Latest News
of MAY 2016

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May 31, 2016

POPE FRANCIS RECEIVES ERNESTO SAMPER,  WHO SEEKS DIALOGUE IN VENEZUELA

  
       THE VATICAN CITY -
Pope Francis held a meeting at the Vatican with Secretary General of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) Ernesto Samper, who in recent times has worked in promoting dialogue in Venezuela.  At the meeting, which the Holy See has not reported on, they talked about peace in different regions of the world and the current situation in the South American region and throughout Latin America.   Specialized religious website "Il Sismografo" reported on Friday that the meeting took place Thursday at the Casa Santa Marta, the residence of the Argentine pope, and published a photograph of Francis with the former president of Colombia, highlighted Efe.

      "Total chemistry with Pope Francis, when I met him, I was thrilled by his commitment to the region," Samper wrote on his Twitter account. At the meeting, they talked about peace in different regions of the world and the current situation in the South American region and throughout Latin America.  Samper, as well as the former presidents of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero; Panama, Martín Torrijos, and the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández, visited Venezuela recently to try to promote dialogue between the government of Nicolás Maduro and the opposition,. Pope Francis has expressed many times his concern about the situation in Venezuela and disagreements between the opposition and the ruling party. The Argentine pope has urged the Caribbean country to seek "ways of dialogue and collaboration among all" and also wrote a letter to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, the content of which has not been disclosed.

     At the same time, a Vatican Envoy's Visit to Venezuela was canceled amid tensions. The Vatican embassy in Caracas says in a Thursday statement that the cancellation of Archbishop Paul Gallagher's trip was not decided by the Holy See. That implies Venezuela may have asked that he not come. Papal spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi had stressed in recent days that the purpose of the May 24-29 trip was to participate in the consecration of a Venezuelan bishop recently named the Vatican's ambassador to the Congo. But the visit took on greater diplomatic weight amid speculation that he could play a role in defusing an increasingly turbulent political crisis as the opposition seeks to oust President 
Nicolas Maduro.”

PRESIDENT OF MEXICO ASKS FOR INCLUSIVE TALKS IN VENEZUELA
      

           MEXICO CITY, MEXICO ---
Based on a communiqué from the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Mexican Executive Office hopes that the initiative will help "Venezuelans find a solution to the complex situation their country is going through" In a communiqué from the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs (SRE in Spanish), the Executive Office hoped that the initiative will help “Venezuelans find a solution to the hard situation in their country.”

      In this connection, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez confirmed on that formed part of a delegation of the Venezuelan government that travelled to Punta Cana (Dominican Republic). There, some meetings were held with the Venezuelan dissent, including representatives of opposition political parties Acción Democrática, Voluntad Popular, Primero Justicia y Un Nuevo Tiempo.

     However, according to the Venezuelan opposition coalition, Unified Democratic Panel (MUD), its representatives met on Friday and Saturday with international mediators, not with Venezuelan government authorities.  Mexico acknowledged the mediating role played by former Spanish Head of Government José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, and the ex presidents of the Dominican Republic and Panama, Leonel Fernández and Martín Torrijos, respectively, as well as by the Union of South American Nations (Unasur).

VENEZUELAN ACTIVISTS MARCH DEMANDING FREEDOM FOR LEOPOLDO LOPEZ
      

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
Imprisoned Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez on Sunday received messages of solidarity from members of the party he heads – Popular Will, or VP – who assured him that he is not alone, adding that the government of Nicolas Maduro, “who snatched him,” will be ousted in a recall referendum this year. Several dozen activists mobilized on Sunday for the “march for freedom” to send that message to Lopez, who has been in Ramo Verde prison near Caracas for more than two years, serving a sentence for crimes related to violence that erupted after an anti-government march.

      The opposition has scheduled for 8 p.m. Sunday evening a political protest known as a “cacerolazo,” where people will take to the streets and bang loudly on pots and pans to express their rejection of the government, protest the country’s economic and social crisis and demand the release of all opposition prisoners. Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori, thanked participants for the gesture of support with a message on Twitter in which she said, “The political prisoners are not alone. They have the support of Venezuelans. Thank you!”

       In September 2015, a Venezuelan court sentenced Lopez to 13 years and 9 months behind bars after a trial that, according to the defense, was “unfair” and “based on lies.” A few weeks after Lopez was convicted it became known that one of the prosecutors who accused him, Franklin Nieves, had fled to the United States, where he declared before U.S. authorities that he had been pressured by his superiors to formulate “false” accusations against the VP leader. On Feb. 12, 2014, three people died in violence that broke out during an opposition march, and a wave of protests against the Maduro government ensued and lasted for four months, resulting in 43 deaths and hundreds of people injured.

May 30, 2016

MARCO RUBIO PUSHES TO EXTEND SANCTIONS TO CORRUPT VENEZUELANS
 

  
       WASHINGTON, D.C. -
Florida SenATOR Marco Rubio asked his Senate colleagues LAST Wednesday to extend sanctions leveled against Venezuelan government officials that are set to expire.  "There will be an effort here, I hope, in the next day or so, to extend those sanctions for another three years," Rubio said on the Senate floor.

    "Sanctions -- we have imposed sanctions on human rights violators, not sanctions on the people of Venezuela, not sanctions on the government, on human rights violators. Many of whom steal money from the Venezuelan people and invest it in the United States," he said. He then cited a Miami Herald storyabout a Venezuelan behind a Miami condo development. "In my hometown, in my home state. You travel to Florida, you come down there, you let me know, any of my colleagues, and I will show you where these people live and I will show you the money they have stolen from the Venezuelan people and are living the highlife on weekends in Miami. You see them everywhere. And that's why we impose sanctions on them."

     He gave a lengthy speech on Venezuela's political and economic crisis, which he again referred to as a "coup d'état." Politico reported Wednesday that the sanctions against Venezuelans could get extended as part of a deal that would allow for the confirmation of Roberta Jacobson as U.S. ambassador to Mexico. Rubio had been one of the key Republicans blocking her confirmation, in large part because of Jacobson's involvement in normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

NICOLAS MADURO'S CRITICS WANT TO KNOW WHETHER HE IS ACTUALLY COLOMBIAN
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA---
A high-profile group of Venezuelans has called on the opposition-controlled National Assembly to investigate persistent rumors that President Nicolas Maduro is in fact Colombian, disqualifying him from holding the office. A letter addressed to assembly president Henry Ramos Allup and reproduced in local news outlets refers to "the reasonable doubts existing around the true origins of Maduro, who has so far refused to produce his birth certificate."

      The letter -- with echoes of the challenges to the citizenship of US President Barack Obama -- carries 62 signatures, including those of a former ambassador, a leading businessman and some former military leaders opposed to Chavism, the leftist ideology associated with Maduro's predecessor, the late president Hugo Chavez. The letter asserts that Maduro, as the "son of a Colombian mother" and having lived in that neighboring country as a youth, is "Colombian by birth" under the Colombian Constitution.

      If Maduro should be found to hold both Colombian and Venezuelan citizenship, the letter asserts, it would "prevent him from exercising the functions of the president of the republic." Maduro, a socialist, has denied the rumors as the "crazed inventions" of right-wing politicians eager for his ouster. He says that he was born in Caracas on November 23, 1962. The opposition, which scored a historic victory in the December 6 legislative elections, has made no secret of its intention to push the president out before his term ends in 2019. On Friday, Ramos Allup said the opposition would decide by June on a legal means to proceed in that direction.

LUFTHANSA SUSPENDS CARACAS FLIGHTS AS VENEZUELAN ECONOMY STRUGGLES
      

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
German airline Deutsche Lufthansa AG said on Saturday it will temporarily suspend flights to Venezuela as of next month due to economic difficulties in the South American nation and problems converting local currency into dollars.

     International airlines have for years struggled to repatriate billions of dollars in revenue held in the local bolivar currency due to exchange controls, prompting many to limit service and require that passengers pay fares in dollars. "We deeply regret that for these reasons, we will be forced to suspend our service betweenCaracas and Frankfurt as of June 18," the company wrote in a statement, noting that demand for international flights to Caracas dropped in 2015 and the first quarter of 2016. Lufthansa does not plan to shut its office in Caracas.

     Following a two-year rout in oil prices, the South American OPEC nation is struggling with a deep recession and the world's highest inflation rate, which has put foreign travel out of the reach of most of its citizens. American Airlines in March said it was scrapping a recently-reinstated direct flight betweenCaracas and New York due to low demand. (Reporting by Diego Ore; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Paul Simao)

May 29, 2016

G-7 LEADERS URGE NICOLAS MADURO TO RESOLVE VENEZUELA'S INTERNAL CRISIS, RESPECT RIGHTS

  
       ISE-SHIMA, JAPAN -
G7 leaders urged the Venezuelan government to establish a dialogue with its citizens in order to "urgently" resolve the economic and political crisis in the country, asking it to "fully respect fundamental rights."

     In a joint declaration adopted Friday during the G7 Leaders' Summit, underway at Ise-Shima in central Japan, the heads of the world's seven most industrialized countries called on the Nicolas Maduro-led government in Venezuela to "respect fundamental rights, democratic processes, freedoms and the rule of law to provide access to fair trials and due process."

     The leaders of Germany, Canada, United States, France, Italy, Japan, Britain and the European Union asked the South American nation "to establish the conditions that would allow for dialogue between the government and its citizens, in order for them to find a peaceful means of resolving Venezuela's increasingly acute economic and political crisis, while respecting the will of the people." Venezuela is in the midst of a deep political crisis due to constant friction between its government on the one hand and the opposition-controlled legislature on the other, and the G7 asked both sides to "work together" to end the crisis.

VENEZUELA'S NATIONAL ASSEMBLY INVESTIGATES  $69BN  IN ALLEGED CORRUPTION
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA---
Venezuela's opposition-controlled legislature is investigating 89 alleged cases of corruption involving currrent and former government officials amounting to $69 billion dollars, lawmaker Freddy Guevara said. "It's possible to buy basic necessities for 900 million people with that money," he said. "It can feed the entire country for 30 years." Guevara is chairman of the National Assembly's comptroller committee, which conducts inquiries into financial dealings.

     He brought up Venezuela's major shortages of food and medicine, the result of a severe economic crisis wracking the country thanks to the drop in global prices for oil, the main national export. The money has been deposited into accounts abroad, Guevara said, adding that the goal is to "locate where it is" and "repatriate it." The investigation is examining several sectors, including food and health, as well as irregularities linked to Venezuela's tight currency controls since 2003. Illegal foreign exchange transactions have siphoned off some $60 billion, Guevara said.

     The probe is also looking into state oil company PDVSA, which has diverted at least $7 billion, he added. President Nicolas Maduro announced a process of "review and correction," including combating corrupt practices, following his party's crushing defeat in parliamentary elections in December. But the socialist leader says allegations of inefficiency and corruption are merely part of an opposition maneuver to bring down his government.
 

AMERICAN SHOAL CUBANS WON'T BE REPATRIATED, FOR NOW. JUDGE ORDERS ANOTHER HEARING
      

        MIAMI, fLORIDA --
A federal judge offered hope to 19 Cubans being held on a U.S. Coast Guard cutter wanting not to be repatriated back to their homeland. U.S. District Court Judge Darrin Gayles, at a hearing Friday, scheduled an evidentiary hearing for next Thursday, June 2, at 2 p.m. at the federal courthouse in downtown Miami. The migrants will not be sent back to Cuba in the meantime.

    Lawyers with the nonprofit group Movimiento Democracia filed an injunction earlier this week arguing the Cubans should be able to stay in the United States under the wet-foot, dry-foot policy added to the 1995 Cuban Adjustment Act. The migrants swam off their makeshift vessel and climbed onto the American Shoal lighthouse off the Lower Keys on May 20 after being confronted by a U.S. Coast Guard crew. They stayed on the 109-foot structure for about eight hours before coming down and being taken aboard an undisclosed cutter. Under wet-foot, dry-foot, Cuban migrants caught at sea before making it to land must be returned to Cuba.

     Those who make land can stay and apply for permanent residency after a year. The Coast Guard and the U.S. Attorney's Office argue the lighthouse, which is about 7 nautical miles at sea south of Sugarloaf Key, does not count as dry land under wet-foot, dry foot. William J. Sanchez-Calderon, one of the several attorneys working on behalf of the migrants, praised both Gayles and the Coast Guard following Friday's decision. "The Coast Guard has been extremely helpful in this too," he said. The Coast Guard intended to hold the migrants on board the cutter until Tuesday, but Darrin's decision means they will be on the ship until at least Thursday. The Coast Guard has not disclosed the cutter's location.

May 28, 2016

BERNARDO ALVAREZ, THE VENEZUELAN AMBASSADOR TO THE OAS BRANDED AS "ILLEGAL" THE DEMOCRATIC CHARTER PROPOSED BY LUIS ALMAGRO
 

  
       Wahington, d.c. -
Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS) Bernardo Álvarez on Thursday labelled as “illegal and irresponsible” the possibility that OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro enforces the Democratic Charter in Venezuela, may use the legal instrument in the country, an unprecedented move that could lead to Venezuela’s suspension from the international body.

     “This is illegal. This is not a decision for the secretary general to make. (Such initiative) must be authorized (by the Venezuelan State), for there are no conditions for him to make it,” Álvarez told a number of journalists after taking part in a conference at the Inter-American Dialogue Studies Center, Efe reported. The ambassador further described as “unacceptable and illegal” the fact that Almagro has taken “a political stance” as a “player that is independent” from the organization’s 34 members, which in the diplomat’s view “disregards the OAS Charter.” Almagro, who on Thursday turned one year as OAS top representative, will likely become next week the first OAS head in using the Democratic Charter in a member state against its government’s will.

     The diplomat also disapproves that Almagro invoke the Democratic Charter at the request of the Venezuelan National Assembly (of opposition majority). "He has taken a clear political decision because the petition came from a Parliament, but in accordance with international law, the representative of the country is the Executive power. Imagine how crazy it would be, especially in presidential regimes, that all parliaments ask the organization do something like this", he noted. "Well, if Almagro wanted to promote a dialogue, if that is his ultimate goal, he lost his chance, because he had a role as a diplomat but (no longer has it) now he is taking it as a personal case", he added. Almagro, who on Thursday will reach a year at the helm of the OAS, will become next week, in all likelihood, the first leader of the organization who applies the Charter to a Member State against the will of its Government.

MARIANO RAJOY CALLS FOR THE SECURITY COUNCIL TO DISCUSS THE CRISIS IN VENEZUELA
      

           MADRID, SPAIN ---
The head of the caretaker government, Mariano Rajoy, will chair Friday at the Moncloa Palace a meeting of the National Security Council that, among other things, analyze the situation in Venezuela and impact it has on the Spanish interests in that country. Government sources reported that among the issues to be discussed at the meeting of the Council will be an analysis of the moment that lives Venezuela and in particular, the situation of Spanish and national business interests in that country. Specifically, are nearly 200,000 Spaniards living in Venezuela, and the Government, according to the sources cited, concerned about how they can affect everything that is happening in the Latin American country.

    The Venezuelan opposition aims to promote a referendum to revoke the mandate of President Nicolas Maduro, who has declared a state of emergency. There are repeated criticism that Maduro is launching against Rajoy, while the Government of Spain continues to stress the need for in Venezuela human rights are respected and their release political prisoners. In this context, the Government approved on Friday granted Spanish nationality two other family of Venezuelan opposition imprisoned Leopoldo Lopez, her sister Cristina and her husband, Hernán Cifuentes, plus the president of the newspaper El Nacional, his wife and two children. The new nationalities were granted coinciding with the visit of former president Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to the Caribbean country and his interview with Nicolas Maduro, as well as the Government’s decision to order the return to Caracas Spanish ambassador.

     On the other hand, this Thursday has returned to Spain the leader of Citizens, Albert Rivera after his visit to Venezuela, where he has shown his doubts that the Government of Maduro has willingness to initiate a dialogue with the opposition. At its meeting on Friday, the Council Homeland security will address other issues such as the adoption of the mandatory report on relevant national security last year, 2015. It will be the first meeting of the National Security Council since the elections on 20 December and therefore, it is the first with Rajoy and his ministers acting functions. The National Security Council has an advisory role of Prime Minister in this matter and the same part, among others, the vice president, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, several ministers and secretaries of state, the director of CNI and chief of Staff of Defense.

RUSSIA DENOUNCES EXTERNAL FORCES FOR CRISIS IN VENEZUELA
      

        MOSCOW, RUSSIA --
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has spoken out against “outside” efforts to destabilise Venezuela, warning against the consequences of imposing “colour scenarios” on the South American nation. On Monday, Russian news agency Tass and Sputnik International reported that Russia’s Foreign Ministry had released an official statement addressing the current situation in Venezuela. “The upsurge of tensions in Venezuela is being fed from outside,” asserted the Foreign Ministry statement. "We are confident that a political solution to Venezuelan problems is to be found by the Venezuelan people who have elected its legitimate authorities… Destructive interference from outside is inadmissible,” it continued.

    The South American country has been suffering from a worsening economic crisis for the past two years and is currently locked in a political stand-off between the executive branch and the opposition controlled legislature. In firm language, the declaration also reminded other global powers that “no-one has the right to impose ‘color scenarios’ on Venezuela, referring to the outside financing of “proxy” organisations aimed at destabilising the national government. Russia also warned that current tensions in Venezuela risk spilling over into open conflict on the nation’s streets, bringing “serious consequences” for the rest of the region. Moscow’s remarks come as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) begins to take tentative steps towards opening up negotiations between Venezuela’s two warring political factions: the leftist government of Nicolas Maduro, and the rightwing political coalition, the MUD, which currently controls the National Assembly.

    However, escalating rumours of a possible coup against the national government in recent weeks are threatening to dampen hopes of a rapprochement. The MUD has pledged to remove Maduro through a variety of “constitutional” means since taking hold of the legislature last December. Nonetheless, Russia said it backed a UNASUR negotiated solution to the crisis and asked both sides to “cool down” their emotions. It also confirmed it would be open to participating in negotiation efforts in Venezuela if requested. “We are confident that the main challenge facing Venezuela at the moment is to find realistic ways out of the economic crisis, improve the social situation of broad layers of the population… It is obvious that this is possible only in conditions of internal political tranquility,” asserted the foreign ministry declaration. Although Moscow didn’t name the “outside” influences which it cites as exacerbating tensions in Venezuela, it is possible that the US has caught the Kremlin’s eye.

May 27, 2016

OAS ALMAGRO TO PRESENT REPORT ON VENEZUELA'S CRISIS NOT LATER THAN NEXT WEEK

  
       Wahington, d.c. -
The high representative of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, announced he would present a report on Venezuela’s social and political situation “not later than” next week. Similarly, the OAS high representative said he expects to inform in the document whether he would activate the Democratic Charter against the country, which could lead to Venezuela’s suspension from the international body.

     Almagro recalled he is likely to convene a meeting of the ambassadors of the OAS 34 member countries to raise the question of Venezuela’s current situation in virtue of Article 20 of the Democratic Charter.This will pave the way for a number of encounters and votes, which could result in diplomatic solutions or initiatives including even the suspension of Venezuela as an OAS member nation. ". The Council, where each Ambassador has a vote, will decide if there is that "alteration" by a majority (18), this is a consideration that is purely political.

      For this to happen, the affirmative vote of two thirds of the member states is needed. Should Almagro enforce the Charter, he would become the first OAS secretary general in using this legal instrument in a member state against its government’s will. For such purpose, he must turn to Article 20, which authorizes him to convene immediately the Permanent Council “in the event of an alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order” in a member State.

ALBERT RIVERA: "I HAVE SEEN A VERY DIFFICULT HUMANITARIAN SITUATION IN VENEZUELA"
      

           MADRID, SPAIN ---
The head of Spain's emerging Ciudadanos party returned to Madrid on Thursday after a three-day visit to Venezuela to show support for the opposition there. “I have seen a very difficult humanitarian situation in Venezuela,” said Albert Rivera. “I was surprised at the unity of opposition parties, who are very clear about the fact that they need to stick together.” Rivera, whose reformist party came fourth at the inconclusive Spanish elections of December 20, is one of several Spanish politicians to have flown to the Latin American country in recent months. If it can be proven that someone committed crimes of terrorism, it is my view that it’s sensible that this person might be in jail

     On Wednesday, he exchanged views with former Spanish prime minister Felipe González, who has been an active campaigner in defense of the Venezuelan opposition. Rivera is also expected to meet with another former Spanish leader, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who was recently in Venezuela himself as part of an international commission. On his last day in Caracas, right before taking his flight home, Rivera attempted to visit leading opposition figure Leopoldo López, who has been held in a military prison since 2014. On Wednesday, Rivera accused Spain’s other emerging party, the leftist Podemos, of turning a blind eye on the plight of the Venezuelan people because of its old ties with the Venezuelan regime.

      “In my country there are parties that support what is happening here, who claim that these people [the dissidents] are coupmongers,” said Rivera in Caracas. “Most parties in Spain, save for Podemos because of its support for Chavismo, agree that dialogue [in Venezuela] must be supported.” Meanwhile, back in Madrid, Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias accused Rivera of using the trip to campaign ahead of the Spanish general election on June 26. But he fell short of asking for Leopoldo López’s release, as all other Spanish parties have. In March 2015, the European Parliament voted on a resolution asking for the release of Venezuelan dissidents: all parties voted in favor save for the European Left, which includes Podemos. Now, the anti-austerity party is trying to keep the issue out of the Spanish electoral campaign.

VENEZUELA NEGOTIATES "HISTORIC" DEALS WITH TRINIDAD & TOBAGO TO GET ITS VOTE AT THE OAS
      

        ST. ANN, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO --
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has struck a set of “historic” bilateral deals with his Trinidadian counterpart, including the creation of a joint energy project geared towards natural gas exportation. Both heads of state announced the series of cross-border initiatives in energy, security, and commerce on Monday from St Ann’s, Trinidad and Tobago, where Maduro met with Prime-Minister Keith Rowley during a whirlwind trip to the Caribbean. “We just signed some agreements of a historic nature for the mutual benefit of our peoples, through the common gas fields that we have in our countries,” said Maduro. The Venezuelan president explained that both governments intended to invest in the creation of a joint natural gas venture that would “give fast results and enrichment for the benefit of both of our peoples”.

    PM Rowley also emphasised the “far reaching consequences” of the move for both populations, and confirmed that the purpose of the bilateral initiative would be to sell natural gas on the international energy market. In commerce, Maduro revealed that the two countries would work together to increase cross-border trade through the creation of a “rotating US$50 billion fund”. “We are going to begin a commercial route to the whole eastern economic region of the country from Trinidad and Tobago,” confirmed President Maduro. For his part, PM Rowley said that he hoped the people of Trinidad and Tobago could provide “some significant relief to the people of Venezuela” through the “supply of manufactured goods”.

     Although details are scarce in this initial phase, some news agencies have speculated that the deal is aimed at helping to resolve the chronic shortages of staple foods that have been afflicting Venezuela. Trinidadian Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon later confirmed to press that staples such as chicken, black beans and ketchup were amongst the items that Venezuela had requested, reported the Trinidad Guardian. Gopee-Scoon explained Venezuela will now send her government a request for “eight priority items” which will be shipped to the South American country as soon as manufacturers say they are ready. “That is how we are going to kick off the trade. I believe it will be on a revolving basis. So this fund will be fed into and replenished and so on,” she clarified to press.

May 26, 2016

CUBAN FOREIGN MINISTER STRONGLY EXPRESSES CUBA'S SOLIDARITY WITH MADURO EN CARACAS
 

  
       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez met with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, where he traveled – he said Tuesday – to bring a message of “STRONG solidarity” from Cuban President Raul Castro. “We were with President Nicolas Maduro. We had an extraordinary meeting,” said Rodriguez on Venezuelan state-run VTV television regarding the encounter at which, he added, he confirmed “Cuba’s full solidarity, which is the message from Raul, the embrace of Fidel and the Cuban people, which is what I’ve brought to Caracas.”

    The meeting, about which no further details were made public, was held Monday evening at the Miraflores government palace, a get-together that Rodriguez first announced in remarks made Tuesday at the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry. Cuba’s top diplomat said he knows that Venezuela has “many” problems, but “the work” of the Chavista government in Caracas “is enormous.” Rodriguez said that actions being taken by the Maduro government to deal with Venezuela’s crisis constitute a “heroic battle” in which it will “surely (be) victorious.”

     Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, who accompanied the Cuban official for his statement, thanked the Cuban people for their solidarity in the face of “imperialist attacks” that, she said, the petroleum-producing nation is experiencing. The Venezuelan official said that her country is a victim of an “imperial assault” that is being transformed into what the Chavista government is calling an “economic war” and is intended to destabilize the Caracas administration. Cuba, which she said “is still suffering the criminal imperial blockade,” and Venezuela “are a single Flag, which is not yielding to the enemy.” Both Cuba and Venezuela use the term “the empire” to refer to the United States.

BRAZIL AND ARGENTINA "OPEN" TO AIDING MEDIATION IN VENEZUELA
      

           BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA ---
Argentina’s  Mauricio Macri government and the acting Michel Temer administration of Brazil have agreed to join forces to mediate in Venezuela’s unfolding economic and political crisis, according to statements by Brazil’s acting foreign minister, José Serra. The Brazilian politician announced the move at a press conference in Buenos Aires on Monday evening, following a meeting with President Macri. “We’re on alert when it comes to Venezuela,” Serra told press. The acting foreign minister stated that Venezuela was currently “facing a critical situation” but that both Brazil and Argentina were eager “to find a path toward reconciliation”. Venezuela is currently struggling to deal with the economic impact of falling oil prices and triple digit inflation, as well as with a tense political standoff between its legislative and executive branches.

    Over the last few months, the political opposition to the government, the Roundtable of Democratic Unity (MUD), has launched proceedings for a recall referendum to remove the president, leaving the country’s political future uncertain. On Monday, Serra insisted that his administration had a shared “interest” with Argentina in solving the crisis which “includes mediation”. It was the Brazilian politician’s first official visit since he was named acting foreign minister following the controversial removal of left leaning Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, for an impeachment trial earlier this month, returning Brazil to an acting rightwing government for the first time in over 13 years. Several administrations across Latin America, including Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia have so far refused to recognise Brazil’s new government, accusing it of participating in a “coup” against Rousseff.

     Argentina on the other hand welcomed Temer and officially recognised his administration just hours after the president was removed from office. But Serra’s first visit to Argentina as foreign minister was marred by protests, as hundreds of Brazilian activists marched to the San Martin Palace in Buenos Aires chanting “fascists” in reference to Macri and the visiting politician. The unexpected mediation announcement comes on the heels of a UNASUR (Union of the South) delegation’s arrival in Caracas, tasked with mediating in Venezuela’s political impasse. A number of former heads of state, including Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic, José Zapatero of Spain and Martin Torrijos of Panama are also playing a role in the mediations. Spanish politician, Albert Rivera, was also received by figures from the MUD at Venezuela’s international Maiquetia airport earlier on Tuesday. It is unlikely that the Maduro administration will welcome Serra or his Argentinian counterpart with open arms. The Brazilian politician and President Macri are both longtime MUD allies and have been openly hostile to Venezuela’s current elected government.

VENEZUELAN HIGH COURT BARS RALLIES NEAR THE NATIONAL ELECTORAL COUNCIL
      

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
The Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) of Venezuela prohibited demonstrations in the adjacencies of the National Electoral Council (CNE). The Contentious-Administrative Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) of Venezuela issued a precautionary measure on behalf of five employees of the National Electoral Council (CNE) to impede “the arrival of violent groups in the vicinity of the CNE” to ensure the physical security of the CNE employees, “the right to free transit and the exercise of the right to work.”

    “Due to continued and frequent calls from spokespersons of political and social organizations, we have been exposed to risk situations that endanger and sometimes violate our right to free transit, work and State protection,” applicants (CNE employees) contended. Based on the application avowed by the TSJ, the calls from the Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) to march to the CNE seeking the authorities to take a stance on the terms for the recall referendum “impede the access of public servants to their workplaces and cause delays, aggravated by the restrictions to the working hours resulting from the electric emergency in the country.”

    Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles spurred Venezuelan dissenters to march to all offices of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) nationwide next Wednesday, May 25 Despite the ban of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), the opposition will continue attempting at appearing at the National Electoral Council (CNE) and they do it this same week For such reason, Capriles called the opposition for a march to all the TSJ chapters nationwide on Wednesday, May 25. “We will take action to demand court officers to observe the Constitution, people’s rights and for the decisions made by them to ensure Venezuelans’ benefits,” he admonished. The opposition leader disclosed that despite the ban of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ), the opposition will continue attempting at appearing at the National Electoral Council (CNE) and they do it this same week.

May 25, 2016

NICOLAS MADURO HOLDS TALKS WITH CUBAN FOREIGN MINISTER
 

  
       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -
President Nicolas Maduro met Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodriguez, who is concluding a two-day visit to the South American nation today. Maduro, who returned from a tour of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, received the Cuban foreign minister and his accompanying delegation on Monday night. They discussed issues of common interest, a diplomatic source said.

    Referring to the fraternal meeting, Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Delcy Rodríguez, posted on her Twitter account that ‘Latin America united will never be defeated!’ The Cuban diplomat arrived in Venezuela on Sunday, May 22, with the aim of strengthening their bilateral agreements in politics, education, trade and cooperation. Both ministers held official talks at the Yellow House (headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), in which they reviewed issues of common interest.

     As part of his visit, Rodriguez laid a wreath yesterday at the monument to Simon Bolivar in Caracas’s main square. He also tour of the Milagro de Dios Socialist Missions Base, in the Cristobal Rojas municipality, in the state of Miranda, to learn about the experience of the group of physicians who are working in the ‘Barrio Adentro Mission’. During these visits, Rodriguez was accompanied by Cuban ambassador to Venezuela, Rogelio Polanco, and the coordinator of the Caribbean island’s missions, Victor Gaute.

LUIS RODRIGUEZ ZAPATERO: WILL TRY TO CREATE A REASONABLE AGENDA FOR TALKS IN VENEZUELA
      

           CARACAS, VENEZUELA ---
 During a press conference in Caracas, Spanish former President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero stressed that all the electoral options should be regarded as scenarios for mediation between the Venezuelan opposition and the government. “Our task involves dialogue nationwide on significant topics such as coexistence, institutions, reconciliation, and (the country’s) social and economic situation,” the ex-president said as he elaborated on the scope and objectives of an international mission visiting Venezuela to tackle the local crisis.

     The group also includes Dominican and Panamanian former Heads of State Leonel Fernández and Martín Torrijos, respectively. “We will try to help create a reasonable agenda for national dialogue,” the Spanish official stated following encounters with President Nicolás Maduro and the leaders of the opposition coalition Unified Democratic Panel (MUD). The Venezuelan opposition on Thursday set out the conditions to begin talks with the government as part of a move made by an international taskforce to mediate between the two political groups.

     The initiative is headed by Spanish former President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Through a communiqué, anti-government coalition Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) included among the conditions a recall vote against the mandate of President Nicolás Maduro The text reads that MUD representatives on Thursday met with the Spanish official and thanked him for his will “to help the Venezuelan people to work out a peaceful, electoral, democratic, and constitutional solution to the deep crisis” facing the country. MUD seeks to activate the recall referendum. In recent days, the coalition has staged street demonstrations to put pressure on the Electoral Power to speed up the process to cut Maduro’s term in office.

BAN KI-MOON MAKES AN APPEAL FOR DIALOGUE IN VENEZUELA
      

        UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK --
United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday recommended the Venezuelan government and opposition to take a seat and talk in order to overcome the country crisis, bearing in mind the Constitution and the rule of law.

     In a statement released by the Press Office of the Office of the UN Secretary General, Ban claimed to be “encouraged by the ongoing initiatives by former Heads of State and Government to promote dialogue between the Government of Venezuela and the opposition, under the auspices of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR),” Efe quoted. Such dialogue has been bolstered by the ex president of Panama Martín Torrijos, the ex president of the Dominican Republic Leonel Fernández, and the former Head of the Spanish Government, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, with the blessing of Unasur.

     "The UN Secretary General has also taken note of the regional calls for dialogue,” reads the UN communiqué. “[The Secretary-General] reiterates his strong conviction that the Government and the opposition should address the country's current challenges through meaningful dialogue, adhering to the rule of law and the Constitution, for the benefit of the Venezuelan people,” the statement concluded. The Venezuelan opposition is lobbying for a recall referendum to make President Nicolás Maduro step down.

May 24, 2016

PRESIDENT OBAMA LIFTS ARMS BAN ON VIETNAM
 

  
       HANOI, VIETNAM  -
President Barack Obama announced Monday that the United States is fully lifting a decades-long ban on the sale of military equipment to Vietnam. In a joint news conference in Hanoi with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, Obama said that the removal of the ban on lethal weapons was part of a deeper defense cooperation with the country and dismissed suggestions it was aimed at countering China's growing strength in the region. Instead, it was the desire to continue normalizing relations between the United States and Vietnam and to do away with a ban "based on ideological division between our two countries," he said.

    The Vietnam War ended in April 1975 with the fall of Saigon -- now called Ho Chi Minh City -- after the United States withdrew combat forces and the North Vietnamese launched a massive offensive to reunite their homeland under communism. While Vietnam and China are neighbors that share a communist ideology, China has aggressively claimed territory in the South China Sea, irking Vietnam and other Southeast Asian neighbors and also raising concerns internationally. In a recent and provocative show of force, China flew two jets close to U.S. aircraft stationed in airspace above the disputed region.

    At a press briefing Monday by China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that it was appropriate for the ban to be lifted. "(The) arms sales ban was a product of the Cold War and should no longer exist," she told reporters. "We hope the lifting of all such bans will benefit regional peace and development. And we are happy to see the United States and Vietnam develop normal cooperative relations." Nguyen Ngoc Truong, president of Vietnam's Center for Strategic Studies and International Development, hailed the move as an important symbolic development between the two countries. "This is very good news, it is of great importance for Vietnam," he told CNN. "It does not mean Vietnam will be (a) very big buyer of American weapons straight away, but (it) is important in the future. The symbolism is more important."

SPAIN'S MARIANO RAJOY: VENEZUELANS DESERVE A BETTER FUTURE
      

           MADRID, SPAIN ---
 Spain's Mariano Rajoy affirmed that Venezuelans deserve a better future.  Rajoy’s comments came after a decision recently made by his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolás Maduro to decree a state of exception and economic emergency in his country. When Rajoy was asked by reporters about “freedom and democracy” in Venezuela, he  added that his government “cannot stay unconcerned about the humanitarian, political and economic crisis” facing the South American nation.

    The official’s remarks followed a state of exception and economic emergency recently decreed nationwide by his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolás Maduro “Helping Venezuelans is my duty as president and as a Spanish national,” Rajoy stressed.

    “Venezuelans deserve a better future,” he added in an article published on Saturday by Spanish daily El País. Similarly, Rajoy supported his administration’s decision to grant the Spanish nationality to a number of Venezuelan government opponents including the sister and brother-in-law of opposition leader Leopoldo López, held in custody since over two years ago, DPA reported.

LEADER OF SPANISH CITIZENS PARTY VISITS VENEZUELA TO BACK A RECALL REFEERENDUM
      

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA--
Albert Rivera, the leader of Spanish Ciudadanos (Citizens) political party, was invited by the Venezuelan National Assembly (AN) to take part in some activities on democracy and human rights. Albert Rivera will meet also with Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles to take part in an event hosted by the relatives of imprisoned dissenters.
 

     Albert Rivera, the leader of Spanish Ciudadanos (Citizens) political party, is heading for Venezuela on Monday, where he plans to meet with Venezuelan dissenters in support of the recall referendum against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Spain cannot afford to look away now (…) Our aid has been requested and we will be there whenever they need it to ask for freedom and democracy,” he said during a press conference held on Monday in Madrid, shortly before flying to Caracas.

     Rivera was invited by the Venezuelan National Assembly (AN) to participate in some events related to democracy and human rights. He will stay for 48 hours in Venezuela. Lilian Tintori, the wife of major opposition leader Leopoldo López, nowadays behind bars, will welcome him at the airport. He will also meet with opposition leader Henrique Capriles and attend an event hosted by the relatives of imprisoned dissenters. He also voiced his desire to meet as well with Maduro. However, he doubted that the Venezuelan government will welcome the suggestion, DPA cited. Rivera hopes not to have troubles to enter Venezuela, in view of the requirements requested by the country authorities to former Head of Government Felipe González, who traveled there in defense of imprisoned opposition leaders.

May 23, 2016

MEXICO APPROVES EXTRADITION OF JOAQUIN 'EL CHAPO' GUZMAN 

  
       MEXICO CITY, MEXICO  -
The Mexican government has approved the extradition of drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán to the United States, a decision aimed at delivering one of the world's most notorious criminals to the U.S. justice system to face a vast array of drug trafficking and organized crime charges. Mexico's Foreign Relations Department announced the move in a statement Friday afternoon, saying that the government has agreed to send Guzmán to the United States to face charges in Texas and California for murder, money laundering, weapons possession, distribution of cocaine and other crimes.

      It said Mexico had received guarantees that the death penalty, which is prohibited in Mexico, would not be sought against Guzmán. Guzman’s lawyers are almost certain to appeal the decision. Mexican officials expect it could take months before any extradition actually occurs. Guzmán, the leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, has broken out of two federal prisons during his drug-running career, but he was recaptured last year in a Pacific coastal town. Earlier this month, Guzmán was transferred from the Altiplano maximum-security federal prison, from which he escaped last year, to a new prison in Ciudad Juarez along the border with Texas.

      After his previous capture in 2014, Mexico's attorney general vowed to hold Guzmán for hundreds of years, a direct rebuke to U.S. requests to turn Guzmán over. But after he escaped from the Altiplano prison through a secret tunnel in July 2015, the political stakes changed for President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration, which could not afford another humiliating escape from this powerful drug lord. He was able to flee in July 2015 through an elaborate tunnel that associates dug to his cell from a house under construction a mile away from the prison. Guzmán was tracked down to the coastal city of Los Mochis in northern Sinaloa state in January and arrested following a shootout and an attempt to flee via a secret tunnel that led to the city’s sewer system. He was caught when federal police intercepted him in a stolen vehicle.

VENEZUELA STOPS MAKING COCA COLA
      

   CARACAS, VENEZUELA ---
 The latest to succumb to the crisis roiling Venezuela is Coca-Cola, forced to halt production of its namesake beverage because of a shortage of a key ingredient: sugar. In a country currently suffering the world’s deepest recession, with inflation fast approaching 700 percent, the cola's demise is the latest hardship facing the South American nation, as the country teeters on the edge of economic and political collapse. There is a way out, say observers, but it requires deep economic reform, which current political leaders seem unwilling to embrace. Increasingly, it seems as though the power to determine which direction Venezuela takes may rest with the armed forces.

     “The economy is imploding and there is no economic light at the end of the tunnel,” says Ricardo Hausmann, former minister of planning of Venezuela, and former chief economist at the Inter-American Development Bank. “Until there’s political change, there won’t be economic change,” Dr. Hausmann, now director of Harvard University’s Center for International Development, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. “The government is trapped in a psychotic narrative that everything is being caused by an international economic war.” Indeed, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro stated his belief Tuesday that his country’s economic woes stemmed from an international conspiracy originating in the United States. He accused the head of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, of being a CIA agent.

      In response, Mr. Almagro called the Venezuelan president a “traitor”, saying he risked becoming “just another petty dictator.” Former Uruguayan president, José Mujica, a fellow stalwart of the Latin American left, declared that President Maduro was “loco, loco como una cabra” [crazy, crazy like a goat]. That such insults are being traded between heads and former heads of state is perhaps symptomatic of the desperation of the situation in Venezuela. In the eyes of many, a humanitarian crisis is unfolding. Last month, Empresas Polar, the largest food and beverage company in the country, stopped beer production because of the scarcity of another imported product, barley. But far from being limited to soda and beer, shortages are being seen in basic necessities such as toilet paper. Electricity production has reached such critical levels that government workers now only work two days a week.

U.S. OFFICIAL: TALIBAN LEADER LIKELY KILLED IN AN U.S. AIRSTRIKE
      

        WASHINGTON, D.C. --
Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was likely killed in an airstrike in Pakistan on Saturday, two U.S. officials told CNN. One of the officials said the strike occurred around 6 a.m. ET Saturday morning in a remote area of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, southwest of the town of Ahmad Wal. "Mansour played a key leadership role in not only orchestrating the Taliban but orchestrating a variety of other organizations to include the Haqqani network and Al-Qaeda who were perpetrating operations against not only U.S. forces but coalition forces and Afghan forces for a long period of time," Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel told CNN's Barbara Starr in Amman, Jordan. "He's an individual who has been in that structure for a long time. I'm glad he's gone."

     Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Myanmar, said Mansour "was directly opposed to peace negotiations." "This action sends a clear message to the world that we will continue to stand with our Afghan partners as they work to build a more stable, united, secure, and prosperous Afghanistan," he said at a news conference. "It is time for Afghans to stop fighting and to start building a real future together." The U.S. notified Pakistan's government before the strike, Kerry said. "We have had longstanding conversations with Pakistan and Afghanistan about this objective with respect to Mullah Mansour, and both countries' leaders were notified of the airstrike," he said.

      "And it is important for people to understand that Mullah Mansour, as I said a moment ago, has been actively involved in planning attacks in Kabul, across Afghanistan, presenting a threat to Afghan civilians and to the coalition forces that are there." Mansour was the target of the strike, and a second adult male combatant traveling with him in a vehicle also was likely killed, the official added. U.S. officials are still assessing the results, the official said. The second source, a senior administration official, said it would likely take days to get "physical confirmation" because of the remote location. Pakistan has not officially reacted to the strike, but Afghan officials confirmed the killing. President Abdullah Abdullah tweeted that Mansour was the victim of a drone strike that targeted his car in the Dahl Bandin area of Quetta in Pakistan.

May 22, 2016

UNITED STATES, ARGENTINA, CHILE AND URUGUAY APPEAL FOR AN URGENT POLITICAL DIALOGUE IN VENEZUELA

  
       WASHINGTON, D.C.   -
Argentina, Chile and Uruguay in a joint statement released on Friday, called for political dialogue in Venezuela and offered to help with a “national reunion” of the political and social forces of the country. The appeal, with utmost respect for the principle of non interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela, was made extensive to the government, the National Assembly, under opposition control, and all political and social groups. “We believe Venezuela's problems must be resolved by Venezuelans, in conformity to their institutions and international commitments”

     The statement is signed by Argentina's Susana Malcorra, Argentina's foreign minister; her Chilean peer Heraldo Munoz and Uruguay's Rodolfo Nin Novoa. “In the current hour of serious polarization which the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is undergoing, the foreign ministers signing the statement, in representation of their respective countries make an urgent call for an effective political dialogue and a genuine civic understanding among all political and social actors from the sister nation. “We trust the Venezuelan people will know how to honor its long democratic tradition and its historic commitment to peaceful and consensus political solutions, discouraging this way radical alternatives that distance it from democratic means. The foreign ministers that subscribe the statement on making this appeal to the Venezuelan government, national assembly and all political and social forces, express their fraternal disposition to accompany through a group of friends the pressing task of national reunion.

     At the same time, the Obama administration and other governments in Latin America are encouraging efforts by former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to defuse an increasingly tense standoff in Venezuela Zapatero said in a visit to Caracas this week that President Nicolas Maduro and leaders of the opposition expressed a willingness to launch a national dialogue aimed at resolving the country's challenges. It's unclear what the next steps will be but the U.S. State Department on Friday said it welcomes the initiative as a way to guarantee respect for the Venezuelan people and the rule of law. The foreign ministries of Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay also made a call for dialogue. Zapatero's peacemaking follows a week of violent clashes between security forces and the opposition who are demanding Maduro's ouster.

VENEZUELA, WHERE A HAMBURGER IS OFFICIALLY $170
      

   CARACAS, VENEZUELA ---
  If a visitor to Venezuela is unfortunate enough to pay for anything with a foreign credit card, the eye-watering cost might suggest they were in a city pricier than Tokyo or Zurich. A hamburger sold for 1,700 Venezuelan bolivares is $170, or a 69,000-bolivar hotel room is $6,900 a night, based on the official rate of 10 bolivares for $1. But of course no merchant is pricing at the official rate imposed under currency controls. It's the black market rate of 1,000 bolivares per dollar that's applied. But for Venezuelans paid in hyperinflation-hit bolivares, and living in an economy relying on mostly imported goods or raw materials, conditions are unthinkably expensive. Even for the middle class, most of it sliding into poverty, hamburgers and hotels are out-of-reach excesses.

     "Everybody is knocked low," Michael Leal, a 34-year-old manager of an eyewear store in Caracas, told AFP. "We can't breathe." In Chacao, a middle-class neighborhood in the capital, office workers lined up outside a nut store to buy the cheapest lunch they could afford. Nearby restaurants were all but empty. Superficially it looked like the center of any other major Latin American city: skyscrapers, dense traffic, pedestrians in short sleeves bustling along the sidewalks. But look closely and you can see the economic malaise. Many stores, particularly those that sold electronics, were shuttered. "It's horrible now," said Marta Gonzalez, the 69-year-old manager of a corner beauty products store. "Nobody is buying anything really. Just food," she said as a male customer used a debit card to pay for a couple of razor blades. A sign above the register said "We don't accept credit cards." An upmarket shopping center nearby boasted a leafy rooftop terrace, a spacious Hard Rock cafe, chain stores for Zara, Swarovski and Armani Exchange.

    They were all virtually deserted except for bored sales staff. Instead a line of around 200 people was waiting patiently in front of a pharmacy. They didn't know what for, exactly, just that the routine now was to line up for daily deliveries of one subsidized personal hygiene product or another -- toothpaste, for instance -- and grab their rationed amount before it ran out, usually within a couple of minutes. "We do this every week. And we don't know what we're trying to buy," said Kevin Jaimes, a 21-year-old auto parts salesman waiting with his family. "What's frustrating is when you get into a gigantic line but they run out before you get any." The alternative then is to turn to black market merchants who sell goods at grossly inflated rates, often 100 times more than the subsidized price tag. Jaimes lives with his family of seven, and tries to get by on a monthly salary of 35,000 bolivares -- in reality, around $35. That sum is too paltry for him to even think about dropping into the cinema upstairs in the center, where tickets are 8,800 bolivares.

CUBAN MIGRANTS CLIMB DOWN FROM LIGHTHOUSE NEAR KEY WEST
      

        MIAMI, FLORIDA --
The U.S. Coast Guard NEGOTIATED with a group of 19 Cuban migrants atop American Shoal Lighthouse off Sugarloaf Key on Friday, May 20, 2016. A boater spotted their makeshift boat at about 8 a.m. Friday. A boater spotted their makeshift boat at about 8 a.m. Friday. When the Coast Guard approached their vessels, the migrants swam to the lighthouse and climbed up its metal stilts. The 19 Cuban migrants straddled atop the American Shoal lighthouseoff Sugarloaf Key have come down and are being processed by immigration officials, Coast Guard officials said Friday afternoon.

     The migrants climbed down from the 109-foot structure around 5:30 p.m. Earlier in the day, the migrants had swum to the lighthouse after the Coast Guard approached their makeshift boat in the waters off Sugarloaf. The Coast Guard confronted the boaters early Friday morning after receiving an 8 a.m. telephone call from a boater who had noticed the migrants in their vessel, said Chief Petty Officer Ryan Doss, spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard 7th District. As the Coast Guard approached the boat, 19 migrants jumped off and swam to the lighthouse, which was built in 1880 and sits about five miles off shore from Sugarloaf. They climbed the lighthouse’s metal stilts. Meanwhile, two other migrants swam to the Coast Guard cutter.

    Officials from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Serviceswere in the process of screening the 21 migrants on a Coast Guard cutter Friday evening to determine whether they will remain in the United States or be returned to Cuba. “Typically, migrants taken at sea are returned to their country of origin,’’ Doss said. “But there are special circumstances — like fear of persecution” that come into play. It’s not clear if the lighthouse would be considered land under the U.S. immigration policy of wet-foot, dry-foot. The policy, stipulated under 1995 changes to the Cuban Adjustment Act, allows Cubans who step foot on U.S. soil to stay here and apply for permanent residency after a year. The lighthouse sits in the water.

May 21, 2016

THE VENEZUELAN MILITARY SAYS IT'S READY TO DEFEND THE COUNTRY FROM ANY POSSIBLE 'U.S. INVASION'

  
       CARacas, venezuela  -
Venezuela is going to conduct on Saturday, May 21, a series of large scale military exercises Saturday, aimed at testing the country's ability to resist a foreign invasion. Defense minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez described the drills as preparation for any “imperial aggression.” “The participation of the population is intended to be an expression of the civil-military (alliance), in the face of the U.S. government's declaration that considered Venezuela an unusual threat,” the minister stated.

     In total, around 100,000 people are expected to take part in the drills, including 20,000 civilians. Operations are taking place across the country, for the next 10 days. Ahead of the drills, President Nicolas Maduro stated his country “has the force to defend itself.” “Venezuela must be prepared, because Venezuela can never become like Libya or Iraq,” he said. Earlier this week, Venezuela's government accused the United States of plotting an “economic blockade,” arguing recent sanctions against several top officials in Caracas may be just the tip of the iceberg of future U.S. intervention. “They are considering a financial and commercial blockade, an economic blockade, and the entire country (of Venezuela) should know this,” said Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez during an interview with broadcaster Venevision.

      Rodriguez said the latest round of U.S. sanctions pose a major threat to “all Venezuelans,” dismissing claims from Washington that the sanctions will only affect a small group of government officials. The U.S. Department of State has officially denied allegations the U.S. government is seeking to overthrow Maduro, though on Thursday the head of U.S. Southern Command hinted in the future there could be “some arrangements to change leadership.” Some also voiced disquiet over the growing role of the military amid a larger crackdown on opposition. Last month, Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma was jailed and a 14 year-old boy was shot and killed by a police officer during a protest.

MADURO WILL DECLARE "STATE OF INTERNAL COMMOTION" IF COUP INCIDENTS OCCUR
      

   CARACAS, VENEZUELA ---
 Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro warned that he could declare a "state of internal commotion" if coup incidents occur and reiterated that there are "serious threats" to peace in the country. The state of internal commotion is a third level after the state of emergency and economic emergency already decreed last week and "a resource that I have as head of state if signs of a coup occur," he said in a mandatory radio and television transmission.

     "I will not hesitate to declare it if necessary (...) hopefully that will not be necessary," he said Wednesday. The president said that under the Constitution, the state of emergency and economic emergency, which were denounced yesterday by the opposition-controlled parliament, may be applied in "exceptional economic circumstances that seriously affect the economic life of the nation." "I think here no one doubts (...)that we are in an exceptional situation which requires exceptional actions (...) in order to protect peace in the country," he underlined.

      According to the president, the National Assembly "has been lying about the new decree." "The Assembly should be of service to help economic production," he stressed and said that they should not encourage speculation and instead contribute to solve the Venezuelan complicated situation. He questioned if the National Assembly will last until October when it is expected to submit the national budget proposal for 2017 for approval. The Venezuelan opposition marched today to demand that the Election Commission grants them the right to hold a referendum to oust Maduro before his term ends in 2019.

CUBAN AND NORTH KOREAN SPECIAL FORCES IN VENEZUELA
      

         CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
Earlier this week, the head of Venezuela's National Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, denounced that 60 Cuban military officials are embedded among Venezuelan operational forces at the Fuerte Tiuna military complex -- home of Venezuela's Ministry of Defense -- under the command of Cuban General Raul Acosta Gregorich. This morning, the French investigative journal, Intelligence Online, reported that North Korea's regime has sent a special forces contingent to Venezuela to help its embattled quasi-dictator, Nicolas Maduro. Furthermore, this arrangement stems from a confidential military cooperation and intelligence-sharing agreement that North Korea's Kim Jong-un signed with Cuba's Castro regime in March.

     Of course, there's more than a hint of irony that while President Obama was wining-and-dining in Cuba in March, that the Castro regime was signing a military and intelligence cooperation agreement with the North Korean regime. Observers are wondering just how involved the North Korean Praetorian Guard that Pyongyang has sent to assist Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro will become. Hugo Chavez’s successor has declared a state of emergency in the country while anti-government protests continue to mount. The man behind the 'loan' of North Korean troops is General Kim Yong-chol, who is close to the country’s Supreme Leader Kim Jung-un.

     The general is both head of the special forces and the United Front Work Department, or Tongil Chonsonbu, the intelligence service in charge of relations with friendly political movements. North Korean special forces are training with their counterparts of Venezuela’s Grupo de Acciones Commando (GAC) and Chinese troops of the 21st Armed Group of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Caracas this month. Back in March, Pyongyang also signed a confidential military cooperation and intelligence-sharing agreement with Cuba, even though the latter is in the midst of a reconciliation process with the U.S.

May 20, 2016

URUGUAY'S MUJICA: VENEZUELA'S MADURO IS 'CRAZY AS A GOAT'

  
       MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY  -
Uruguay's former President Jose Mujica says Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is “crazy as a goat. Mujica, a leftist who governed from 2010-2015, made the comment Wednesday during a press conference when asked about a dispute between Maduro and the head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, who has called Maduro "a traitor." Venezuela's socialist president has in turn accused Almagro of being a CIA agent and a traitor himself. "I have great respect for (Maduro), I do.

      But that does not mean I can't say he's crazy, crazy as a goat," said Mujica, whose cantankerous personality, homespun oratory and simple ways have made him wildly popular abroad. Mujica has defended Almagro saying that he is not a traitor. But he acknowledged that he has distanced himself from Almagro, who served as his foreign minister during his presidency, because of his stance on Venezuela. Venezuela is facing a severe economic crisis, with the world's highest inflation and shortages. Polls indicate most Venezuelans want Maduro out of office. José Mujica rejected remarks made by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro labelling as a “traitor” the high representative of the Organization of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro.

     Former Uruguayan President José Mujica on Wednesday questioned tensions between the Secretary General of the Organization of American Status (OAS) Luis Almagro and Venezuelan Head of State Nicolás Maduro, who he said he “is nuts.” “They call each other every name under the sun, yet they will solve nothing that way,” Similarly, Mujica deplored Maduro’s remarks that the OAS top representative is a traitor. “Almagro is not a traitor; he is a lawyer (…) I disagree with Almagro in a number of things, and with Maduro in this regard,” the former Head of State undercored. In the view of the Uruguayan senator “the issue is not Almagro but Venezuela, (a country) which must overcome the economic crisis.”

BRAZIL REBUFFS CUBA, VENEZUELA AND BOLIVIA OVER ROUSSEFF SUSPENSION
      

   BRASILIA, BRAZIL ---
Brazil’s interim government dismissed criticism by leftist countries in Latin America, including Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia, over the impeachment process of Dilma Rousseff, who was suspended as president by the senate. The leftist president of El Salvador yesterday added to the regional pressure on Brazil, saying that he would not recognize the interim government and recalled his ambassador, claiming there had been “political manipulation” in Latin America’s biggest country. The bickering, not rare between leftist leaders and more conservative governments at a time when much of the region is moving to the right, comes as centrist Michel Temer, Rousseff’s vice president, assumes Brazil’s presidency and scrambles to pull the economy out of its worst recession since the 1930s.

     Rousseff, after five months of impeachment proceedings, now faces a senate trial over irregularities in her government’s budget. The trial could take up to 180 days and is expected to lead to her definitive ouster. In a statement Friday evening, Brazil’s foreign ministry said it “emphatically rejects” neighbours “allowing themselves to opine and propagate falsehoods over internal political process in Brazil.” In a separate statement, the ministry, headed by José Serra, a prominent former senator and presidential candidate, criticized the head of Unasur, a South American regional bloc. Ernesto Samper, Unasur’s secretary general, earlier had questioned the validity of Rousseff’s suspension. After Brazil’s strongly-worded statements Friday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who is also struggling with economic problems and a push to remove him from office, asked his ambassador to Brazil to come home to discuss the tensions.

    Maduro is among leaders, including Rousseff herself, who have condemned her suspension as a “coup”. Rousseff, who is spending the weekend with family in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, has said she could appeal to regional organizations in efforts to discredit the impeachment process. Thus far, however, she has complied with all procedures related to her suspension. Yesterday, mainstream Brazilian media made light of the statements by leftists in the region, especially the Socialist government of Venezuela and Communist-run Cuba. “Who are Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua to teach about democracy?” wrote Eliane Cantanhede, a prominent columnist for the Estado do S. Paulo newspaper.

WRECKAGE FROM EGYPTAIR PLANE CRASH FOUND IN SEA
      

    ATHENS GREEK --
GreeCE authorities have found "floating material" that is likely to be debris from the EgyptAir jet that crashed over the Mediterranean Sea as well as life jackets, according to the Egyptian civil aviation ministry. The Airbus A320 passenger jet was flying at 37,000ft when it disappeared on Thursday 16km after entering Egyptian air space, EgyptAir said. "The Greek military, at the moment, seems to be the authority which has the latest on the last known whereabouts of the aircraft," said Al Jazeera's John Psaropoulos, reporting from Athens.

     Greek defence sources reported the discovery of two large plastic objects in the southern Mediterranean Sea 80km south of Crete, just hours after flight MS 804 travelling from Paris to Cairo went missing with 66 people on board. EgyptAir said the plane disappeared from radar with 56 passengers and 10 crew members on board. The floating objects were spotted in an area near an area where a transponder signal was detected earlier, the Greek sources said. The plane made "sudden swerves" mid-air and plunged before dropping off radars in the southern Mediterranean, Greece's defence minister said. Sherif Fathi, Egypt's aviation minister, said the possibility of a terror attack was "stronger" than a technical failure.

     French authorities have not confirmed any possible theories so far, Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland reported from Paris. "The French are not making a call on the Egyptian aviation minister's statements. They are completely reserving judgement until more information is available," she said. An informed source at EgyptAir earlier said the flight, which departed from Paris' Charles De Gaulle Airport at 23:09 (CEST), was headed for Cairo when it disappeared from radar. "At 4:26am, rescue teams affiliated with the Egyptian armed forces have received an SOS message from the emergency unit of the missing plane," EgyptAir said on Twitter. The AFP news agency said the Egyptian army later denied detecting any distress signal from the missing plane.

May 18, 2016

THE WHITE HOUSE URGES NICOLAS MADURO TO TALK TO THE OPPOSITION

  
       WASHINGTON, D.C. -
The White House has expressed concern about Venezuela’s rapidly worsening political situation, urging President Nicolas Maduro to listen to critics inside the country or risk deepening the crisis. Treading carefully to avoid making Washington a foil for the country’s populist leaders, White House spokesman Josh Earnest yesterday described recent reports from Venezuela as “breathtaking.” “The conditions for the Venezuelan population are terrible,” he said as the country braced for more upheaval.

     President Nicolas Maduro is preparing to unveil the scope of a new emergency decree as the opposition readies protests against what it calls a bid to cling to power. Also read: US freedom of navigation in South China Sea not an act of provocation: White House The White house urged Maduro to listen to those voices and solve the plethora of problems facing the country — from economic collapse to drought to power cuts. “The solution to these challenges will require the inclusion of all interested parties,” Earnest said. “Now is the time for leaders to listen to diverse Venezuelan voices and work together peacefully to truly to find solutions.” “The failure to do that only puts hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Venezuelans at risk of further suffering.”

     Maduro has also ordered military exercises for Saturday to prepare for what he calls the threat of an armed intervention backed by the United States at the behest of the “fascist Venezuelan right.” Maduro, the hand-picked successor of the late Hugo Chavez, has presided over a collapse of Venezuela’s economy since he took charge in 2013. Seven in 10 Venezuelans want a change in government, and 97 per cent say their lives have gotten worse, according to recent polls. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost the 2013 presidential election to Maduro, has warned the country is “a bomb that could explode any minute.” The opposition says it has collected 1.8 million signatures backing a referendum to remove Maduro from power.

HRW ASKS THE OAS TO INVOKE DEMOCRATIC CHARTER AGAINST VENEZUELA
      

     
WASHINGTON, D.C.---  The Organization of American States should invoke the Inter-American Democratic Charter to press Venezuela to restore judicial independence and the protection of fundamental rights, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro. Under the charter, the OAS secretary general or any other member country can convoke a Permanent Council meeting to address situations where there has been an “unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order in a member state.” This application of the charter does not require consent from the government of the country whose democracy has been impaired.

     On May 5, 2016, the Venezuelan foreign affairs minister, Delcy Rodríguez, said in a meeting at the OAS Permanent Council that the government rejected the OAS application of the charter, contending that it would violate Venezuela’s sovereignty and interfere with its internal affairs. “The OAS should hold Venezuela accountable for its flagrant disregard of judicial independence, a core element of the Democratic Charter that is essential to protect fundamental rights,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “If the OAS really needed to ask offending governments for their permission before doing anything, it would completely defeat the purpose of the charter. Fortunately, for situations as bad as Venezuela’s, the charter doesn’t include such an absurd requirement.” The OAS should hold Venezuela accountable for its flagrant disregard of judicial independence, a core element of the Democratic Charter that is essential to protect fundamental rights.

      The Inter-American Democratic Charter states that representative democracy is indispensable for the stability, peace, and development of the region, and that governments have an obligation to promote and defend it. One of the key principles enshrined in the charter is that an essential component of representative democracy is “the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government.” Since the political takeover of the Venezuelan Supreme Court in 2004, the judiciary has ceased to function as an independent branch of government, and authorities have repeatedly exploited the justice system’s lack of independence to arrest and prosecute prominent political opponents and lesser-known critics. Members of the Supreme Court have openly rejected the principle of separation of powers and publicly pledged their commitment to advancing the government’s “Bolivarian Revolution.” The court has routinely ruled in favor of the government when its actions are challenged, validating its growing disregard for human rights.

SPANISH, DOMINICAN, PANAMANIAN EX-PRESIDENTS ARRIVED IN VENEZUELA
      

    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA ---Former Presidents José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (Spain), Leonel Fernández (Dominican Republic), and Martín Torrijos (Panama) arrived in Caracas to meet with Venezuelan government authorities and the opposition, said on Tuesday Miranda state governor and opposition leader Henrique Capriles. In this connection, Capriles added that the Heads of State were designated by the local government to serve as observers in a “Truth Commission,” yet they also want to hold a meeting with opposition leaders. President Nicolás Maduro in April this year announced that Zapatero, Fernández, Torrijos, and the Secretary General of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) Ernesto Samper, would be the international observers of a “Truth Commission,” aimed at assessing violent acts in recent years and promoting new talks the opposition has not supported thus far.

     The country’s anti-government representatives ruled out the possibility to take part in the commission. New state of emergency threatens to restrict political liberties. Constitutionalist attorney José Vicente Haro warned that the new decree on state of economic emergency signed by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro expands the restriction of constitutional rights and liberties to the political sphere. In the opinion of the constitutionalist attorney, “suspension of guarantees” does not exist in the Venezuelan Constitution. José Vicente Haro, a constitutionalist attorney and professor of the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) warned that a decree on state of economic emergency signed last Friday by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro will result in constrained political liberties.

     “This decree is stretching out to ambits beyond the economic field, the political ambit, the ambit of what the president has termed as ‘foreign threats,” coup attempts, public order matters, which could put the Venezuelan State in jeopardy,” the lawyer told El Universal. He added that the new legal instrument –that expired last Wednesday- could be extended only once. In view of it, “the president has opted to take another way, the way of a new decree, which is much ampler than the previous one.” “What the president would be doing, to begin with, is restricting guarantees (…) that have to do with internal order, exercise of civilian and political rights,” said the professor of Constitutional Law.

May 17, 2016

VICE-PRESIDENT ARISTOBULO ISTURIZ: PRESIDENT MADURO WON'T FACE RECALL REFEREDUM

  
       Caracas, venezueLa-
Venezuela's Vice-President Aristobulo Isturiz has ruled out the possibility of a recall referendum being held against President Nicolas Maduro. "Maduro won't be ousted by a referendum because there will be no referendum," Isturiz said. Two weeks ago, opposition politicians began the process by handing in a petition signed by 1.85 million people. But Isturiz said the opposition had "acted too late, had done it wrong and had committed fraud". The opposition have previously warned the referendum may be hard to push through, as they alleged that the National Electoral Council (CNE) is staffed by government loyalists.

    Many Venezuelans blame Maduro for the economic crisis the country is experiencing. Its economy contracted by 5.7% last year and is expected to shrink further this year. Inflation is at 180%, according to official figures, and there are shortages of medicines and basic food items. For the recall referendum to be successful almost 7.6 million people will have to vote to oust Maduro: 1) 1% of voters on the electoral roll have to sign a petition within 30 days to kick-start the process; 2) 20% of voters (almost four million) have to sign a second petition in order to trigger the referendum on Mr Maduro; and 3) For the referendum to be successful, an equal or greater number of voters than those who elected Maduro would have to cast their vote in favour of the recall. Mr Maduro won the 2013 election with 7,587,579 votes.

     On Friday, Maduro declared a state of emergency to "denounce, neutralize and overcome the external and foreign aggressions against our country", which he blames for Venezuela's economic problems. Maduro did not specify what powers the state of emergency would give him except to say it would offer Venezuelans "fuller, more comprehensive protection". On 2 May, opposition politicians handed in 80 boxes containing 1.85 million signatures to the CNE, well above the 1% of voters on the electoral roll needed to kick-start the process. Opposition politicians say the authorities are trying to stall the process and have called on their supporters to march to the offices of the CNE on Wednesday to demand they verify the signatures so the process can go ahead.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC'S DANILO MEDINA SET FOR RE-ELECTION AS PRESIDENT
      

     DOMINICAN REPUBLICA---
  Preliminary results after first round of voting show left-leaning economist well placed to avoid runoff polls in June. Dominican Republic's incumbent President Danilo Medina looks poised to win the first round of voting easily in the country's presidential election, early results suggest. According to preliminary results from 15 percent of polling stations, Medina's coalition won 61 percent of the vote in Sunday's election, a margin that if sustained would be enough to avoid a runoff election in June. The preliminary results gave his nearest rival, businessman Luis Abinader, 35 percent.

     The remaining six candidates combined had less than 4 percent of votes, including the first two women running for the presidency in a Dominican election. Sunday's election was marred by a shooting at one voting centre, long lines and questions being raised over the vote-counting system after 3,000 poll workers went on strike. Authorities allowed voting to continue for an extra hour until 23:00 GMT after delays at some centres. A left-leaning economist, Medina has had high popularity ratings during the latter part of his four-year term in the country of 10.4 million.

     But, despite the strong economy, many Dominicans struggle to meet basic needs, and poverty rates rose to 41 percent in the first year of Medina's term, according to the World Bank. Medina's campaign chief, Joao Santana, returned to Brazil in February to face charges that Odebrecht had paid him funds siphoned from Brazil's state oil company Petrobras in offshore accounts to finance the 2014 election campaign of Dilma Rousseff, the suspended Brazilian president. Medina has yet to refer to the Petrobras scandal, but he did admit that the Brazilian political strategist was his top adviser. Santana has called the allegations against him "baseless". Tense relations with Haiti was another important topic in Sunday's general election in Dominican Republic.

VENEZUELA PLANS ARMY EXERCISES AS NICOLAS MADURO SEEKS TO PROLONG HIS POWER
      

     CARACAS, VENEZUELA---
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has announced the Venezuelan Armed Forces will begin military drills to prepare “for any scenario” after he allegedly received information of an impending foreign incursion into the South American country. “Next Saturday I have convened national military exercises of the armed forces, of the people and of the militia, to prepare us against any scenario, because this land is sacred and we must respect it,” said Maduro at a street rally attended by thousands of supporters in downtown Caracas over the weekend.

     “The oligarchy’s plan is to disturb the peace so they can justify foreign intervention in Venezuela,” Maduro said in televised remarks at the rally. “I’m not an extremist for saying this, but they’re extremists for wanting to carry this out.” Maduro’s moves added to the sense of political and economic tension gripping the country beset by the world’s highest inflation, shortages of basic goods, and currency controls. Supporters of opposition groups who are urging a presidential recall vote demonstrated simultaneously on Saturday. The president’s announcement comes one day after his decision to impose a state of emergency and economic emergency that would give him sufficient power to crack down any coup against him.

    Maduro said it was important to increase public awareness as “the oligarchy’s plan is to disturb the peace so they can justify foreign intervention in Venezuela.” “I’m not an extremist for saying this, but they’re extremists for wanting to carry this out,” he added.  Maduro reiterated his complaint against Uribe, which he had announced on Friday, about the Colombian politician’s alleged plans to promote a “conspiracy against Venezuela.” Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said on May 12 that Venezuela’s opposition may need protection from outside armed forces. On Saturday, Maduro pledged legal action against Uribe, without giving details/ He called on Venezuelan authorities to initiate legal action against Uribe, calling him a “paramilitary killer.”

May 16, 2016

NATIONAL ASSEMBLY SLAMS 'DESPERATE' NICOLAS MADURO STATE OF EMERGENCY

  
       Caracas, venezueLa-
Venezuela's opposition on Saturday slammed a state of emergency decreed by President Nicolas Maduro and vowed to press home efforts to remove the leftist leader this year amid a grim economic crisis. Maduro on Friday night declared a 60-day state of emergency due to what he called plots from Venezuela and the United States to subvert him. He did not provide specifics. The measure shows Maduro is panicking as a push for a recall referendum against him gains traction with tired, frustrated Venezuelans, opposition leaders said during a protest in Caracas.

      "We're talking about a desperate president who is putting himself on the margin of legality and constitutionality," said Democratic Unity coalition leader Jesus Torrealba, adding Maduro was losing support within his own bloc. "If this state of emergency is issued without consulting the National Assembly, we would technically be talking about a self-coup," he told hundreds of supporters who waved Venezuelan flags and chanted "he's going to fall." The opposition won control of the National Assembly in a December election, propelled by voter anger over product shortages, raging inflation that has annihilated salaries, and rampant violent crime, but the legislature has been routinely undercut by the Supreme Court.

     Protests are on the rise and a key poll shows nearly 70 percent of Venezuelans now say Maduro must go this year. Maduro has vowed to see his term through, however, blasting opposition politicians as coup-mongering elitists seeking to emulate the impeachment of fellow leftist Dilma Rousseff in Brazil. Saying trouble-makers were fomenting violence to justify a foreign invasion, Maduro on Saturday ordered military exercises for next weekend. "We're going to tell imperialism and the international right that the people are present, with their farm instruments in one hand and a gun in the other... to defend this sacred land," he boomed at a rally. He added the government would take over idled factories, without providing details.

ALVARO URIBE CALLS FOR ARMED INTERVENTION IN VENEZUELA
      

      MIAMI, FLORIDA---
  Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said on Friday that any foreign country should conduct a military intervention in Venezuela to overthrow the government of President Nicolas Maduro. "The army ... the armed forces have to protect the opposition ... or let's think ... just think ... which country is willing to put their armed forces to protect the (Venezuelan) opposition? Be careful ... tyranny does not listen ... They (Venezuelan government) have to be confronted with all of our energy," Uribe said when he was leaving the Concordia Summit at Miami Dade College, in Florida.

     Meanwhile a dozen of former presidents gathered in Miami and signed a statement denouncing what they called an "economic, social and governance deterioration” in Venezuela. Among the signatories are Uribe and Andres Pastrana from Colombia; Jose Maria Aznar from Spain; Jorge Quiroga from Bolivia; Fernando de la Rua from Argentina and Vicente Fox from Mexico. The former leaders argue that the government of president Maduro is maintaining "a discourse of institutional conflict" and "developing actions of political persecution against members of the National Assembly and opposition leaders."

     Yesterday, while addressing a press conference, ex-president Alvaro Uribe of Colombia said that he “lacked time” as his presidential term came to an end to fulfil his desire of a military intervention into Venezuela. Uribe was president of Colombia from 7 August 2002 to 7 August 2010, and he claimed he uncovered Colombian FARC (Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia) camps in Venezuela in July 2010. “We had new proof of [Colombian] guerrilla camps in Venezuela. We had three options; denounce them, stay quiet... and the other option was a military operation in Venezuela, I lacked the time,” he said.

NICOLAS MADURO THREATENS TO SEIZE POLAR VENEZUELA PLANTS, JAIL OWNERS
      

     CARACAS, VENEZUELA---
President Nicolas Maduro threatened Saturday to take over idle factories and jail their owners following a decree granting him expanded powers to act in the face of a deep economic crisis. Maduro's remarks came as Venezuela's opposition warned the embattled leader that if he tries to block an attempt to hold a recall referendum, society could "explode." Speaking to supporters in the capital, Caracas, the president ordered "all actions to recover the production apparatus, which is being paralyzed by the bourgeoisie."

    He also said that businesspeople who "sabotage the country" by halting production at their plants risk being "put in handcuffs." Last month the country's largest food and beverage distributor, Empresas Polar, shut down its last operating beer plant. It says it has been unable to access hard currency to buy raw materials. Maduro accuses Polar and others of trying to destabilize the financially stricken country by exacerbating shortages of goods from foodstuffs to medicines to toilet paper.

     Meanwhile dueling anti- and pro-government crowds demonstrated in Caracas on Saturday for and against a bid to recall the president. Maduro opponents demanded that the National Electoral Council rule on the validity of some 1.8 million signatures collected in favor of the referendum and allow it to move forward."If you obstruct the democratic way, we do not know what could happen in this country," opposition leader Henrique Capriles said at one rally. "Venezuela is a bomb that could explode at any moment."
 

May 15, 2016

VENEZUELA'S MADURO: DILMA ROUSSEFF IMPEACHMENT TRIAL 'MADE IN USA'

  
       Caracas, venezueLa-
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro condemned Thursday impeachment proceedings against Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff, describing them as an attack on Latin America's left. “Today, the first phase of a coup to end the era of popular leaders has begun,” Maduro said during a televised speech. Just hours earlier, Rousseff was suspended from office, after Brazilian legislators voted to put her on trial for budgetary discrepancies.

     Rousseff has denied any wrongdoing, and described her removal as a “farce” and “coup”. “The most brutal of things that can happen to a human being is to be condemned for a crime you didn’t commit,” she told reporters in Brazil. Pointing the finger at “Powerful oligarchic, media and imperialist forces,” Maduro claimed Rousseff's suspension was “Made in the USA”. “The coup in Brazil is a grave and dangerous sign for the future stability and peace of all the continent. I know they're coming for Venezuela now,” he said. Venezuelan opposition leaders have vowed to remove Maduro from office by the end of the year, possibly through a recall referendum.

     Maduro's government has already lost one close ally in recent months, after Argentina elected right-wing businessman Mauricio Macri in presidential elections late last year. In Brazil, Rousseff's Workers Party has long held close ties with Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez. Rousseff has now been replaced by an interim president, her former political ally-turned rival Michel Temer. On Friday, Temer called for national unity, after appointing an all male, all white, pro-business cabinet. Since Rousseff's removal, Temer has already dissolved the country's human rights ministry, along with ministries for women and racial equality.

MUD SECRETARY: DIOSDADO CABELLO'S ANNOUNCEMENT  IS  BLACKMAIL
      

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA---
  The secretary of Venezuelan opposition coalition Unified Democratic Panel, Jesús “Chúo” Torrealba, lambasted pro-government Deputy Diosdado Cabello for his threats on businesspersons who signed to activate a recall referendum against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro “The point is that in Venezuela, the government is unable to ensure citizens access to food,” he said. In the opinion of the secretary of Venezuelan opposition coalition Unified Democratic Panel, Jesús “Chúo” Torrealba, the remarks made by pro-government Deputy Diosdado Cabello are “an extortion mechanism.”

     Earlier, the parliamentarian had opined that the businesspersons who took part in a recent collection of signatures to activate a recall referendum against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro should not receive State benefits. “It is blackmail. The point is that the Venezuelan State is one thing, and the government is another thing. You may supply services to the State as an entrepreneur, as a contractor, and not being in agreement with the government policies or with he who leads the government (…) This occurs in any democratic country,” Torrealba affirmed during an interview with CNN en Español.

     To the mind of the opposition leader, “democracy in Venezuela has been seized by a very corrupt, inefficient little bunch.” “The matter at issue is that in Venezuela, the government is incapable of ensuring citizens' access to food, medicines, drinking water, electric power and, the most fundamental right, which is the right to life,” the dissenting leader concluded. Torrealba also referred to the political trial against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, provisionally suspended. “The bottom line is that 17 million are unemployed in Brazil; the bottom line is that Brazil is like a boiler from the social point of view. Same applies to Venezuela,” he underscored.
 

EX-ARGENTINE PRESIDENT CRISTINA FERNANDEZ INDICTED IN CENTRAL BANK CASE
      

     BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA---
Former Argentine President Cristina Fernandez was indicted on Friday over accusations that she oversaw irregularities in the central bank's sale of U.S. dollars in the futures market while she was in office. Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio charged Fernandez, her former economy minister Axel Kicillof and former central bank chief Alejandro Vanoli with "unfaithful administration to the detriment of public administration," according to court papers. The ruling, which gives a green light for prosecutors to put Fernandez on trial, may be appealed. There was no arrest warrant.

     The accusation is that the central bank took billions of dollars worth of money-losing positions in the futures market ahead of a widely expected devaluation of the Argentine peso. Fernandez, who heads a large faction of the Peronist party, stepped down in December at the end of her second term. Her successor, Mauricio Macri, won the presidency on a platform of ditching currency controls that he said were strangling the economy. Since lifting the controls in mid-December the peso has weakened by about 30 percent to 14.1575 per U.S. dollar. Fernandez last month accused the Macri government of political persecution after testifying in court about the central bank's dollar-buying operations.

     The transactions referred to in the case involved $5 billion to $17 billion, according to court papers published by Argentina's Judicial Information Center (CIJ). "It's impossible to believe that a financial operation of this size ... could have been carried out without the approval of the highest executive level of the national government," the ruling said. "The indictment was not unexpected, but politically, it creates noise," said Ignacio Labaqui, who analyses Argentina for emerging markets consultancy Medley Global Advisors. "Peronism is going through a leadership crisis and this could make the divisions within the party more acute." The indictment of Fernandez came a day after the president of neighboring Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, was suspended from office by the Senate while she is tried on charges of breaking budget rules.

May 14, 2016

GOVERNMENT INTIMIDATION THREATENS VENEZUELA'S RECAL REFERENDUM


  
       Caracas, venezueLa-
Asking for political change in Venezuela may well cost you your job. Public employees who decided to affix their signatures in late April to trigger a recall referendum against President Nicolás Maduro are now under threat. The ruling party’s number two, Congressman Diosdado Cabello, believes that officials who have signed up to request the president’s ouster do not deserve a position inside public institutions, which is why he vowed on May 5 to review every single signature to target the traitorous.

     Cabello said that if the name of any state agency’s director shows up, he will have to fire him. However, he promised that he wouldn’t take action against low-ranking, “non-hierarchical” workers or employees. “They can call me whatever they want, but if anyone has infiltrated the administration and is unmasked, they will have to leave. They will have to take responsibility just as we do,” Cabello told local media. Cabello suggested that the ruling party would check the signatures “one by one,” even though the National Electoral Council (CNE), a supposedly independent government body, is in charge of validating the authenticity of the documents.

     On April 29, President Maduro appointed a “special team” to review the forms that the opposition presented to the CNE. The team is headed by Jorge Rodríguez, one of the leaders of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and mayor of the Libertador municipality. After the announcement, Rodríguez went to the CNE to request to be part of the team that verifies the recall referendum’s signatures. The institution’s president, Tibisay Lucena, welcomed him with open arms. Rodriguez argued that while voting is secret, requesting a recall referendum is not, and that officials need to make sure that signatures are real. He warned that any signature of army officers will be ruled invalid, because they are supposedly “forbidden to express their will” regarding the recall referendum.  The opposition believes that these moves and threatening statements by public officials seek to sow fear in the population so that they don’t sign up in the next process of signature collection.

VENEZUELA OPPOSITION PROTEST FORCES NICOLAS MADURO RECALL FORWARD AN INCH
      

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA---
  Venezuela's CNE electoral authority said Thursday the process to verify 2 million signatures asking for a recall vote against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro will end on June 2nd. The announcement was made by CNE rector Socorro Hernández, hours after a meeting of CNE authorities with technical teams from both the opposition and the Maduro government. “We have it very clearly, that the peace of the country rests on our shoulders,” Hernandez said on announcing the schedule. In short, the recall effort keeps moving forward, slowly, even if that means the government will take more than a month (the signatures were handed over on April 26th) to perform an act that by law should be done in five calendar days but is still a major blow to Maduro.

     The opposition protested the delay but some noted the announcement came the day after violent anti-Maduro protests in 20 Venezuelan states. “Rector Hernandez according to the CNE norm published in the Gazette the review of the signatures should have ended May 7th,” tweeted Sumate, an electoral watchdog affiliated with the opposition. And while Maduro’s representatives didn’t have trouble with the verification being pushed into late May, they did accuse the opposition of delivering “falsified” signatures and even “photocopied” fingerprints. Both the signatures and the fingerprints will have to be verified at a later stage, in person, by the CNE. The opposition collected and delivered to the CNE 1.85 million signatures asking for a recall against the President almost two weeks ago.

     By Venezuelan law, the CNE had five calendar days to pronounce itself on whether the recall can proceed to the next stage, which is a process in which those that signed, come to verify there signatures and fingerprints in person. But the CNE has not so far, an “administrative silence” that, for the opposition, tantamount to feet-dragging. The meeting came the day after a protest seeking to accelerate the recall was repressed by National Guard and Police -- with more vigor in the capital of Caracas than in other parts of Venezuela -- revealing just how much the opposition has grown in influence in the Venezuelan hinterlands since the December 6th legislative landslide victory. The opposition now only needs CNE to say 200,000 of the signatures delivered (equivalent to 1% of registered voters in each state and less 10% of the total delivered by opposition) are valid for the recall to proceed to its next stage: the collection of some 4 million signatures, or 20% of registered voters, which must be gathered in a period of three working days.

U.S. TRIAL OF VENEZUELAN FIRST LADY'S NEPHEWS COULD STAR IN NOVEMBER
      

     NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK -
U.S. federal prosecutors proposed on Thursday a Nov. 7 start date for the trial of two nephews of Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores on charges they conspired to bring cocaine into the United States.

     Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, 29, and Francisco Flores de Freitas, 30, appeared before U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty for a hearing on a prosecution motion suggesting the existence of a conflict of interest because the defendants’ respective counsel are being paid by the same individual. With the assistance of an interpreter, Crotty questioned the defendants for than 30 minutes. Both men assured the judge they understood the possibility of a conflict of interest and each declined the opportunity to consult other counsel.

     Campo Flores and Flores de Freitas entered the courtroom dressed in the dark gray uniform of the federal prison where they have been held without bail since Nov. 12, two days after they were arrested in Haiti and brought to New York by agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Campo Flores, 29, was raised by Cilia Flores, a lawyer and veteran political activist who plays a major role in the administration of her husband, President Nicolas Maduro. If convicted, Campo Flores and Flores de Freitas could be sentenced to life in prison.

May 13, 2016

DILMA ROUSSEFF SUSPENDED FROM OFFICE AS SENATE VOTES TO IMPEACH HER


  
       BRASILIA, BRAZIL-
Less than halfway through her elected mandate, Dilma Rousseff was stripped of her presidential duties for up to six months on Thursday after the Senate voted to begin an impeachment trial. After a marathon 20-hour debate that one politician described as the “saddest day for Brazil’s young democracy”, senators voted 55 to 22 to suspend the Workers’ party leader, putting economic problems, political paralysis and alleged fiscal irregularities ahead of the 54 million votes that put her in office. Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president, will have to step aside while she is tried in the upper house for allegedly manipulating government accounts ahead of the previous election. Her judges will be senators, many of whom are accused of more serious crimes.

     A final decision, which is likely in September or October, will require a two-thirds majority. Ominously for the president, this margin was exceeded in Thursday’s vote. The impeachment is more political than legal. Similar fiscal irregularities went unpunished in previous administrations, but they are a pretext to remove a leader who has struggled to assert her authority. After Rousseff came to power in 2010, she initially enjoyed some of the highest ratings of any leader in the world. But her popularity has slumped along with the economy, now in its deepest recession for decades.

     Adding to her woes have been a fractious parliament and a massive corruption scandal at the state-run oil firm, Petrobras, that has implicated politicians across the spectrum, including many close aides and the former president Luiz Ináçio Lula da Silva. With the Olympic spotlight now about to shine on Brazil – and the Zika virushealth crisis far from over - the country is fraught with problems. Many blame the Workers’ party, which has been in power for 13 years. Rousseff’s approval ratings are now around 10%; close to 60% of voters support impeachment. But many are uncomfortable about how she is being pushed aside. Even many opponents acknowledge the president is one of the least corrupt politicians inBrazil.

VENEZUELA TENSE AS ARMY SOLDIERS BLOCK PEACEFUL OPPOSITION MARCH
      

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA---
 Riot cops fired tear gas to head off a protest march Wednesday by opponents of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, who were demanding a referendum on removing him from office. Political leaders and analysts warned tensions could erupt into unrest as the center-right opposition staged rallies across the crisis-hit South American country. Protesters were demanding electoral authorities quickly approve their call for a vote on dumping the socialist leader. Security forces blocked the street to keep demonstrators away from the headquarters of the National Electoral Board (CNE) in Caracas. A small number of tear gas canisters were fired.

     The opposition coalition MUD said in a statement that one of its top leaders, Henrique Capriles, was affected by the tear gas as he led the march. "I am fine. We Venezuelans want a recall referendum and change," Capriles wrote later on Twitter. "Maduro will not defeat the people!" The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) blames Maduro for an economic crisis in which Venezuelans are having to queue for hours for rations of basic food and other goods. Maduro has also imposed daily electricity blackouts and has public employees working just two days a week due to power shortages. "This country is on the verge of a social mega-disaster. For violence to be avoided, there has to be a referendum on ending" Maduro's term, said MUD leader Jesus Torrealba.

     Security forces reportedly blocked streets to head off similar demonstrations Wednesday in other towns such as Zulia in the northeast. Separately, looting reportedly broke out at a food store in the city of Maracay, state ombudsman Tarek William Saab told reporters. With robberies and violence reportedly surging, the military also said Tuesday that nine people had been killed in a crackdown by security forces around Caracas. Some 3,000 troops and police have been deployed there to go after gangs, the government said. Maduro also said he was extending the special emergency powers he has to rule by decree on economic policy for the rest of 2016, to "get past the economic emergency."
 

U.S. ACTIVATES ROMANIAN MISSILE DEFENSE SITE, ANGERING RUSSIA
      

     THE PENTAGON  --
The United States switched on an $800 million missile shield in Romania on Thursday that it sees as vital to defend itself and Europe from so-called rogue states but the Kremlin says is aimed at blunting its own nuclear arsenal. To the music of military bands at the remote Deveselu air base, senior U.S. and NATO officials declared operational the ballistic missile defense site, which is capable of shooting down rockets from countries such as Iran that Washington says could one day reach major European cities. "As long as Iran continues to develop and deploy ballistic missiles, the United States will work with its allies to defend NATO," said U.S. Deputy Defence Secretary Robert Work, standing in front of the shield's massive gray concrete housing that was adorned with a U.S. flag.

    Despite Washington's plans to continue to develop the capabilities of its system, Work said the shield would not be used against any future Russian missile threat. "There are no plans at all to do that," he told a news conference. Before the ceremony, Frank Rose, deputy U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control, warned that Iran's ballistic missiles can hit parts of Europe, including Romania. When complete, the defensive umbrella will stretch from Greenland to the Azores. On Friday, the United States will break ground on a final site in Poland due to be ready by late 2018, completing the defense line first proposed almost a decade ago.

      The full shield also includes ships and radars across Europe. It will be handed over to NATO in July, with command and control run from a U.S. air base in Germany. Russia is incensed at such of show of force by its Cold War rival in formerly communist-ruled eastern Europe. Moscow says the U.S.-led alliance is trying to encircle it close to the strategically important Black Sea, home to a Russian naval fleet and where NATO is also considering increasing patrols. "It is part of the military and political containment of Russia," Andrey Kelin, a senior Russian Foreign Ministry official, said on Thursday, the Interfax news agency reported. "These decisions by NATO can only exacerbate an already difficult situation," he added, saying the move would hinder efforts to repair ties between Russia and the alliance.

May 12, 2016

VENEZUELA TENSE AS ARMY SOLDIERS BLOCK OPPOSITION MARCH TO THE CNE


  
       CARACAS, VENEZUELA-
  Riot cops fired tear gas to head off a protest march Wednesday by opponents of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro who were demanding a referendum TO REVOKE HIM. The opposition coalition MUD said in a statement that one of its top leaders, Henrique Capriles, was affected by the tear gas as he led the march. "I am alright. President of the National Assembly (AN) Henry Ramos Allup denounced that National Guard troops fired pellets at the march and sprayed gas onto the eyes of Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles Radonski blinding him temporarily.

     Ramos Allup’s remarks were disclosed in a video posted on Twitter by the parliament communications head Oliver Blanco. The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) blames Maduro for an economic crisis in which Venezuelans are having to queue for hours for rations of basic food and other goods. Maduro has also imposed daily electricity blackouts and has public employees working just two days a week due to power shortages. Security forces reportedly blocked streets to head off similar demonstrations Wednesday in other towns such as Zulia in the northeast.

Separately, looting reportedly broke out at a food store in the city of Maracay, state ombudsman Tarek William Saab told reporters. With robberies and violence reportedly surging, the military also said Tuesday that nine people had been killed in a crackdown by security forces around Caracas. Some 3,000 troops and police have been deployed there to go after gangs, the government said. Thousands of supporters of Maduro also rallied separately on Wednesday in the center of the capital. The Democratic Unity Roundtable a week ago handed in 1.8 million signatures petitioning for a referendum. Under electoral rules, the CNE was supposed to count those signatures by last Monday and then authenticate them within five days before authorizing the opposition to seek a further four million signatures to call a referendum.

VENEZUELA'S FOOD SHORTAGES TRIGGER LONG LINES, HUNGER AND LOOTING 
      

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA---
 Violent clashes flare in pockets of the country as citizens wait for hours for basics, such as milk and rice Hours after they looted and set fire to a National Guard command post in this sun-baked corner of Venezuela earlier this month, a mob infuriated by worsening food shortages rammed trucks into the smoldering edifice, reducing it mostly to rubble. The incident was just one of numerous violent clashes that have flared in pockets around the country in recent weeks as Venezuelans wait for hours in long supermarket lines for basics like milk and rice.

     The soldiers had been deployed to stem rampant food smuggling and price speculation, which President Nicolás Maduro blames for triple-digit inflation and scarcity. But after they seize contraband goods, the troops themselves often become targets of increasingly desperate people. “What’s certain is that we are going very hungry here and the children are suffering a lot,” said María Palma, a 55-year-old grandmother who on a recent blistering hot day had been standing in line at the grocery store since 3 a.m. before walking away empty-handed at midday. In a national survey, the pollster Consultores 21 found 30% of Venezuelans eating two or fewer meals a day during the second quarter of this year, up from 20% in the first quarter. Around 70% of people in the study also said they had stopped buying some basic food item because it had become unavailable or too expensive. ‘If people aren’t outside protesting, they’re outside standing in line for goods.’

      Marco Ponce, head of the Venezuela Observatory of Social Conflict. “It’s a national crisis,” said Marco Ponce, head of the Venezuela Observatory of Social Conflict, noting that unlike the political protests of last year, residents are now taking to the streets demanding social rights. The nonprofit group recorded 500 protests over food shortages during the first half of 2015, 56 looting incidents and dozens of attempted lootings at grocery stores, pharmacies and warehouses. Even delivery trucks are frequently targeted. “If people aren’t outside protesting, they’re outside standing in line for goods,” Ponce said.

VENEZUELANS SEARCHING GARBAGE FOR FOOD TO FIGHT HUNGER
      

     CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
The economic crisis in Venezuela has reached a new low point: food has become so scarce that many Venezuelans are now pawing through dumpsters and garbage bins in search of something to eat. Meanwhile, Nicolás Maduro and his lackeys deny that there is a food crisis.  Empty shelves are now the norm in supermarkets and small stores alike throughout the so-called Bolivarian republic. The Univision television network has broadcast video footage of Venezuelans searching desperately for food in trash containers. See video below. One Venezuelan interviewed said “Very soon there won’t be any cats or dogs left alive.”

     The soldiers had been deployed to stem rampant food smuggling and price speculation, which President Nicolás Maduro blames for triple-digit inflation and scarcity. But after they seize contraband goods, the troops themselves often become targets of increasingly desperate people. “What’s certain is that we are going very hungry here and the children are suffering a lot,” said María Palma, a 55-year-old grandmother who on a recent blistering hot day had been standing in line at the grocery store since 3 a.m. before walking away empty-handed at midday.

     In a national survey, the pollster Consultores 21 found 30% of Venezuelans eating two or fewer meals a day during the second quarter of this year, up from 20% in the first quarter. Around 70% of people in the study also said they had stopped buying some basic food item because it had become unavailable or too expensive. ‘If people aren’t outside protesting, they’re outside standing in line for goods.’ “It’s a national crisis,” said Marco Ponce, head of the Venezuela Observatory of Social Conflict, noting that unlike the political protests of last year, residents are now taking to the streets demanding social rights.

May 11, 2016

BRAZILIAN SPEAKER, IN ABOUT-FACE, WON'T ANNUL DILMA ROUSSEFF IMPEACHMENT


  
       BRASILIA, BRAZIL-
  In a stunning twist in the effort to impeach President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, the new speaker of the lower house of Congress has changed his mind — less than 24 hours after announcing that he would try to annul his chamber’s decision to impeach her. Brazilians awoke on Tuesday to the news of the sudden about-face by the speaker, Waldir Maranhão, who on Monday was widely ridiculed and threatened with expulsion from his Progressive Party for trying to upend the impeachment process.

     Maranhão said on Monday that he would to try to annul the April 17impeachment vote against the president, citing concerns about procedural irregularities. But in a decision made around midnight here, and widely circulated in the early morning on Tuesday, Mr. Maranhão told Renan Calheiros, the head of the Senate, that he was revoking his earlier decision. The head-spinning change of course was only the latest development in a political crisis that has mesmerized and bewildered Latin America’s most populous nation. The practical significance of the decision is that it improves the chances Ms. Rousseff will be ousted this week.

     The Senate, which was already threatening to disregard Mr. Maranhão’s pronouncements, is scheduled on Wednesday to start voting on whether to remove Ms. Rousseff from office and place her on trial over claims of budgetary manipulation. Ms. Rousseff is widely expected to lose that vote, clearing the way for her to be replaced by Vice President Michel Temer. The circuslike atmosphere in Brazil’s Congress — which has recently been marked by shouting matches, protests inside the chamber and lawmakers spitting on one another — has provoked ire across the country. “Do you know what the world is now thinking of us Brazilians?” Joaquim Barbosa, a former chief justice of Brazil, asked on Twitter after Mr. Maranhão announced his annulment of the impeachment vote. “Many must be seeing us as a laughingstock.”

BRAZIL SENATE IGNORES HOUSE SPEAKER'S BID TO STOP DILMA ROUSSEFF IMPEACHMENT 
      

      BRASILIA, BRAZIL---
 The leader of the Brazilian Senate said on Monday that the chamber will move forward with consideration of putting President Dilma Rousseff on trial despite a ruling by the interim speaker of the lower house that the vote to impeach her was flawed. Waldir Maranhao’s decision to suspend the impeachment “has no place in a democratic process” and “cannot be accepted,” Senate chief Renan Calheiros said at the start of Monday’s session. Maranhao became interim speaker of the lower house last week after the Supreme Court ordered the removal of incumbent Eduardo Cunha, under indictment after he was found to have millions of dollars in secret Swiss bank accounts.

     Cunha, a political foe of Rousseff, played the key role in facilitating her impeachment. Acting on a motion from the office of the solicitor general, which represents Rousseff in the matter, Maranhao said Monday that the proceedings of April 17, when the house voted 367-137 to impeach the president, were illegitimate. Among Maranhao’s objections was that the political parties sought to impose a position on their members, rather than allowing each lawmaker to vote his or her conscience. Impeachment advocates have already asked the Supreme Court to overturn Maranhao’s pronouncement. Meanwhile, Calheiros’ stand means the Senate will listen to the report from the opposition-dominated committee that voted last week in favor of putting Rousseff on trial for allegedly manipulating budget figures to conceal the size of the deficit.

     The tentative schedule calls for the 81 senators to reconvene on Wednesday for what is expected to be a marathon debate before voting on whether to try Rousseff. Only a simple majority is needed to force a trial, in which case Rousseff would have to step down for 180 days and Vice President Michel Temer – an ally turned enemy – would become acting president. Rousseff was re-elected in October 2014 to a four-year term ending Jan. 1, 2019, which Temer would complete should the Senate vote by a two-thirds majority to remove Brazil’s first woman president. Temer, however, is under investigation for corruption, and the next two officials in the line of succession, Cunha and Calheiros, already face charges.

MEXICAN JUDGE APPROVES U.S. EXTRADITION OF DRUG BOSS 'EL CHAPO' GUZMAN
      

     CARACAS, VENEZUELA ---
A Mexican judge has ruled that drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman can be extradited to face charges in the United States, the country's federal court authority said on Monday, days after he was moved to a prison near the U.S. border. On Saturday, Guzman was transferred to a prison in Ciudad Juarez on Mexico's northern border and a senior Mexican security official said the kingpin's extradition was in motion and would happen by mid-year. Guzman, boss of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, was for years the world's most wanted drug trafficker until his capture by Mexican Marines in February 2014. He then embarrassed the government by escaping from prison through a tunnel last July.

    The government recaptured him in January and President Enrique Pena Nieto said soon afterwards he had taken steps to ensure Guzman was extradited as soon as possible. He faces charges ranging from money laundering to drug trafficking, kidnapping and murder in cities that include Chicago, Miami and New York. Juan Pablo Badillo, one of Guzman's lawyers, said his client's legal situation was still being processed and that to extradite him now would be a violation of his human rights. Badillo listed nine appeals pending against Guzman's extradition. However, government officials have said in private the decision to extradite the drug lord is essentially a political call dependent on the president.

     A government source said on Monday nothing was likely to happen to Guzman for weeks. Mexico's foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday that it had received notification of the judge's decision, adding that once it received the case file, it would have 20 business days to analyze and decide on the matter. The judge's identity was not disclosed. In a radio interview, Eduardo Guerrero, head of Mexico's federal prisons service, denied Guzman's transfer was a preamble to extradition, noting that prisoners awaiting extradition go to the Hermosillo jail in northwest Mexico. It was not clear why he was taken to Ciudad Juarez, the lowest rated federal prison in a 2015 National Human Rights Commission report on factors including illicit activities and violent incidents.

May 10, 2016

VOTE TO IMPEACH PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF IN BRAZIL IS ANNULLED


  
       BRASILIA, BRAZIL-
The new speaker of Brazil’s lower house of Congress on Monday annulled the vote to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, throwing the power struggle in Latin America’s largest country into confusion. The move came just two days before the Senate is expected to decide on whether to remove Ms. Rousseff from office and put her on trial. Rousseff is facing accusations that she borrowed money from state banks to plug budget holes, masking the depths of Brazil’s economic troubles in order to bolster her re-election prospects.

     Until the surprise decision on Monday, few expected her to survive the vote in the Senate this week on her suspension. Now politicians are scrambling to determine how the decision might affect the president’s fate, with her opponents rushing to challenge the ruling before the Supreme Court. “Dilma’s government was on its death bed, so anything like this that creates a mess could be positive for her,” said Thiago de Aragão, a political risk consultant in the capital, Brasília. Still, Mr. de Aragão cautioned that legal scholars and opposition figures were already mounting a formidable challenge to Monday’s decision.

     “Nothing is settled right now,” said Mr. da Aragão. “The Supreme Court or the Chamber of Deputies itself will likely say this is invalid. But that doesn’t mean that chaos isn’t the word of the day.” On April 17, lawmakers in the lower house of Congress chose overwhelmingly — with 367 lawmakers voting for impeachment, 137 voting against and seven abstaining — to send Ms. Rousseff’s case to the Senate, which will decide if she should be suspended and go on trial. But doubt was cast on that process on Monday by Waldir Maranhão, a previously obscure lawmaker who took the helm of the Chamber of Deputies last week after the Supreme Court ordered his predecessor to step down to face a graft trial.

HENRY FALCON, GOVERNOR OF LARA STATE, BELIEVES "THE VENEZUELAN GOVERNMENT HAS LOST THE STREET" 
      

      Caracas, venezuela---
 Ask whether the Venezuelan crisis could break out inside Chavismo, the Governor of lara state, henry falcon, replies: I can imagine that the same street situation, which is expressed in a thousand ways, such as lack of medicines and hungry people because they cannot make ends meet on their salary, is mirrored in the government mess. Therefore, I can imagine how those factions inside the government are doing. Today, most Venezuelan want a governing government. To that end, though, there must be inside control. In there, improvisation, sectarianism, arrogance, and hind-handedness prevail. In critical conditions, all of them are ill advisers.

     President Nicolás Maduro claims that the initiative of the referendum will not thrive… People are not taking umbrage. That was yesterday; both opponents and Chavismo, both leftists and rightists, are suffering; it is a question of incompetence. People want solutions instead of confrontation. Everybody is starving. We have advanced a political agenda within the framework of the Constitution, and we are working on a social, street agenda, providing solutions to people’s problems. People entered a stage of despair, hopelessness, and a referendum helps renew hope.

     He was also asked whether the recall referendum the middle way? His answer was: It is a relief valve to mitigate social pressure and to realize that such pressure could turn into a struggle among us; into a chaotic situation nobody will be able to contain. Another question. Do you think that the State lacks capacity to suffocate protests? It did make it in Zulia state (west Venezuela) recently, with the help of 3,500 troops of the National Guard. Thank God. I wish it does not need to deploy 3,500 in each state. If the government continues divorced from the people’s reality, it will face troubles. Streets are the government’s foe; 90% of the country feels that the government failed. Hence, we have come up with a proposal for a national unity government.

NICOLAS MADURO CALLS OAS SECRETARY GENERAL "MR. TRASH" FOR CONDEMNING OPOSITION LEADER DEATH
      

     CARACAS, VENEZUELA ---
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has described OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro as “Mr. Trash” for condemning the controversial death of an opponent earlier this week. The name calling follows Almagro’s publically expressed concern about the murder of Venezuelan opposition member Luis Manuel Diaz . Almagro asserted that “there should be no more death, there should be no further threat. It is time to end the fear”. However, Maduro claims that the assassination was the result of settling scores between rival gangs, not rival political party supporters. Diaz’s death occurred at the end of a campaign rally hosted by candidates of the opposition alliance Democratic Action (Accion Democrsatica; AD).

    The event included Lilian Tintori, wife of jailed right-wing leader Leopoldo Lopez. Tintori is currently claiming that she was intended to be “assasignated” as well. For his part, the OAS head and former Uruguayan Foreign Minister has continued to issue statements condemning such political violence in Venezuela. “The violent death of any person is an execrable fact that our consciousness cannot admit,” he expressed, “The murder of a political activist also leaves us all more vulnerable – it shows that we are all not only current, but also potentially future victims”. Almagro added that the murder of a political leader is “mortally wound” to overall democratic institutions, criticizing the same country which for one of the first times has denied foreign observations of upcoming local elections.

     “What happened is not an isolated episode, but occurs in conjunction with other attacks carried out against other political leaders of the opposition in a strategy that seeks to intimidate the opposition,” said OAS Secretary General. “We ask the (Maduro) government to act now, to cease all violence, to not exercise of force, violence and fear. We (at the OAS) ask the most absolute guarantees for all “, said Almagro. Such assertations have rattled certain center left and leftist figures accross the continent, who once viewed Almagro to be partial to their cause over that of centerist and right-wing interests. However, since assuming office as OAS Secretary General, Almagro has repeatedly asserted that he attempts to represent and balance all sides.

May 9, 2016

NICOLAS MADURO CONDEMNS US, OAS OVER CALLS TO INVOKE DEMOCRATIC CHARTER


  
       CARACAS, VENEZUELA-
Nicolás Maduro has accused the head of the Organisation of American States of collaborating with the United States to undermine the government of President Nicolas Maduro. Maduro said Thursday talks at the OAS over whether to suspend Venezuela from the regional body were part of a campaign of “ongoing and relentless aggression by the United States against Venezuela”. “Venezuela is constantly being threatened by opposition forces working with centres of imperialism that support … the destabilisation of our countries,” he said.

     Maduro issued his remarks after an extraordinary session of the OAS. The session was called by the Venezuelan foreing Minister in response to separate talks between Venezuelan opposition and OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro. During a meeting last week, a delegation of Venezuelan legislators urged Almagro to call for the OAS Democratic Charter to be invoked against Maduro's government. Such a move would lead to a suspension of Venezuela from the regional body. While the US government has backed calls for the OAS to consider action against Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have expressed support for Caracas.

      Bolivia's OAS representative Diego Pary said Maduro is facing a new wave of international aggression, and his Nicaraguan counterpart Denis Moncada suggested the OAS was at risk of overstepping its role. “We see no moral standing for intervention in any states,” he said. The Maduro administration has long accused key figures within Venezuela's opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) of backing a coup. Earlier Thursday, Maduro's supporters in the National Assembly demanded prosecutors charge four MUD legislators with treason. The four legislators were all involved in petitioning Almagro last week to consider invoking the OAS charter against Venezuela.

MEXICAN DRUG LORD "EL CHAPO" GUZMAN TRANSFERRED TO JAIL NEAR US BORDER 
      

      MEXICO CITY, MEXICO---
 The Mexican authorities transferred the notorious drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to a prison in Ciudad Juarez on the US border Saturday morning in a surprise move, officials said. Despite speculation, Guzman's transfer had "absolutely nothing" to do with his possible extradition or deportation to the United States -- where he faces extradition requests by courts in California and Texas for homicide and drug trafficking -- Eduardo Sanchez, spokesman for the president's office, told AFP.

     The authorities said they moved Guzman to prevent any escape attempt during construction to strengthen his maximum-security prison in Altiplano, 90 kilometers (55 miles) from the capital Mexico City. Considered one of the world's most powerful drug bosses, Guzman has staged two dramatic escapes from maximum-security prisons, including from Altiplano. He arrived at the airport in Ciudad Juarez at dawn, heavily guarded by some 150 federal police officers who had arrived earlier in three planes. Mexico did not warn the US authorities before Guzman's transfer, a US government official told AFP.

     The move "surprised everyone," he said, adding that the transfer had nothing to do with the extradition process. Guzman's lawyer Jose Refugio Rodriguez said the move is "illegal" because his defense team has launched "processes to stop him being transferred from one place to another." A helicopter transferred Guzman from the airport to a prison in the south of Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas. Although not classified as a maximum-security prison, it has a section for highly dangerous prisoners that is "one of the safest," a National Security Commission source said. The authorities began the process of deporting him to the United States shortly after his capture in January. President Enrique Pena Nieto has said the extradition would take place "as soon as possible."

13 IRANIAN REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS KILLED IN SYRIA  
      

     TEHRAN, IRAN ---
Thirteen military advisers with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have been killed in Syria in recent days and 21 others wounded, Iranian media reported on Saturday. It was Iran's biggest loss of forces within such a short time, based on official figures. The names of those killed and when their remains will be repatriated will be announced later, the Guards said. All were from Iran's northern province of Mazandaran, Hossein Ali Rezayi, a Guards spokesman in the region, told the ISNA and Fars news agencies.

    The deaths and injuries occurred in Khan Tuman village some 10 kilometres (six miles) southwest of the battleground city of Aleppo, the official IRNA news agency reported a Guards statement as saying. Pro-regime troops had driven jihadists out of Khan Tuman in December, but on Friday a monitor reported more than 70 killed in fighting between regime forces and Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists and their allies south of Aleppo. Al-Nusra Front and allied Islamists seized Khan Tuman and surrounding villages after less than 24 hours of clashes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

     Around 30 pro-regime troops were killed in the battle, said the Britain-based Observatory which relies on a network of sources in Syria. Russia said late Friday that a temporary truce in Aleppo had been extended for 72 hours "in order to prevent the situation from worsening". More than 300 civilians were killed in two weeks of fighting in the divided city before the truce took hold on Thursday, in regime air strikes on its opposition-held east and rebel shelling of the regime-controlled west. Iran is Syria's main regional ally, sending financial and military aid, including military advisers and volunteer forces from Iran,

May 8, 2016

 VENEZUELAN FOREIGN MINISTER SLAMS PRESIDENT MACRI FOR PUSHING OAS INTERVENTION


  
       CARACAS, VENEZUELA-
Argentine President Mauricio Macri said in an OAS press conference that he was worried for Venezuela and urged President Nicolas Maduro to be open to dialogue, as he was questioned for his support to invoke the Inter-American Democratic Charter. "President Macri abuses and imprisons social leaders of historical proportions!" tweeted Rodriguez, adding, "More than 140,000 layoffs have been recorded by Argentine unions! Rate hikes in all services! Violation of freedom of expression."

     The extraordinary session of the permanent council of the OAS was held on Thursday at the request of the government of Venezuela, which took great exception to the meeting held between the regional body's officials and the Latin American country's opposition.

      Opposition leaders in Venezuela have been relentless in what the government deems a destabilization campaign. Opposition figures met with the secretary-general of the OAS to invoke the Democratic Charter, which would see Venezuela suspended from the regional body. Rodriguez classified the efforts to invoke the Democratic Charter as “grave” since Venezuela has successfully advanced social and political inclusion since former President Hugo Chavez first took office in 1999 before being succeeded in an election by President Nicolas Maduro after his death.

LUIS EMILIO RONDON PROPOSES THE CNE TO DECLARE ITSELF IN "PERMANENT SESSION" 
      

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA---
 The Rector of the National Electoral Council (CNE) Luis Emilio Rondon requests to the directory of the organism to declared itself in permanent session in order to address with urgency the preparation and approval of a schedule that provides certainty to the initial phase of the revocation process. Through a press release, Rondón expressed his concern over comments exerted by government officials who threaten to eliminate and punish the free exercise political rights of the Venezuelans people. "It is deplorable and should be rejected by the directors of the National Electoral Council."
 

     Rondon noted that he questions that we could be in the presence of delays to a procedure that is still in its initial stage and no timely response is offered to proponents. "The CNE must guarantee speed, efficiency and reliability in the processing of any request by citizens". "We cannot allow this kind of practice to be conducted and I reject it categorically", he said, at the time that he assures that he will be vigilant for implementation of the legal principle of speed with the rules mandated in the processing of the application filed on May 2 by a group of Venezuelan citizens.

     "A schedule of activities adjusted to the times established in the current regulations, would facilitate the development of the process and would ensure transparency, certainty and tranquility to the country as a whole," he explained. I find no reason whatsoever that this activity is not accomplished during the weekends taking into consideration the principle of speed that should govern the actions of the National Electoral Council", he explained. He finally said that the CNE announced at the time that the current standard is the one published in the electoral Gazette No. 405, therefore any alteration, modification or addition that is made in this process would be an arbitrary act.

MITZY CAPRILES: BLOCK INTERNATIONAL AID HAS NO FORGIVENESS  
      

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA---
Mitzy Capriles, wife of the Caracas metropolitan Mayor Ledezma, said on Saturday that "blocking humanitarian aid offered to us by health agencies, cannot be accepted, because the country has 95% of shortages in medicines and supplies of hospitals".

     "The revocation referendum is a decision of all Venezuelans, it is not or may not be only an opposition demonstration, but a strong signal from mourners of a country in crisis." Insecurity, shortage of food or medicine affects everyone, is a disaster that we suffering in our country". During his second day of visit by New Jersey State United (USA), Ledezma Capriles, participates in several meetings with academics, NGO representatives who defend human rights.

     "The recall Referendum is the way that Venezuelans are to bring about a change in the country as soon as possible." "It is a signature, it is not a bullet, neither a cannon nor a bomb, it is a signature to civically overturn and peacefully change a government that does not serve". Mitzy Ledezma said that "citizens are ready to sign, as it is, with the right or the left, and where it is, in the plains, the Andes, Central, East and West of the country. It is a decision of conscience, it is a moral commitment with Venezuela," she said. She also mentioned the "alarming landscape marked by the scarcity of essentials for the daily life", after giving specific details of how is the reality of a family in Venezuela. "

May 7, 2016

DAILY POWER CUTS RAISE THE TENSION IN EMBATTLED VENEZUELAN CITIES


  
       CARACAS, VENEZUELA-
The power cuts are threatening to make Venezuela’s economic crisis even worse. At a time when the International Monetary Fund is forecasting an inflation rate of 700% by the end of this year, the Federation of Associations and Chambers of Commerce and Production figures that the daily four-hour power cuts over the course of 40 days will cause incalculable losses to production. The Maduro administration is not only reducing electricity use; it has also shortened government workers’ week to just two days, Mondays and Tuesdays. The country has even shifted time zonesin an effort to save energy.

    The situation has triggered a reaction by the international community, including the Vatican, where Pope Francis sent a personal letter to Nicolás Maduro expressing his concern for Venezuela. Everyday life has already changed as a result of the nationwide daily power cuts ordered by President Nicolás Maduro to make up for the drought at the Guri water reservoir, which powers the nation’s main hydroelectricity dam. The announcement was made on April 21 and the cuts are expected to remain in place for 40 days.

    Caracas, Vargas and Nueva Esparta have been excluded from the four-hour daily power cuts. The government says this is because most of the country’s public powers and other major operation centers have their headquarters there. In M Besides slowing down production, the closure of businesses has altered the dynamics of Maracaibo. When there are unexpected power cuts, hotels no longer accept visitors and supermarkets kick out customers. Restaurants close their doors and bakeries light up candles. The internet no longer works, road traffic comes to a standstill and even schools and workplaces go on hold. And if the cut is due to a system malfunction, then nobody expects it to get fixed anytime soon.

IMPEACH BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF, COMMISSION SAYS  
      

       BRASILIA, BRAZIL. ---
 Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff finds herself one step closer to impeachment proceedings. Her presidency is rocked by a massive corruption scandal, accusations of cronyism and a deepening recession. Many in Brazil are angered by Rousseff's performance and want her booted from office. A special impeachment commission concurred Wednesday, recommending that the lower house of Brazil's congress go ahead with impeachment proceedings against Rousseff. Jovair Arantes, the spokesman for the special impeachment commission, described her actions as "grave violations" that "constitute a serious deviation from her official duties in detriment to the interests of the nation and an abuse of the trust placed in her. Such acts justify the initiation of the impeachment process."

    The political saga continues next Monday when the lower house will vote whether to impeach the president. A corruption investigation into a multimillion-dollar kickback scheme at the state-run oil company Petrobras has embroiled dozens of the country's leading businessmen and politicians. Rousseff was the chairwoman of Petrobras during many of the years that the alleged corruption took place. There are allegations that Rousseff tried to hide a budget shortfall ahead of elections in 2014. She appointed Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, her mentor and former president, as her chief of staff days after he was questioned by federal police in a corruption investigation. A judge blocked him from being sworn in; separate legal proceedings will decide the fate of the appointment. His appointment raised suspicion that Rousseff was attempting to shield him from prosecution, as senior political figures can only be tried in the Supreme Federal Court.

The next step is for Brazil's lower house, called the Chamber of Deputies, to vote Monday on whether to continue with impeachment proceedings against Rousseff. Rousseff would be tried in the Senate. During the trial, Rousseff would be required to step down from office for 180 days. The vice president, Michel Temer -- who could also face his own impeachment -- would take over the presidency. If there is no decision within 180 days, Rousseff would retake the presidency. A two-thirds majority is needed in the Senate to impeach the president. If that threshold is met, the president is required to step down and would be ineligible to hold public office for eight years. Rousseff has said the impeachment efforts are baseless. "Impeachment without proof of a crime is what? It is a coup," Rousseff said in late March. Many analysts believe Rousseff is unlikely to finish her second term -- either through impeachment or the calling of new elections.

SUPREME COURT JUSTICE SUSPENDS BRAZIL'S LOWER HOUSE SPEAKER EDUARDO CUNHA  
      

      BRASILIA, BRAZIL---
A Supreme Court justice on Thursday suspended the mandate of Eduardo Cunha, Brazil’s lower house speaker and a key driving force behind proceedings that could lead to an impeachment trial against President Dilma Rousseff. Justice Teori Zavascki based his ruling on the numerous allegations against Cunha stemming from a massive bribes-for-inflated contracts scandal centered on Brazilian state-controlled oil company Petrobras. A majority of Supreme Court justices in early March voted to accept corruption charges against Cunha, who is second line to the presidency and could be first in line if, as expected, the full Senate votes to put Rousseff on trial for allegedly breaking budget laws.

      The possibility that Cunha could assume the presidency on an interim basis during a trip abroad by Michel Temer, the current vice president and the person who would replace Rousseff for up to six months during an eventual impeachment trial, had prompted concern among the Supreme Court justices prior to Zavascki’s decision. The justice accepted a request from Brazil’s Attorney General’s Office, which had accused Cunha in December of using his mandate to intimidate lawmakers, defendants who had turned state’s evidence, witnesses and others to obstruct investigations against him for allegedly hiding some $5 million in bribes in secret bank accounts in Switzerland.

      Cunha, who can appeal the ruling, is one of numerous politicians, former state oil company officials and construction company executives accused of involvement in the Petrobras scandal. Investigators say a cartel of construction and engineering companies overcharged the oil giant for contracts, splitting the extra money with corrupt Petrobras executives, as well as with politicians who provided cover for the graft. The scandal forced Petrobras to write off some 6.2 billion reais (around $1.75 billion at the current exchange rate) in graft-related losses from the period between 2004 and 2014.

May 6, 2016

VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION SAYS 550,000 SIGNATURES HAVE BEEN ALREADY REVIEWED FOR MADURO'S RECALL


  
       CARACAS, VENEZUELA-
The Venezuelan Electoral National Council (CNE) HAS ALREADY revised 555,000 of the total signatures requested for the activation of the recall referendum of Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, said Thursday the opposition alliance democratic United table (MUD). "Yesterday we reviewed 24 boxes of the 80 that were designated there, meaning that we have already revised 555,000 (signatures)", the Coordinator of Electoral Affairs of the MUD, Vicente Bello, told the private radio station Union Radio. This figure is more than double those required by the electoral management body to initiate this process, established to request the activation of the recall referendum process CNE required the delivered of 195.721 signatures, which are equivalent to 1% of the more than 19 million Venezuelans.

       Speaking during an official function Tuesday night, President Nicolas Maduro repeated his view that a recall vote was “just an option, not an obligation.” The President did not, however, reiterated his request to supporters to enter “a state of permanent rebellion” should he be removed as he did over the weekend. CNE head Tibisay Lucena said during a press conference that the authority would verify the signatures “with the greatest tranquility”, a comment opposition leaders said meant foot-dragging. “Maybe it will take us until next Tuesday to count the forms alone,” she added.

     Pro-Maduro lawmaker Diosdado Cabello said during his weekly television show on state television Tuesday that civil servants who signed the recall petition “do not deserve their jobs”, a statement rejected by CNE authority Luis Emilio Rondon, who tweeted Wednesday morning: “Public employees must not accept intimidation on account of exercising their political rights. The constitution guarantees them.” When asked, during Wednesday’s press conference, about Cabello’s comments, Lucena merely said the chavista lawmaker “is entitled to his opinions.” CNE head rector Tibisay Lucena said the authority was taking the unprecedented step of counting forms containing the signature one by one, a process that could take up to three working days additional to the schedule.

CUBAN COMMUNIST SECURITY OFFICIALS TOURED U.S. SENSITIVE KEY WEST DRUG-WAR CENTER  
      

        KEY WEST, FLORIDA. ---
 A delegation of Cuban COMMUNIST government national security officials recently toured the Pentagon’s counter-drug center in Key West — a first, signaling a nascent effort in U.S.-Cuban security cooperation, the admiral in charge of the U.S. Southern Command disclosed Wednesday. Navy Adm. Kurt Tidd described the effort to crack down on illegal trafficking in the Caribbean as an “area of mutual interest” between the two nations that restored diplomatic relations July 20, 2015. The Castro government still has not approved the addition of a military attache to the U.S. Embassy in Havana, he said. So the senior interlocutor there is a Coast Guard liaison. That officer, Lt. Cmdr. Derek Cromwell, escorted the four-member Cuban security delegation on a familiarization tour of the so-called Joint Interagency Task Force South, or JIATF-South.

     They got a briefing on the work of the multi-agency, multi-national organization that has been described as Southcom’s command center in the war on drugs, toured the Joint Operating Center there and met with representatives of 18 different countries assigned there. The JIATF is essentially a tracking center where different U.S. government intelligence, military and law enforcement agencies — along with representatives of Caribbean, Latin American and European nations — try to help down-range aircraft and vessels intercept or thwart illegal air and sea travel. It started off as a nerve center in the war on drugs but has an expanded mandate to include “illicit trafficking.”

     Cuban delegate members were identified as Col. Idael Fumero Valdés of the Cuban National Police, part of the Ministry of Interior; Joel Lago Oliva, first secretary of Cuba’s Ministry of External Relations; Lt. Col. Hector Gonzalez Hernandez, chief of Cuba’s Counterdrug Directorate and Lt. Col. Imandra Oceguera Coll, the chief of analysis for the Cuban Border Guard. The visit signals how much relations between the two nations have changed. U.S. federal agents who cracked a Cuban spy ring in South Florida in the 1990s described two targets of the so-called Cuban Five’s Wasp Network as the Southern Command and U.S. Navy operations in Key West, where the military was setting up the anti-drug-trafficking war room.

IRANIAN COMMANDER THREATENS TO CLOSE STRAIT OF HORMUZ TO US  
      

      TEHRAN, IRAN--- -
The deputy commander of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard said Iranian forces will close the strategic Strait of Hormuz to the United States and its allies if they "threaten" the Islamic Republic, Iranian state media reported Wednesday. The comments by Gen. Hossein Salami, carried on state television, follow a long history of both rhetoric and confrontation between Iran and the U.S. over the narrow strait, through which nearly a third of all oil traded by sea passes. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday criticized U.S. activities in the Persian Gulf. It's unclear whether that signals any new Iranian concern over the strait or possible confrontation with the U.S. following Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers.

      "Americans should learn from recent historical truths," Salami said, likely referring to the January capture of 10 U.S. sailors who entered Iranian waters. The sailors were released less than a day later, though state TV aired footage of them on their knees with their hands on their heads. "If the Americans and their regional allies want to pass through the Strait of Hormuz and threaten us, we will not allow any entry," Salami said, without elaborating on what he and other leaders would consider a threat. "Americans cannot make safe any part of the world," he added.

       Lt. Rick Chernitzer, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet in Bahrain, said American sailors "continue to operate in accordance with professional maritime standards and international law" in the Persian Gulf region. "We remain thoughtful, vigilant and responsible mariners as we conduct our operations here," Chernitzer said in a statement to The Associated Press. "We do, however, reserve the inherent right to self-defense." The U.S. and Iran have a long history of confrontations in the Persian Gulf. They even fought a one-day naval battle on April 18, 1988, after the near-sinking of the missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts by an Iranian mine during the Iran-Iraq war. That day, U.S. forces attacked two Iranian oil rigs and sank or damaged six Iranian vessels.

May 5, 2016

FLEET WEEK 2016 KICKS OFF IN FORT LAUDERDALE, AS SHIPS SAIL INTO PORT EVERGLADES


  
       FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA-
The USS Cole pulled into Port Everglades just before 7 a.m. Monday morning, with the USS Bataan making its way in around 8 a.m. Other ships participating in Fleet Week include the USS Bainbridge, the USCGC Robert Yered, and nuclear submarine USS California. About 2,000 service men and women will be out and about in the city this week, doing community service, engaging with the public, and taking in the sun, sights and surf. Nearly 50 of those call South Florida home. “They enjoy going to the beach and Las Olas Boulevard and Himmarshee Village,” said J.W. Arnold, a representative for Broward Navy Days, which organizes the event.

      They’ll be easy to spot, too. The service members are required to be in uniform as they walk around town. The festivities begin Monday night with a special “All Hands on Deck” welcome party at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. The schedule of events for the week also includes Military Night with the Miami Marlins, a “Galley Wars” culinary competition involving crews from the Navy and Coast Guard ships, and a Navy Band concert. A record 13,000 civilians have also signed up to tour some of the ships. Three of the ships—the USS Bainbridge, USS Cole and USS Bataan—sailed in from Norfolk, Virginia, which is about a four-day journey to Fort Lauderdale.

     In addition to the service members and crew, the USS Bataan also carried members of the US Naval Sea Cadet Corps, Spruance Division from Fort Lauderdale. During the trip, the youth development program essentially gives the teens a first-hand look at the daily routine aboard one of these ships. "For a kid, that is an experience of a lifetime," said Oscar Romano, president of the Fort Lauderdale Council of the Navy League. For Romano, one of the best parts about Fleet Week is welcoming the service members with open arms. Sure, some of them have relatives here, but “sometimes you become that family” for the others, he said.

VENEZUELA CONVENES SPECIAL MEETING OF THE OAS IN WASHINGTON  
      

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA. --
 Venezuelan Chancellor Delcy Rodríguez convened a special meeting of the Organization of American States, to be held on Thursday in Washington, D.C.. The meeting occurs days after a delegation of the National Assembly of Venezuela leaders traveled to Washington to meet with officials of the Inter-American body to discuss the possibility of invoking the Democratic Charter, which essentially would suspend the country from the organization.

     The Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez, requested the meeting with the apparent intention of defending the Government of Nicolas Maduro. It is not clear whether the 35 Member States of the OAS would support a measure as drastic. Several Latin American leaders have been reluctant to take hard action against an incumbent Government. But the political influence of Venezuela has been waning because of its economic problems and the weakening of the Petrocaribe Alliance. The President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, recently called to his followers to declared themselves in rebellion if they ever take power.

    According to the former Ambassador Diego Arria, Maduro’s statement is serious since he is actually calling the breakdown of democratic principles in the country. His threat is serious, and as such the National Assembly must denounce it, added the former Venezuelan representative to the UN. Venezuelan journalist Nitu Pérez Osuna explains why the Government of Venezuela should be considered a dictatorship with a veneer of democracy. Recently, the representative Nicolas Maduro explains Perez Osuna, threatened to issue a decree that would prevent the "saboteurs" of the National Assembly, whose decisions have been vetoed by the Supreme Court that is controlled by magistrates allied to chavismo. " The Venezuelan government decree was finally issued on Tuesday.

US DENIES VISAS TO VENEZUELAN DIPLOMATS  
      

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA  - -
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez branded as “serious” the US decision, claiming it violates the public international law and disregards the Vienna Convention agreements on diplomatic and consular relations

      During a phone interview on Tuesday with Venezuelan state-run TV news channel Venezolana de Televisión, Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez denounced a decision made by the US Embassy denying visas to a number of local diplomats who must meet international commitments. Rodríguez termed “serious” this move that, in her view, violates the public international law and disregards the Vienna Convention agreements on diplomatic and consular relations.

      The official explained visas were denied to people comprising a delegation that would attend an event of the Organization of American States (OAS). In this regard, she added senior government officials also took part in the group. The minister criticized and termed “illegal” the US decision, saying it is not about bilateral affairs. “They cannot refuse visas; they have a duty to provide all the necessary requirements for us to attend scheduled events,” she stressed. Rodríguez further stated her administration would prepare a formal note of protest to the US government.

May 4, 2016

US NAVY SEAL KILLED IN 'DIRECT FIRE' FROM ISIS


  
       THE PENTAGON -
A U.S. serviceman was killed in Northern Iraq Tuesday by direct fire from ISIS forces that penetrated several miles across Kurdish lines. He was a Navy SEAL, two U.S. officials told ABC News. The announcement of the third U.S. death in combat against ISIS was made by Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who was in Stuttgart, Germany, to attend the change-of-command ceremony at U.S. European Command. "I'm getting reports a U.S. service member has been killed in Iraq," Carter said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with that service member's family."

     Carter highlighted the combat risks the roughly 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq still face even though they are officially in a training, advise and assist mission. "It shows you it's a serious fight that we have to wage in Iraq," he said. A U.S. defense official confirmed to ABC News that around 9:30 a.m. local time ISIS forces penetrated the Kurdish Peshmerga front lines near Irbil. "This morning a U.S. servicemember advising and assisting Peshmerga forces was killed by enemy fire north of Mosul," Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement. "The casualty occurred during an ISIL attack on a Peshmerga position approximately three to five kilometers behind the forward line of troops."

     His identity has not been released pending notification of next of kin, but two U.S. officials say he was a Navy SEAL. The U.S. advise-and-assist mission can involve conventional troops or special operations troops, depending on the kind of Iraqi or Kurdish unit with which they are paired. A Defense official told ABC News that ISIS used truck bombs to break through Peshmerga lines located about 17 miles north of the ISIS-held city of Mosul. The serviceman was killed by ISIS "direct fire" after ISIS forces pushed to his position. The official said the ISIS attack was repelled by 23 airstrikes carried out by F-15, F-16, A-10 jets and drones that had been called in to support the coalition and Kurdish forces.

ARGENTINE COURT PROBES EX-PRESIDENT CRISTINA FERNANDEZ OVER NEW CASE  
      

        BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA--
 An Argentine court has asked a judge to look into accusations of illicit enrichment against leftist former President Cristina Fernandez, state press agency Telam reported on Monday. Fernandez, who left office in December after eight years and was replaced by center-right Mauricio Macri, has already been accused of money laundering and overseeing irregularities at the central bank while she served. The cases have sparked massive demonstrations by her supporters, who say she is being persecuted by a new government bent on revenge. Fernandez is a divisive figure, revered by many for generous welfare programs and reviled by others for her economic policies.

      The latest accusation, issued by a public prosecutor, was initiated by an opposition politician. Fernandez and her son have been accused of illicit enrichment and the falsification of public documents relating to a company called Los Sauces, Telam said, citing legal sources. It said that Los Sauces in 2009 had over 9 million Argentine pesos ($635,000 at current exchange rates) in property investment. A spokesman for the attorney general's office said the investigating judge had issued a secrecy order on the case. Under Argentine law, the judge will decide whether to accept the charge and open an investigation.

     The former populist leader who led the South American country between 2007-2015 is set to appear for questioning on 13 April as the last of 13 suspects in the case. The former lawyers' allies took to social media to demand a mass protest at the federal courthouse. Bonadio also summoned CFK's former economy minister, Axel Kicillof, and former central bank chief Alejandro Vanoli who are suspected in defrauding the public administration. According to reports Kirchner's administration the central bank routinely sold dollar futures to prop up the peso. The investigation was triggered last October when two lawmakers filed a complaint alleging that the price at which the contracts were sold amounted to a serious financial loss for the South American nation.
 

BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF FACING CRIMINAL PROBES  
      

      BRASILIA, BRAZIL   - -
The Brazilian Attorney General’s Office said on Monday that it asked the Supreme Court for authorization to open investigations on several politicians in connection with the $2 billion corruption scandal at state oil company Petrobras, including former opposition presidential candidate Sen. Aecio Neves. Under Brazilian law, only the Supreme Court can hear cases involving senior elected officials, including members of Congress. All of the lawmakers mentioned in Attorney General Rodrigo Janot’s request to the high court were named by Sen. Delcidio do Amaral after his arrest in December within the framework of the Petrobras investigations.

    Do Amaral was released this year after reaching a plea agreement with the AG Office. On the basis of the senator’s denunciations, the AG Office asked for authorization to open investigations against Neves and the speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, against whom there are already five cases pending in the high court on assorted corruption accusations. Janot also requested to be allowed to investigate government press secretary Edinho Silva, an important collaborator of President Dilma Rousseff, who is waiting for the Senate to decide whether she should stand trial after the lower house voted to impeach her for allegedly manipulating budget figures to disguise the size of the deficit.

     Neves, the candidate defeated by Rousseff in the runoff to the October 2014 presidential election, faces the possibility of two separate probes. On one hand, authorities intend to investigate whether he received resources diverted from the state-run electric company and, on the other, whether he facilitated fiscal manipulations to hide financial losses by the Minas Gerais government during his eight years as governor of that state. Neves, in a statement released by his lawyers, said he feels that investigating everything denounced by the senator cooperating with the judiciary is “absolutely normal and necessary.” If the Supreme Court accepts the requests by the AG Office, the new investigations will be added to those already opened against about 50 lawmakers accused of taking bribes to facilitate the corruption at Petrobras.

May 3, 2016

THE OPPOSITION DELIVERED 1,850,000 SIGNATURES FOR RECALL VOTE IN VENEZUELA


  
        CARACAS, VENEZUELA -
The Executive Secretary of anti-government coalition Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) Jesús Torrealba announced he would give details on “the scope of this move” on Tuesday. Executive Secretary of Venezuelan opposition coalition Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) Jesús Torrealba on Monday reported that the group delivered to the National Electoral Council (CNE) the signatures to activate a recall vote to cut the mandate of President Nicolás Maduro. Torrealba twitted that 80 boxes were handed over, each containing 2,500 forms for a total of 200,000 forms including 1,850,000 signatures. Similarly, the MUD head said on Tuesday he would brief on what has been achieved with this initiative so far.

     Venezuelans fed up with food shortages, soaring inflation and now a paralyzing electricity crunch have flocked to sign a petition for a recall referendum, according to the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), which has the papers piled up in neatly labeled boxes at one of its offices in Caracas. It says it has collected 2.5 million signatures -- more than 12 times the number needed to launch the referendum process -- to the National Electoral Board on Tuesday. However, board official Tania D'Amelio suggested on Twitter that the authorities might not start verifying the signatures until late May.

     That drew opposition cries of bias in favor of Maduro and the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). "There's no doubt about it... Tania D'Amelio is a supporter and unconditional activist of the PSUV and is working to prevent a recall referendum this year," Henry Ramos Allup, the speaker of the opposition-controlled legislature, wrote on Twitter Monday. Under Venezuela's constitution, after January 2017 a successful recall vote would transfer power to Maduro's vice president rather than trigger new elections. The constitution gives the authorities five days to verify the signatures collected by the opposition. But D'Amelio indicated that the five-day countdown would begin only once the full 30 days allotted for circulating the petition had lapsed. The opposition insists there is no need to wait until the end of the 30-day period because it already surpassed the required 200,000 signatures "in record time," in the words of MUD executive secretary Jesus Torrealba.

POPE FRANCIS WRITES NICOLAS MADURO TO DEMAND ACTION ON VENEZUELA'S WOES  
      

        THE VATICAN  CITY--
Facing a socio-political and economic crisis in Venezuela, including a triple-digit inflation rate, shortages of basic goods, and a power crisis despite having the world’s largest oil reserves, Pope Francis has sent a letter to President Nicolas Maduro urging him to work to solve the country’s problems. The information was confirmed by a Vatican spokesman to the Italian blog IlSismografo.it on Saturday. Though Father Federico Lombardi didn’t reveal the content of the letter, he said that “the pope follows the situation with a lot of attention and participation.”

     Francis, history’s first pope from Latin America, has spoken about Venezuela on various occasions, including on March 27 during his Easter Urbi et Orbi blessing (to the city and to the world). On that occasion, Francis said: “May the paschal message (of the Risen Christ) be felt ever more powerfully by the beloved people of Venezuela in the difficult conditions which they are experiencing, and by those responsible for the country’s future, that everyone may work for the common good, seeking spaces of dialogue and cooperation with all.” The pope and Maduro met only once, in 2013. The president was supposed to travel to Rome early in 2015, but at the last minute cancelled the trip.

     Lombardi’s comments came three days after the bishops’ conference of Venezuela released a statement in which they define the country’s situation as “very grave.” In their April 27 statement, the Venezuelan bishops warned about the “upsurge in murderous and inhuman crime,” which has turned its capital, Caracas, into the most dangerous city in the world outside active warzones: Last year, 8,946 people were murdered, meaning 120 people for every 100,000 inhabitants. Detroit, the most dangerous city in the United States, had a murder rate of 43.5 people killed for every 100,000. The bishops also denounced that never before the country suffered from such an “extreme lack of goods and basic food and health products.”

CHINA BLOCKS US NAVY AIRCRAFT CARRIER'S ACCESS TO HONG KONG PORT  
      

        Washington, d.c.  - -
The Pentagon said Friday the USS Stennis and its accompanying vessels were refused entry into the port. The reason for denying access to the port was not clear. China sent a statement to Reuters saying visits by U.S. military ships and aircraft to Hong Kong have always been approved on "a case-by-case basis in accordance with the principle of sovereignty and the specific situation."

      However, China's denial of port access comes after U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter was on the Stennis earlier this month and sailed in the South China Sea where China is making claims to areas that other countries in the region also claim. The denial of access was the first time since 2014 that U.S. Naval ships have not been allowed into the Hong Kong port.

     The USS Blue Ridge, a Navy ship, is currently docked in Hong Kong. A Pentagon spokesman said "We have a long track record of successful port visits to Hong Kong, including with the current visit of the USS Blue Ridge, and we expect that will continue." The New York Times reported that many family members of the crew of the Stennis and the other vessels had planned to travel to visit the sailors in Hong Kong.

May 2, 2016

THE WASHINGTON POST: VENEZUELA IS ON THE BRINK OF A COMPLETE COLLAPSE


  
        WASHINGTON, D.C. -
According to The Washington Post “the only question now is whether Venezuela's government or economy will completely collapse first. The key word there is "completely." Both are well into their death throes. Indeed, Venezuela's ruling party just lost congressional elections that gave the opposition a veto-proof majority, and it's hard to see that getting any better for them any time soon — or ever. Incumbents, after all, don't tend to do too well when, according to the International Monetary Fund, their economy shrinks 10 percent one year, an additional 6 percent the next, and inflation explodes to 720 percent. It's no wonder, then, that markets expect Venezuela to default on its debt in the very near future. The country is basically bankrupt.

     “That's not an easy thing to do when you have the largest oil reserves in the world, but Venezuela has managed it. How? Well, a combination of bad luck and worse policies. The first step was when Hugo Chávez's socialist government started spending more money on the poor, with everything from two-cent gasoline to free housing. Now, there's nothing wrong with that — in fact, it's a good idea in general — but only as long as you actually, well, have the money to spend. And by 2005 or so, Venezuela didn't. Why not? The answer is that Chávez turned the state-owned oil company from being professionally run to being barely run. People who knew what they were doing were replaced with people who were loyal to the regime, and profits came out but new investment didn't go in.

      “That last part was particularly bad, because Venezuela's extra-heavy crude needs to be blended or refined — neither of which is cheap — before it can be sold. So Venezuela just hasn't been able to churn out as much oil as it used to without upgraded or even maintained infrastructure. Specifically, oil production fell 25 percent between 1999 and 2013. The rest is a familiar tale of fiscal woe. Even triple-digit oil prices, as Justin Fox points out, weren't enough to keep Venezuela out of the red when it was spending more on its people but producing less crude. So it did what all poorly run states do when the money runs out: It printed some more. And by "some," I mean a lot, a lot more. That, in turn, became more "a lots" than you can count once oil started collapsing in mid-2014. But for now, at least, a specter is haunting Venezuela — the specter of failed economic policies.

DELAYS AND MORE DELAYS. THE CNE WILL WAIT A MONTH BEFORE VERIFYING THE SIGNATURES COLLECTED BY THE MUD  
      

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
The National Electoral Council (CNE) announced that it will wait for a full month to elapse before it begins to verify the signatures gathered which are required to start the process toward a recall of President Nicolás Maduro, even though they have already been collected. “We must comply with the timetable established, 30 days have been set for the collection of 1% of manifestations of the people’s will to move to the phase of implementation" (verification of signatures), wrote on her social networking site Twitter Tania Damelio, one of the senior rectors of the CNE.

     Damelio’s comments were made public after opposition leader Henrique Capriles said that MUD, between Wednesday and Thursday, had gathered "more than 2.5 million signatures, so the CNE could begin right away the process toward the referendum--though it is only necessary 195,000 signatures, equivalent to 1% of the 19.5 million voters. Capriles and other leaders of the opposition party coalition table of Democratic Unity (MUD) have denounced that the CNE is actually delaying the process and will continue to do so, with the intention that the referendum would take place in 2017 and not this year.

     If the opposition wins the referendum this year, the CNE must call new presidential elections immediately, but doing so in 2017, Maduro would be replaced by its vice-president Aristóbulo Istúriz, until the end of his term in 2019. "If the recall referendum is not this year it is pointless. We are not interested in the continuation of this government. Either is this year or there is no recall, "insisted Capriles, also the Governor of Miranda State, which jurisdiction extends over vast areas of Caracas. Maduro has already appointed a chavista commission to review, "one by one," as he said, the gathered signatures in anticipation of "traps". Once the CNE check and validate the signatures of at least 1% of the voters’ signatures, the process should move forward to a second phase in which the MUD must demonstrate that the electoral consultation is requested by the people with the signature and fingerprint of at least 20 percent of the voters.
 

THE GURI DAM AND THE ELECTRICITY PROBLEM IN VENEZUELA  
      

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA  - -
People in Caracas were rightly encouraged last week when the city got some rain. Stories about the Guri Dam reaching critical level have been scaring people for the last two weeks. Unfortunately, as you can see in the rain map above from Monday March 14th. at 1 AM, the rain that poured over the city is nowhere to be seen now.

      In fact, that rain seemed to come from the Caribbean and did not make a dent on Guri Dam, which the map notes. There is some rainy activity south of the dam in Amazonas state, but it is too far, while it is hopeful to see some. The question is how bad the problem is or may become. To explain this, I resort to slides I showed in 2010 when a similar threat was present. Reportedly, the level of the dam is now at 247.5 meters. Within this range, each day without rain implies a drop of 30 cm today, but will accelerate as it drops.

      The minimum level at which the dam may operate is 240 m. as seeing in the following slide: What the slide shows is that the minimum level of operation occurs below 240 meters. Below this level, a number of problems begin to take place in which the turbines do not operate well (Cavitation and turbulence). According to the slide, below this level, eight of the turbines (some of which, in red, are not operational, will not work, taking out 5,600 MW of power out of the country´s network. This is about half what Guri can produce and Guri provides 60% of the power in the country. Thus, at this level, we are talking about losing 30% of the power of the country and , of course, the water level could keep dropping.

May 1st., 2016

VENEZUELA'S OPOSITION COLLECTS 1.5 MILLION SIGNATURES AGAINST NICOLAS MADURO


  
        CARACAS, VENEZUELA -
The MUD officially began collecting signatures in support of a referendum on Wednesday. According to CNE rules, the political coalition has 30 days to garner backing from 1% of the electorate in every state, amounting to 195,721 signatures nationwide. But MUD spokespeople reported that they had surpassed this figure just hours after opening signature collection stalls, and social media and television reports depict thousands of Venezuelans heading to public squares and other collection points to sign against Maduro.

      Many cite the country’s worsening economic crisis and increasing insecurity as their reasons for signing, while others are longterm opponents of the leftist Bolivarian revolution. For its part, the government has cited the referendum as part of an ongoing ‘unconventional war” against it. President Nicolas Maduro stated on Thursday night that the opposition did not have what it takes to govern the country in the face of the economic crisis. “Can you imagine one of those bourgeois having to deal with this? They’d be on the floor crying, asking Obama for help!,” he said on national television. The activation of the steps towards a recall referendum means the country is looking at an uncertain future, as well as months of mobilisations on the nation’s streets.

      Once all signatures collected in this initial stage have been verified by the CNE, the MUD will have 72 hours to get 20% of the electorate to sign a petition in support of the recall referendum. If successful, the national plebiscite will be organised within 90 days. Maduro won Venezuela’s 2013 national elections by a knife edge against Henrique Capriles Radonski, with 7,587,579 (50.6%) votes to 7,363,980 (49.1%). But popular support for the revolution has steadily dropped over the last three years. In last December’s legislative elections, the opposition managed to increase its total number of national votes to 7,728,025, while the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela’s electoral share dropped to 5625,248. In order to remove Maduro in a potential recall referendum, a number equal to or greater than 7,587,579 will have to vote for his dismissal.

VENEZUELA'S MAIN BREWER SUSPENDS OPERATIONS AS ECONOMIC CRISIS BITES  
      

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
Venezuela's economic crisis claimed another victim as the country's largest brewer said Saturday it is suspending operations because it can't obtain hard currency to buy supplies. The Polar beer company's closure of its four plants in Venezuela on Friday will lay off 7,000 employees for up to two months.

      After the company distributes its remaining stocks of beer over the next few days, the stoppage will affect a total of 10,000 employees, and many more whose livelihood indirectly depends on the company, such as truck drivers. Polar said in a statement that it is shutting down its plants because it has been unable to obtain dollars to import barley. The company has a 70 percent market share in Venezuela and is part of a huge business group that produces many everyday consumer products such as cornmeal.

     Venezuela's leftist government imposed tight currency controls in 2003 in an effort to crack down on a bustling black market in dollars. Now the oil-dependent OPEC member is weathering a severe economic crisis largely fueled by the steep drop in global oil prices. With most of Venezuela's hard currency revenue coming from oil exports, the lower oil prices make dollars even harder to get than before the crisis. Companies here need greenbacks to import goods because crude is essentially Venezuela's only product. Venezuelans already face acute shortages of such basics as toilet paper thanks to the scarcity of dollars.

CUBA'S POPULATION EXPECTED TO DROP DRAMATICALLY OVER THE NEXT DECADE  
      

        HAVANA, CUBA - -
By 2025, Cuba's population is projected to decrease by some 1 million residents. This dramatic demographic shift — from 11 million to 10 million inhabitants — is being propelled by low fertility and birth rates, as well as high levels of emigrations, according to experts who met recently at Florida International University. Cuba also will continue to have the oldest population in Latin America. Today, 19 percent of the island's population is older than 60, the experts said, and forecasts point to that number rising to 30 percent in less than a decade.

     “Life expectancy is not the same as aging,” said Dr. Antonio Aja Díaz, with the Center for Demographic Studies at the University of Havana. Life expectancy in Cuba is high and infant mortality is low. Birth and fertility rates are also low. Those demographic characteristics, Aja added, are normal “in highly developed countries.” “Developed countries have low infant mortality, birth and fertility rates, but their populations don’t drop because they receive immigrants,” Aja said. “But that's not the case of Cuba.”Until the end of the 1930s, Cuba received migrants.

     But since then, emigration has been sustained, with spikes during mass exodus events in the 20th Century — the Mariel boatlift in 1980 and the Rafter Crisis in 1994 — and more recently the flow of Cuban migrants through Central America and Mexico on their way to the United States. “Cuba cannot compete on migration even with the Dominican Republic,” Aja said. One of the island's main problems is that the people who emigrate are generally the youngest, in the prime of their productive and reproductive lives. Dr. Sergio Diaz-Briquets, another panelist in the FIU gathering, said he expects the outbound flow of Cubans to continue. “For decades, the Cuban government has promoted the emigration of the political opposition,” he said. Cuba's fertility rate averaged 1.63 children per woman from 2010 to 2015, the lowest in Latin America and the Caribbean.

 

 

 

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