAVANA, CUBACuba dictator Raul Castro honored Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro with ihe country’s highest medalr on Friday in an act of defiance two days before U.S. President Barack Obama is due for a historic visit to Havana. Castro pinned the medal, known as the Order of Jose Marti, on Maduro in a show a solidarity between socialist allies that have stood together against the United States of America since Maduro's predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, came to power in 1999.

    Maduro paid repeated homage to Chavez and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, the president's brother, as well as to the independence heroes of each country, Simon Bolivar and Marti, names that serve as a rallying cry against interference from foreign powers. "This strength of Marti, of a dignified and steadfast Cuba that stands tall, I will take with me to the people of Venezuela in recognition of their heroism," Maduro said. Chavez emulated and befriended Fidel Castro, coming to the aid of a Cuban economy in collapse after the fall of the Soviet Union by providing oil on favorable terms. Fidel Castro resigned in 2008, when his younger brother took over.

      Since Chavez died in 2013, Maduro has continued to aid Cuba with Venezuelan oil in exchange for missions by Cuban doctors and nurses in the South American country. When Obama arrives on Sunday, it will mark the first visit to Cuba by a U.S. president in 88 years. Obama's visit will last until Tuesday. Despite major ongoing differences, Obama and Raul Castro ended more than half a century of U.S.-Cuban estrangement in December 2014 and restored diplomatic relations last year.

March 16, 2016

PRESIDENT OBAMA VOICED ON MONDAY HIS CONCERN OVER VENEZUELA'S ECONOMIC CRISIS

  
        WASHINGTON, D.C.
U.S. President Barack Obama voiced on Monday his concern over the state of the Venezuelan economy and its possible effects on the Americas. In an interview that aired on Monday, the President voiced concern about the struggling Venezuelan economy and said he did not want to see the country fail despite the tense relations between Washington and Caracas. "It's not in America's interest to see Venezuela fail, because if Venezuela fails then that could have an impact on the economies of Colombia or Central America or Mexico, and that in turn can affect U.S. economies," Obama told CNN Espanol.

     Moreover, Obama stood by his decision of extending the decree declaring Venezuela a security threat to the US, DPA highlighted. A year ago, the United States declared Venezuela a national security threat and ordered sanctions against seven officials who Washington said had violated human rights or engaged in corruption. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro denounced the sanctions as an attempt to topple his Socialist government. Venezuela's economy suffers from runaway inflation and chronic product shortages that critics blame on the government's heavy-handed policies.

      Maduro points to the global oil price collapse as the main source of Venezuela's woes. The OPEC nation depends on crude for more than 90 percent of its export revenues. An opposition alliance won control of the Venezuelan National Assembly in a vote at the end of 2015 and has launched a campaign to remove Maduro via street rallies, a recall referendum and a constitutional amendment. "The sooner the Venezuelan people can determine a government that they have confidence in that is legitimate, and that can start instituting economic policies that pull them out of the spiral that they're in, the better off it's going to be for all of us," Obama said.

CARLOS AMEL OLIVA, A YOUNG CUBAN DISSIDENT WHO MET WITH A PRESIDENT ADVISOR IN MIAMI, ARRESTED IN HAVANA
      

        HAVANA, CUBA
Today, the Castro regime arrested Carlos Amel Oliva, head of the youth wing of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), a major dissident organization. He is being accused of "anti-social" behavior. On Friday, Amel Oliva had participated in a meeting in Miami with Ben Rhodes, President Obama's Deputy National Security Advisor. He returned to Havana on Sunday. The Castro regime will continue pushing the limits of the President Obama, as it has concluded he's driven more by legacy than lives. Thus, Castro now wields all the leverage.

     President Obama’s top advisor on US policy toward Cuba, Ben Rhodes, met last Friday with representatives from the island’s Civil Society and exile organizations. The meeting took place in Miami, concluding with a chat with Cuban-Americans that the official held at Miami Dade College. The purpose of the meeting, which lasted several hours behind closed doors, was for Rhodes to listen to the aspirations and opinions of those groups in advance of President Obama’s visit to the island. Several of those attending agreed that the meeting was an “historic moment.”

      The youngest activist at the meeting, Carlos Amel Oliva Torres, national coordinator of the Youth Front of the Patriotic Union of Cuban (UNPACU), said that “the meeting surprised all of us in the most positive way,” because “we thought we would be coming to explain to Obama’s advisor the reality of the Cuban people, but to our surprise he knows it very well.” Oliva Torres agrees with the rest of those present that it was an “historic” meeting and, in his opinion, “there was very good communication, great harmony between our approaches and his responses.” “We are all demanding the same thing: we want the American president to go to Cuba and direct his discourse to the people of Cuba, not to the government,” said the UNPACU member.

BODIES OF 18 MISSING MINERS FOUND IN MASS GRAVE IN VENEZUELA

         
CARACAS, VENEZUELA
Venezuelan authorities found 18 bodies in a mine near the town of Tumeremo in Bolivar state on Monday, whom they identified as part of the 28 miners declared missing since March 4. “We have concluded the search for the disappeared in Tumeremo with the finding of 18 bodies,” announced Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz via Twitter. According to the top prosecutor, the bodies were located thanks to “14 witnesses” who led authorities to the site in the “Nuevo Callao” mine near the southeastern Venezuelan town.

     The cadavers were uncovered in a “mass grave, wrapped in trash bags”, reported Tarek William Saab, the country’s chief ombudsman, who has been on the ground investigating the case. While 18 of the bodies have currently been identified, authorities have found a total of 21 cadavers, a number which “could increase”. The finding substantiates allegations of a massacre perpetrated by criminal groups who run illegal gold mining operations in the area. On Saturday, the public prosecutor’s office issued a warrant for the arrest of a 44 year-old Ecuadorian national by the name of Andres Ulloa Suarez who they accuse of planning the massacre. Two other arrest warrants have also been issued.

      Meanwhile, authorities are actively continuing the search for a Colombia-trained Ecuadorian paramilitary named Hendry Norberto Bonalde, alias “El Topo”, who is widely believed to lead criminal activities in the area. Bolivar state Governor Francisco Rangel Gomez, for his part, pledged his government’s ongoing collaboration with the police investigation and promised that the case “will not go unpunished”. The governor came under fire last week after initially dismissing the murder allegations as “false information” divulged by right-wing politicians “trying to sow chaos in Bolivar state”. Speaking on national television, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro likewise vowed that those responsible will be brought to justice, including any state officials linked to the crime. “If any state security body or any state official is involved, they are going to jail,” he warned.

March 15, 2016

NORTH KOREA CLAIMS IT COULD 'BURN DOWN' MANHATTAN WITH A HYDROGEN BOMB 

  
        PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA
Another day, another veiled threat from North Korea. Unlike most, this one was very specific. State-run television in the People’s Republic reported on Sunday that Pyongyang’s arsenal of deadly weapons now includes a hydrogen bomb that could wipe out New York City and kill everybody who lives there. “Our hydrogen bomb is much bigger than the one developed by the Soviet Union,” DPRK Today reported, citing nuclear scientist Cho Hyong Il. “If this H-bomb were to be mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile and fall on Manhattan in New York City, all the people there would be killed immediately and the city would burn down to ashes.”

      The object is believed to be a miniature nuclear warhead or a hydrogen bomb. In February, North Korea launched a satellite into space, according to state media. The move was widely viewed by the outside world as a step in the direction of long-range missile testing that could one day allow Kim, should he wish, to reach the US mainland with a targeted missile. It was condemned by the UN Security Council and fresh sanctions were imposed. US Ambassador Samantha Power told reporters “it cannot be business as usual” after two successive North Korean acts that are “hostile and illegal”. “What’s important is that the Security Council unites,” Power said.

      “China is a critical player ... We are hopeful that China, like all council members, will see the grave threat to regional and international peace and security, see the importance of adopting tough, unprecedented measures, breaking new ground here, exceeding the expectations of Kim Jong Un.” South Korean President Park Geun-hye called the launch an “intolerable provocation”. The Foreign Ministry in China expressed “regret that, disregarding the opposition from the international community, the (North) side obstinately insisted in carrying out a launch by using ballistic missile technologies.” The “H-bomb” is a weapon unlike any other — it is believed to be 1000 times more powerful than the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Countries including China, the US and Russia have hydrogen bombs but have never used one. North Korea claimed in January it had tested detonation of a hydrogen bomb, a claim the US described as far-fetched.

VLADIMIR PUTIN ORDERS START OF RUSSIAN FORCES' WITHDRAWAL FROM SYRIA
      

        MOSCOW, RUSSIA
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday he would start pulling his armed forces out of Syria, five months after he ordered a military intervention that turned the tide of the war in favor of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. "I believe that the task put before the defense ministry and Russian armed forces has, on the whole, been fulfilled," Putin said at a Kremlin meeting with his defense and foreign ministers at which he announced the withdrawal, starting on Tuesday.

      Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin had telephoned Assad to inform him of the Russian decision, but Peskov said the two leaders had not discussed Assad's future - the biggest obstacle to reaching a peace agreement. The move was announced on the day United Nations-brokered talks between the warring sides in Syria resumed in Geneva. Putin ordered an intensification of Russia's diplomatic efforts to end the civil war in Syria, which has dragged on for five years, killed thousands of people and displaced millions, many of them seeking refuge in Europe.

       But the Russian leader signaled Moscow would keep a military presence: he did not give a deadline for the completion of the withdrawal and said Russian forces would stay on at the port of Tartous and at the Hmeymim air base in Syria's Latakia province, from which Russia has launched most of its air strikes. Questions remained about the practical implications of Putin's announcement. It was not clear if Russian air strikes would stop. Russia will retain the capability to launch them, from the Latakia base. But there was a recognition in Moscow that pressing ahead with the military operation would produce diminishing returns. Russian officials have said it is unrealistic to try to restore Assad's control over all of Syria and the time had come to negotiate a peace.

UNASUR'S ERNESTO SAMPER CALLS FOR "INSTITUTIONAL DIALOGUE" IN VENEZUELA

         
CARACAS, VENEZUELA
Secretary General of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), Ernesto Samper, stressed the need to adopt economic measures aimed at overcoming the political and economic crisis in Venezuela. He called on Monday for an "institutional dialogue" between the government and the opposition, as he deemed that polarization was not "the best way" for understanding. In an informative breakfast held on Monday in Madrid, Spain, hosted by independent organization Nueva Economía Forum, Samper stressed the need to adopt economic measures aimed at overcoming the political and economic crisis in Venezuela, Efe reported.

       According to Samper, the most important actions that must be performed in Venezuela would be, according to Samper, "reducir cambiaria distortion" - which causes that the currency exchange is not fluid, permanent and constant, - level of gasoline prices taking advantage of low prices and give subsidies to people who are in poverty , and not "a the cosas, to prevent smuggling. Former Colombian President said that Latin America has managed to lift out of poverty to more than 120 million people in the last decade, but warned that the region must make short-term fiscal adjustment so they do not return to its previous condition, in a context such as the present of zero growth.

       The Act also attended Mitzy Capriles, wife of the opponent put in house arrest Antonio Ledezma, who Samper requested further assistance to help solve the situation of detained opponents. In addition, Samper said that Latin America is the region of the mundo "única" will decrease economically in the coming years, because they will affect significantly the circumstances of Venezuela and Brazil and the global crisis also will hurt the entire region. " To resolve these conflicts Samper opted to have three types of agenda: a social which keep in mind the equal participation of all, a policy through citizen intervention and economic one that improves the prospects of the region.

March 14, 2016

PRESIDENT OBAMA TELLS THE LADIES IN WHITE THAT HE WILL DISCUSS HUMAN RIGHTS WITH DICTATOR RAUL CASTRO 

  
        HAVANA, CUBA
U.S. President Barack Obama promised one of Cuba's most prominent dissident groups he would raise the issues of freedom of speech and assembly with Cuban DICTATOR Raul Castro during his March 20-22 visit to the Caribbean island. In a letter dated March 10, Obama praised the work of the Ladies in White, which marches weekly to protest Cuba's Communist government, and defended his policy of seeking to normalize relations with Cuba as good for its people. U.S. support for the dissidents is a source of tension ahead of Obama's visit, the first by a U.S. president since Fidel Castro's rebels overthrew a pro-American government in 1959. After more than half a century of Cold War-inspired animosity, the two sides promised 15 months ago to normalize relations.

      The Ladies in White criticized Obama's policy change, saying the Cuban government continues to suppress dissent by breaking up anti-government demonstrations while maintaining a monopoly on the media. They say Cuba has cracked down more ferociously since rapprochement. "We take seriously the concerns you have raised," said Obama's letter, which group leader Berta Soler read to about two dozen Ladies in White and other supporters gathered in a Havana park. "I will raise these issues directly with President Castro," said Obama, who called the Ladies "an inspiration to human rights movements around the world." A senior U.S. official in Washington confirmed that an Obama aide delivered the letter to the Ladies in White in Miami.

      As in marches for the most of the last year, a demonstration on Sunday ended with police detaining the protesters after they were met by a larger group of pro-government counterdemonstrators. Police detained about two dozen people, at which point the streets filled with conga dancers and drummers who led hundreds of government supporters in their own rally. The weekly demonstrations and detentions are normal, but the conga line was an additional flourish a week before Obama's visit. Soler welcomed Obama's letter but still disagreed with him for enacting unilateral changes without any reciprocal moves by Cuba. "The response of this letter is positive for us, and we greatly appreciated it," Soler said minutes before she was detained.

RECORD BRAZIL PROTESTS PUT PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF'S FUTURE IN DOUBT
      

        SAO PAULO, BRAZIL
Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians flooded the streets on Sunday in the biggest ever protests calling for President Dilma Rousseff's removal, reflecting rising popular anger that could encourage Congress to impeach the leftist leader. The demonstrations were the latest in a wave of anti-government rallies that lost momentum late last year but have regained strength as a sweeping corruption investigation nears Rousseff's inner circle. From the Amazon jungle city of Manaus to the business hub of Sao Paulo and the capital Brasilia, protesters marched in a nationwide call for Rousseff to step down, raising pressure on lawmakers to back ongoing impeachment proceedings against her that just a few weeks ago appeared to be doomed.

    Police estimates from more than 150 cities compiled by news website G1 showed around 3 million Brazilians participated in the demonstrations. Some police estimates of previous protests have proved to be exaggerated. Polling firm Datafolha estimated 500,000 demonstrators in Sao Paulo, the biggest rally in the city's history and more than twice the size of a major protest a year ago. The military police put the figure at 1.4 million at the height of the demonstration. Government sources contacted by Reuters acknowledged the demonstrations were bigger than anti-government rallies in March 2015, which gathered as many as 1 million people. In the skyscraper-lined Avenue Paulista in Sao Paulo, a sea of protesters wearing Brazil's yellow-and-green national colors chanted "Dilma out" and waved banners that read "Stop the corruption" while music blared from nearby trucks.

      "The country is at a standstill and we are fighting to keep our company afloat," said small business owner Monica Giana Micheletti, 49, at the Sao Paulo demonstration. "We have reached rock bottom." Many blame Rousseff for sinking the economy into its worst recession in at least 25 years. Opinion polls show that more than half of Brazilians favor the impeachment of the president, re-elected for a second four-year term in 2014. Rousseff, who insists she will not quit, is the latest leftist leader in Latin America to face upheaval as a decade-long commodities boom that fueled breakneck growth and social spending comes to an abrupt end. Ahead of the demonstrations, tensions were high after Sao Paulo state prosecutors requested on Thursday the arrest of Rousseff's predecessor and political mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, on money-laundering charges. A judge still has to decide on the request, which can be rejected.
 

VENEZUELA'S NICOLAS MADURO VOWS NOT TO RESIGN, ANNOUNCES "BOLIVARIAN IDENTIFICATION" FOR LOYAL FOLLOWERS

         
CARACAS, VENEZUELA
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro repeated Saturday that he will not resign and said the opposition can do “whatever it wants,” but it will fail in its attempt to cut short his time in office. “They can do what they want! I am here to fight and Maduro will be here until the very last day!” of his term, which ends in 2019, the head of state said. To achieve that he counts on “the support of the people, of the armed forces, on history and with the absolute determination that here, nobody will cave in. Let them come for me, because there are plenty of people willing to confront them and conquer them,” he said.

    Before thousands of followers in downtown Caracas and after a massive opposition demonstration in another part of the city, Maduro announced the issuing of a “Bolivarian card” so that those loyal to him know what to do “if they hunt for us here, if they hunt for us there,” he said. He said the “time has arrived” for his followers to be identified and that each one of them carry a card with “a chip of the 21st century,” capable of receiving instructions in real time.

     For that purpose, Maduro announced that on April 1 will begin a “great census of patriots, of true Bolivarians and Chavistas” nationwide. Earlier in the day, thousands of members of the Venezuelan opposition and supporters of the ruling party demonstrated separately in Caracas, the former to demand the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro, while the Chavistas protested against U.S. President Barack Obama for a decree that describes Venezuela as a threat to the United States. White clothes and flags marked the protest march of the Venezuelan opposition, while red was the color of the “anti-imperialist march” of Maduro supporters, as the two groups poured through the streets of east and central Caracas, respectively.

March 13, 2016

U.S. READY TO FACILITATE CHANGE IN CUBA, PRESIDENT OBAMA ADVISER SAYS IN MIAMI 

  
        MIAMI, FLORIDA
Cuba will change of its own accord and the United States will scarcely aid this process of transition, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama said on Friday. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes traveled to Miami to meet with the Cuban exile community days before Obama’s March 21-22 visit to the Communist-ruled island. The U.S. government will continue to champion democracy and human rights in Cuba, he said. Rhodes said that following the normalization of diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States, the U.S. is in a better position to influence an improvement of human rights on the island while fostering trade, among other advantages.

     “We have a lot of confidence in the Cuban people,” he said. “Our policy is rooted in the confidence we have in the Cuban people.” Rhodes said Obama will meet with dissidents during his trip to the island and that the opposition movement Ladies in White is the kind of organization to which the U.S. Embassy in Havana will send invitations, though he did not state specifically that this group would be one of them. Cubans in Miami opposed to the president’s trip to the island denounced the U.S. government’s lack of clarity when it came to explaining exactly which members of the dissidence will meet with Obama. Nonetheless, Rhodes said he will meet this Friday with dissident Martha Beatriz Roque, currently in Miami after receiving permission from the Cuban government to leave the island just this once.

     The White House adviser said his goal is to have the group of dissidents meeting with Obama represent conflicting points of view, so that it includes those who support reestablishing relations and ending the embargo, as well as those who reject normalization, since that will be a useful learning experience. He recognized that the Obama administration has no illusions that the tensions between the two countries will disappear, but did consider that this opening will contribute to the defense of human rights. “This was not an easy call for the president politically,” Rhodes said. “I was able to say to him, ‘There is a community of people who will support this, and they will speak out for it, and a lot of this is young people.’”

VENEZUELA OPPOSITION PUSHES FOR MADURO'S RESIGNATION
      

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA
A Venezuelan opposition coalition has announced how it plans to remove President Nicolas Maduro from office. The MUD coalition had been meeting for weeks to decide how to install a new government. It said it would pursue "all constitutional means" for change. The MUD said this would include a recall referendum, a constitutional amendment and mass protests. Venezuela is deeply divided between supporters of Mr Maduro's socialist government and those who oppose it.

     Many of the newly elected opposition lawmakers campaigned on a promise to replace the government before the end of Mr Maduro's term. For the past weeks, MUD politicians had been discussing which strategy to pursue. On Tuesday, MUD executive secretary Jesus Torrealba said the coalition would "call on the Venezuelan people to launch the largest popular pressure movement that has ever existed to activate all - I repeat, all - mechanisms for change".

     Under Venezuela's constitution, the president can be ousted by means of a referendum. In order to trigger such a referendum, at least 20% of registered voters would have to sign a petition asking for a referendum. That would be 3.9 million voters. But the referendum can only be called once the president has served half of this term. As Maduro started his six-year term on 19 April 2013, the opposition could start gathering signatures for a recall referendum after 19 April of this year. For the referendum to be successful, an equal or greater number of voters than those who elected Mr Maduro would have to cast their vote in favour of the recall. Maduro won the 2013 election with 7,587,579 votes.

BRAZIL'S DILMA ROUSSEFF VOWS NOT TO RESIGN AMID BURGEONING POLITICAL CRISIS

         
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL
Amid a drive to oust her from office via impeachment and a deluge of rumors about her political future, Rousseff said in a Friday press conference at the Planalto presidential palace that she had no intention of resigning. Prosecutors’ motion for the preventative arrest of former President Luiz Inacio da Silva has added more fuel to Brazil’s political crisis and cast further doubt on the future of current head of state Dilma Rousseff, who on Friday slammed the legal moves against her mentor and predecessor and vowed not to resign. Lula spent much of Friday meeting with his attorneys and fellow members of the ruling Workers’ Party, or PT, which he co-founded, to analyze his situation and the crisis facing Rousseff’s administration.

     The former president, who ruled from 2003 until the end of 2010 and remains a key power broker in Brazil, insists that the effort this week by Sao Paulo prosecutors to secure his arrest on charges of money laundering and document falsification pertaining to luxury real estate is groundless and alleges that political maneuvering is behind the motion. Their complaint accuses Lula and his wife, Marisa Leticia Lula da Silva, of being the real owners of a beachfront triplex apartment in the seaside resort of Guaruja, near Sao Paulo city, and not reporting that asset to tax authorities. Their investigation into the property, which is registered in the name of Brazilian construction firm OAS, is parallel to a federal probe into Lula’s alleged involvement in a massive corruption scheme centered on state-controlled oil company Petrobras.

      OAS, one of the companies whose executives have been convicted of paying bribes for inflated Petrobras contracts, acquired the property in 2009 from a labor cooperative linked to the PT that built it. The complaint is surreal in parts, containing allusions to the “Superman” of Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” and featuring glaring errors such as confusing Hegel with Engels. Among those coming to Lula’s defense in recent days is a former Paraguayan president removed from office via impeachment in 2012, Fernando Lugo, who visited Lula in Sao Paulo. “Something like this would never happen in Paraguay, a prosecutor asking to have someone jailed over a suspicion,” Lugo, who governed from 2008 to 2012, told local media at the entrance to Lula’s foundation. Rousseff also says she sees clear political motivations behind the complaint.

March 12, 2016

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S ADVISOR WILL MEET WITH CUBAN EXILE LEADERS IN MIAMI 

  
        WASHINGTON, D.C.
With President Obama’s “fun” visit to apartheid Cuba quickly approaching, the White House is planning a meeting in Miami this Friday with Cuban exile “leaders” to discuss the president’s visit to the island. However, the process the White House is using to choose who it considers to be a “leader” in the exile community is eerily similar to the process used by the Castro dictatorship to decide who gets a voice. Each one of these exile “leaders” have been handpicked for their ideological purity to the Obama doctrine.
  
       In other words, there will not be a single Cuban American in that meeting who disagrees with the president’s policy of surrender to Cuba’s apartheid Castro regime. U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo wanted in on the White House’s upcoming Miami meeting with Cuban-American community leaders. No such luck. Curbelo says he asked to attend Friday’s get-together with Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes. But he was told the meeting will be “private.” “This White House works very hard at excluding Cuban-American representatives — Republicans and Democrats alike — from any meetings or discussions having to do with U.S.-Cuba policy,” Curbelo said in a statement to the Miami Herald. “I’ve worked with the Administration on higher education reform, climate change, immigration, and other issues.

      However, on Cuba they shut out anyone who doesn’t fully agree with them — even those who represent our country’s Cuban-American community. It doesn’t make sense, and quite frankly, it seems petty.” Pete Boogaard, assistant press secretary for the National Security Council, said Rhodes and other senior administration officials have met “directly with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle.” “We will continue to make outreach to Congress a focus of our engagement, but during the limited time Mr. Rhodes has in Miami, he will meet with human rights and civil society advocates, faith leaders, young emerging leaders, and representatives from the private sector.”

PRESIDENT OBAMA CLAIMS HUGO CHAVEZ POSED NO THREAT TO THE USA IN 2009
      

        WASHINGTON, D.C.
President Barack Obama said on Thursday that he decided at the beginning of his mandate not to treat his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, as a “giant adversary” because he did not see him as a “threat,” and that reduced anti-American feeling in the region. “When I came into office, at the first Summit of the Americas (2009) that I attended, Hugo Chavez was still the dominant figure in the conversation” in Latin America, he said in an interview with The Atlantic magazine. “We made a very strategic decision early on, which was, rather than blow him up as this 10-foot giant adversary, to right-size the problem and say, ‘We don’t like what’s going on in Venezuela, but it’s not a threat to the United States,’” he added.

       “When I saw Chavez (at the summit), I shook his hand and he handed me a Marxist critique of the U.S.-Latin America relationship,” Obama recalled, referring to “Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent,” by Eduardo Galeano. The president also recalled that at the same summit “I had to sit there and listen to (radical leftist Nicaraguan President Daniel) Ortega make an hour-long rant against the United States.” “But us being there, not taking all that stuff seriously – because it really wasn’t a threat to us” – helped neutralize the region’s anti-Americanism, Obama said.

        The United States defended on Thursday its sanctions on Venezuela ensuring they do not affect the Venezuelan people, after President Nicolás Maduro announced the recall of his charge d'affaires in Washington. "We have not received yet any kind of official notification from the Venezuelan Government" in connection with the recall of Venezuelan charge d'affaires in Washington, Maximilien Sánchez Arvelaiz, said on Thursday Mark C. Toner, the Deputy Spokesperson of the US State Department, as quoted by news agency Efe. Toner defended in his daily press conference that the decree extended this month by US President Barack Obama focuses "precisely on individuals, quote/unquote "bad actors" who we believe are undermining Venezuela's democracy." He remarked that such sanctions "are not at all aimed at the Venezuelan people or the Venezuelan economy."
 

VENEZUELAN GOVERNMENT CONFIRMS IDENTITIES OF 16 MINERS FEARED SLAIN

         
CARACAS, VENEZUELA
The Venezuelan Attorney General’s Office reported Thursday that it has confirmed the identities of 16 of the 28 missing miners who were reportedly murdered last week in the southeastern state of Bolivar. “A total of 21 interviews with relatives and witnesses were conducted,” senior prosecutor Zair Mundaray said in a statement. After having “fully complied with the proposed and constitutional rules,” the AG Office “expects that the technical work will bring about results,” he said.

      The investigation was launched last Friday when, according to accounts by purported survivors made public by area lawmakers America de Grazia and Andres Velasquez, a criminal gang gunned down the 28 miners and hid their bodies. Bolivar Gov. Francisco Rangel Gomez repeatedly has said that after several days of searching “absolutely no evidence” of the supposed massacre has turned up, although he did not rule out that “some problem” had occurred. However, Venezuela’s national ombudsman, Tareck William Saab, said on Wednesday that the preliminary investigation produced “a series of evidentiary elements that show that, indeed, acts were committed ... that are characterized as serious crimes in the penal code.”

      Around 1,000 soldiers are seeking the miners in “an extraordinary deployment by air, by sea, by river, by land,” Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said Tuesday. Families say the wildcat miners were slain Friday and the gang then dismembered the bodies and drove the remains away in a truck.  State Gov. Francisco Rangel, a staunch ally of Venezuela's governing socialist administration, first denied that any massacre took place, saying local police investigated reports of a shootout but found no bodies at the mine.  "Once again, irresponsible politicians are trying to sow chaos in Bolivar state with FALSE information about murdered miners," he wrote on Twitter, accusing opposition politicians of trying to discredit the government's campaign to root out illegal mining.

March 11, 2016

FIDEL'S EMPTY ARMCHAIR  --  NO OBAMA MEETING WITH  THE OLD DICTATOR; DISSIDENT TALKS ON TRACK

  
        WASHINGTON, D.C.
The White House has ruled out an encounter between President Barack Obama and the old Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in Cuba this month and is confident the Cuban government will not create obstacles to a meeting between Obama and dissidents in Havana. Despite the goal of improving ties between former Cold War foes, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Obama would not use his trip to meet Cuba's demands that he shutter Radio and TV Marti, U.S. broadcasters created to transmit anti-communist programing to the island nation.

      Obama plans to hold talks with Cuban President Raul Castro during his historic March 20-22 visit but will not meet with Castro's brother, a legendary figure who took power in a 1959 revolution and led Cuba for 49 years. "We've had no discussion about that meeting taking place, and we certainly wouldn't seek it," Rhodes, who was one of the negotiators in secret talks that led to a thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations, told Reuters in an interview. Asked if a meeting was ruled out, Rhodes said: "Yes." A meeting with the elder Castro could overshadow a trip that is meant to focus on the future of the U.S.-Cuba relationship rather than its troubled past.

     The administration made clear when it set up Obama's trip that he would meet with anti-government dissidents in Havana despite the Cuban leadership's objections to what it sees as meddling in the country's internal affairs. Rhodes said the list of participants had not been finalized and the meeting would take place in a U.S. facility, which suggests the U.S. embassy or ambassador's residence. That meeting would take place after official events with Raul Castro. Cuban dissidents in the past have reported being detained in their homes or picked up by police en route to major international events such as summits or papal visits, but Rhodes said he did not anticipate that happening for Obama's trip. Two of Cuba's most prominent dissidents, Berta Soler and Jose Daniel Ferrer, were detained on Tuesday, according to dissident groups.

CUBAN DISSIDENT REPORTS INCREASE IN REPRESSION BEFORE PRESIDENT OBAMA VISIT
      

        HAVANA, CUBA
The leader of the Cuban opposition group Ladies in White on Wednesday said there has been an increase in the repression of dissidents in the runup to President Barack Obama’s visit to the communist island. Berta Soler told EFE that she and 16 other women from her group and people associated with the Todos Marchamos opposition platform were “violently” arrested on Tuesday in Havana as they were attempting to attend the trial of Ladies in White member Jaqueline Heredia.

    The majority of those arrested were released later Tuesday afternoon, but Soler was held until nearly midnight at a police station in Alamar, a neighborhood on the outskirts of the Cuban capital. Soler said she was questioned there by three State Security agents who “threatened” her with the aim of getting the group to cancel its regular peaceful Sunday march on March 20, when Obama is due to become the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. Also arrested in Havana on Tuesday was former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer, who was trying to attend a gathering of government opponents.

     An associate of the dissident told EFE that Ferrer was arrested in Havana about 3 p.m. Tuesday and taken to a police station in the Regla neighborhood, from where he may have been “deported” to his hometown, the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba. The U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, expressed her concern about reports from Cuba on the arrests of Soler and Ferrer. “Very concerned by reports that Cuban gov has detained @jdanielferrer & @bertasoler #Cuba #DDHH,” wrote Jacobson on her official Twitter account. In a visit to Miami in late February, Soler asked Obama to send a message of “repudiation of the human rights violations in Cuba before your visit.

NICOLAS MADURO RECALLS HIS TOP DIPLOMAT FROM US AMID SANCTIONS EXTENSION

         
CARACAS, VENEZUELA NICOLAS MADURO
is recalling the chargé d'affaires of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington following the US decision to extend sanctions against the country’s officials, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced.

     "I have made the decision to withdraw the ambassador of Venezuela in Washington, Maximilien Sanchez Arvelaiz," Maduro said on Wednesday, as quoted by Globovision TV.
In March 2015, US President Barack Obama issued an executive order imposing new sanctions against seven Venezuelan officials, freezing their assets and banning them from entering the United States. Obama described the "erosion" of human rights guarantees in Venezuela as an "unusual and extraordinary threat" to US security.

     "If they [US] do not want anything to do with us, then why have an ambassador there," Maduro said on Wednesday. Last week, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez announced that Venezuela would conduct a comprehensive review or its relations with the United States in the wake of a US decision to extend sanctions against the country’s officials. Relations between Washington and Caracas have worsened recently over alleged human rights violations during protests in Venezuela’s capital against the government of President Nicolas Maduro in February of 2014.

March 10, 2016

ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WESTERN HEMISPHERE AFFAIRS, ROBERTA JACOBSON, IS CONCERNED ABOUT THE ARREST OF DISSIDENTS

  
        WASHINGTON, D.C.
According to various opposition sources, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Jose Daniel Ferrer, was arrested Tuesday in Havana with two other activists. The former prisoner of theBlack Spring was going to to participate on Wednesday in a forum convened for the Otro 18 (Another 2018) campaign, that seeks an electoral solution of the current system.

    Ferrer had been in the capital since last Sunday and at the time of his arrest was with the dissident Rafael Alba Macias, and Iliana Hernandez, a member of the group Somos+ (We Are More), who were also arrested. The latter, who resides abroad, was released five hours later, as confirmed by exile newspaper. Ferrer’s arrest coincided with the arrest of Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, who was arrested on Tuesday morning to prevent her from attending the trial of activist Jaquelín Heredia Morales, detained since Sunday 28 February, after participating in the Ladies in White customary Sunday march on 5th Avenue in Havana’s Miramar district; she has been charged with contempt.

     The US government reacted to the arrests and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson wrote in her Twitter account that she was “Very concerned by reports that the Cuban gov has detailed @jdanielferrer & @bertasoler #Cuba#DDHH”. The arrests come less than two weeks after the visit to the island by US President Barack Obama, who will arrive on March 21.

PRESIDENT OBAMA PONDERS ANNOUNCING RELAXATION OF EMBARGO BEFORE TRAVELING TO CUBA
      

        WAAHINGTON, D.C.
The president of the United States, Barack Obama, is pondering announcing new changes in regulations regarding travel, trade and banking before or during his visit to Cuba, scheduled for 21-22 March, according to a revelation from Reuters on Tuesday. The news agency cited as sources congressional aides and people outside of government, some of whom indicate 17 March as a possible date for the announcement.

     Following the implementation of a package of relaxation measures in January and September of 2015 and in January of 2016, Reuters claims that Obama’s advisors are considering changes to authorize individual trips to the island, although within the framework of the current 12 permitted categories of purposes, which exclude tourism. A source close to the discussions informed the agency that the White House is examining the possibility of using the dollar in trade with Cuba.

     The deputy National Security advisor and advisor to Obama, Ben Rhodes, told the New York Times this Sunday that the island’s government has complained that the embargo forces it to make international transactions in euros and other convertible currencies.
The US president will travel to Cuba this month in the company of 20 members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans. Among them is Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, one of the main promoters of easing the restrictions of the embargo.

VENEZUELA SAYS INVESTIGATING ALLEGED KILLING OF MINER

         
CARACAS, VENEZUELA
Venezuelan authorities said on Sunday they were investigating the alleged killings of a group of miners in the jungle state of Bolivar, following reports they were gruesomely murdered in a fight for control of a gold deposit. Citing people who reported witnessing the incident, family members and opposition politicians said a gang shot and dismembered with a chainsaw as many as 28 miners on Friday in a battle for the Atenas wildcat mine. Families have blocked a main street in the nearby town of Tumeremo to seek information about the missing miners. One man said his son and a friend were nearing the deposit on a motorbike when they were stopped at a checkpoint where he said gang members and men in security forces' uniforms were holding miners captive.

      "He tried to escape, but was shot," the man said of his son. The man, who asked to remain anonymous because of fear of reprisals, cited his son's friend who escaped. "They forced the (other) miners to pick up the bodies and throw them into a truck. They threw my son's remains" in another mine, added the man, who said his child used mining to finance his legal studies. State Governor Francisco Rangel on Saturday denied a massacre had occurred, accusing "irresponsible politicians" of seeking to stir unrest with false information. Rangel, a member of the ruling Socialist Party, said there had been a shootout between gangs but that no one had been hurt. Security officials examined the site of the alleged massacre, he added, and did not find suggestions or proof of killings.

      Venezuela's public prosecutor's office said it had appointed two investigators, without providing further details. The country's opposition accused the government of trying to cover up the incident. "Who is (Rangel) protecting or what is he hiding?" said opposition lawmaker Americo De Grazia, from Bolivar, who told Reuters he had spoken to two witnesses. The opposition accuses some members of Venezuela's military of participating in the lucrative illegal mining trade in a violent area near the borders of Guyana and Brazil. "The governor's statement that nothing has happened here is illogical," said Carlos Chancellor, mayor of Sifontes municipality where Atenas mine is located. "There are witnesses here who say they were shot and killed."

March 9, 2016

IRAN CONDUCTS NEW MISSILE TESTS DEFYING US SANCTIONS

  
        TEHRAN, IRAN
State media announced that short-, medium- and long-range precision guided missiles were fired from several sites to show the country's "all-out readiness to confront threats" against its territorial integrity. Pictures of the launches were broadcast and reports said the armaments used had ranges of 300 kilometres (190 miles), 500 km, 800 km and 2,000 km. The United States hit Iran with fresh sanctions on its missile programme in January, 24 hours after separate sanctions related to Tehran's nuclear activities had been lifted under a landmark deal with world powers.

     The latest tests, during an exercise named "The Power of Velayat", a reference to the religious doctrine of the Islamic republic's leadership, were undertaken by the Revolutionary Guards and its Aerospace wing. Sepah News, the Guards' official media service, carried a statement confirming the tests, which come less than two weeks after elections in Iran delivered gains to politicians aligned with Hassan Rouhani, the country's moderate president.The Revolutionary Guards report to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not Rouhani, and their influence dwarfs that of the army and other armed forces.

    Ballistic missile tests have been seen as a means for Iran's military to demonstrate that the nuclear deal will have no impact on its plans, which is says are for domestic defence only. Major General Ali Jafari, the Guards' top commander, and Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, spoke about the tests on television, with the latter downplaying the effect of US efforts to disrupt its activities. "Our main enemies, the Americans, who mutter about plans, have activated new missile sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran and are seeking to weaken the country’s missile capability," Hajizadeh said. "The Guards and other armed forces are defenders of the revolution and the country will not pay a toll to anyone... and will stand against their excessive demands."

DICTATOR RAUL CASTRO WANTS MORE DISCIPLINE IN FIGHTING ZIKA-CARRYING MOSQUITO
      

        HAVANA, CUBA
Cuban dictator Raul Castro called for more discipline, “forceful” action against those who refuse to do anything, and “perseverance” in the hygiene campaign undertaken on the island to combat the mosquito that transmits the Zika virus and other diseases, official media reported Monday. “This can’t be just another campaign,” Raul said during the meeting he presided over at the Public Health Ministry to analyze the measures being applied throughout the country to stop the spread of illnesses transmitted by mosquitoes of the Aedes genus, the daily Granma said Monday.

     At the meeting with health authorities, the government, the ruling Communist Party and the armed forces, Cuba’s president said it is “vital to check that everything is being done well, in a trustworthy and timely manner.” He also described as “chronic” the situation of garbage collection in Havana, where some 23,000 cubic meters (810,000 cubic feet) of trash is created daily, of which some 6,300 (222,000) are left in the streets due to the lack of garbage trucks.

      Castro ordered the country to give a “definitive solution” to this problem, “without improvisation” and with “discipline” as to working hours and the reparation and maintenance of equipment used for that service in the nation’s capital. For several weeks, Cuba has been developing an action program that includes the mobilizing of 9,000 troops of the armed forces and 200 police to carry out fumigations and inspections in homes and workplaces to deal with the Zika virus, dengue and Chikungunya. Health authorities have said through local media that the purpose of the plan is to combat the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, both carriers of these diseases, and both present on various parts of the island.

THE BRAZILIAN EXECUTIVE WHO BUILT THE MARIEL PORT WAS SENTENCED TO 19 YEARS IN PRISON

         
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL 
Marcelo Odebrecht, the head of Latin America's largest engineering and construction company Odebrecht SA, smiles as he gAVE his testimony in a session of the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry in Curitiba, Brazil, September 1, 2015. The jailed chief executive of Brazil's largest engineering group said on Tuesday he had no intention of signing a plea deal and criticized suspects who are collaborating with a massive corruption investigation. "To snitch, you have to have something to snitch," Marcelo Odebrecht, CEO of Odebrecht SA, told lawmakers running a congressional probe who traveled to the southern city of Curitiba, where he has been held for more than two months.

      He said Odebrecht SA had been unable to start some projects because of the investigation but that otherwise the company with revenue of 107.7 billion reais ($29 billion) last year remained strong. Odebrecht, who was charged in July with corruption and money laundering, declined to respond to specific questions about the price fixing and political kickback case focused on state-run oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras. He said it would have been normal for him to speak with President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva about Petrobras, but that he couldn't remember any conversations.

      Lula is being investigated for alleged influence peddling favoring Odebrecht SA abroad after he left office. Brazilian news magazine Epoca accused Lula this week of acting as a lobbyist for Odebrecht in Cuba, citing a diplomatic cable on his efforts to further Brazil's business interests during a visit in 2014. Odebrecht, which built the container terminal at the Cuban port of Mariel, said in a statement that Lula's visit resulted neither in fresh financing for the Cuban government from Brazil's state development bank BNDES, nor new contracts for Odebrecht in Cuba. Lula denies wrongdoing on the trips and has not been charged.
 

March 8, 2016

VENEZUELA'S NATIONAL ASSEMBLY VOWS TO DISAVOW

  
        CARACAS, VENEZUELA.
The infighting between the National Assembly (NA), the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) and the Nicolas Maduro presidency is escalating, threatening to make it almost impossible for oil-rich but financially battered Venezuela to get new loans or even to issue fresh debt, according to lawmakers and experts interviewed by the Latin American Herald Tribune Monday. “There is no way Venezuela can contract new debt without the National Assembly issuing a “Ley de Endeudamiento”, a law to contract debt”, National Assembly Deputy José Guerra, who heads the Finance Committee, told LAHT on Monday. The President of the Assembly, Henry Ramos, had initiated the strategy last week, putting international investors on notice that without National Assembly approval, any such contracts were "null and void."

      “Warning to foreign creditors: contracts in the national interest signed by the Chavista government without approval by the National Assembly will be null and void,” tweeted Ramos. That tweet was followed by one from Guerra, literally seconding Ramos tweet and strategy, saying "I second what was said by Henry Ramos Allup: credits planned by Merentes [Central Bank President] and Del Pino [PDVSA head and Minister of Oil and Mining] will be null if not approved by the National Assembly. You are warned." Guerra knows about foreign debt: besides being a Professor of Economics at the University of Central Venezuela (UCV), he worked as an official at the Central Bank of Venezuela for many years, before turning to politics last year. He is a member of the opposition’s super-majority that won the legislative body in elections on December 6, 2015.

       But the super-majority has been stymied by the Maduro government which has been using the government-dominated Supreme Court to over-rule the National Assembly and allow President Nicolas Maduro to rule by decree. "The opposition is clearly not afraid to use the nuclear option," says Russ Dallen, an investment banker at Latinvest that has offices in Caracas. "They are running out of options." Strapped for cash, Maduro is working to find new sources of investment. “It is a conflict between powers and that certainly does not spell an easy debt scenario," said Victor Silva, a foreign-debt expert with Kapital Consultores in Caracas. "The only relief we have seen recently is higher oil prices -- that helps a country like Venezuela a lot from a debt valuation standpoint of outstanding debt. But still, Venezuela pays more interest on its foreign debt than, say Ukraine and double the interest of a country like Ecuador." Specifically, Guerra said that a new loan for $5 billion, which was announced by Finance Minister Nelson Merentes last week, has to go through the legislature. “The government is saying they want to contract $5 billion in new debt from foreign banks. Well, there is no way to do that without the Assembly,” says Guerra.

NORTH KOREA THREATENS PRE-EMPTIVE NUCLEAR STRIKE
      

        PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA
North Korea has threatened a pre-emptive nuclear strike as U.S. and South Korean forces began their largest joint exercises ever conducted. The annual joint drills often intensify tensions on the divided Korean peninsula, but this year the situation is particularly volatile, given tough new United Nations sanctions imposed on North Korea for its recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch. The Philippines has already acted to enforce the sanctions when it impounded a cargo vessel linked to North Korea.

     This year’s joint exercises, known as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, involve 17,000 American troops, four times more than participated last year, as well as 300,000 South Korean troops, and an array of U.S. aircraft and naval vessels, including the nuclear-powered submarine the USS North Carolinaand the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the USS John C. Stennis. North Korea’s National Defense Commission Monday denounced the military exercises in a statement and said it was prepared for a "sacred war of justice for reunification.” "As the joint military exercises to be staged by the enemies are regarded as the most undisguised nuclear war drills, aimed to infringe upon the sovereignty of [North Korea], its military counteraction will be more a preemptive and offensive nuclear strike to cope with them," the statement said.

     While the U.S. and South Korea defend the annual joint drills as defensive in nature, this year the two allies will reportedly practice preemptive military strikes to take out North Korean targets. Amphibious assault vehicles of the South Korean Marine Corps throw smoke bombs during a U.S.-South Korea joint landing operation drill in Pohang, southeast of Seoul, during Foal Eagle exercises in 2013. South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-kyun called the North Korean preemptive strike threat “unacceptable.” “If North Korea ignores our warnings and provokes, our military will firmly and mercilessly respond. We warn North Korea that it must be responsible for all situations which lead to its reckless provocations,” he said on Monday.

VENEZUELAN ATTORNEY GENERAL TO INVESTIGATE THE KILLING OF 28 MINERS

         
CARACAS, VENEZUELAL 
The Venezuelan Attorney General has decided to investigate whether a chilling rumor that swept the country over the weekend is true. Information from Tumeremo, in the southeastern state of Bolívar, suggests that 28 miners have been missing since Friday. There are fears that they may have been murdered by a group of criminals, led by an individual known as El Topo, who wanted to lay his hands on a valuable haul of gold that they had uncovered hours before.

      The Public Ministry has assigned two prosecutors to investigate the facts behind a case that the government of President Nicolás Maduro is still yet to recognize. Tumeremo, which is around 10 hours’ drive from Caracas, is part of a huge Savannah, and is home to some of the most famous tepuyes – table-top mountains – to be found in the country. It is also a lawless area, victim of the progressive disappearance of the state’s arbitration over relations among citizens and an apparent complicity between local political powers and criminals. According to reports received from the area and local newspapers, the families of the 28 missing men began a protest on Saturday cutting off the main access roads to the city and a freeway.

       The stories related by the families of the missing miners, who have not been identified for fear of reprisals, have provided local press with indications that there is no political aspect to the incident, as had been suggested by the provincial governor, Francisco Rangel Gómez. “Until now the authorities have not found the bodies in the areas were the families claim they were buried, nor has there been any evidence found of a massacre in the Atenas estate or in the Hoja de Lata area,” explains Carlos Chancellor, the mayor of the Sifontes municipality, in a telephone conversation with EL PAÍS. The extraction of gold is the main activity in the area, and attracts Brazilians, Guyanese and Venezuelans from all over the country. Most return to their families at the end of the day, something that has raised concerns among the families given that none of the missing men have not returned home since Friday.

March 7, 2016

VENEZUELAN PARLIAMENT DEFIES SUPREME COURT, OFFICIALLY PETITIONS THE OAS TO INTERVENE

  
        CARACAS, VENEZUELA.
Legislators from the majority Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) bloc in Venezuela’s parliament have officially petitioned the Organization of American States (OAS) to intervene in the country’s politics, after the Supreme Court blocked their attempts to remove thirteen of its judges. In a parliamentary session on Thursday, MUD legislators officially signed an agreement requesting assistance from OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro and asking him to invoke the inter-state body’s No. 20 “democratic clause” against Venezuela. The legislators were reacting to a Supreme Court decision released on Tuesday, detailing the limitations of the National Assembly’s powers according to the national Bolivarian Constitution.

     In particular, judges at the court’s Constitutional Chamber confirmed that the legislative body only has the power to exert political control on government and public administration bodies, as opposed to on other public powers such as the judiciary as well as electoral and citizen’s powers. The decision is a thorn in the side of the right-wing coalition, who had previously stated their intention to use their new found majority in the National Assembly to rescind several TSJ judges previously appointed by the outgoing socialist parliament in December. According to the constitution, supreme court judges may be removed by two-thirds of the National Assembly if they are found by the ombudsman's office to have committed “serious offences”.

     MUD leader and National Assembly President Ramos Allup told press that the bloc plans to disregard the TSJ ruling. The politician claims that the decision is “non-existent” and “non-binding” for MUD legislators, given that it was only signed by four out of seven of the chamber’s judges. “It violated article 40. of their own Law of the Supreme Court. Only four signed, not the three express magistrates. It’s an invalid sentence,” he said. Other MUD legislators went further than Allup in their reactions to the court’s decision. Deputy Freddy Guevara called on Venezuelans to rise up against the government in response to the ruling. “If the government and judges refuse to recognize the people, the people are obliged not to recognise them and apply article 350 of the Constitution. If they (the government) block constitutional paths, they don’t have as many arms and soldiers as we, the people, do,” he said.

BRAZIL TOP JUDGES BACK GRAFT PROBE DESPITE CONCERN OVER LULA'S DETENTION
      

        SAO PAULO, BRAZIL
Senior judges in Brazil voiced concern on Saturday over the detention of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, even as they threw their support behind the sweeping corruption investigation that threatens to topple his embattled successor. Lula's three hours of questioning in police custody on Friday was the highest profile development in the two-year-old probe focused on state oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras). The detention of the 70-year-old Lula, Brazil's first working-class president and a hero to millions of his fellow citizens, shocked his supporters. His 2003-2010 government helped lift an estimated 40 million Brazilians out of poverty.

     Supporters and opponents of the former union leader clashed outside his home on the outskirts of Sao Paulo after Lula was detained by police early on Friday. Supreme Court Justice Marco Aurélio Mello told CBN Radio on Saturday that "nothing justified the use of force" when police picked up Lula unannounced from his apartment. Even Justice Gilmar Mendes, who has publicly said there is strong evidence the ruling Workers' Party used graft proceeds to fund electoral campaigns, called Lula's interrogation in police custody a "delicate" situation in O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper.

      The federal judge who ordered Lula to be brought in for questioning, Sergio Moro, said in a statement on Saturday that steps were taken to protect Lula's image during the operation, and he expressed regret that it sparked violence. Speaking to his supporters at Workers' Party headquarters in Sao Paulo after being released on Friday, Lula said investigators were "disrespectful of democracy" and that he "deserved respect." Lula has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing either while in office or since. President Dilma Rousseff flew from Brasilia on Saturday morning to meet with Lula in his apartment in Sao Bernardo do Campo, in a show of support for her predecessor and political mentor. She called his detention "unnecessary.

BRAZIL ON COURSE FOR WORST RECESSION IN CENTURY

         
BRASILIA, BRAZIL 
Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - Brazil's economy shrank by 3.8 percent in 2015, the government said Thursday, with the biggest contraction in 25 years set to push the Latin American giant into its worst recession for more than a century. The latest gloomy news from Brazil was no surprise, but the severity underlined the depth of problems facing President Dilma Rousseff's government as it battles both declining economic output and 10.67 percent inflation. The state statistics office said 2015 registered the worst single annual fall in GDP since 1990, a year when the economy dipped 4.3 percent.

     With the International Monetary Fund predicting a further 3.5 percent shrinkage this year, Brazil appears to be well into a recession that would be worse than any on government record going back to 1901. The GDP results shove Brazil into the bottom bracket for performance in Latin America, where it is easily the biggest economy. Only Venezuela, with what the IMF estimates was a 10 percent plummet in GDP, is worse off. Leading Brazil's slide was the industrial sector, which was down 6.2 percent in 2015. In the last quarter of 2015 the all-important mining sector was down 6.6 percent, reflecting the worldwide slump in commodity prices and demand for Brazil's iron ore and other raw materials.

     The country of 204 million people was only recently being touted as the emerging markets giant that had finally found its feet -- with the Olympic Games due to take place in Rio this August symbolizing that new status. GDP grew steadily through the 2000's, except for a dip after the last 2008 global financial meltdown, hitting 7.5 percent growth in 2010, 3.9 percent in 2011, 1.9 percent in 2012 and 3.0 percent in 2013. The leftist government's generous spending programs were credited with lifting millions out of severe poverty, while Chinese demand for the country's mineral and agricultural riches paid the bills. The party has now come to a brutal end and Rousseff -- beset by an impeachment attempt and a huge, volatile corruption scandal that has sucked in many top political and business figures -- appears to have few options.

March 6, 2016

WHITE HOUSE: PRESIDENT OBAMA TO MEET WITH WHOMEVER HE WANTS IN CUBA

  
        WASHINGTON, D.C.
President Barack Obama alone will decide whom to meet with when he lands in Cuba on a history-making trip later this month, the White House said Friday. It sought to dispel any notion that Cuban officials would have a hand in choreographing the president's activities on the island. Obama will be the first sitting president to visit Havana in nearly 90 years, following President Calvin Coolidge's trip there in 1928. Earnest was responding to news reports that Secretary of State John Kerry had canceled a solo trip to Cuba before the president's March 21-22 visit, due to disagreements with Cuban officials over which dissidents will get an audience with Obama.

      Obama has set meeting with pro-democracy activists on the communist-run island nation as a condition for the trip. Kerry considered making the trip, Earnest said, but it wasn't scheduled. Kerry instead will accompany Obama to Cuba, Earnest said. He was adamant that Obama intends to meet with some of Cuba's dissidents during the visit. "The guest list for that meeting will be determined solely by the White House," Earnest said. "There's no real dispute about this. The president will meet with whomever he chooses to meet with." Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro moved more than a year ago to end decades of hostile relations between their formerly estranged countries.

      Since then, the U.S. and Cuba have reopened embassies in Washington and Havana and have taken steps to restore commercial air travel and loosen other restrictions. Kerry spoke by telephone Friday with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez to discuss Obama's trip. Kerry expressed disappointment that he couldn't visit the island for a human rights dialogue the countries planned to hold this week, according to State Department spokesman John Kirby. He cited "scheduling issues" for the cancellation, as well as the heavy burden on the new embassy connected with handling two major visits in short succession. Republicans and some Democrats have criticized Obama's plans to go to Cuba, calling it an undeserved reward for communist leaders who continue to oppress their people.

CUBA SAYS FOREIGN INVESTMENT WON'T LEAD TO PRIVATIZATION  OF ITS ECONOMY
      

        HAVANA, CUBA
Rolling out the welcome mat for foreign investors does not imply the “privatization” of the Cuban economy, a senior official said in comments appearing in Friday’s edition of Communist Party daily Granma.

     Deborah Rivas, the head of foreign investment at the Ministry of External Trade and Foreign Investment, told the paper that Cuba already has more than 200 enterprises funded by foreign capital, including 35 authorized since the March 2014 enactment of a revised Foreign Investment Act. “The goal is not to sell the country, it’s not about doing just any project that interests some foreign investor. It’s a matter of attracting investors whose projects coincide with our public policy. We are not in a process of accelerated privatization of the Cuban economy,” Rivas said.

      While most investment comes from Europe and Canada, Cuba is pursuing a “diversification” of economic partners to avoid dependence on a single market, she said. Regarding the growing interest among U.S. companies in doing business in Cuba, Rivas said that because Washington is maintaining its economic embargo against Cuba, “this is not one of the issues that will be resolved quickly” in the current process of bilateral normalization. Foreign investment is a pillar of the economic reform plan launched by President Raul Castro in 2011 to “update” Cuba’s socialist model. The government has set a target of attracting roughly $2 billion a year in foreign direct investment, but experts estimate the real need is much greater.

NORTH KOREA MAKES NUCLEAR THREATS TO US AND SOUTH KOREA

         
PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA 
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his military on standby for nuclear strikes at any time, state media reported Friday, an escalation in rhetoric targeting rivals Seoul and Washington that may not yet reflect the country's actual nuclear capacity. The threats are part of the authoritarian government's ramped-up propaganda push to signal strength at home and abroad in the face of what it portrays as an effort by South Korea and the United States to overthrow its leadership. In a show of anger over the recent adoption of harsh U.N. sanctions over its recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch, the North fired off short-range projectiles into the sea Thursday.

    Friday's report also comes ahead of huge U.S.-South Korean war games set to start next week that the North claims are invasion preparations, and amid a much harder line from rival Seoul meant to squeeze Pyongyang. "The only way for defending the sovereignty of our nation and its right to existence under the present extreme situation is to bolster up nuclear force both in quality and quantity," a dispatch from the North's official Korean Central News Agency said, paraphrasing Kim. It said Kim stressed "the need to get the nuclear warheads deployed for national defense always on standby so as to be fired any moment."

       North Korea has threatened nuclear war in the past, but it is unclear just how advanced the country's nuclear program really is. Pyongyang is thought to have a handful of likely crude atomic bombs, but there is considerable outside debate about the state of its arsenal. Most experts say it's highly unlikely that the North currently has a reliable, intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching U.S. shores, let alone the ability to arm it with a miniaturized nuclear warhead. But the North can probably place nuclear warheads on its shorter-range Scuds and its 1,300-kilometer-range Rodong missiles, which can strike targets in South Korea and Japan, said Lee Choon Geun, an analyst from the South's state-funded Science and Technology Policy Institute. Other analysts, however, question this.

March 5, 2016

PRESIDENT OBAMA EXTENDS ORDER DECLARING VENEZUELA A NATIONAL SECURITY THREAT

  
        WASHINGTON, D.C.
A year ago, when President Obama declared Venezuela a "national security threat" and smacked the country with sanctions, Nicolas Maduro drummed up a petition, to be signed by “10 million Venezuelans opposed to the measure.” He announced that he would present the signatures to Obama in person at the Summit of the Americas celebrated in Panama on April 10-11, 2015. Maduro claimed he collected 11 million signature. However, It seems that the signatures were deposited in a “huge trash can” because yesterday, the President extended for one year the executive order declaring the situation in Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security, saying conditions there had not improved and that the country's leftist-led government was continuing to erode human rights guarantees.

       The Obama administration first issued the executive order against crisis-hit Venezuela in March of last year, at which time it ordered sanctions against seven officials in that country, whose economy has been battered by the steep drop in global oil prices. In renewing the order, the president mentioned the same list of abuses cited last year: persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of violence and human rights violations. The U.S. head of state also said Venezuela was continuing to experience abuses in response to protests against President Nicolas Maduro, arbitrary arrests of anti-government protestors and significant public corruption by senior government officials.

        In renewing the measure, Obama reiterated that the situation in Venezuela constituted an "unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States" and that he was declaring a "national emergency" to counter that threat. That language was included once again even though Obama said last April in an exclusive interview with EFE that "we do not believe that Venezuela poses a threat to the United States, nor does the United States threaten the Venezuelan government." The "national emergency" declaration is a tool U.S. presidents possess that allows them to impose sanctions on a country under certain circumstances and go beyond what Congress has approved. The executive order also authorizes the Treasury Department to impose additional sanctions on those found to have committed either "actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions" or rights violations against persons involved in anti-government protests, the White House said.

VENEZUELA TO REVISE RELATIONS WITH THE UNITED STATES --- GOOD LUCK!
      

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA
Through a communiqué, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez "strongly" refused the extension of an executive order by the US government terming the country an unusual threat. The Venezuelan government decided to revise relations with Washington after US President Barack Obama extended an executive order declaring Venezuela as an unusual and extraordinary threat against the national security and foreign policy of that country. In a press conference, local Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez read a communiqué deploring "emphatically" the extension of such decree and condemning the fact that "the United States, which is one of the countries where human rights violation is a State's policy, intends to teach other nations what it lacks to intentionally justify its meddling."

      Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez blasted the renewal of Washington's decree calling the Latin American nation a "security threat," and said the her government would review their relations with the United States. “Venezuela has decided to submit a comprehensive review of relations with the United States and denounces before the international community that this attack incites anti-democratic actions,” Rodriguez said.

      Rodriguez said Venezuela will review its relationship with Washington and condemned what she called an “attitude of double standards,” adding that this decree is a violation of the UN Charter and that these kind of actions are aimed at breaking the unity of Venezuelan people. On Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama renewed an executive order issued in March 2013 that declared Venezuela “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the U.S.” Rodriguez also said that international regional bodies like the Union of South American Countries (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (CELAC) ratified their solidarity with Venezuela, because we they know that this is a flagrant violation of international law.

BRAZIL PETROBAS SCANDAL: FORMER PRESIDENT LULA DA SILVA DETAINED AND QUESTIONED

         
BRASILIA, BRAZIL
Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been detained and questioned by police and his house raided as part of a major fraud inquiry into the state oil company Petrobras. He was released after three hours of questioning. Lula, who left office in 2011, has denied allegations of corruption. The long-running inquiry, known as Operation Car Wash, is probing accusations of corruption and money laundering at Petrobras.

       Dozens of executives and politicians have been arrested or are under investigation on suspicion of overcharging contracts with Petrobras and using part of the money to pay for bribes and electoral campaigns. Police said they had evidence that Lula, 70, received illicit benefits from the kickback scheme. But no charges have been brought against him so far.  Lula's institute said in a statement (in Portuguese) the "violence" against the former president was "arbitrary, illegal and unjustifiable", as he had been co-operating with the investigations.

     Officials said some 33 search warrants and 11 detention warrants were carried out by 200 federal police agents in the states of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Bahia. Lula's house in Sao Bernardo do Campo, near Sao Paulo, was raided early on Friday. The headquarters of his institute in Sao Paulo was also targeted, as were his wife, Marisa, and sons, reports said. There is much more at stake in these investigations than just Lula's personal reputation. His legacy and the future of his political project for Brazil - which has shaped the country for the past 14 years - are also under scrutiny. Under his Workers' Party, Brazil has seen a period of spectacular economic growth and a fall in inequality. And now, under the same party, the country is facing its worst recession in 25 years; critics point to the government's mistakes for creating the crisis.

March 4, 2016

VENEZUELAN NATIONAL ASSEMBLY WILL ASK OAS TO APPLY DEMOCRATIC CHARTER IN VENEZUELA

  
        CARACAS, VENEZUELA
Opposition lawmaker at the National Assembly (AN) presented a document rejecting a ruling issued by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), which limits the Congress authority over political control. At the beginning of a debate over sentence 9 rendered by the Constitutional Chamber, Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), which limits the Congress political control, opposition lawmaker Omar Barboza presented a long agreement that would be put to the vote at the end of the meeting.

       The document deplores the TSJ ruling and ratifies the Congress as an authority to control and investigate all matters set forth in Article 187 of the Constitution, paragraph 1. By reading the document, Barboza highlighted reports made at the Organization of American States on this situation, requesting the regional body to apply Article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Chart and urge OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro to active this mechanism as the constitutional order has been violated in the country.

       The president of the Venezuelan National Assembly (AN), Henry Ramos Allup, reported on Wednesday that sentence N 9 of the Constitutional Chamber, Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) last Tuesday, March 1, would be discussed on Thursday. Ramos Allup, who abstained from issuing an opinion on behalf of the parliament group of the Unified Democratic Panel (MUD), promised that the ruling which exempts the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), the National Electoral Council (CNE), the Republican Moral Council and the national armed forces from the parliament control would be discussed "in-depth."

U.N. SECURITY COUNCIL APPROVES TOUGH SANCTIONS ON NORTH KOREA
      

        UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK
United Nations (CNN)The United Nations Security Council voted Wednesday morning to impose a broad array of sanctions against North Korea because of that nation's recent nuclear test and missile launch -- both of which defied current international sanctions. The resolution aims to cripple parts of the North Korean economy that fuel its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. For example, member nations have agreed to inspect all planes and ships carrying North Korean imports and exports and to stop selling aviation fuel to North Korea. U.S. President Barack Obama immediately praised the action, saying, "Today, the international community, speaking with one voice, has sent Pyongyang a simple message: North Korea must abandon these dangerous programs and choose a better path for its people."

     Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told the Security Council that "with each nuclear test and launch using ballistic missile technology, North Korea improves its capability to carry out a ballistic missile attack not only in the region but a continent away," she said. "That means having the ability to strike most of the countries sitting on this council. Think about that." Power said the sanctions will: -- Require all North Korean planes and ships carrying cargo to be inspected. Previously, nations only inspected planes and ships when they had "reasonable grounds," which enabled North Korea to hide tools and parts for missiles and the nuclear program in inconspicuous packages, Power said. "This is hugely significant," she said.

      -- Ban Pyongyang from exporting most of the country's natural resources. Coal alone accounted for about $1 billion in annual income, she said. -- Ask U.N. member states to ban North Korea from opening banks, and to close any banks believed to be associated with North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. -- Direct member states to expel North Korean diplomats and foreign nationals engaged in illicit activities. -- Prohibit nations from providing training to North Korean nationals in fields that could advance the nation's missile and nuclear programs, such as aerospace engineering and advanced computer simulation. -- Ban member states from allowing North Korea to charter foreign vessels or aircraft, and ban all nations from operating any vessels that use North Korean flags. -- Prohibit the supply of aviation fuel -- including rocket fuel -- and the sale of small arms to North Korea.

GOVERNOR OF AMAZONAS: MORE THAN 4,000 COLOMBIAN GUERRILLAS INSIDE VENEZUELAN TERRITORY

         
CARACAS, VENEZUELA
Some 4,000 Colombian guerrillas are OPERATING inSIDE Venezuela TERRITORY, the governor of that country’s most southern state said Thursday. Governor Liborio Guarulla of the Amazonas state told opposition television network Globovision that the guerrillas were initially pushed into his state’s territory to evade persecution by the Colombian government under President Alvaro Uribe, but have since settled and increasingly are involved in illegal mining and drug trafficking in the southern region.

     “There are more than 4,000 troops of the guerrillas on Venezuelan territory,” said Guarulla, explaining that claim is based on rebel camps found in his state. “The situation is quite serious, because initially they entered as refugees for the persecution by Uribe … Now they are involved in the mines and have been trying to indoctrinate indigenous peoples,” the governor explained. “This is a violation of our sovereignty; the extraction of our minerals and all implied with drug trafficking,” said Guarulla. The governor told the television network he has notified national and regional bodies about the alleged mass rebel incursion on several occasions, but no adequate action has been undertaken.

     While uribe was in office, Colombia has made numerous accusations that Venezuela was harboring FARC guerrillas within its borders. The Venezuelan government has always vehemently denied the allegations and maintains Venezuela is not a guerrilla safe haven. Following the inauguration of President Juan Manuel Santos, the thorny issue was taken off the public bilateral agenda and discussed behind closed doors. According to Colombia’s defense ministry, Colombian rebel groups FARC and ELN have no more than 10,000 members.

March 3, 2016

THE CUBAN GOVERNMENT REPORTS FIRST CASE OF ZIKA IN THE ISLAND

  
  HAVANA, CUBA
Cuba reported its first case of Zika on Wednesday, diagnosed in a 28-year-old Venezuelan doctor whose husband and brother-in-law previously contracted the virus in their home country. The World Health Organization declared the Zika outbreak, suspected of causing thousands of birth defects in Brazil, an international health emergency on Feb. 1, although much about the virus remains unknown.

     The patient arrived in Cuba on Feb. 21 to take a post-graduate course in medicine along with 37 others. She reported a fever a day later and was diagnosed with Zika on Monday. She was recovering well in hospital, the Health Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday. Her husband was diagnosed with Zika two months ago and her brother two weeks before she traveled, the statement said. Zika is carried by mosquitoes, which transmit the virus to humans, though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said on Feb. 23 it was investigating possible cases of sexual transmission.

      The outbreak has spread to many parts of Latin America and the Caribbean and the WHO estimates Zika could eventually affect as many as four million people in the region. The Cuban government, which has fumigated neighborhoods and homes for decades to contain dengue -- also a mosquito-borne virus and a close cousin of Zika -- put doctors on alert for the virus weeks ago and ramped up mosquito eradication efforts. The WHO is investigating a "strongly suspected" relationship between Zika and microcephaly, a condition marked by abnormally small head size. There is no vaccine or treatment for the virus and some 80 percent of people infected show no symptoms.

VENEZUELAN SUPREME TRIBUNAL OF JUSTICE: NATIONAL ASSEMBLY MAY NOT NULLIFY DESIGNATIONS OF MAGISTRATE
      

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA
The ruling of the Constitutional Chamber, Supreme Tribunal of Justice, excluded the high court, the National Electoral Council (CNE), the Republican Moral Council and the National Armed Forces from the parliament control. The current parliament may not revise, let alone nullify, the appointments of 12 senior magistrates and 21 alternate magistrates of the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal Justice (TSJ) made last December by the former National Assembly controlled by Chávezism without the prior consent of the Attorney General, the Ombudsman and the Comptroller General.

     The TSJ Constitutional Chamber made the assertion in its ruling number 9, whereby it stated that the controversial designations, "neither before nor now" may be labeled as an administrative act, as "it is not set out in the Constitution." Besides, "puts in jeopardy the balance of powers." Based on the ruling prepared by Justice Arcadio Delgado Rosales, the only way of interrupting the 12-year mandate of a TSJ member is by means of the procedure set forth in Article 265 of the Constitution, under which the Republican Moral Council ought to term the "major offence" and following the vote of two thirds of the parliament members.

      While the TSJ in its ruling acknowledged the power of deputies to establish special committees as appropriate, it declared beforehand "absolute and irrevocable nullity" of all the recommendations that can be made to the plenary session by the ad hoc committee entrusted with the investigation into the appointment of justices last December, for considering that such body is "illegitimate." While the TSJ Constitutional Chamber admitted that the AN "has functions of political control," it averred that they stretch neither to the National Electoral Council nor the Republican Moral Council, not even to state governments or mayoralties.

VENEZUELAN NATIONAL ASSEMBLY: "WE WILL LEGISLATE REGARDLESS OF COURT DECISIONS"

         
CARACAS, VENEZUELA
President of the National Assembly (AN) Henry Ramos Allup invited Venezuelans to watch on Thursday the regular session where lawmakers will "broadly" discuss a decision by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice over laws proposed by opposition deputies. President of the National Assembly (AN) Henry Ramos Allup said that although the decision of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) limits the Congress role, they would keep on "investigating and legislating to solve problems in Venezuela."

      During a press conference on Wednesday, Ramos Allup urged Venezuelans to watch on Thursday the AN regular meeting, where the TSJ decision will be "broadly" discussed. "We will continue legislating at the risk of TSJ declaring as unconstitutional the laws we enact using the powers granted by the Constitution. It is illogical that the (TSJ) Constitutional Chamber, based on the vote of four justices, claims we cannot question ministers, yet they failed to mention the AN possibility to censor officials," the Congress speaker pondered.

       The Venezuelan National Assembly (AN) okayed a report on the procedure to appoint 13 senior magistrates and 21 alternate magistrates of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) followed by the former parliament on December 23, 2015. At the end of the Tuesday session at the AN, Congress Speaker Henry Ramos Allup referred to the ruling issued on Tuesday as well by the TSJ, which precludes the legislature from reviewing the case and nullifying the designations of the justices without the prior consent of the Attorney General, the Ombudsman and the Comptroller General. "There may be no medicines or food, yet there are judgments" Following the approval of the report, the Congress Speaker reported that they would study how to implement the recommendations made by the special committee chaired by Deputy Carlos Berrizbeitia. Pro-government deputies abstained from voting.

March 2, 2016

SPAIN WARNS VENEZUELAN EMBASSY TO STOP ATTACHÉ'S SPYING

  
  MADRID, SPAIN
The Spanish Foreign Ministry has issued a warning to Venezuela’s ambassador in Madrid to order the mission’s military attaché to stop harassing Venezuelan opposition groups in Spain. For the moment, Spanish diplomats have preferred issuing the warning instead of ordering Venezuelan Lt. Colonel José Rafael Vásquez Mora, who is assigned to the embassy, to leave the country for spying on Venezuelan citizens. Spain does not want to further escalate the tensions that already exist between the Popular Party (PP) government of Mariano Rajoy and President Nicolás Maduro.

     Last month, the Association of Venezuelan Students in Spain (EVE) filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office against Vásquez, accusing him of infiltrating different events and activities for the purpose of identifying its leaders. Vásquez Mora reportedly hid his true identity while attending the opposition rallies, EVE charged. His spying, according to the complaint, has resulted in personal attacks against some student leaders in pro-government media outlets back home and has caused problems for families in sending money to students in Spain. According to sources, Vásquez has 13 people – many of them military officials from Venezuelan intelligence – working with him at the embassy in Madrid.

      After an investigation, the Foreign Ministry found that Vásquez was performing “duties incompatible” with his diplomatic status and warned Venezuelan Ambassador Mario Isea to order Vásquez to stop his spying activities. For now, Spanish Foreign Minister Jesús García-Margallo does not want to order the expulsion of Vásquez because he fears the Caracas government would respond by doing the same to a staff member at the Spanish Embassy in Venezuela. Such a move would only further escalate tensions between the two governments and may cause problems for the 200,000 Spaniards living in Venezuela and the Spanish companies that operate there, Spanish officials fear. Spain has complained on a number of occasions about the public insults that Maduro has hurled at Rajoy and other PP leaders. Despite the tensions, the two countries’ respective embassies remain open.

NATIONAL POWER GRID AT GURI DAM IS NEARING COLLAPSE
      

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA
Power rationing is not new for Venezuelans. Over the past fifteen years there have been some crises, such as that of 2009-2010, that have forced Venezuelans to adapt their lifestyle to power outages. What is new, however, is the seriousness of the current situation which, according to some experts, is expected to get worse over the next two months if the necessary measures are not taken immediately. Unavailability of 60% the of thermal generation park, rising domestic energy demand and water levels at the Guri Dam down to record-low levels are the real causes of the crisis

      To major general Luis Alfredo Motta Domínguez, the Minister of Electricity and President of the National Electricity Corporation (Corpoelec) - a state-owned holding company created in 2007 to consolidate the power sector - the current crisis is a one-off problem due to the extensive drought associated with the recurring weather phenomenon commonly known as El Niño, which has caused water levels in the Central Hidroeléctrica Simón Bolívar (aka the Guri Dam) to drop to record-low levels.

     It is worth noting that that the Guri Dam (with an installed capacity of 10,000 MW), located in Bolivar state, is the largest reservoir in Venezuela. Some 60% of all electrical power generated in Venezuela originates in the Guri dam and the other hydroelectric plants built across the Lower Caroní River, namely: Caruachi (2,200 MW) and Macagua (2,200 MW). Unlike Motta Domínguez, the experts believe that the ongoing crisis is structural in nature, involving the cumulative effect of multiple factors over the past 17 years that have led to the serious deterioration of the national electricity system (NES), affecting the quality of life of Venezuelans.
 

MEXICO REPORTS FRESH THEFT OF RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL 

          
Mexican authorities were searching on Monday for a container of radioactive material used for industrial X-rays that was stolen along with a car in central Mexico this weekend, the latest in a series of such case in the country. The small yellow container of Iridium 192 was inside a red Chevrolet pick-up stolen in the municipality of San Juan del Rio on Saturday morning, the ministry said in a statement. Provided it is kept in its covering, the material is not dangerous, but if found, a protective perimeter of 30 meters (33 yards) should be set up around the container, the ministry said.

     "It was classed as a Category 2 radioactive source," a spokesman from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog, based in Vienna, said via e-mail. Category 2 means that if not managed properly, the material could be fatal to someone exposed for a period of hours to days. The IAEA has offered to aid Mexico upon request, the spokesman added, but Mexico has not asked for help. Following the theft, the ministry issued a warning over the material for the states of Queretaro, Hidalgo, the State of Mexico, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi and Michoacan.

      In December 2013 and April 2015 radioactive material was also reported stolen in Mexico. Mexico’s National Coordination of Civil Protection released a statement saying the radioactive material “can be dangerous to people if not handled in safe conditions or if handled without the right protection.” “It can cause permanent or grave wounds to a person who handles it or is in touch with it during a brief period (between minutes and hours),” the statement said. “If the material is not found in its container it represents an important risk to health. The material is nevertheless not dangerous if it is still in its packaging.” Police are concerned that the stolen radioactive material will be removed and used in the making of some sort of dirty bomb.

March 1st., 2016

'NOTHERN THUNDER' MILITARY EXERCISE BEGIN IN SAUDI ARABIA

  
  MANAMA, SAUDI ARABIA
War games in Saudi Arabia will be the largest to be conducted in the region. Troops from Oman, Egypt and Kuwait and several other countries have arrived in Saudi Arabia to take part in the largest military exercise in the region, in terms of participating countries and equipment. At least 20 countries from Arab and Islamic countries are scheduled to participate in the North Thunder war games in the northern region of the kingdom, Saudi reports said on Monday.

     The participating countries are Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, Senegal, Sudan, Maldives, Morocco, Pakistan, Chad, Tunisia, Comoro Islands, Djibouti, Malaysia, Egypt, Mauritania, and Mauritius. The equipment that reflects the quantitative and qualitative weapons the forces will be using will include fighter jets of different models, a wide range of artillery, tanks, infantry, air defence systems, and naval forces. The official Twitter account for North Thunder said the exercises were being held at King Khalid Military City in Hafr Al Batin from February 14 until March 10.

     “A military exercise will be commanded by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with the participation of 20 countries and the Peninsula Shield force as well,” the account said. “The main objective is to demonstrate the high combat readiness of the participating armed forces and their readiness and ability to function successfully in joint operations,” the account said. More than 200,000 people started following the account hours after it was launched to cover the military exercises. The Peninsula Shield is the military arm of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the alliance that comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The exercise will be a clear message that Saudi Arabia and its allies “stand united in confronting all challenges and preserving peace and stability in the region”, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

THERE  IS 'NO BREAD IN VENEZUELA'
      

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA
At a popular east Caracas bakery, customers can buy Spanish olive oil, Italian tomato sauce and even American chocolates. But bread? Forget it. Cardboard signs on the door warning of "No bread" have become increasingly common at Venezuelan bakeries. Venezuela gets 96 percent of its foreign currency from oil exports, and as crude prices have plunged, so have the country's imports -- among them wheat. The leftist government of President Nicolas Maduro has tightly controlled access to hard currency, and this has affected imports ranging from medicine to toilet paper. Now it is seriously affecting imports of wheat, which Venezuela does not grow.

       Add to this the soaring inflation rate -- 181 percent in 2015, the world's highest -- and you see why customers are mainly interested in buying basic food items such as bread. The few bakeries that can still get a hold of a 50-kilogram (110-pound) sack of flour to make bread limit their sales to just two "canillas" -- thin half-baguettes -- per person three times a day. Customers line up for bread in the morning, at noon and in the evening. "Our ovens are off," baker Freddy Vilet told AFP. His store has crackers, sausages and ham for sale, but no bread. He doesn't even have hamburger or hot dog bread.

       Five of Venezuela's 12 wheat mills, which employ some 12,000 people, have closed. The remaining mills employ another 8,000 people. An industrialist who requested anonymity said there is currently "only enough wheat for the next 12 days." He said he was happy that the government is looking into making more hard currency available and possibly approving new shipments. The government is sending state-bought consumables "so that industries do not close down, but the lack of foreign currency will impact the food inventories," he said. The government recently announced that 170,000 tons of wheat would arrive in March, enough to cover demand for one month and guarantee inventory for another 30 days.

VENEZUELAN INTERNATIONAL RESERVES SLIP  TO USD 13.50 BILLION 

          
The international reserves in the hands of the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) last week ended at USD 13.50 billion, after a discount on the payment in capital and interests of 2016 Global bond at USD 1.5 billion. This amount is the lowest one in the last 13 years. The decrease in the levels of payment methods of the economy is due to the downward trend experienced by oil prices, which is the country's main export product, while payment flows of foreign debt remain unchanged.

      The combination of both factors has imposed Venezuela a high economic rigidity, which hits its payment methods and limits the scope of action. According to BCV figures, in 2015 payments amounting to USD 6.09 billion were made on foreign debt, a number which excludes outlays by state-run oil holding Petróleos de Venezuela (Pdvsa). These figures show that over the last three years foreign debt payments made by the Republic soared to USD 20.23 billion on principal and interests. This means that should the trend in outlays on foreign debt remains, foreign currency revenues will have to raise by some means: through indebtedness, imports increase, or debt refinancing.

       BCV President Nelson Merentes recently announced that a funding of USD 5 billion is under negotiation. Even though Venezuela has enough assets available to meet foreign debt commitments, the truth is that enhancing its availability position to meet obligations and support the economy without causing imbalances is difficult. In the meantime, the country's economy largely depends on the market behavior and options of debt re-negotiation, whereas conditions for a surge of other exports generating required foreign currency are created.



 





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