Latest News
of NOVEMBER 2016

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November 30, 2016

DONALD TRUMP NAMES REP. TOM PRICE, A VEHEMENT CRITIC OF 'OBAMACARE,' AS NEXT HHS SECRETARY

    
WASHINGTON, D.C. --  Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), a veteran lawmaker and vehement critic of the Affordable Care Act, has been picked as President-elect Donald Trump's choice to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post). Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), a veteran lawmaker and vehement critic of the Affordable Care Act, has been picked as President-elect Donald Trump's choice to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), a vehement critic of the Affordable Care Act, is President-elect Donald Trump's pick as health and human services secretary. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

    President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), a fierce critic of the Affordable Care Act and a proponent of overhauling the nation’s entitlement programs, to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. In a news release early Tuesday, Trump announced his selection of Price, a third-generation doctor who chairs the House Budget Committee and became a champion of Trump’s candidacy. In naming him to join his Cabinet, the president-elect called Price “exceptionally qualified to shepherd our commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare and bring affordable and accessible health care to every American.”

    Trump also named Seema Verma, a health-care consultant who was the architect of Medicaid changes in Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana, to run a crucial section of HHS: the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. As HHS secretary, Price would be the nation’s top health official and the incoming administration’s point person for dismantling the sprawling 2010 health-care law, which Trump promised during his campaign to start dismantling on his first day in the Oval Office. The 62-year-old lawmaker, who represents a wealthy suburban Atlanta district, has played a leading role in Republican opposition to the law and has helped draft several comprehensive bills to replace it. The GOP-led House has voted five dozen times to eliminate all or part of the ACA but has never had a chance to accomplish its goal as long as President Obama has been in the White House.

PLANE CARRYING 81 PEOPLE, INCLUDING BRAZIL'S CHAPECOENSE SOCCER TEAM, CRASHES IN COLOMBIA

    BOGOTA, COLOMBIA 
  --  A charter plane carrying 81 people, including players from a rising Brazilian soccer team headed for a championship match, slammed into a mountainside late Monday near Medellín’s airport in Colombia. At least six passengers survived and the rest were killed, officials said as teams struggled to reach the crash site Tuesday amid driving rain. The final death toll remained unclear, however. Colombia’s civil aviation authority initially reported six people were pulled alive from the wreckage, but one later died.

    A follow-up statement noted a total of six survivors, including at least three members of the Chapecoense soccer team, two airline crew and a journalist. The reason for the revision was not immediately known. Medellín’s mayor, Federico Gutierrez, called it “a tragedy of huge proportions.” Alfredo Bocanegra, the head of Colombia’s aviation authority, told reporters that search efforts continued despite heavy rain. “It is worth it to keep looking,” Bocanegra said. “One single life is worth it.” The aircraft was carrying members of the Chapecoense Real soccer team, based in southern Brazil, for the finals of the Copa Sudamericana against Atletico Nacional of Medellín.

    According to Colombia’s civil aviation agency, Aerocivil, there were 72 passengers and nine crew aboard the flight from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where the team stopped over. Passengers included 22 soccer players and 22 journalists, according to the aviation authority and local media reports. Brazilian President Michel Temer declared three days of official mourning and promised government help for the families of victims. “At this sad time that the tragedy falls on dozens of Brazilian families, I express my solidarity. We are putting all the means to help families and all the possible assistance,” he said in a statement.

11 VENEZUELAN MILITARY PERSONNEL ARRESTED OVER MASSACRE OF 12 PEOPLE

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --
Eleven members of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB) were arrested over the weekend for their alleged role in the murder of twelve people. The military personnel, including a lieutenant army coronel, have been detained in connection with the discovery Friday evening of a pair of mass graves containing twelve cadavers in the mountainous Acevedo municipality of Miranda state.

    The bodies reportedly correspond to twelve residents of Barlovento, who have been missing since they were detained on October 16 by military officials operating under the government anti-crime campaign the Operation Liberation of the People (OLP). Venezuela’s Defense Ministry issued an official statement condemning the incident and calling for an impartial investigation. “Nicolas Maduro, President of the Republic and Commander-in-chief of the FANB… orders the dishonorable discharge of those responsible of having violated with their conduct the values and principles that represent us,” the statement reads.

    Additionally, the ministry in name of the president pledged “all its support” to the families of the victims, including “state compensation and reparations”. For his part, Interior Minister Nestor Reverol pledged that he “would not rule out further arrests until the incident is totally cleared up”. Family members of the victims travelled to Caracas in the company of military officials on Sunday in order to meet with prosecutors and forensic experts. Over the summer, Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz raised concerns over human rights abuses committed under the umbrella of the OLP, noting that a “high incidence” of state security personnel are currently facing criminal prosecution for alleged misconduct.

November 29, 2016

DONALD TRUMP THREATENS TO 'TERMINATE' US-CUBA DETENTE

    
WASHINGTON, D.C. --  U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has threatened to reverse President Barack Obama's warming of relations with Cuba, the clearest indication yet that the historic restoration of ties is under threat. "If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal," Trump said in a Twitter message Monday. The tweet is consistent with what Trump has said for months about the U.S.-Cuba deal, which he views as one-sided in favor of Havana. The matter has received renewed attention following the death last week of longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

     Trump's chief of staff on Sunday said the president-elect is "absolutely" willing to reverse Obama's opening to Cuba. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Reince Priebus said the future of U.S.-Cuba relations depends on whether Havana makes "movement in the right direction" on human rights. "Repression, open markets, freedom of religion, political prisoners — these things need to change in order to have open and free relationships," said Priebus. "There's going to have to be some movement from Cuba in order to have a relationship with the United States." Obama had been working with Castro and others in the Cuban government for nearly two years to re-start relations between Cuba and the U.S., culminating earlier this year in the first direct flights between the two countries in 50 years and the reopening of embassies.

     When Trump was asked early during his presidential run about the United States' warming of relations with Cuba, his response was largely positive. "I think it's fine," Trump told The Daily Caller in a September 2015 interview. "We should have made a better deal, [but] the concept of opening with Cuba — 50 years is enough," he said, referencing Washington's longstanding economic and diplomatic sanctions against the socialist country. Fast forward a year, and President-elect Trump's public stance on the issue has almost completely reversed. Now, when Trump talks about President Barack Obama's efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, it is almost entirely in negative terms.

CUBAN ARTIST ARRESTED FOR 'HE'S GONE' GRAFFITI FOLLOWING FIDEL CASTRO'S DEATH

     HAVANA, CUBA 
  -  Cuban secret police have abducted the anti-communist artist Danilo Maldonado, according to his mother, who told the Spain-based Diario de Cuba that he had taken to the streets late Friday to celebrate the death of dictator Fidel Castro. “They asked the landlady for his key, they broke into his house and took him away. We don’t know where,” María Victoria Machado González said of her son, calling his arrest an “abduction.” “He went out last night to celebrate Fidel Castro’s death, to place signs all over Havana,” she noted.

     Maldonado had reportedly begun to spray-paint the words “he’s gone” along the streets of Havana. “The images are already circulating” in Cuba, his mother alleged. Police are reportedly stationed outside his door, preventing anyone from entering the apartment. Maldonado’s mother fears police are planting evidence in his house to keep him detained on false charges. Even if they do not plant any evidence, Maldonado’s mother says the artist kept a collection of about 30 political works, all of which could be punishable under communist law.

     Maldonado became famous in Havana for his anti-communist street art and served time in prison in 2015 following an attempted art installation in public. In October 2015, Maldonado was arrested carrying two pigs painted with the names “Fidel” and “Raúl” on their backs, in an homage to the novel 1984. He planned to set them loose in a Havana square. Following his release, Maldonado – whose artistic name, “The Sixth,” is a nod to the spies known as the “Cuban Five” – promised more acts of defiance against the Castros. Maldonado was again arrested in March, shortly after President Barack Obama departed from his historic visit to the island.

VENEZUELAN FOREIGN MINISTER OPENS MERCOSUR SOCIAL SUMMIT IN CARACAS

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --
Speaking at the Social Summit of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur), Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez pointed up that Venezuela would neither leave nor be removed from the trade bloc. On Monday, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez headed the opening of the Social Summit of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) in Caracas, where several topics of social economics for the development would be discussed by the bloc’s member countries.

     During her speech, and referring to the potential suspension of the country from Mercosur, Minister Rodríguez stressed that Venezuela will neither leave nor be removed from the trade bloc. “We will neither leave nor be removed from Mercosur,” she promised. On November 21, Paraguayan Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga informed that Venezuela would “have no voice” and cease to be a full member of Mercosur as from December 1 until the country ratifies undertaken agreements. Meantime, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina claim that Venezuela cannot assume the bloc’s presidency as it has failed to include the legal acquis of Mercosur Member States in its legislation.

     Presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela, members of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) turned away from the summit scheduled for December, which was intended to make official the handover of the pro tempore presidency of the bloc, informed on Friday Uruguayan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rodolfo Nin Novoa. The Uruguayan official asserted that the Mercosur chair would be transferred from Venezuela to Argentina; however, the presidents will not attend to the ceremony, DPA said. Although the bloc members disavow Venezuela’s current holding of the pro tempore presidency, the Uruguayan foreign minister asserted that Argentina had to assume the chair of Mercosur, based on a six-monthly alphabetic rotation. The ceremony has been historically made in the presence of the presidents.

November 28, 2016

FIDEL CASTRO NET WORTH RISES, ACCORDING TO 'FORBES'

    
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK --  Cuban President Fidel Castro was furious when Forbes magazine estimated his fortune at $550 million last year. This year, the magazine upped its estimate of the communist leader's wealth to a cool $900 million. Castro, who says his net worth is nil, is likely the beneficiary of up to $900 million, based on his control of state-owned companies, the U.S. financial magazine said in its annual tally of "Kings, Queens & Dictators" fortunes Thursday.

     Kings and sheikhs of the oil-rich Gulf Arab states still top the Forbes list, to be published in its May 22 edition. Castro had said he was considering suing after Forbes released its 2005 list, scoffing then his wealth was estimated to be close to that of the queen of England. "Do they think I am (former Zairian President) Mobutu (Sese Seko) or one of the many millionaires, those thieves and plunderers that the empire has suckled and protected?" he said last year, referring to his capitalist archenemy, Washington.

    This year, Castro would be well above the British monarch. Queen Elizabeth came in with some $500 million in estates, gems and a stamp collection built by her grandfather. The list does not include Buckingham Palace or the crown jewels. "People are always intrigued. What is the ultimate fantasy but being a rich princess or prince?" said Kroll, who edits the magazine's annual list of global billionaires. "We keep it separate from the billionaires because there are some very tricky things about these folks," Kroll said. "It's very hard to separate state from personal wealth. Some of these fortunes literally go back 800 years."

COLOMBIA AND FARC SIGN REVISED PEACE DEAL

      BOGOTA, COLOMBIA 
  --  Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo Londoño, the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, signed a new peace agreement Thursday, despite lingering opposition in many quarters. The accord was reached on November 12 following an October referendum in which the country voted narrowly to reject a peace agreement reached in September. Voters opposed the original peace deal, signed after four years of talks and aimed at ending half a century of conflict, for its perceived leniency toward FARC fighters. The revised peace deal will not be put to a country-wide vote. Instead, President Santos has said it will go to Colombia’s Congress for ratification.

      The new accord introduces some 50 changes intended to assuage criticsled by still-powerful former president, Álvaro Uribe. He has demanded it be put to another referendum. “We’re going to take out everything that threatens the family, that threatens the Church and we are going to look for a sentence, a word, that doesn’t frighten away believers,” President Santos – who won the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in negotiating the initial peace deal – had said of the revised agreement. His words that came in response to Colombia’s powerful Evangelist movement, which encouraged its 10 million members to reject the peace deal on the grounds it “breached Evangelical principles such as the family when it compares the values of womanhood with those groups [a reference to the LGBTI community],” in the words of Christian leader Edgar Castaño.

     In the run-up to the October referendum, opponents to the peace accord had also said it would pave the way to Londoño becoming president, despite near-universal rejection of the FARC, according to surveys. Under the new agreement, however, the FARC will retain its five seats in the Senate and an equal number in Congress, but the financing it receives as a political party will be proportionate to its support rather than the previous 10% of the amount set aside by the state for funding parties.There is widespread opposition to the idea that former guerrillas guilty of war crimes be allowed to take office. The peace agreement will no longer be enshrined in the Constitution, although there will be an amendment preventing future presidents from overturning it. The revised peace deal will not be put to a country-wide vote

CUBA, EUROPEAN UNION WILL SIGN BILATERAL AGREEMENT ON DECEMBER 12

       HAVANA, CUBA  --
A new agreement that will open a new phase in the European Union's relations with Cuba is tentatively scheduled to be signed on Dec. 12, a senior diplomatic official said Wednesday. The head of the 28-member bloc's delegation in Cuba, Herman Portocarero, announced that date at a press conference during the 35th Havana International Fair, saying the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement would substitute monologue for dialogue and establish a solid legal basis for the overall relationship between the EU and Cuba.

    From 1996 to the present, those relations have been governed by the so-called "Common Position," adopted at the urging of then-Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. That policy makes improved ties between the bloc and Havana contingent on democratization and respect for human rights on the Communist-ruled island while also encouraging direct contact between EU officials and Cuban dissidents. The agreement to be signed on Dec. 12 in Brussels contains many more subjects to be covered through dialogue, including in the areas of politics and human rights, while also promoting society-to-society dialogue, Portocarero said.

    The EU and Cuba wrapped up negotiations on the new accord in March, concluding a nearly two-year effort that coincided with the historic normalization of bilateral relations between the United States and the Caribbean island. In September, the European Commission formally proposed that member-states back the new political dialogue and cooperation agreement, saying that once it is signed it will "become the instrument that defines the EU's external relations with Cuba, superseding the 1996 Common Position."

November 27, 2016

FORMER CUBAN DICTATOR FIDEL CASTRO DIES AT 90

    
HAVANA, CUBA  -- Cuban leader Fidel Castro has died at the age of 90, his brother, President Raul Castro, said in an address on state television late Friday. “With profound pain, I am here to inform our people, the friends of the Americas and the world that today at 10:29 p.m. on Nov. 25, 2016, the commander in chief of the Cuban Revolution Fidel Castro Ruz passed away,” a visibly emotional Raul Castro said. The president added that Castro’s remains will be cremated as per his wishes, and that in the coming hours, details will be provided to the public about the organization of a homage to the departed leader.

     The last images of Fidel Castro are from Nov. 15, when he received President Tran Dai Quang at his residence, and the last time he was seen at a public ceremony was during his 90th birthday celebrations at the Karl Marx Theater in Havana. Since then, he also received other leaders, including Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal at his residence.

     Donald Trump condemned the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro on an otherwise quiet Saturday for the president-elect. Trump, who has pledged to roll back the Obama administration's diplomatic opening to Cuba, said the nation remains "a totalitarian island," but he hopes that Castro's passing will mark "a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve." Noting support of anti-Castro Cuban Americans during the recent presidential election, Trump pledged to fight for a "free Cuba" during his administration. "Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty."

CUBAN EXILES POUR ONTO MIAMI STREETS TO HAPPILY CELEBRATE FIDEL CASTRO'S DEATH

      MIAMI, FLORIDA 
  --  Miami-Dade poured out into the streets following the announcement of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro's death on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. Crowds gather outside La Carreta Cuban restaurant at Southwest 87th Avenue and Bird Road.David Santiago and German Guerra. Fidel Castro died, and Cuban Miami did what it does in times of community celebration: It spilled onto the streets of Little Havana — and Hialeah, and Kendall — to honk horns, bang pans, and set off more than a few fireworks, saved for exactly the sort of unexpected special occasion that proved worthy of their detonation.

    The scene across Miami-Dade County, the cradle of the Cuban exile community, was one of pure, raw emotion. This time, after decades of false alarms, Castro’s death was real. Crowds gather outside of Versailles restaurant in Miami to celebrate the death of Fidel Castro. A large crowd gathered out of Versailles restaurant in Miami to celebrate the death of Fidel Castro on Nov. 26, 2016.

    “I wish my dad was here to see this,” 27-year-old Abraham Quintero cried just before 2 a.m. Saturday. Wearing an “I love Hialeah” T-shirt, he stood on West 49th Street and Ludlam Road, where police quickly set up watch posts to make sure impromptu revelers stayed safe. “Beautiful madness,” 29-year-old Christopher Sweeney said, describing the scene. Passing cars honked incessantly. People waved huge Cuban flags. Parents carried their children and puppies. A few people appeared clad in pajamas and, in one case, flamingo slippers, jolted out of bed — and out of their homes — by the late-night news.

SAUDIS WON'T ATTEND MEETING WITH RUSSIANS, OTHERS AHEAD OF OPEC TALKS

       RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA  --
Saudi Arabian oil officials won’t attend a meeting Monday with their Russian counterparts and others, OPEC officials said, disrupting plans between the world’s two largest petroleum producers to coordinate output cuts meant to elevate slumping crude prices. The move puts renewed focus on the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to break through an impasse at the 14-nation cartel’s next meeting on Wednesday in Vienna.

     The group controls a third of world oil production and pledged in September to cut production to help draw down a global oversupply that has sunk prices to levels that have harmed economies dependent on petroleum revenue across the world. OPEC left the details of its cut undecided until Wednesday’s meeting, and the negotiations leading up to the gathering have been difficult. Iraq and Iran, OPEC’s second- and third-largest producers, have yet to agree on a detailed plan to reduce output discussed by the cartel. Some OPEC members have looked to Russia, which isn’t a member of the cartel, to join in trimming its output. A plan being discussed for the past week involves OPEC, Russia and other non-OPEC producers slashing almost 2% of global output over the next six months.

     But OPEC officials said it has become clear the group couldn’t seek help from Russia and producers outside the cartel until OPEC itself commits to specific action. Russian energy officials have said they would hold output steady, or freeze, if OPEC took action. Saudi Arabia wants a “clear decision within OPEC” before asking Russia and others to join, an OPEC official said Friday. Some OPEC members still plan to meet with Russia and other producers outside the cartel, despite the Saudi pullout. Any gathering would be unlikely to produce a credible agreement without Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s most influential member. Azerbaijan, Mexico and Kazakhstan are also expected to attend.

November 26, 2016

VENEZUELA CRISIS TALKS WOBBLE, DECEMBER MEETING KEY

    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- Talks aimed at easing Venezuela's economic and political crisis are threatening to run off the rails and could come to a head on December 6, opposition members warned Thursday. The Vatican-backed "dialogue" aims to calm tensions as the center-right opposition demands a vote on removing Socialist President Nicolas Maduro. It blames his management for the crisis driven by falling oil prices that has caused desperate shortages of food and medicine. The opposition MUD coalition this week accused the government of boycotting the talks.

     Some of its members threatened to do the same if the government does not agree at the next meeting on December 6 to let it have a vote. "The government not only unilaterally froze the dialogue by not attending the talks on Tuesday, but also called into question the full meeting in December," said Jesus Torrealba, leader of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD). Another senior opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, alleged the government had skipped Tuesday's talks in pique after the opposition-led congress held a session on the conviction of two of his wife's nephews on US drug charges. Maduro appeared on television shortly afterwards and insisted: "The dialogue continues to progress."

     Opposition party Causa Radical, part of the MUD, called Thursday on prosecutors to investigate Maduro himself over possible complicity in the drugs affair. That effort appeared unlikely to bear fruit because the high court has found in Maduro's favor in a string of rulings over recent months. A survey by pollster Datanalisis in October indicated 78.5 percent of Venezuelans opposed Maduro's leadership. Maduro has consistently resisted efforts to hold a recall referendum or early election. The opposition says he controls the courts and electoral authorities. At the last round of talks on November 12, the sides made vague commitments to ease tensions and the food crisis. They have since accused each other of breaking their word. "What is the point of this process if it yields no results?" Capriles said on Thursday. "On December 6 we have to push for an electoral solution. We want a date. If not, I won't be coming to the party."

VENEZUELA SEIZES MEDICINES SENT FOR CHARITY

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA 
  -- Venezuelan customs officers confiscated a shipment of medicine that a charity said Thursday was a donation for poor citizens suffering shortages in the country's economic crisis. Authorities said the cargo was an unauthorized import. The Catholic charity Caritas said it was a donation from Chile and claimed authorities had not responded to requests for permission to distribute it. The cargo contains 75,000 packets of medicine as well as food supplements, the customs department said. "The merchandise arrived without a permit. It does not fulfill the requirements to be distributed in this country," the department said on Twitter.

     Caritas Venezuela president Janeth Marquez said the medicine arrived in the country in August. Customs said that since the right papers had still not been filed, the cargo had been declared abandoned and the medicine handed over to the national social security service. Opposition deputy Jose Manuel Olivares in congress on Thursday accused the government of "stealing" the medicine. Marquez said her organization had contacted the health ministry to request a permit to distribute the medicine but had received no response. "We are very upset," she told AFP on Thursday. "We hope the medicine will be given to those who most need it. That is what our Chilean friends wanted."

     International NGO Human Rights Watch has described the situation in Venezuela as a "humanitarian crisis." Economic turmoil has been aggravated over the past two years by the fall in prices for the country's crucial oil exports. Shortages of food and basic supplies have sparked riots and looting. The Pharmaceutical Federation says 85 percent of medicines are running short. President Nicolas Maduro is resisting the opposition's efforts to remove him from power. His socialist government and the center right opposition have been holding fractious crisis talks. "We want the arrival of food and medicine to be a priority at the talks," said Marquez. "We have been promised more donations, but we are waiting to receive a permit."

RUSSIA TO PLACE NUCLEAR CAPABLE MISSILES CLOSER TO EUROPE AS 'COUNTERMEASURES' AGAINST NATO

       MOSCOW, RUSSIA  --
 Moscow will deploy S-400 surface-to-air missiles and nuclear-capable Iskander systems in the exclave of Kaliningrad in retaliation for NATO deployments, a senior pro-Kremlin lawmaker was quoted as saying on Monday. Russia has previously said it periodically sends Iskanders to Kaliningrad, but until now it has said these were routine drills. Moscow has not linked the moves explicitly with what it says is a NATO military build-up on Russia's western borders.

    After the election as U.S. president of Donald Trump, who has said he wants closer ties with the Kremlin and has questioned the cost of protecting NATO allies, some analysts predict an emboldened Moscow could become more assertive in eastern Europe. Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the defense committee in the Federation Council, Russia's upper house of parliament, said in remarks reported by RIA news agency that Russia was forced to react to the planned U.S. missile shield in eastern Europe. "As response measures to such threats we will have... to deploy additional forces...

    This reinforcement includes deployment of S-400 and Iskander systems in Kaliningrad," the agency quoted Ozerov as saying. The defense ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on Ozerov's remarks. Also on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin was quoted talking about how Russia has to respond to what it perceives as a threat from U.S.-led forces in eastern Europe. "Why are we reacting to NATO expansion so emotionally? We are concerned by NATO's decision making," RIA quoted him as saying in an interview for a documentary that will be broadcast by Russian TV later on Monday. "What should we do? We have, therefore, to take countermeasures, which means to target with our missile systems the facilities, that, in our opinion, start posing a threat to us," Putin said.

November 25, 2016

VENEZUELAN GOVERNMENT DENIES ABANDONING DIALOGUE WITH OPPOSITION

    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday denied claims by the opposition that his government has withdrawn from a dialogue aimed at resolving the Andean nation’s political crisis. “Full commitment despite ... the violation of the agreements; full commitment to peace,” the Venezuelan president said at the Miraflores palace after meeting with former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, one of the mediators of the talks that began nearly a month ago.

     “The negotiating table continues to advance, strengthen,” Maduro said hours after Henrique Capriles, the governor of the north-central state of Miranda and two-time presidential candidate, said the government had abandoned the talks. The leftist president said he and Zapatero had had a good conversation and had reviewed the dialogue launched late last month under the auspices of the Vatican and the Union of South American Nations. He called on the opposition to fulfill commitments contained in two agreements signed on Nov. 11 aimed at achieving peaceful coexistence. Those commitments include compliance with a Supreme Court ruling requiring the removal of three lawmakers accused of fraud in the December 2015 legislative elections.

     The opposition defied the high court and reinstated those lawmakers this summer. That move technically gave it a supermajority in the unicameral National Assembly, although it also prompted the Supreme Court to declare that future actions by the legislative body would be void. Those three lawmakers – Julio Haron Ygarza, Nirma Guarulla and Romel Guzamana of the MUD opposition alliance – notified the legislature last week of their intention to abandon their seats, National Assembly Secretary Roberto Marrero said last Tuesday. Maduro also called on the opposition to uphold its commitment to “coexistence and respect” and to resist the “sly, useless temptation to poison society with hate.”

IRAN THREATENS RELATION OVER SANCTIONS EXTENSION

      TEHRAN, IRAN
  --  Iran’s supreme leader warned Wednesday that his regime would retaliate if the United States extends sanctions against Tehran for another decade — putting pressure on the White House as Congress is primed to pass the measure with a probable veto-proof majority. In remarks to commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said a 10-year renewal of U.S. sanctions on Tehran’s energy, banking and defense sectors, which the House approved this month, would violate the nuclear deal struck between Iran and world powers last year.

     “The current U.S. government has breached the nuclear deal in many occasions,” Khamenei said, according to remarks published on his website. “The latest is extension of sanctions for 10 years, that if it happens, would surely be against JCPOA, and the Islamic Republic would definitely react to it.” Khamenei’s statement capped a string of remarks by senior Iranian officials in recent days, all of them warning that Iran will retaliate in some fashion if sanctions are extended and that such a move could spell the end of the nuclear agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

     Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, addressed U.S. officials directly Tuesday night. “If you extend the sanctions, this will mean kicking the JCPOA away, and we will confront it through implementing powerful technical packages,” he said, according to state-run television. The warnings put President Obama in a tough spot as Congress prepares to pass the 10-year extension of sanctions that lawmakers in both parties have long been clamoring for. Congressional leaders are also pledging to expand on those sanctions next year with a broader spectrum of punitive measures, including sanctions to address Iran’s recent spate of ballistic missile tests, as well as cyberthreats and cyberespionage activities. But the White House has resisted the changes — and has not indicated yet whether it will sign off on even the renewal of existing sanctions, which would otherwise expire at the end of the year.

PHILIPPINES PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE FINALLY MEETS HIS IDOL: VLADIMIR PUTIN

       LIMA, PERU --
 Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte lambasted the United States and other Western nations as bullies and hypocrites, while he praised Russia as a “great country” in his first meeting with his acknowledged idol, Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Talking on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum in Peru, Duterte also continued a recent vitriolic anti-U.S. theme of his and gave Putin a scathing review of America’s military endeavors in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Korean peninsula. He said the United States has given unequal treatment of the Philippines as a treaty ally and added that his country wants to engage more with Europe.

    Duterte told Putin that he previously has been identified with the Western world. But, he added: “Of late, I see a lot of these Western nations bullying small nations. And not only that, they are into so much hypocrisy.” An obviously elated Putin congratulated Duterte. He called the May 9 election that Duterte won “indeed a very bright day,” noting it came on the Russian holiday marking victory over Nazi Germany. Putin said the Philippine leader has done much quickly in “developing the all-round partnership between our countries and with respect to promoting greater trust and confidence between us.” Earlier, Duterte promised his Chinese counterpart that he will align his foreign policy toward China-led Asian economic development, further reinforcing his shift toward China amid his hostile stance toward the U.S.

     Duterte first met Xi in a state visit to Beijing last month, where their governments forged mostly trade and economic accords. They also discussed longstanding territorial disputes in the South China Sea. After his China trip, Filipinos were allowed back to fish in the disputed Scarborough Shoal, which Chinese coast guard vessels have guarded since seizing the rich fishing area in 2012. In their meeting in Lima, Duterte told Xi that “we will cooperate with you.” He added: “With my thrust of an independent foreign policy, we will find ourselves mutually agreeing in so many things and align our foreign policy towards the development of Asia, strengthening of ties among the countries in the region, with China leading the way in the economic development.” Before he left for APEC, Duterte said Thursday he might follow Russia’s example and withdraw from the International Criminal Court, where his critics say he could be charged over the thousands killed in his war on drugs.

November 24, 2016

VENEZUELAN NATIONAL ASSEMBLY APPOINTS SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO INQUIRE INTO NICOLAS MADURO'S NEPHEWS NARCO CASE

    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA  -- The plenary meeting of the National Assembly (AN) on Tuesday approved with 101 votes from the opposition parliamentary group an agreement “in rejection of influence peddling with regard to drug trafficking by top government officials.” The motion was presented apropos the conviction against Franqui Flores de Freitas and Efraín Campos Flores held in New York. Opposition-led National Assembly discussed on Tuesday “the possible involvement of the Venezuelan government” respect to the drug trafficking conviction imposed on Venezuelans Efraín Antonio Campo Flores and Francisco Flores de Freitas last week

      The approved agreement, which contains nine items, includes appointing a special joint committee. The drive calls on President Nicolás Maduro and other government officials to facilitate national investigations about the case, “without falling into abuse of power to cover up” responsibilities. Similarly, the opposition lawmakers urged both the Attorney General’s Office and the Comptroller General Office to kick off relevant investigations aimed at ultimately prosecuting Venezuelans involved in the case. At the same time, they called on the Executive Office and the Attorney General’s Office “to honor their commitment to the people on the fight against corruption and the effective struggle against drug trafficking and offenses against public treasury.”

     At the same time, Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister Delcy Rodríguez said she would sue dissenting Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski for “forgery of public documents” to deceive the country. Rodríguez denied that her office had issued diplomatic passports to two Venezuelans convicted in the US for drug trafficking. “It is absolutely false that the Venezuelan Foreign Office had issued diplomatic passports to illegible citizens in accordance with the rules,” the minister posted. On Monday, Governor Henrique Capriles aired on Twitter a picture showing apparent diplomatic passports belonging to Campos and Flores de Freitas, who were found guilty of drug trafficking by a US jury on Friday.

VENEZUELA WILL BE SUSPENDED FROM MERCOSUR BEGINNING DECEMBER FIRST

      MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY
  --  Venezuela will be suspended from South American trade bloc Mercosur at the beginning of next month, a top official said Monday. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government has not adopted 112 resolutions as Venezuelan law, routine procedure for members, leading to its sidelining beginning December 1, Paraguay's Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga said.

     Venezuela has said it cannot adopt the text because it conflicts with its domestic laws. "If you join an international agreement and something conflicts with local law, you indicate reservations," and Caracas has not, Loizaga said. Mercosur countries had given Venezuela a three-month period to get up to date on putting the bloc's measures into effect. Although Venezuela joined Mercosur in 2012, it has yet to ratify a large number of rules governing trade, politics, democracy and human rights. Venezuela's neighbors are becoming increasingly wary of developments in the once-booming economy.

      Maduro's opponents blame him for an economic meltdown marked by food shortages, riots and looting in the oil-rich country which is facing its third year of deep recession, hit hard by the plunge in global crude prices since mid-2014. The crisis comes at a delicate moment for Mercosur, which has relaunched free-trade negotiations with the European Union. Tensions between Maduro's government and its Mercosur partners were exacerbated with the election of Mauricio Macri as president of Argentina in 2015 and the replacement of Brazil's ousted former president Dilma Rousseff with Michel Temer. Both right-leaning leaders replaced leftist presidents.

TESTIMONY BEGINS IN CORRUPTION CASE AGAINST BRAZIL'S LULA DA SYLVA

       SAO PAULO, BRAZIL --
 Testimony began Monday in the first corruption trial to open against former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who faces charges in a wide-ranging investigation that has ensnared many of Brazil’s political and business elite. The broader investigation into kickbacks involving the state oil company Petrobras, construction companies and politicians has roiled Brazilian politics, surprising many for both the scale of the alleged corruption but also the determination of the judiciary to see it through.

     Arrests of high-level politicians or businessmen have seemed to come every week, a sea change in a country where such crimes had long been met with impunity, said Sergio Praca, a political scientist at the Fundacao Getulio Vargas university in Rio de Janeiro. “There were a dozen times when it could have stopped, but it didn’t,” he said, noting that the ground was laid during a smaller corruption prosecution at the beginning of the decade. In the case before the court Monday, Silva, who was president 2003-10, faces charges of corruption and money laundering for allegedly accepting more than a million dollars in bribes from construction company OAS, which has been targeted in the Petrobras investigation.
 

      The case centers on ownership of and renovations to a penthouse apartment in a coastal town that officially belongs to OAS, but prosecutors say is really owned by Silva. Judge Sergio Moro heard from a former senator and three businessmen, all of whom testified Monday under plea bargain deals. As each took the stand, Moro swore the witness in and reminded him that he would lose his deal if he did not tell the truth. Silva has vociferously denied the allegations, in this case and two others in which he faces charges. A conviction now seems quite possible, Praca said. That would be a remarkable turn for Brazil, and it would pose a big problem for the Worker’s Party, which is holding out hope Silva will be able to be its presidential candidate in 2018 despite his current unpopularity.

November 23, 2016

COLOMBIA'S NEW PEACE DEAL WITH FARC REBELS REJECTED BY OPPOSITION LED BY ALVARO URIBE

    
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- Deal will be discussed by congress on Wednesday as government claims new accord includes amendments to 56 of 57 points raised by opposition. The Colombian opposition has rejected the latest version of a peace agreement between Farc guerrillas and the country’s government, following a six-hour meeting with government delegates. Senator and opposition leader Álvaro Uribe met Monday with Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos to review the revised accord. Colombian voters unexpectedly rejected an earlier version of the government’s peace deal with the Farc in an 2 October referendum.

     The former Colombian president may find his hand strengthened if fresh talks take place with Farc rebels. “We insisted on the introduction of amendments to the agreement prepared by the government and the Farc, and the government opposed these changes on substantial subjects,” Uribe told journalists. Opponents reiterated that if some of their demands were not definitively included in the new deal, it would be a mere “reworking of the agreement rejected by the citizens”.

     “We are totally willing to engage in dialogue with the government and the guerrillas concerning these changes,” Uribe said. The conservative leader said the opposition was proposing to meet guerrilla delegates who had arrived Monday in Bogota to prepare for the signing of the peace agreement. According to the government, the new accord includes amendments pertaining to 56 of the 57 points raised by the opposition. Santos, who won the Nobel Peace prize in October, said the deal would be presented to congress on Wednesday for discussion. The armed conflict that has endured for more than half a century has left more than 260,000 dead, more than 60,000 missing and 6.9 million displaced.

RUSSIA SAYS IT MAY REOPEN SOVIET-ERA MILITARY BASES IN CUBA AND VIETNAM

      MOSCOW, RUSSIA
  --Russia lowered its flag at the Lourdes signals intelligence base in Cuba and the deepwater Cam Rahn naval base in Vietnam in the early 2000s as part of a drawing down of Russia's military presence around the world after the demise of the Soviet Union. The withdrawals were ordered by Vladimir Putin, in order to bolster ties with the US. Re-opening the bases would be a provocative step, and one that is in line with the more assertive foreign policy Mr Putin has pursued in recent years.

     Pankov said the military was "reviewing" the decision to withdraw from Cuba and Vietnam. "As for our presence on faraway outposts, we are doing this work," he said. Aleksy Chepa, former deputy chief of the foreign affairs committee in Russia's parliament, applauded the idea of expanding Russia's global military presence. "I believe that it would correspond with Russian interests to restore the bases in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa that were closed,” he said The United States is in the process of normalising relations with Cuba, which in Soviet times had offered Moscow its closest military installation to US territory, less than 100 miles from the Florida Keys.

     The Cuban missile crisis in 1962, a 13-day standoff over Soviet ballistic missiles on the island, was perhaps the closest the US and USSR came to nuclear war. Vietnam's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment and Cuban officials were not available for comment. Russia defied the US and Nato in invading Georgia in 2008 and annexing Crimea in 2014, reasserting hegemony over former Soviet holdings. The relationship between Russia and the US has further deteriorated in recent weeks over Russia's collaboration with the Syrian regime. Russia moved to ensure a long-term presence in Syria yesterday as the country's parliament ratified an agreement that will see a Russian base extended for an "indefinite" period.

VENEZUELA'S CURRENCY WEAKENS PAST 2,000/DOLLAR ON BLACK MARKET

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
 Venezuela's bolivar currency weakened on Monday past 2,000 per dollar on the black market for the first time following a 44.82 percent depreciation in the last month, according to website DolarToday. The government of President Nicolas Maduro maintains exchange controls that sell one U.S. dollar for every 10 bolivars to import priority goods such as food and medicine. The system also sells a dollar for every 660 bolivars for non-essential items.

     But businesses frequently buy on less favorable terms on the black market because they cannot obtain dollars at either of the more preferential rates. Venezuela is struggling with runaway inflation and Soviet-style product shortages as a result of a decaying socialist economic system and low oil prices that have cut into hard currency earnings. Maduro has said his government is victim of an "economic war."

     The black market is used as a benchmark by Venezuelan businesses seeking to set prices and foreign investors gauging the health of the economy. DolarToday on Monday showed the rate reaching 2,192.65. The sharp depreciation followed 14.2 percent increase in the total supply of bolivars in the last month, according to central bank statistics. Adding bolivars to the economy generally puts pressure on the exchange rate. The funds that banks have available to make commercial loans, an indicator known as "excess bank reserves," nearly tripled in the same period, according to the central bank.

November 22, 2016

DONALD TRUMP CONSIDERS MITT ROMNEY FOR SECRETARY OF STATE

    
WASHINGTON, D.C.  -- Vicepresident-elect Mike Pence has confirmed that Romney is being considered for the post of secretary of state, among others. The statement, in a Fox News interview, comes after President-elect Donald Trump met  Romney, a Republican who criticised him during the campaign. There has been speculation that the post of top diplomat was discussed. Neither man gave details of their meeting on Saturday. Romney said talks had been "far-reaching".
    
     Romney, who ran an unsuccessful campaign against Barack Obama in 2012, met Mr Trump at the president-elect's golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey. "It was a warm and a substantive exchange and I know he is under active consideration to be secretary of state (...) along with some other distinguished Americans," Pence told the Fox News Sunday programme. In March, during the Republican primary race, Romney said Trump had neither "the temperament nor the judgement to be president", accusing him of bullying, misogyny and dishonesty.

     "Prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished" if Mr Trump became the nominee, he said. Trump said his meeting with Mitt Romney 'went great.' Trump responded by mocking Romney, calling him a "failed candidate" and a "choke artist". However, US media have suggested that the role of secretary of state could be up for grabs. In the past, Romney has taken a far more critical line on Russia than that suggested by Trump. Mr Trump has settled several posts so far, a number of them controversial.

DONALD TRUMP CONFIRMS HE'S CONSIDERING GENERAL JAMES MATTIS FOR DEFENSE SECRETARY

      WASHINGTON, D.C. 
  --U.S. President-elect Donald Trump confirmed Sunday that he is considering retired Gen. James Mattis for secretary of defense. Trump, who on Saturday met with Mattis, said in a Twitter post that he had been very impressed with him. “General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, who is being considered for Secretary of Defense, was very impressive yesterday. A true General’s General!” tweeted the president-elect.

     A former Marine Corps general, Mattis headed the U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, from 2010-2013, the U.S. command that is responsible for troops across a wide swath of the globe, including the Middle East. During his tenure there, he oversaw the withdrawal from Iraq and the surge in Afghanistan. Before that, his other command assignments included heading the first Marines to invade Afghanistan in 2001 and the 1st Marine Infantry Division during the Iraq incursion in 2003.

     Mattis clashed with the Barack Obama administration over the Middle East, mainly over Iran, a country he has called the greatest threat to the United States in the region. As CNN noted on Sunday, Mattis would need to receive special permission from Congress to take over at the Pentagon, since the rules establish that retired military personnel must have been inactive for seven years before assuming that kind of post. However, given that Republicans control both houses of Congress, receiving that permission would appear to be a mere formality.

CARLOS VECCHIO: WHAT MADURO SAYS ABOUT PDVSA CONTRACT AWARDED TO NARCOSOBRINOS FINANCIER?

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
The spokesperson of Popular Will Party urged the prosecutor of the Republic, Luisa Ortega Díaz, to rule on the case of Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efraín Campos Flores, nephews of Cilia Flores, the First Lady of Venezuela. Carlos Vecchio, coordinator of Popular Will Party, questioned that in September, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), awarded a contract for 138 million dollars to Wilmer Ruperti, a businessman who paid all the expenses of the defense of the relatives of the presidential couple.

     "In September, Pdvsa awarded the contract to Maroil Trading for $ 138 million." Ruperti, the owner of the company paid the defense attorneys of the “narcosobrinos, " the opposition leader said through Twitter. Vecchio cited Article 73 of the Anti-Corruption Law, which establishes the crime of influence peddling. He urged the prosecutor of the Republic, Luisa Ortega Díaz, to speak on the matter. "The case of narcosobrinos merits an exhaustive investigation to establish responsibility in every aspect of the case," he added. The leader of Popular Voluntary, who is residing abroad, lamented that in Venezuela drug trafficking is run "from those who hold power."

     Article 73: A public official who improperly, directly or through an interposed person, takes advantage of the functions exercised or using the influences derived therefrom, to obtained an advance or economic benefit or other utility for himself or for a third party, will be punished With imprisonment of two (2) to four (4) years. The same penalty shall apply to whoever, for his own benefit or another, makes improper use of the influence or ancestry that may have on any public official to order or perform any act of his own functions, to omit, delay or precipitate or to do something that is contrary to the duty that they impose. The official acting under these conditions shall be punished with the same penalty, increased by one-third (1/3) to half (1/2), except if the circumstances provided for in the second part of Article 62 of this Decree with Range , Value and Force of Law, in which case the sanction provided for in this article shall be applied.

November 21, 2016

VLADIMIR PUTIN WITHDRAWS RUSSIA FROM INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT

    
MOSCOW, RUSSIA -- Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree Wednesday to withdraw Russia from the International Criminal Court, which rules on such grave charges as genocide and crimes against humanity. Russia in 2000 signed the Rome treaty that established the Hague-based court but never ratified it. Putin's decree, published on the Kremlin's website, comes a day after the U.N. General Assembly's human rights committee approved a resolution condemning Russia's "temporary occupation of Crimea" and blamed Russia for rights abuses such as discrimination against some Crimean residents, such as Tatars.

    Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014 from Ukraine following a hastily called referendum, a move that led to crippling Western sanctions. A separatist insurgency erupted in eastern Ukraine the following month, backed by Russia. The ICC on Monday issued a preliminary report where it described what happened in Crimea as "an international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation." His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, explained the withdrawal by "national interests" and argued that since Russia never ratified it Wednesday's decree was just a formality. Peskov also dismissed the ICC's accusations of an "armed conflict" in Crimea, arguing that Crimea joined Russia after a legitimate popular vote.

    Russia's foreign ministry insisted in a statement that Russia wants everyone implicated in grave international crimes to face justice but expressed frustration over the court's work in recent years. "The court has unfortunately failed to match the hopes one had and did not become a truly independent and respected body of international justice," the ministry said, adding that in the ICCs' 14 years of work "only four verdicts" have been passed while $1 billion was spent on expenses. Just hours before Russia's announcement, the U.N. human rights chief made a spirited defense of the ICC, entreating countries not to leave it. Several African nations have recently announced plans to leave the treaty.

CRISTINA KIRCHNER'S MOTHER HIT WITH CORRUPTION IN ARGENTINA

      BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
  -- Cristina Kirchner’s mother (87 years old) may have her own corruption scandal to go along with the one faced by her daughter and granddaughter. Federal prosecutors charged the former Argentinian President’s mother Ofelia Wilhelm with having signed “irregular documents” with El Aldabón Ltda, which was contracted to deliver mail by the country’s mail service Correo Argentina.

     This means Wilhelm allegedly committed fraud against the national government, as El Aldabón had been contracted between 2011 and 2015 by the state to do work worth up to AR $61 million (US $3 million). The primary irregularity is that officials with Correo Argentina should never have contracted El Aldabón to distribute mail because it can only work with companies that are registered and qualified to complete this type of work. El Aldabón is not one of these companies.

     Another irregularity is that El Aldabón tried to outsource the job which isn’t permitted, according to the National Institute of Associativism and Social Economy. This Wednesday, Cristina Kirchner accused President Mauricio Macri of being behind the charges, and claimed he was going after her family. “What are you trying to invent?” She wrote on Facebook. “You are trying to make Argentinians believe that the country is bad. Did you think this through? I thought with me and my daughter you would have had enough. Or are things going so badly that you and Clarín have to start pursuing an old lady that doesn’t leave the house.”

VENEZUELA OIL PRICE FALLS FOR 5TH STRAIGHT WEEK

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
The price Venezuela receives for its mix of medium and heavy oil fell for the fifth straight week -- though only slightly -- as oil markets remain well-supplied and OPEC and non-OPEC nations prepare for a November 30 meeting to cut oil production. According to figures released by the Venezuela Ministry of Petroleum and Mining, the average price of Venezuelan crude sold by Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) during the week ending November 18 was $37.34, down 12 cents from the previous week's $37.46.

     Historically, Venezuela's basket set its highest weekly average ever on July 18, 2008, when it hit $126.46 before economies around the world began crashing under the weight of expensive oil. The recent low was set January 22, 2016, when Venezuela's basket averaged just $21.63. According to the US Department of Energy, Venezuela was the fourth-largest supplier of imported crude oil and petroleum products to the United States behind Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico. U.S. imports from Venezuela have been on an overall decline in recent years. In the month of October 2015, the United States imported an average of 802,000 barrels per day of crude oil and petroleum products from Venezuela, a decline of 49% from a decade ago.

     Venezuela sends a large share of its oil exports to the United States because of the proximity and the operation of sophisticated U.S. Gulf Coast refineries specifically designed to handle heavy Venezuelan crude. While U.S. imports of primarily crude oil from Venezuela have been on the decline, U.S. exports of petroleum products to Venezuela have increased largely because of Venezuela’s tight finances that leave it unable to invest and maintain its own domestic refineries. Oil is the main export of Venezuela and provides most of the country's foreign currency. As of 2015, Venezuela had nearly 298 billion barrels of proved oil reserves -- the largest in the world. The next largest proved oil reserves are in Saudi Arabia with 268 billion barrels and Canada with 173 billion barrels.

November 20, 2016

DONALD TRUMP OFFERS AL GENERAL MICHAEL FLYNN THE JOB OF NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR

    
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- President-elect Donald Trump announced he will tap Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn for the role of national security advisor, the transition announced Friday. “Flynn is one of the country's foremost experts on military and intelligence matters and he will be an invaluable asset to me and my administration," Trump said in a statement. His appointment won't require Senate confirmation, which is potentially helpful for Trump, as Flynn has a long history of controversial remarks and was fired as President Barack Obama's director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014.

    Flynn wrote in his 2016 book, "The Field of Fight," that he was booted from Obama's administration by "censors" who were unhappy he'd told a congressional committee "that we were not as safe as we had been a few years back." However, US officials said Flynn was pushed out because of his contentious management style. First created in the early days of the Cold War, the job of national security advisor is seen as critical to implementing a president's worldview on the various departments and agencies involved in national security.

    Famous national security advisers who made a major impact on American foreign policy have included Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft. Susan Rice is the current national security advisor. Flynn enjoys tremendous access and credibility with Trump, especially because he's had several tours of duty on the battlefield. "What makes Gen. Flynn different from so many others that we've heard about on Donald Trump's transition team is he is the one with the real experience fighting on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq," said Peter Bergen, CNN's national security analyst. "Certainly, he would be a very plausible candidate for national security advisor, which is arguably the most important national security position in the government," Bergen added.

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE POMPEO IS TRUMP'S PICK TO LEAD THE CIA

      WASHINGTON, D.C.
 -- On Friday, President-elect Donald J. Trump, who defeated Mrs. Clinton after a bitter campaign, selected Representative Mike Pompeo to run the Central Intelligence Agency. Pompeo, a hawkish Republican from Kansas, rose to prominence during the investigation into the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. He was once pointedly asked why his committee’s inquiry into the 2012 attacks on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, had dragged on longer than the Watergate investigation. He did not flinch. “This is worse, in some ways,” he said, during an appearance on “Meet the Press” in late 2015.

     After graduating first in his class at West Point, Mr. Pompeo served as an armored Cavalry officer and was deployed in Germany during the final years of the Cold War. After leaving the Army, he attended Harvard Law School and was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. A sharp, pugnacious Kansas congressman and former Army tank officer with degrees from West Point and Harvard, Mr. Pompeo was often an unyielding critic of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — accusing her of orchestrating a wide-ranging cover-up of the Benghazi attacks. If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Pompeo would become one of the most overtly partisan figures to take over the C.I.A.

    The C.I.A. has been central to America’s secret wars waged in the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, giving the agency a shadow role in the counterterrorism policy of the past two presidents. As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Pompeo (pronounced Pom-PAY-oh) has used his platform to denounce efforts in recent years to rein in some of the most polarizing counterterrorism programs of the post-Sept. 11 era. He has advocated a return to the bulk collection of Americans’ domestic calling records — which Congress restricted though legislation last year — and he has denounced President Obama’s decision in 2009 to close C.I.A. black-site prisons and also to require government interrogators to strictly adhere to the rules of the Army Field Manual.

DONALD TRUMP CHOOSES SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL

       WASHINGTON, D.C. --
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump confirmed on Friday that he had chosen Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general, Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo for CIA director and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn to be his national security adviser. Trump confirmed those Cabinet picks in a statement shortly after several U.S. media outlets had reported that those would be his choices. The president-elect hailed Sessions’ track record in the Senate and his legal experience, saying he is “greatly admired by legal scholars and virtually everyone who knows him.”

      A veteran senator and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions is a staunch opponent of a so-called “comprehensive” immigration overhaul that would provide a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented migrants. In 1986, then-President Ronald Reagan nominated Sessions to a judgeship on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, but his nomination was rejected over accusations he had made racist remarks. Sessions, a former U.S. attorney in Mobile, Alabama, and ex-attorney general for that state, was one of Trump’s campaign advisers and since his victory in the Nov. 8 election has helped with Cabinet picks as a member of his transition team.

     “My previous 15 years working in the Department of Justice were extraordinarily fulfilling. I love the department, its people and its mission. I can think of no greater honor than to lead them,” he added. Sessions said he enthusiastically shared Trump’s vision for “‘one America’ and his commitment to equal justice under law.” For the post of CIA director, Trump opted for Pompeo, a Tea Party member. “He has served our country with honor and spent his life fighting for the security of our citizens,” Trump said. Pompeo, a member of the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said he was honored to have the opportunity to serve and work alongside Trump to keep the United States safe. “I also look forward to working with America’s intelligence warriors, who do so much to protect Americans each and every day,” he added.

November 19, 2016

VENEZUELAN FIRST LADY'S 2 NEPHEWS FOUND GUILTY IN DRUG CASE

    
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK -- Two nephews of Venezuela's first lady were convicted on Friday of charges they conspired to send drugs to the United States. The jury returned its verdict in the case against Efrain Campo and his cousin Francisco Flores after less than a day of deliberations. The nephews of Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores were charged with conspiring last year to import more than 1,700 pounds of cocaine into the United States. Lawyers for Campo and Flores argued no drugs traded hands and the men never intended to deliver any. They blamed a flawed Drug Enforcement Administration-led probe that relied on a longtime informant who was using and dealing cocaine as he helped build the case.

     A defense lawyer told the jury on Thursday in closing arguments that the first lady's nephews should be acquitted because a U.S. sting operation was so deeply flawed that prosecutors had to take the rare step of notifying its star witness they were ripping up his cooperation deal because of his lies. "He lied in your face!" attorney David Rody told the jurors. "You saw a rare thing, a government cooperator get ripped up in court." Rody said the testimony by the informant was crucial to the government's case against Francisco Flores and Campo. And he said it explains why the government didn't cut ties with him after learning in April that he had been dealing drugs for the last four years even as he was being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to work as an informant for the DEA and others.

     Prosecutors had urged jurors to look at other evidence in the case including statements the defendants made to federal agents and recordings of meetings.
"The defendants thought they were above the law," Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan Quigley said. "They thought they could operate with impunity in Venezuela because of who they were and who they were related to. They thought they could easily make tons of money sending drugs out of the country because, as defendant Flores said, the DEA is not here and the Americans don't come in here. But they were wrong." The sentence is expected to be published on March 7, 2017.

"COLECTIVOS": THE  REASON WHY 80% OF VENEZUELANS CAN'T UNSEAT NICOLAS MADURO

      
CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --  Thursday morning, four men in two motorcycles showed at the headquarters of "El Estimulo", a private Venezuelan digital media group. They gained entrance by threatening the security guard with firearms and, once inside, stole 18 laptops and smartphones from the reporters. The men acted brazenly, blandishing handguns with their faces uncovered and threatening the employees and journalists, almost all of them female, with death if they didn't comply. "That's not a common robbery," one of the journalists said after the fact. "Those are colectivos".

    The use of armed gangs known as “colectivos” in targeted attacks against journalists and members of the opposition, together with other force strategies, is what may be keeping the vast majority of Venezuelans from unseating embattled President Nicolas Maduro. Just two months earlier, in August a similar attack happened at the headquarters of the digital portal Cronica Uno. Ten computers, televisions, two routers CANTV and external memory were stolen from the offices of the digital medium. While committing theft, the perpetrators held at gunpoint the employees and locked them in the bathroom. Both news sites have been diligently covering the news and have some of Venezuela's leading journalists working there.

     Currently “Venezuela is providing the script on repression for left leaning Latin American regimes," said John Otis, of the Committee to Protect Journalists during Skype remarks from Bogota, Colombia Wednesday, at a professional event for reporters in Caracas. Most worryingly, “colectivos” have done nothing but grow in number and sophistication under chavismo: they started as part of the “Bolivarian Circles” street gangs in 2001 but now control food distribution in Venezuelan slums (a key business in a country with acute food shortages) together with “los militares”, a blanket denomination that used to mean members of the Army exclusively but now means anybody armed and affiliated with the government, including of course “colectivo” members.

VENEZUELAN STUDENTS DEMAND DIALOGUE RESULTS FROM SPAIN'S ZAPATERO

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
About a dozen Venezuelan student representatives gathered on Thursday before the Spanish Embassy in Caracas to demand of former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, a mediator in the dialogue between the Venezuelan government and the opposition, that he specify what results have been achieved in those talks. “Mr. Zapatero, put yourself in the shoes of the mothers who cannot get food for their children, put yourself in the shoes of the families who cannot get medicines for their seniors,” the president of the Federation of University Centers of Venezuela’s Central University, Hasler Iglesias, told reporters.

     The students carried signs saying “Zapatero, put yourself in our shoes” and held their shoes in their hands, asking that the results of the agreements reached in the dialogue between the Nicolas Maduro government and the Venezuelan opposition implemented. “We Venezuelans need results and ... we want to see concrete actions to exercise our right to vote, to have access to food and healthcare and to see our jailed comrades free once again,” said Iglesias.
The student leader also asked the Spanish politician to “stop allowing the government to delay the exercise of the rights of Venezuelans.”

     Iglesias said that the group presented these demands to Zapatero because “he was the first international actor to come to Venezuela” saying that he was in the country to guarantee the rights of Venezuelans. The student leader said that on Thursday it will have been five days since last Saturday, when the government and the opposition reached agreement on certain matters, but so far “the first release (of an opposition prisoner) has not been seen,” and neither have medicines or food entered the country “and the situation of scarcity, of shortages today remains the same.”

November 18, 2016

VENEZUELA CONGRESS DECLARES RAFAEL RAMIREZ RESPONSIBLE FOR PDVSA GRAFT

    
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- Venezuela's opposition-led National Assembly on Wednesday declared former PDVSA President Rafael Ramirez "politically responsible" for what it says was flagrant corruption at the state oil company during his decade-long tenure. Last month, a report by Venezuela's congressional comptroller's commission said some $11 billion in funds went missing when Ramirez was at the helm from 2004 to 2014. Ramirez denied the charges, and last month the Supreme Court approved an injunction against the probe at his request. The National Assembly's opposition deputies voted unanimously to approve the report and push for a judicial investigation of Ramirez. Ruling Socialist Party deputies boycotted the session.

    Speaking next to a pile of 10 boxes filled with documents, Freddy Guevara, the president of the comptroller's commission, accused PDVSA's former boss of being responsible for Venezuela's deep economic crisis. "When today we see a Venezuelan eating from the trash, it's because delinquents like Rafael Ramirez stole money and did not do anything to stop the pillage of Venezuela's main industry," said Guevara, an opposition lawmaker from the hardline Popular Will party. "Rafael Ramirez was involved, and directly responsible, for the biggest corruption case in Venezuela's history."

    Ramirez defended himself on Twitter on Wednesday. "The dirtiest people in politics, the coup-mongering fascists, hate us for returning our oil to the people," he tweeted in posts that included photos of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez. "I'll always be proud of having fulfilled the most important of duties at the head of PDVSA. Long live Chavez!" The Caracas-based company did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Critics have long accused PDVSA of corruption, but the company has maintained it is the target of a right-wing smear campaign, led by the United States and compliant international media, to sabotage socialism. The company, which manages the world's largest oil reserves, brings in about 95 percent of Venezuela's export revenue and has been the country's financial engine during 17 years of leftist rule in the OPEC member.

VENEZUELA BARQUISIMETO AIRPORT TURNS INTO WILD SCENE AS AUTHORITIES DETAIN LORENZO MENDOZA

      
CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --  LORENZO MENDOZA, The owner of Venezuela’s largest food and beverage company, Empresas Polar, was detained by airport authorities today in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, and prohibited from leaving the country, according to the company. Lorenzo Mendoza es retenido en aeropuerto Barquisimeto cuando se dirigía a dictar conferencia en Cámara de Comercio de Quito. Lorenzo Mendoza, a vocal critic of President Nicolas Maduro, was trying to catch a flight to a business conference in Quito, Ecuador, but airport authorities would not allow him to board the plane “on orders from Caracas,” Mendoza told reporters inside the airport.

    The unexplained detention and “harassment” of the billionaire businessman was quickly picked up by the media and denounced by opposition politicians. Employees from the beer company also mobilized and marched to the airport to support their CEO. Trabajadores de Polar presentes en Aeropuerto de Barquisimeto en apoyo a Lorenzo Mendoza. The ensuing media circus at the airport turned into an opportunity for Mendoza to further blast the Venezuelan government for it’s “absurd persecution” of him and his company, and it’s total mismanagement of the economy.

    He said his factories have been closed for six days due to the lack to primary materials in Venezuela. “The Venezuelan state has paralyzed the national industry due to lack of primary materials,” he said, before getting into a full explanation of why the Venezuelan economy is failing. Polar has been battling worsening production production for years as the country runs out of barley, malt and everything else needed to produce food and brew beer. Mendoza, who said he would catch a flight back to Caracas after not being allowed to leave the country, apologized to Ecuador for not being able to attend the conference.

POLL: NICOLAS MADURO APPROVAL SLIPS TO MINIMUM, UNDER 20 PERCENT

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's approval levels slipped under 20 percent for the first time last month amid a fierce political dispute over his ouster and a grueling economic crisis, according to a leading survey seen by Reuters.

     Socialist-run Venezuela's struggling state-led economic model and a fall in the price of oil, its biggest export, have led to acute shortages of everything from medicines to milk, galloping three-digit inflation, and a profound recession. Some 19.5 percent of Venezuelans said they approved of Maduro in October, down from around 22 percent in September, the survey by pollster Datanalisis seen on Thursday showed. Approximately 78.5 percent of Venezuelans disapprove of the former bus driver and union leader, according to the poll, which is not public.

    Though low presidential approval ratings are common in Latin America, support for the late leader Hugo Chavez rarely dropped below 50 percent and often exceeded that level. The opposition is seeking to remove his successor Maduro, whom it accuses of causing the biggest economic disaster in Venezuela. But its push for a recall referendum against him took a potentially fatal hit last month when the country's electoral board suspended the next phase of the vote on fraud allegations. Slamming the planned recall referendum as a veiled coup, Maduro has vowed to stay in power until the end of his term in early 2019.

November 17, 2016

COLOMBIAN PRESIDENTE JUAN MANUEL SANTOS WILL UNDERGO TESTS IN U.S. DUE TO CANCER RELAPSE CONCERNS

    
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA - Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor on his prostate in 2012, said on Tuesday that he would travel to the United States for medical tests after an examination raised concerns of a relapse. The 2016 Nobel Peace Prize recipient said at the Fundacion Santa Fe de Bogota hospital, where he underwent tests on Tuesday, that he would travel to the United States on Wednesday, have more tests taken the following day and return to Colombia on Friday.

     The president added that a recent examination that showed an alteration in his prostatic antigen levels took him by surprise. “This news took my family and me by surprise. I remain confident that the results of these new tests will be positive,” he added. Santos said he had asked Fundacion Santa Fe de Bogota director Adolfo Llinas to inform the country about the results of the tests he underwent there once this diagnostic stage has concluded. Minutes earlier, the physician read a statement in which he said “an increase in the prostatic antigen levels was detected” in a routine follow-up examination and that a second test confirmed that result.

     The physician added that in light of these findings the hospital recommended that Santos undergo complementary tests at the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center in Baltimore as soon as possible. The president said that, as is customary, he asked for congressional authorization to travel. In October 2012, Santos underwent successful surgery to extract a tumor from his prostate. Days later, the president said he had been given a clean bill of health. He said that during his upcoming U.S. visit he would attend a gala dinner in honor of Vice President Joe Biden, whom he described as a “great ally of Colombia.” Santos said he also planned to meet with Democratic and Republican senators to inform them about the modified peace agreement reached over the weekend with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrilla group and discuss upcoming steps in the post-conflict phase.

COLOMBIAN GOVERNMENT: NEW ACCORD WITH FARC IS "DEFINITIVE"

      
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA  --  The peace agreement signed last weekend with the FARC rebels is “definitive” and all that remains to be discussed is the matter of ratification, the Colombian government’s chief negotiator said on Tuesday. “This is the final agreement,” Humberto de la Calle told a news conference at the presidential palace. “Really, what comes next is a discussion on the ways this pact will be ratified.” The pact announced last Saturday in Havana is “a truly new accord, authentically new, that includes more than 80% of the concerns of those who voted ‘no,’” in an Oct. 2 referendum on the original agreement, De la Calle said.

    A narrow majority of the fewer than 37% of voters who cast ballots last month rejected the text signed on Sept. 26 by President Juan Manuel Santos and the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to end a 52-year-long armed conflict. Critics of the original pact, led by right-wing former President Alvaro Uribe, say the government should not describe the new agreement as definitive until the “no” voters have read and approved the document. “This is the final agreement, this is the definitive agreement,” De la Calle said Tuesday. “There really is no room for a new negotiation.”

    The new text is the result of long days “of meticulous work with FARC” in Cuba and represents the only basis for progress, he said. Colombia’s high commissioner for Peace, Sergio Jaramillo, who took part in the press conference along with De la Calle, negotiators Frank Pearl and Roy Barreras, and Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo, said that the rebels “worked with much maturity, much political realism, listening to Colombians.” The FARC “accepted a lot of things that are not easy for a guerrilla army to accept,” including the loss of concessions they had gained in the first peace agreement, Jaramillo said. Ratification of the new pact, De la Calle said, “should come in the shortest period of time possible.” Colombian leaders must decide whether the ratification will be done by Congress or through a second referendum.

THE INTERNATIONAL ENERGY AGENCY (IEA) URGES OPEP NOT TO INTERVENE IN THE OIL MARKET

        PARIS, FRANCE --
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has predicted that the crude oil market, which is currently oversupplied, will re-balance earlier than expected if the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) implement the decision to cap production when they meet at the end of this month. This is coming as Iraqi, OPEC’s second largest producer has demanded that the war-torn nations should get the same exemptions as Iran, Nigeria and Libya – which have had their crude output hit by unrest and sanctions, stressing that Baghdad should also not participate in the output cut because it is waging a war against Islamic State militants.

     Speaking to reporters yesterday on the sidelines of an energy conference in Singapore, the Head of IEA, Fatih Birol however stated that under the current conditions, the Paris-based energy advisor to the industrialized nations expects global output to exceed demand until the second half of 2017. “But we know that the producers are thinking of intervening in the markets. The OPEC and non-OPEC producers, if they intervene in the markets, this re-balance can be earlier than the second half of 2017,” Birol added. Last month’s decision by OPEC members to trim oil production has since sent prices surging.

      According to agency reports, the OPEC’s deal, which aims to stabilise prices is the first to limit production since 2008 but details will only be determined during the group’s meeting on November 30 in Vienna. Iran, Saudi Arabia’s bitter geopolitical rival, was exempted from the cuts as it is still ramping up production depleted by years of crippling Western economic sanctions lifted only in January. Crude oil production has outpaced demand over the past two years.
The resulting supply glut has hammered prices from high of more than $100 a barrel in June 2014 to near 13-year low of $27 in February this year.

November 16, 2016

THE CONSTITUTIONAL CHAMBER OF THE SUPREME TRIBUNAL OF JUSTICE ADMITTED APPEAL AGAINST THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA -The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) admitted on Tuesday the constitutional appeal filed on November 9 by acting Solicitor General Reinaldo Muñoz "against the actions and threats from the Parliament against the public authorities (…)."

     The country’s top court also reasserted ruling 808 rendered on September 2, declaring that all the decisions made by the opposition-led National Assembly were unconstitutional, null and void, including enacted laws, as long as the Congress continues to disregard a previous ruling issued by the Electoral Chamber of the TSJ.

    The court reminded the National Assembly that, pursuant to such a judgment, it "has neither the authority nor the constitutional jurisdiction to impeach the president of the Republic." In that regard, the court issued a precautionary protection order instructing Congress deputies to "refrain from proceeding with the illegal political trial (against President Nicolás Maduro), issuing parliamentary orders or orders of any kind (…), or (convening and staging) violent demonstrations or actions that could upset the public order."

VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION COMMITS SUICIDE IN POLITICAL TERMS

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA
 --  The Vatican performs the burial. “You were given a choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have the war.” This famous phrase, by Winston Churchill, refers to one of the biggest and most shameful examples of political surrender in history: the Munich Agreement of 1938, in which British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain handed over Central Europe to Adolf Hitler.

     Churchill’s phrase and the shameful negotiation that inspired it came to mind immediately when one reads the deal between Nicolás Maduro‘s military regime and the Venezuelan opposition represented by the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD). More than a deal, this is a text that confirms beyond doubt the inexplicable weakness and evident mediocrity of those who have led Venezuela’s movement of democratic opposition (MUD) against Maduro’s dictatorial regime.

    “He who has eyes should see,” the late Hugo Chávez used to say very often. Today, this phrase is appropriate for anyone who has doubts about the competence of those who claim to lead the Venezuelan opposition. They surrendered all principles and they gave in on the most essential points of the negotiation. During the previous months, many authors at the PanAm Post have commented on the opposition leadership’s mediocrity and their lack of strategic vision. Henrique Capriles, a two-time presidential candidate, and his MUD minions chose mere posturing instead of taking concrete actions. The brave and indomitable María Corina Machado has said that the MUD confuses non-violent resistance with pacifism. Now we see that the MUD’s interpretation of non-violence really means surrender.

VENEZUELA'S CONGRESS OPENS AGAIN POLITICAL TRIAL AGAINST NICOLAR MADURO

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --
Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress has reopened a political trial against President Nicolas Maduro for breaking the constitutional order, deepening a standoff triggered by authorities' suspension of a recall referendum against the widely unpopular socialist leader. The move, in a special legislative session Tuesday, had been expected ever since opposition leaders declared themselves in open rebellion and called for street demonstrations to force Maduro from office.

     But it's unlikely to have any legal effect as Maduro still controls other branches of government, including the military and Supreme Court, which has already declared the National Assembly illegitimate. In Tuesday's vote, in which the opposition argued Maduro had effectively abandoned the presidency by neglecting his job, several lawmakers also questioned whether he was a dual Colombian national and therefore ineligible to hold Venezuela's highest office. It's an old, unproven claim widely seen as a stretch but one that analysts say is a reaction to the government's own trampling of the constitution in scrapping the recall that offered the best hope of peacefully resolving Venezuela's political and economic crisis.

     "If Maduro has dual nationality, he has no constitutional right to govern Venezuela," said Juan Miguel Matheus, an opposition lawmaker. "He'll go down as one of the biggest liars in history and the constitutional mechanisms to remove him from power and call new elections should be activated." Unlike other countries in Latin America such as Brazil, where Dilma Rousseff was removed from the presidency in August, Venezuela's National Assembly can't impeach the president. That decision lies squarely with the Supreme Court, which has never voted against Maduro.

November 15, 2016

HENRIQUE CAPRILES CALLS FOR VENEZUELA PROTESTSS TO BEGIN AGAIN

    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- Venezuelan opposition politician Henrique Capriles called for street protests against embattled President Nicolas Maduro to continue, only hours after the Maduro government and segments of the opposition signed a Vatican-sponsored agreement. “We have to retake the agenda of popular mobilizations all over the country. This is everybody’s task! The crisis is growing worse every day,” Capriles, who is governor of Miranda state, one of the country’s most populated, tweeted Sunday morning.

     On Friday, Maduro threatened to throw Capriles in jail on unspecified charges, a common practice for dealing for political opponents in post-Chavez Venezuela, only hours before the second Vatican-sponsored meeting between the parties. “I promise that he will lose the next gubernatorial elections, and watch out, he may even end up in jail,” a visibly irate Maduro said during his weekly “salsa” and official announcements radio show, “La Hora de la Salsa.”

    During the show’s second emission, Maduro continued his established practice of alternating important government announced with threats against opposition politicians and 1970’s classic salsa (“salsa brava”) music numbers, a genre that was popular with Maduro’s generation but that has been replaced by reggaeton in the hearts and minds of young, poor Venezuelans. Capriles' call for more protests comes just hours after the Saturday announcment of an agreement that awards the opposition several political victories but did not mentiona early presidential elections or a recall vote against Maduro, an option the opposition said it was pursuing, agreement notwithstanding.

VENEZUELA'S NICOLAS MADURO REJECTS CALLS FOR EARLY ELECTION

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA
 --  Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has rejected calls to hold early elections despite opposition efforts to remove him from power. Maduro made the comments Sunday during his weekly television program in reference to the Democratic Unity Roundtable opposition coalition's efforts to remove him -- at first through a recall referendum, which was suspended. After Venezuela's high court, the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, stalled the recall referendum efforts, opposition politicians began calling for early elections, which Maduro dismissed.

    "Nobody should get obsessed with electoral processes that are not in the constitution," Maduro said. "An electoral way out? Way out to where?" Venezuela's elections are scheduled for December 2018. Maduro's term ends early 2019. Maduro's regime and the opposition this month held a first phase of dialogue mediated by the Vatican seeking to end Venezuela's political crisis. The next round of talks are scheduled to begin Dec. 6. The opposition has vowed to return to holding protests, which were paused in efforts to facilitate negotiations.

    "We have to return immediately to the agenda of popular mobilization in the whole country! It is a task for us all. The crisis every day is worse," Henrique Capriles Radonski, a former presidential candidate and opposition governor of Venezuela's Miranda state, said in a statement. An economic crisis in Venezuela has led to shortages of basic goods. Maduro's regime and the opposition blame each other for exacerbating the crisis, which has led to a political crisis in which the opposition-controlled National Assembly's powers have been reduced by high court rulings accused of favoring Maduro.

RUSSIAN JET CRASHES NEAR ITS AIRCRAFT CARRIER IN MEDITERRANEAN, US OFFICIALS SAY

        THE PENTAGON  --
 A Russian fighter jet crashed in the Mediterranean Sea shortly after launching from its aircraft carrier near the coast of Syria Sunday, two U.S. officials told Fox News. Three Russian MiG-29 fighter jets took off from their Soviet-era aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, and flew in the direction of Syria. Once airborne, one of the Russian jets appeared to have mechanical difficulties and turned around in the direction of the aircraft carrier.

    The Russian jet splashed down in the water while attempting to land. A Russian rescue helicopter picked up a parachute and the pilot, who'd bailed out safely, Russian defense officials said. The MiG-29 was designed in the late-1970s to counter the U.S. Air Force’s F-15 and F-16. It entered service in the early 1980s. The news of the crash came a day after state media claimed Russia was preparing its Tu-95 and Tu-160 long-range bombers for imminent strike missions in Syria.

     The Russian Tu-95 “Bear” and Tu-160 “Blackjack,” according to their NATO call signs, have been operating in Syria since 2015 and are based at Engels Air Force base in southern Russia near Kazakhstan. The Blackjack is a supersonic variable-sweep wing long range bomber and more advanced than its 1950s-era Bear counterpart, which is propeller driven. Last week, Fox News was first to report Russia was close to launching a new round of airstrikes in Syria from the aircraft carrier in the Eastern Mediterranean and southern Russia using long range bombers.

November 14, 2016

VENEZUELA GOVERNMENT, OPPOSITION VOW COOPERATION TO IMPROVE FOOD, MEDICINE SUPPLY

    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- Delegates of the Venezuelan government and the MUD opposition alliance agreed on Saturday at the table of political dialogue to swiftly implement measures to improve the supply of food and medicines in a country suffering intense shortages of both. “The national government and the MUD... decided to prioritize the immediate adoption of measures aimed at making medicines and food available by promoting their production and importation,” Claudio Maria Celli, the Vatican envoy sent to take part in the dialogue, told reporters.

    The prelate said that both the government and the MUD are committed to creating a roadmap “that will allow the constitutional relations among the separate branches of government to be normalized, along with the mutual cooperation and respect among them.” In the field of politics, it was agreed to take steps to “overcome the contempt” practiced by the opposition-controlled National Assembly and so judged by the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) after the legislature decided to reincorporate lawmakers from Amazonas state after that had been barred by the high court.

     The two sides also decided “to promote the design and application of cooperation procedures between the public and private sectors to monitor, regulate and control the mechanisms for acquiring and distributing raw materials and finished products.” In that sense, it was agreed to urge the competent public powers to resolve the Amazonas case “once and for all.” The table of dialogue also agreed that the government and opposition will work together to designate two rectors of the National Electoral Council (CNE), whose term in office ends in December. Finally, Chavistas and members of the opposition adopted a joint statement committing them to “peaceful coexistence.”

COLOMBIA SIGNS NEW PEACE ACCORD WITH FARC

      BOGOTA, COLOMBIA
 -- More than a month after Colombian voters rejected a peace deal with the country’s largest guerrilla group, negotiators in Havana late Saturday signed a new deal that President Juan Manuel Santos said addresses critics’ concerns as it aims to end a half-century conflict that cost more than 220,000 lives. Negotiators with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government said they had made more than 100 changes to the original document. And Santos said the voices of all the critics had been heard and incorporated into a deal that had emerged stronger as a result.

    “This accord belongs to everyone because peace belongs to everyone,” he said in an address to the nation. What remains unclear is how the agreement might be ratified. On Oct. 2, the original deal was narrowly rejected in a plebiscite and Santos has suggested that rather than put this deal up to a vote again, he may have it approved in congress. “We are convinced that this accord offers roads to peace that are viable and possible,” he said. Santos said many of the changes involved tightening up vague language that critics feared might be abused.Now the terms and details of their confinement and monitoring are spelled out, Santos said.

    And, crucially, it will require the FARC to provide “exhaustive and detailed” reports about its former drug activity, or risk losing benefits, Santos said. And while the FARC had agreed to provide reparations to its victims, now the group will have to present a full inventory of its assets and goods that can be used in that process. The FARC’s chief negotiator, Iván Márquez, suggested his organization had made deep sacrifices to keep the deal alive. It’s unclear if the new deal will appease critics. Santos said he spent three hours Saturday with the old deal’s chief critic, former President Alvaro Uribe. After that meeting, Uribe said he asked the president not to consider the new deal final until he and other opponents had a chance to review the document.

PERU EX-PRESIDENT HUMALA ENSNARED IN MONEY LAUNDERING CASE

        LIMA, PERU  --
 A Peruvian judge has ordered former president Ollanta Humala to report to court every 30 days as a money laundering case in which he is a defendant is litigated. Judge Richard Concepcion's ruling late Friday also states that the ex-president cannot change addresses and must post a $15,000 bail. Prosecutors fear that Humala -- whose five year presidency ended in July -- might flee the country as the case winds through the courts.

     Humala and his wife Nadine Heredia are accused of laundering some $1.5 million allegedly sent from Brazil and Venezuela to help fund his 2006 and 2011 presidential campaigns. In both cases Humala was candidate for the leftist Nationalist Party, which he co-founded with his wife Nadine. The hearing on Friday lasted 10 hours. Humala, who was not in the courtroom, denies all charges. If found guilty he and his wife could face between eight and ten years prison.

    Prosecutors believe the Venezuelan funds came directly from the government of then-president Hugo Chavez, and the Brazilian money from two large construction firms, the Odebrecht Group and Construtora OAS. Both Brazilian companies became ensnared in pay-to-play cases during the government of leftist then-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Odebrecht CEO Marcelo Odebrecht was arrested in 2015 on corruption charges, while Construtora OAS filed for bankruptcy amid a corruption investigation.

November 13, 2016

VENEZUELA'S TOP TRIBUNAL REJECTS TO REACTIVATE RECALL VOTE

    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- In a decision issued on Thursday evening, the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) decided to reject the appeal filed by lawyer Julio Alejandro Pérez Graterol, on the grounds that he had fallen into "an unnecessary accumulation of procedures," pursuant to article 81 of the Civil Procedure Code

     Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) rejected an action aimed at resuming the signature collection process to apply for a recall referendum against President Nicolás Maduro. In a decision issued on Thursday evening, the TSJ decided to reject the appeal filed by lawyer Julio Alejandro Pérez Graterol, on the grounds that he had fallen into "an unnecessary accumulation of procedures," pursuant to article 81 of the Civil Procedure Code.

    The ruling is issued hours ahead of the deadline established to reach agreements in the context of government-opposition talks, under the auspices of the Vatican and the Union of South American Nations (Unasur). The opposition’s major demand in the negotiating table is "an electoral solution" to the current Venezuelan crisis by means of a recall referendum or anticipated general elections.

RECALL VOTE WILL BE THE BEST OUTCOME FROM TALKS

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA
 -- Venezuelan Monsignor Ovidio Pérez Morales said he expects that the second negotiating table meeting between the government and opposition political forces, scheduled for Friday, November 11, may pave the way for solutions to problems citizens are going through because of the country’s economic and social crisis.

     In an interview with private a TV channel, Pérez Morales, who is also a member of the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference (CEV), deemed necessary people’s pressure in the streets, yet “peacefully and, at the same time, with a lot of strength” and observing the Constitution.
I
    n that sense, the clergyman highlighted that Venezuelans’ presence in the streets will be helpful to set in motion the recall vote against President Nicolás Maduro. The monsignor further claimed that during the meeting the opposition must make a “hard-line approach” regarding the holding of a recall vote to remove President Nicolás Maduro from office. “The recall vote will be the best outcome from talks,” he concluded.

PHILIPPINES' PRESIDENT DUTERTE SAYS TO STOP QUARRELS WITH U.S. AFTER TRUMP WIN

        MANILA, PHILIPPINES  --
 Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte congratulated Donald Trump on his election win and said on Wednesday he now wishes to stop quarrelling with the United States, recalling his anger at the Obama administration for criticising him. The maverick leader, dubbed "Trump of the East" for his unrestrained rants and occasional lewd remarks, has repeatedly hit out at Washington in recent months, threatening to cut defense pacts and end military joint drills.

     "I would like to congratulate Mr. Donald Trump. Long live," Duterte said in a speech to the Filipino community during a visit to Malaysia. "We are both making curses. Even with trivial matters we curse. I was supposed to stop because Trump is there. I don't want to quarrel anymore, because Trump has won." Duterte won a May election by a huge margin and is often compared with Trump, having himself been the alternative candidate from outside of national politics. He campaigned on a populist, anti-establishment platform and struck a chord among ordinary Filipinos with his promises to fix what he called a broken country.

     But the biggest surprise of Duterte's presidency so far has been his hostility toward the United States, shown during near-daily eruptions of anger over its concerns about human rights abuses during his deadly war on drugs. He has also threatened repeatedly to severe a military relationship that has been a key element of Washington's "pivot" to Asia. Duterte on Wednesday told Filipinos how angry he had been at Washington, saying it had threatened to cut off aid and had treated the Philippines like a dog tied to a post. "They talk as if we are still the colonies," he said.

November 12, 2016

COULD DONALD TRUMP REVERSE COURSE ON "WET-FEET-DRY-FEET" CUBAN POLICY

    
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- It's not a secret that the Cuban government would have preferred Hillary Clinton in the White House. President-elect Donald Trump has publicly vowed to reverse President Barack Obama's six executive actions relating to U.S. relations with Cuba. Trump said he agreed with Obama on Cuba, but wanted a better deal for the U.S. "I don't see much movement at all in the beginning, in the first year, let's say, from the Trump administration unless the Cubans are willing to give in on a number of issues," retired University of Miami professor and Cuban expert Andy Gomez said.

     Already, there is fear on the island that the Cuban Adjustment Act will be rescinded under a Republican administration. Gomez said the Cuban government will have to forget some concessions. "There is no question 'Gitmo' (Guantanamo Bay Detention Center) is out of the question," Gomez said. "Lifting the embargo (is) out of the question." Trump will likely tinker with some of the executive orders that Obama put in place.

    "Things like the embassy will probably remain," Florida International University professor Sebastian Arcos said. Arcos thinks commercial flights will likely continue, but with a stroke of a pen, he believes Trump will likely modify some of Obama's policies. "Allowing the Cuban government to use U.S. dollars in international transactions, that could be one," Arcos said. Allowing banks to make transactions in Cuba and allowing U.S. companies to co-manage Cuban hotels are just some examples of a list of things Trump can change in order to keep the promises he made to the Cuban exile community in South Florida.

VENEZUELA FIRST NEPHEW: 'I'VE BEEN DOING DRUG DEALS SINCE I WAS 18'

      NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK
 -- The nephew of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and first lady Cilia Flores boasted in conversations with confidential informants that he’d been trafficking drugs since he was a teenager, according to secret recordings that were played in court Thursday. In the conversations, Efrain Campo talked of his ability to acquire planes to transport drugs, negotiations with a French drug dealer and the comparative costs of doing business in Europe versus Central America. “I’m 30 years old. I’ve been doing this work since I was 18,” Campo said, according to the recordings.

     Several audio and video recordings of Campo’s dealings with confidential informants were played on the fourth day of the high-profile trial that allegedly links the family of the Venezuelan president and his wife to illicit drug trafficking. Campo, 30, and his cousin Francisco Flores, 31, face charges that they conspired to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States. The recordings are key to the prosecution’s case that the defendants were not naive victims of a political scheme but willing and able drivers of a plan to exploit their political connections to carry off a $20 million cocaine deal that would help their aunt’s political campaign and strengthen the family’s power.

     The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s confidential informant, Jose Santos Peña, returned to the stand Thursday to describe several of the audio and video recordings he’d made of meetings with the defendants last year in Venezuela. The defense charges that Santos has no credibility and is now in prison for lying to DEA agents about importing large quantities of drugs into the United States while working as an undercover informant. Campo could be heard in one of the recordings saying he wanted to get started “immediately.” In another, he talked of having to schedule a meeting on a day he wasn’t working on his aunt’s campaign. He also raised the possibility of expanding the operation into Canada. “We have a cousin who is a consul in Canada,” Campo said.

ABOUT 500 STUDENTS MARCHED IN VENEZUELA DEMANDING RESULTS FROM POLITICAL DIALOGUE

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
   About 500 Venezuelan students marched in Caracas on Thursday demanding that government and opposition negotiators achieve “results” and provide “solutions,” including publishing an electoral schedule that includes an election for president. The head of the FCU-UCV university federation of Venezuela, Hasler Iglesias, led the march that began in eastern Caracas and made its way toward one of the election authorities’ headquarters in the Libertador district. “We’re demanding elections now, demanding an electoral schedule and demanding results. We don’t want to see an agreement among politicians, we want results.

     That’s why today we’re out on the street,” Iglesias told reporters. The student leader said that on Thursday similar marches were being held in at least seven locations in the country’s interior, all of them with the same destination: regional offices of the National Election Council, or CNE. In Caracas, the marchers were unable to actually get to the CNE offices due to a police cordon preventing their passage. After they were stymied in reaching their goal, the students held an assembly under the eyes of police where they articulated their demands, which also include opening a humanitarian channel so that medicines and food that are scarce in Venezuela can be shipped into the country from abroad.

     Iglesias also called upon the opposition MUD coalition and the government to agree on the release of students jailed in recent years and considered to be “political prisoners” by opposition forces. The next formal dialogue meeting will be held on Friday in the capital, once again with the mediation of The Vatican and the Union of South American Nations, or Unasur, and with the opposition’s expectation that it will produce announcements linked to the calls for nationwide referenda and/or elections. “We’re monitoring the government, monitoring the opposition, the Vatican. Next week, we’ll still be out on the streets ... If we get agreements, we want to see that they are implemented,” Iglesias said.

November 11, 2016

DONALD TRUMP AND BARACK OBAMA MEET FOR THE FIRST TIME AT WHITE HOUSE

    
WASHINGTON, D.C. --   US President-elect Donald Trump has said it was a "great honour" to meet President Barack Obama for transition talks at the White House. Obama said he was "encouraged" by their "excellent" and "wide-ranging" conversation, which lasted for more than an hour. Trump has questioned Obama's US citizenship and vowed to dismantle his legacy in the past. However, Obama said he was "rooting" for him after his shock defeat of Hillary Clinton in Tuesday's election. After Thursday's behind-closed-doors meeting in the White House, Obama said: "My number one priority in the coming two months is to try to facilitate a transition that ensures our president-elect is successful."

    Image copyrightAPImage captionPresident Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office He said they had discussed domestic and foreign policy and he had been "very encouraged" by Trump's interest in working with President Obama's team on issues facing the US. Trump said he would "very much look forward" to dealing with President Obama in future. "I have great respect, the meeting lasted for almost an hour and a half, and it could've, as far as I'm concerned, it could've gone on for a lot longer," the president-elect said. "We discussed a lot of different situations - some wonderful and some difficulties."

    White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the two men did not resolve their differences but "the meeting might have been at least a little less awkward than some might have expected". "President Obama came away from the meeting with renewed confidence in the commitment of the president-elect to engage in an effective, smooth transition," he said. Trump flew from New York on his private jet and landed at Reagan National Airport, just outside the nation's capital. The president-elect was accompanied by his wife, Melania, who had a meeting with First Lady Michelle Obama. President Obama congratulated his successor in a phone call in the early hours of Wednesday. The defeated Hillary Clinton also told supporters Donald Trump had to be given a "chance to lead".

VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION: DIALOGUE MUST ADDRESS 6 POINTS THIS FRIDAY

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA
 --    Two-time Venezuelan presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said Wednesday that the dialogue begun on Oct. 30 with the government must address six points or requests made by the opposition MUD alliance later this week. Capriles said he did not want to reveal what actions the MUD coalition will take if its requests are not fulfilled by the Nicolas Maduro government but he added that if the talks turn into a joke, the opposition will activate a protest agenda both on the streets and in Parliament. The governor of the central state of Miranda, who spoke as “leader of the MUD” at a press conference, said that the first of the coalition’s requests is for a “humanitarian channel” to be established so that other Latin American nations may send containers of food and medicine to the country to alleviate scarcity in those areas.

     “What are we expecting on Friday, gentlemen of the government? Pick up the telephone, open up a humanitarian channel in Venezuela immediately, in the next few hours,” he said. Capriles also said that on Nov. 11, when the second meeting among the participants in the dialogue process is to be held, including representatives from the Union of South American Nations, or Unasur, and The Vatican, it will be announced when “general elections” will be held. “There’s no way that there will be economic change in Venezuela while these same people remain in the government. These people have no way to change, they believe that they are fantastic, that they are making better decisions. They are defending their model, so they’re not going to change,” he added.

     The MUD leader said, however, that the prospective general elections do not nullify the demand for a referendum to revoke Maduro’s mandate since such a plebiscite could lead to other elections. He also said that, taking into account that the terms of two of the five members of the National Election Council will lapse on Dec. 4, MUD hopes that new election officials will be agreed to within the dialogue framework prior to that date. He also called for “respect” for the National Assembly, where the opposition holds a majority, given that the decisions the chamber has taken have been annulled by the Supreme Court, which MUD accuses of rubber-stamping the government’s decisions. The other two points MUD is insisting on have to do with releasing people it considers to be political prisoners and incorporating the defense minister, Gen. Vladimir Padrino Lopez, into the dialogue process “as the top representative of the armed forces” to guarantee that the agreements are complied with. Capriles reiterated that MUD will not spend “months” at the dialogue table while “nothing changes,” given that the country’s crisis situation requires immediate action.

CUBA'S DICTATOR RAUL CASTRO CONGRATULATES DONALD TRUMP ON ELECTION WIN

        HAVANA, CUBA --
   CUBAN DICTATOR Raul Castro sent a message to Donald Trump congratulating him on winning the U.S. presidential election, the Cuban Foreign Ministry said Wednesday. “The Chairman of the State Council and of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba Raul Castro Ruz sent a congratulatory telegram to Mr Donald Trump in connection with his election to the position of the President of the United States of America,” Cuba’s foreign ministry said.

    The short communiqué was still the only official reaction of Havana to presidential election in the U.S. with which Cuba has well-tuned relationship and bilateral dialogue since 2014.The brief note on the ministry's Web site was Cuba's first official reaction to Trump's unexpected defeat of Democrat Hillary Clinton in Tuesday's balloting. The surprising result introduces an element of uncertainty into the burgeoning normalization launched nearly two years ago by Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama, ending a rupture that began more than five decades ago.

    While the Republican candidate was not initially hostile to the restoration of bilateral diplomatic ties and an easing of the U.S. economic embargo, he subsequently turned against the rapprochement and promised Cuban exiles in Miami that he would reverse the process if elected. Clinton, who served as Obama's secretary of state from 2009-2013, was widely expected to defeat Trump, but though she took a larger share of the popular vote nationwide, the Republican prevailed in the decisive Electoral College tally. At the same time the Cuban government the start of strategic military exercises on Wednesday to prepare for a possible “hostile acts” against the island nation. Bastion-2016 exercises will be held from 16 to 18 November on the entire territory of Cuba and will continue on November 19-20, when national days of defense are celebrated, Granma reported.

November 10, 2016

DONALD TRUMP WINS THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

    
WASHINGTON, D.C. --   In one of the most shocking U.S. elections in modern political history, Donald Trump has defeated Hillary Clinton. “I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans,” Trump said in his victory speech after the Associated Press called the race for him at 2:30 am Wednesday morning. Striking a conciliatory tone, Trump continued, “For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so we can work together and unify our great country.”

    He also said Hillary Clinton had called him to concede the race. “Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country,” he said. “I mean that very sincerely.” Trump’s upset was one he had been predicting for months, gleefully comparing himself to the Brexit vote in England. Yet it was one that almost no other major predictors foresaw, all giving Clinton various degrees of comfortable leads in their election day predictions. “It was Donald Trump versus almost all the experts … it looks like Donald Trump was right,” Jake Tapper said on CNN at 10:40 pm on election night (before major battleground states had been called).

    Trump, a reality television star and political neophyte, upended every rule in the book to clinch his victory. He bested 15 other candidates in the Republican primary, most of whom were governors and senators. Trump openly flouted convention and touted his success in tapping into a populist vein in the country that no other candidates had been able to effectively access. “This is a movement,” Trump would tell his followers who showed up by the tens of thousands to see him speak. Many supported him from their anger and their sense that the country needs a big change, that the way government works is broken. In the final days of his campaign Trump began using the the slogan “drain the swamp” to talk about the nation’s capitol, which he said crowds loved.

HILLARY CLINTON CONCEDES AFTER A NIGHT OF BROKEN HEARTS FOR HER SUPPORTERS

        
WASHINGTON, D.C.  --   After the most shocking presidential campaign upset in the history of the United States, Clinton took the stage at the New Yorker Hotel and conceded the unthinkable: Donald Trump—a man who has called for her to be imprisoned, who has been accused of sexually assaulting numerous women, and who has built a campaign on an ethno-nationalist bigoted stance—would be the duly elected president. “Last night, I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country. I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans,” Clinton said, resiliently. “Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead.”

     She was joined onstage by her husband Bill Clinton and her running mate Tim Kaine, who graciously thanked her for the opportunity to be on the ticket before Clinton spoke. In a moment of attempted hopefulness, Kaine referenced the author William Faulkner and said “They killed us but they ain't whooped us yet.” While Clinton later tried to project an image of dignified composure, the speech felt like a wake; not only for her but maybe for the entire Democratic Party establishment as well. Clinton acknowledged, just hours after leaving fans crying underneath an un-shattered glass ceiling at the Javits Center in New York, that this loss is devastating.

     “This is painful and it will be for a long time,” Clinton said, adding she tried to remain optimistic as the reality of the situation took hold. “This loss hurts but never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.” The Clinton campaign was not ready for this loss. At about 1:45 a.m. or so, the TV monitors hanging over the crowd stopped playing the news. (A few minutes later the Associated Press called Pennsylvania for Trump.) It was understandable; all the news was bad. So instead, the monitors showed live shots of the attendees who had decided to stick it out for Hillary, airing jumbotron-style close-ups of the happiest Clinton supporters while blasting “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Don’t Stop Believing.”

CUBA ANNOUNCES FIVE DAYS OF NATIONWIDE MILITARY EXERCISES AS A RESULT OF TRUMP'S VICTORY

        HAVANA, CUBA --
   Cuba on Wednesday announced the launch of five days of nationwide military exercises to prepare troops to confront what the government calls "a range of enemy actions.'' The government did not directly link the exercises to Donald Trump's U.S. presidential victory but the announcement of maneuvers and tactical exercises across the country came nearly simultaneously with Trump's surprise win. It is the seventh time Cuba has held what it calls the Bastion Strategic Exercise, often in response to points of high tension with the United States.

     The first exercise was launched in 1980 after the election of Ronald Reagan as U.S. president, according to an official history. Trump has promised to reverse President Barack Obama's reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba and the ongoing normalization of the relationship between the two countries. An announcement by Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces in red ink across the top of the front page of the country's main newspaper said the army, Interior Ministry and other forces would be conducting maneuvers and different types of tactical exercises from the 16th to the 20th of November. It warned citizens that the exercises would include "movements of troops and war materiel, overflights and explosions in the cases where they're required.''

     News of Trump's victory hit hard among ordinary people and experts in U.S. relations with Cuba, which has spent the last two years negotiating normalization after more than 50 years of Cold War hostility. Normalization has set off a tourism boom and visits by hundreds of executives from the U.S. and dozens of other nations newly interested in doing business on the island. Trump has promised to reverse Obama's opening unless President Raul Castro agrees to more political freedom on the island, a concession considered a virtual impossibility. Speaking of Cuba's leaders, Communist Party member and noted economist and political scientist Esteban Morales told the Telesur network: "They must be worried because I think this represents a new chapter.''

November 9, 2016

LUIS ALMAGRO: VENEZUELAN TALKS MUST CONVINCE NICOLAS MADURO TO RESPECT THE CONSTITUTION

    
WASHINGTON, D.C. --   Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro noted that "the results" of the new mediation between the Venezuelan government and the opposition could not take long, as, for instance, the suspended recall referendum could be reactivated and political prisoners could be released immediately. Almagro asserted on Friday that the main objective of government-opposition talks in Venezuela was convincing the administration of President Nicolás Maduro to respect the Constitution and reactivate the recall referendum process.

      "The most important mediation is convincing the government to observe the Constitution, not the mediation between the government and the opposition," said Almagro in a conference at Georgetown University, Efe reported. "The problem of Venezuela is that the government fails to respect the Constitution. Blocking people’s right (to vote in a recall referendum) is out of place. And they also have political prisoners," he added. "The results" of the new mediation between the Venezuelan government and the opposition could not take long, as, for instance, the suspended recall referendum could be reactivated and political prisoners could be released immediately, according to Almagro.

     "My main concern is that the referendum was suspended, therefore, it has to come back to life. Let it be declared that the procedure has to continue, "he said. In the meantime, the international community must, in his view, "keep the pressure" on the Venezuelan government because the international community is key "to restore democracy everywhere." "We must continue to denounce (what is wrong) no to give them (Chavismo) a sense of impunity. There was a sense of impunity during that dialogue (that of the presidents) and the number of political prisoners increased, "he concluded.

U.S. EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER NICARAGUA'S 'FLAWED' ELECTORAL PROCESS

        
WASHINGTON, D.C.  --   The United States is "deeply concerned" by the flawed electoral process in Nicaragua, a State Department spokesman said on Monday, a day after former Marxist guerrilla Daniel Ortega clinched a third consecutive term as president of the Central American country. "The United States is deeply concerned by the flawed presidential and legislative electoral process in Nicaragua, which precluded the possibility of a free and fair election on (Sunday)," spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

     He accused the Ortega government of sidelining opposition candidates and limiting local monitoring at polls, and for not inviting international election observers, which Toner said "further degraded the legitimacy of the election." "We continue to press the Nicaraguan government to uphold democratic practices including press freedom and respect for universal human rights in Nicaragua," Toner added. The 70-year-old Ortega, who ran with his wife, Rosario Murillo, as vice president, received 72.5 percent of vote, with 99.8 percent of polling stations counted, according to the latest results.

     Opponents accused Ortega of trying to set up a "family dictatorship" after his Sandinistas pushed constitutional changes through Congress that ended presidential term limits in 2014. Ortega and U.S. President Barack Obama have maintained a relatively cordial relationship, although the Nicaraguan leader accused Washington of "interference" in September after Congress passed the Nica Act, which conditions U.S. funding to Nicaragua on progress in democracy, human rights and anti-corruption efforts.

VENEZUELA'S PDVSA PIPELINE BREAK DUMPS 25,000 BARRELS OF OIL INTO RIVERS USED FOR DRINKING WATER

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --
  In what is probably the largest oil spill in its history, Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA has reportedly lost between 24,000 to 100,000 barrels of oil after a main oil pipeline (36 inches or 91,44 centimeters in diameter) burst in Eastern Venezuela, an accident that spells more trouble for an already troubled company. In a press release, PDVSA admitted to the spill that took place days earlier (the company is usually tight-lipped and slow to react in the face of such events), informed about the size of the pipeline and a contingency plan being activated to prevent the oil from “a crude leak” from reaching nearby bodies of water, but did not provide a figure in barrels for the spill.

     PDVSA produces some 2.1 million barrels a day, about half of which comes from the area of the spill, where the Eastern Division (Division Oriental) operates. Rivers Aribi, Santa Clara and Pao have been tainted by the spill, according to local and social media. According to PDVSA, the pipeline has already been depressurized, meaning there is no oil traveling there, so oil production has effectively been halted in one of the world’s top oil producing areas. Already, the spill is being hailed as the biggest adverse event in PDVSA’s operational history since the tragic explosion at the Amuay refinery, which killed 55 people, wounded 156 and seriously damaged several key processing units.

     Oil sales bring around 90% of all the hard currency that enters the Venezuelan economy, so operational readiness in PDVSA is crucial for a country that, as it is, is already experiencing a humanitarian crisis, with acute shortages in medicines and food. Caracas daily El Nuevo Pais estimates the spill at 100,000 barrels, while opposition lawmaker for the Anzoategui area where the spill took place, Antonio Barreto Sira (AD), said the figure was closer to 24,000 barrels spilled. Eastern Venezuela is now the main oil production area for PVSA, combining standard crude production and extra heavy crude from the Orinoco oil belt, dubbed by the government the “Hugo Chavez” oil belt.

November 8, 2016

PHILIPPINES PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE CANCELED THE PURCHASE OF 26,000 ASSAULT RIFLES FROM USA

    
MANILA, PHILIPPINES --   Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has canceled the purchase of over 26,000 US rifles for the national police force after reports Washington would be halting the sale over concerns of human rights violations. "We will not insist on buying expensive arms from the United States. We can always get them somewhere else. I am ordering the police to cancel it. We don't need them," Duterte said in a televised speech on Monday. "We will just have to look for another source that is cheaper and maybe as durable and as good as those made in the place we are ordering them," Duterte added.

     Last week Reuters reported the US State Department had halted the sale of M4 assault rifles to Philippines police after Democratic Senator Ben Cardin promised to oppose the move. Cardin was concerned about reported human rights violations amid the war on drugs initiated by Duterte in the summer. The Philippines president slammed the reports, threatening that his government could go to Russia or China for the weapons, and also bad-mouthing the US. "Look at these monkeys, the 26,000 firearms we wanted to buy, they don't want to sell. Son of a b****, we have many homemade guns here. These American fools," Duterte said during a TV speech last Wednesday.

     "Russia, they are inviting us. China also. China is open, anything you want, they sent me a brochure saying we select there, we'll give you,” Duterte said. The Philippines has been America’s key ally in the region for decades, but relations have turned sour over the battle with illegal drugs, a key issue Duterte pledged to address during his campaign. According to various estimates, between 2,300 and 4,700 people have been killed in operations by the police and vigilantes recently, causing Senator Cardin to say he would oppose the sale of the US rifles to the Philippines. Duterte is notorious for his swearing, and the latest incidents come just days after he promised to stop cursing, saying that God had ordered him to do so while the president was on a plane returning from a visit to Japan.

CUBAN AND CHINA SIGNED A LETTER OF INTENT TO SEND CUBAN DOCTORS TO CHINA AND BRING PATIENTS TO THE ISLAND

        
HAVANA, CUBA  --   Companies of Cuba and China signed on Friday in Havana a letter of intent that will seek to bring about sending patients to receive treatment in Cuba and sending Cuban doctors to work in hospitals in China, official media reported. The Marketer of Cuban Medical Services (SMC) and Chinese tourism company Gujin reached the agreement during the final day of the XXXIV International Fair of Havana (FIHAV), which presented new Cuban exports including various goods and services.

     The president of the Chinese company, Shi Hongming, said China will be able to learn more about the strength of the health system of the island and enjoy the medical advances and products of Cuban biotechnology including the drug Heberprot-P, for advanced diabetic foot ulcers, and the CIMAVAX-EGF vaccine for lung cancer. The vice president of SMC, Yamila de Armas, said the organization currently offers 250 health programs for foreign patients traveling to the island and its product portfolio is supported by seven modes of business, which are dominated by medical services, welfare and research.

    He explained that the marketing of the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) has branches in almost all provinces, 14 international clinics, 122 medical offices in hotels in the tourist areas, in addition to contractual relations with 140 companies, agencies and tour operators from 41 countries. SMC offers services to foreign visitors and residents in Cuba and specializes in oncology, surgery, treatment of diabetes using Heberprot-P, medical checkups and comprehensive care for elderly people. The export of technical and professional services is the main source of income for the island, worth an annual average of $6 billion.

A CUBAN FEMALE DOCTOR FIGHTS TO STAY IN BRAZIL FREE OF CUBAN GOVERNMENT CONTRACT

        RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL  --
 Dr. Karem Guadalupe Saboit Valdes is fighting to stay in Brazil beyond the three years allowed on her contract with the Cuban government. She worked for three years at health centers in Dourados, a region of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, as part of the government program Mais Medicos (More Doctors). Karem Guadalupe Saboit Valdes is fighting to stay beyond the three years allowed under the contract between the Cuban government and the Pan American Health Organization PAHO), according to reports in the Brazilian newspaper O Progresso.

     Saboit Valdes was the first doctor to reach the city, but her contract expires on November 9 and she must return to Cuba. The doctor, in love with the local people, is looking for ways to stay in Brazil without the mediation of the Cuban government. The Mais Medicos program was announced three years ago as a “bonus mission” for Cuban doctors. Many were sent to third world countries where they completed their service to fill the quotas offered by Dilma Rousseff’s government to Havana.

    A week has passed since a court in Brasilia, in Saboit Valdes’ case, made the unprecedented decision that the Ministry of Health could renew a contract directly with a Cuban doctor, without the mediation of PAHO or the Cuban government. This decision means that, from now on, the doctor will receive the total value of the agreement that the Ministry of Health offers to foreign doctors who work in remote areas of Brazil, some 11,500 reales (3,587 dollars). Until now, their salary has been 2,976 reales (928 dollars), with the difference pocketed by the Cuban government. So far this year 1,439 health professionals have escaped from Brazil to the United States through the Cuban Medical Professional Parole program, established by the US specifically for Cuban doctors.

November 7, 2016

THE DRUG TRAFFIKING TRIAL OF CILIA FLORES' NEPHEWS BEGINS TODAY

    
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK --   The much-anticipated trial that allegedly will tie the family of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and first lady Cilia Flores to illegal drug trafficking begins today. Federal prosecutors plan to establish that two nephews of the Venezuelan first family – fighting to keep their family in power – sought to monetize their political connections by using one of the largest airports in the country to dispatch massive loads of cocaine to the United States.

    Efrain Campo, 29, and Francisco Flores, 30, were arrested during a sting in Haiti on Nov. 10, 2015. They have been charged with conspiring to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the U.S. EBove U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Defense lawyers will try to paint Flores’ nephews, Efrain Campo and Francisco Flores, as pawns targeted by a U.S. imperial agenda set on crippling Maduro at a critical time when he’s trying to maintain control of his country. They’ll argue that the political value of arresting the pair trumped the integrity of the investigation and that the excitement of arresting someone connected by blood to the first family “took over the narrative,” in the words of someone familiar with the case.

    The young Venezuelans face 10 years to life in prison if convicted of charges of conspiring to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States, though the higher end of that sentence is considered unlikely. Still, any sentence at all is going to inflame already tense U.S.-Venezuela relations. The cousins’ aunt and Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores, is a lawyer and influential congresswoman who is a former president of the National Assembly. She also served as the lawyer for then-jailed Hugo Chavez before he became president and led a socialist revolution in Venezuela. Chavez died in 2013. The case against Cilia Flores’ nephews, including Campo, who refers to her as his “mother” in recordings, comes as Maduro’s government is struggling to stay in office during an economic and political crisis.

NICARAGUA PRESIDENT DANIEL ORTEGA WINS LANDSLIDE RE-ELECTION

        MANAGUA, NICARAGUA --
 Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a socialist former guerrilla leader, cruised to a landslide re-election victory after drawing broad support for his anti-poverty programs. Ortega had 62.7 percent of the vote with returns in from 86 percent of polling stations in Sunday's presidential election. That was more than double the tally for his closest rival, conservative radio personality Fabio Gadea. Ortega's supporters poured into the streets of Managua to celebrate. "I'm happy ... I think that people are convinced, they voted for social programs, voted for the future, voted for the poor," said lawyer Silvia Calderon, 54.

    Gadea refused to accept the results and accused Ortega of voter fraud, but international election observers said voting irregularities had not changed the final outcome. The huge victory margin is a personal triumph for a man who was long a divisive figure -- popular among supporters of his left-wing Sandinista party but distrusted by many and despised by business leaders because of economic chaos during his first term as president in the 1980s. Opponents of Ortega said he had bent the rules to win re-election, pointing to a ruling by the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Court in 2009 to overturn a ban on consecutive terms.

    Preliminary results showed his Sandinistas would win 55-60 of the 92 seats in Nicaragua's national assembly, close to the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution. Ortega, 65, has moderated some of his socialist policies since regaining the presidency five years ago and he has won praise for letting private businesses operate freely even as he pushed policies aimed at combating poverty. Helped by financial support from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Ortega put money into health and education programs, provided loans for small businesses and gave aid to farmers. The policies won widespread support in largely agrarian Nicaragua, which was Cold War battleground in the 1980s when his Sandinista government fought U.S.-backed Contra rebels.

ARGENTINA, URUGUAY DEEPLY "CONCERNED" ABOUT POLITICAL CRISIS IN VENEZUELA

        BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA --
Argentinian President Mauricio Macri and his Uruguayan counterpart Tabaré Vázquez on Monday voiced concern over the worsening of the situation in Venezuela and called for a peaceful solution while upholding Pope Francis mediation. “Both our countries are willing to cooperate in the search for a solution and dialogue between the government of president Nicolas Maduro and the opposition, always in the framework of democratic institutions and practices”, underlined President Macri.

     Their remarks came as the Vatican announced that Pope Francis, who met in Rome with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, would be a mediator in government-opposition talks, giving a new twist to the political crisis in the country, where the opposition seeks to depose President Maduro. Tabaré Vázquez said that both presidents called for “a peaceful solution and dialogue between the government and the opposition,” reported AFP. "We know that Pope Francis could serve as a mediator, and anything that could help is welcomed," President Vázquez remarked at a press conference along with his Argentinian counterpart.

     Macri went further claiming that Venezuela should not be a member of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) given the country’s current situation.
"Under these terms, Venezuela cannot form part of Mercosur because human rights are not respected there," President Macri asserted. He added the governments of Uruguay and Argentina were “very concerned about how things have worsened” in Venezuela. "Regrettably, our concern is growing day by day," concluded the Uruguayan president. Both ministers also expressed their confidence that Mercosur will be able to reach a “balanced” trade agreement with the European Union, following the recent exchange of proposals between the two blocks.

November 6, 2016

THREE U.S. MILITARY TRAINERS KILLED AT JORDAN BASE

    
AMMAN, JORDAN  --    Three U.S. military trainers were shot dead in Jordan on Friday when their car failed to stop at the gate of a military base and was fired on by Jordanian security forces, a Jordanian military source said. The incident occurred at the Prince Faisal air base in the south of Jordan, which is a close strategic ally of the United States. Two trainers died immediately and the third later in hospital. A Jordanian army guard was also shot and wounded.

     "There was an exchange of fire at the entrance to the base after an attempt by the trainers' vehicle to enter the gate without heeding orders of the guards to stop," the military source said. "An investigation is now under way to know exactly what happened." Another Jordanian security source said it was not possible to rule out political motives in the incident at an air base, where dozens of U.S. trainers work alongside Jordanians.

    A third Jordanian source who requested anonymity said authorities were examining reports of friction among the U.S. trainers and Jordanian army officers that might offer clues helping to explain the shooting. He did not elaborate. The base where the incident occurred is in the heart of the traditional Bedouin region of Jordan where radical Sunni Muslim influence has grown over the last decade. Several incidents over the past year have jolted the Arab kingdom, which has been relatively unscathed by the uprisings, civil wars and Islamist militancy that have swept the Middle East since 2011. In November 2015, a Jordanian army officer shot dead two U.S. government security contractors and a South African at a U.S.-funded police training facility near Amman before being gunned down.

CUBA SAYS NO TO PRESIDENT OBAMA-PROMOTED PLANS TO ASSEMBLE SMALL TRACTORS ON THE ISLAND

        HAVANA, CUBA --
   When President Barack Obama visited Cuba in March he said that a small Alabama company that makes tractors would “be the first U.S. company to build a factory here in more than 50 years.” That was jumping the gun because although Cleber, based in Paint Rock, Alabama, had authorizations from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control and the Commerce Department to pursue its dream of assembling small tractors in Cuba’s Mariel Special Economic Development Zone, the plan still needed Cuban approval.

     After months of anticipation and just days before the company was scheduled to take part in the Havana International Fair, a massive trade show that attracted exhibitors from 73 countries, Cleber finally got its answer: No. It was a disappointment for a high visibility project that had been touted as a potential example of how the rapprochement process that began on Dec. 17, 2014 was working for both countries. But this week Saul Berenthal, who co-founded the company with Horace Clemmons, was busy working the Cleber booth at the Havana fair as a video of the tractor in action rolled in the background. “We’re not giving up. We’re here for the long run,” said Berenthal. “We understand the process.”

    Instead of pinning its hopes on assembling its Oggún tractors — named for the Santeria god of iron, tools and weapons — in the Mariel zone, it has begun manufacturing them in Alabama with the hope of exporting them to Cuba and elsewhere. Cuban authorities “told us Mariel was not the proper venue,” said Berenthal. “They encouraged us and directed us to work with the Ministry of Agriculture and other agencies interested in importing tractors.” Ana Teresa Igarza Martínez, a zone official, told EFE, the Spanish news agency, that Cleber, which uses tractor technology from the 1940s, wasn’t the type of technologically advanced project that Cuban hopes to attract to the zone.

YOUNG CUBAN WOMEN LOOKING FOR FREEDOM ARE BEING LURED TO MIAMI AND FORCED INTO PROSTITUTION

        MIAMI, FLORIDA --
Young Cuban women lured to Miami on promises of freedom, forced into prostitution. As a means to flee Cuba, six young women agreed to work in Miami as exotic dancers. That was the deal to pay off a $20,000 smuggling fee from the island to Mexico and ultimately into the United States. But instead of simply stripping, they were forced into sex slavery in Miami. They were locked up, mistreated and forced into prostitution until police rescued them in September, according to federal court documents. Their ordeal has become the first known criminal case involving Cuban women brought to the United States for sexual exploitation.

     Prosecutors charge that 31-year-old Silvio Clark Morales — who faces trial later this month on 16 charges, including sexual trafficking and exploitation of women — offered to guide the women out of Cuba and find them jobs as strippers in Miami, promising they would not have to have sex with clients. In return, the women agreed to pay him $100 a day of their earnings until they paid off the But once here, court documents say, the terms changed. Morales, AKA “Jander” and “Silvito,” increased the debt to $55,000 and forced them into prostitution, according to court documents. The women are 21 to 25 years old. Most of them, like Morales, are from Camagüey province in eastern Cuba. They left Cuba in 2015 and 2016, amid an exodus from the island that has been increasing since the Obama administration announced a change of its policies toward Cuba.

     The legal documents in the case, first reported by Univisión 23, a news partner of el Nuevo Herald, indicate that Morales did not work alone and moved easily between Florida and Cuba, and perhaps Mexico and Central America as well. The documents show he traveled to Cuba to meet the women, some of whom he first made contact with via Facebook. In one case, Morales picked up one woman in Cuba and “transported her to a boat” that took her and a dozen other people to Cancun in Mexico, the documents said. Yoel Trujillo, who acknowledged that he guarded the women in Miami, told Univisión 23 reporter Erika Carrillo in June that the operation was part of a people smuggling network that operates between Cuba, Mexico and the United States.

November 5, 2016

U.S. SEES VENEZUELA TALKS AS 'LAST, BEST' HOPE TO SOLVE CRISIS

    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --    Vatican-convened talks between Venezuela’s government and opposition are the last, best chance to find a peaceful solution to the country’s political impasse, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon said on Friday. In his first remarks since visiting Caracas on Monday, Shannon said Washington would support the talks “as long as it remains viable.” “From our point of view (the dialogue) really is the last best effort to try to find a negotiated, peaceful solution to this,” he told reporters.

     “Absent this dialogue process, Venezuela will find itself in a state in which both the government and the opposition will have to measure themselves through their ability to put people on to the streets.” He said that this kind of mobilization would be “unpredictable and can be very dangerous.” Shannon traveled to Caracas on Oct. 31, a day after initial talks led by the Vatican. He has spearheaded efforts by the Obama administration to ease tensions with Venezuela, which often accuses Washington of trying to topple President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

    Maduro’s adversaries accuse him of creating a dictatorship by blocking a recall referendum on his rule and of illegally overriding the legislature, which was taken over by the opposition in a landslide election last year. The opposition insists the government allow the referendum, release dozens of jailed opposition activists and respect congressional decisions. There is no indication Maduro will agree to any of the opposition’s demands, and in a speech on Thursday he criticized their timetable and urged patience. “It is a fragile but very important process, and it’s a good faith effort to find a peaceful way out of the political impasse that has crippled Venezuela,” said Shannon, who described the negotiations as “the only game in town.”

VENEZUELA OPPOSITION GIVES NICOLAS MADURO UNTIL NOVEMBER 11 TO  MEET DEMANDS

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
   Venezuela's opposition exhorted President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday to set an election and start releasing jailed activists within days, while students opposed to Vatican-led talks protested in the streets. The opposition coalition drew hundreds of thousands into the streets when authorities quashed its drive for a referendum against Maduro last month in the country of 30 million people. However, with one major party dissenting and many supporters fearful Maduro is playing for time, opposition leaders said they would wait until Nov. 11 before possibly quitting talks and returning to street tactics if demands were ignored.

     Carlos Ocariz, an opposition mayor speaking on behalf of the coalition, reiterated their first demand was the revival of the referendum or a moving forward of presidential elections to the first quarter of 2017. The next presidential vote is currently set for late 2018. "Our second goal is the freedom of all political prisoners in Venezuela," Ocariz said, referring to what the opposition estimate are around 100 Maduro critics unfairly imprisoned. The coalition also wants to overturn Supreme Court rulings that have annulled the opposition-led National Assembly and to name a new board to the national election council, which it accuses of favoring Maduro.

    The 53-year-old socialist leader won election to replace his late mentor Hugo Chavez in 2013, but has seen his popularity plummet to just over 20 percent amid an unprecedented economic crisis in the OPEC member. There is no indication Maduro will agree to any of the coalition's demands, and in a speech on Thursday he criticized their timetable and urged patience. "They are creating false expectations," he said. "Nobody should leave the table, nor set an ultimatum." Arguing that talks can never work with a government they consider a dictatorship, hundreds of students marched in Caracas and elsewhere. "There can't be dialogue when you have political prisoners, when they deny us an election and there is hunger," said Fernando Marquez, 23, among about 150 students who faced off with police in the restive western city of San Cristobal.

OPPOSITION COALITION UNITED DEMOCRATIC PANEL (MUD) DEMANDS APPOINTMENT OF NEW ELECTORAL AUTHORITIES IN DECEMBER

        NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK --
Opposition coalition Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) presented on Thursday its requests in the short term for a possible agreement with the government. Dissenting Mayor Carlos Ocariz, who is one of the representatives of opposition umbrella group Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) in the talks held with the government, informed on Thursday in a press conference about the requests made by the coalition and the objectives it has for the upcoming plenary meeting on November 11, where the Vatican will act as a mediator. Demands include holding a presidential election in advance in 2017 or the reactivation of the recall referendum process.

     Ocariz highlighted that the four demands in the short term made by the MUD within the framework of the four working groups established for the talks also include the appointment by the opposition-led National Assembly on December 4 of two new directors of the National Electoral Council (CNE) —whose term in office is about to expire. This would imply a new correlation of forces in the electoral body. Another demand by the opposition is the “full release of all political prisoners” and the return of exiled dissenters, for which the MUD expects to prepare a schedule agreed by both parties. The fourth request is immediate assistance to the victims of the current humanitarian crisis in the country.

     Miranda Gov. Henrique Capriles, a one-time presidential candidate, said the nation needed to be prepared to retake the streets if the administration fails to negotiate in good faith. “Venezuelans don’t believe in the government or Maduro’s word,” he said. “But we’re going to give them a few hours more to see if this is just another one of their lies like so many they’ve already told us.” In preparation for the march that never materialized, Maduro had called on supporters to surround the presidential palace. State-run TV showed Diosdado Cabello, a congressman and Maduro ally, rallying thousands of red-clad, banner-waving supporters. “Here are the people telling the bourgeoisie and the imperialists that Nicolás Maduro isn’t going anywhere,” Cabello said. “Nicolás Maduro is here to stay.”

November 4, 2016

BELIEVE IT OR NOT! GENERAL VLADIMIR PADRINO SAYS THE MILITARY WILL TAKE CONTROL OF THE DISTRIBUTION OF ALL MEDICAL SUPPLIES

    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --    Venezuelan Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino López announced that the military will take control of the distribution of "all medical and surgical supplies managed in all hospitals." The National Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela will take control of the medical supply sector "to guarantee that these medicines and supplies get to the patient efficiently and are neatly distributed and assigned," López said during an address broadcast on state-owned Venezolana de Televisión on Wednesday. Venezuela is facing an economic and political crisis.

     Basic goods such as food and toiletries are in short supply, unavailable or unaffordable, while Venezuela's supply of medicine is also running out. "We are evaluating the health issue. We will go very strongly on the issue of health," López said. "We are going to take full control of the distribution of medicines and medical surgical supplies to all hospitals in the country." López said he and other Venezuelan officials met with 60 representatives from hospitals nationwide on Tuesday to evaluate the health crisis. He said citizens should not feel "persecuted" or "harassed" by the measure, adding that the military would not be occupying hospitals.

    "We are in a state of emergency, an exceptional state and we need to make checks to ensure, I repeat, that medicines and surgical supplies handled in the hospital network will reach the patient, the people of Venezuela," López said. Venezuela continues to experience shortages of medicine, food for the sick and infant formula, and increased maternal mortality rates and loss of transplant organs due to power failures. The Venezuelan opposition blames government inaction for exacerbating the country's health crisis, whereas Maduro's ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV, argues the health crisis is a symptom of the economic crisis.

TWO U.S. SERVICE MEMBERS KILLED FIGHTING TALIBAN IN AFGHANISTAN

        WASHINGTON, D.C. --
  Two U.S. service members were killed Thursday during a joint raid by U.S. special operations forces and Afghan troops targeting senior Taliban commanders -- rare combat deaths for Western forces who handed over the task of securing Afghanistan to local troops some two years ago. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he was "deeply saddened" to learn of the American deaths, adding that four U.S. service members suffered injuries. More than 30 Afghan civilians were killed in the fighting as well, according to local reports.

    The American service members “came under fire” alongside Afghan troops while attempting to “clear a Taliban position” in Kunduz province, military officials said. U.S. airstrikes were called in during the firefight but Afghan forces were leading the assault, Fox News has learned. At least five Americans have been killed in action in Afghanistan since early October. "Today's loss is heartbreaking and we offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of our service members who lost their lives today," Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, said in a statement.

    The target of the raid appeared to be two senior Taliban commanders killed in the fighting among 65 insurgents, Kunduz police chief Gen. Qasim Jangalbagh said. He said Afghan special forces carried out the raid and that he did not have any information about NATO involvement in the assault. U.S. officials did not immediately identify the service members who died. The Pentagon reported it would investigate some Afghans' accusations the U.S. military killed innocent people in the airstrikes. The news came days after the Pentagon announced it targeted top Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan on Oct. 23, Faruq al Qatani and Bilal al Utabi.

U.S. JUDGE DELIVERS NEW BLOW TO VENEZUELAN 'FIRST NEPHEWS' ON THE EVE OF TRAIL

        NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK --
Jury selection began Wednesday in the drug trial of two nephews of Venezuela's first lady as a judge agreed to let jurors hear taped recordings of the defendants with U.S. government informants. The selection of a dozen jurors to decide whether Efrain Campo, 29, and Francisco Flores, 30, conspired to import 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States likely was to end early Thursday. Opening statements are slated for Monday. The men, nephews of first lady Cilia Flores, pleaded not guilty after they were arrested in Haiti last November and flown to New York.

     Before jury selection began, U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty said he would let jurors hear tape recordings of the men talking to U.S. government informants as prosecutors built their case last year. Defense attorneys wanted them excluded, saying informants instigated the "highly politicized statements." The statements suggest the men had hoped to generate millions of dollars through drug deals to help their family oppose enemies, including the United States, before elections last December. In a transcript entered into the trial's public record by prosecutors last week, Campo, an attorney, is quoted as telling two confidential informants during an October 2015 meeting in Caracas, Venezuela, "We have a ... war with the Americans."

    Prosecutors said Campo and Flores told the informants that they wanted to send multiple loads of cocaine into the U.S. in November and December 2015 to generate at least $20 million. Defense attorneys noted in court papers that one of the informants raised the topic of the December 2015 parliamentary elections with the nephews, saying, "I'll send you a really big check for your mother ... because right now the campaign is more important. ..." The attorneys added that Campo explained, "But we need the money. Why? Because the Americans are hitting us hard with money. Do you understand? The opposition is getting an infusion of a lot of money and so, it's also us, that's why we are at war with them."

November 3, 2016

VENEZUELA OPPOSITION SAYS MADURO TRYING TO DIVIDE IT

    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --    A top Venezuelan opposition leader accused President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday of trying to divide his enemies to undermine talks on defusing the country's political crisis. Jesus Torrealba, secretary general of the main opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), made the comments after Maduro called one coalition member, the hardline Popular Will party, a "terrorist group." "With his attack on Popular Will and his attempt to divide Venezuela's democrats, Maduro is stomping on the negotiations and mocking Pope Francis," Torrealba said on his morning radio show.

     Maduro lashed out Tuesday night at Popular Will -- founded by jailed protest leader Leopoldo Lopez -- for refusing to take part in Vatican-backed talks between his socialist government and the opposition. "I hope the courts will intervene against these terrorists," he said. "As head of state I will support all decisions to make them pay." Torrealba said Maduro was trying to divide the MUD between moderates and radicals -- but vowed it wouldn't work. "You're wrong. We're all democrats and we are united. If you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us," he said on the daily program he hosts on opposition-friendly broadcaster RCR.

   "Maduro is just trying to win over the radicals in his own party." Venezuela is in an economic melt-down that Maduro's opponents blame on the failure of 17 years of socialist policies. The political standoff reached a boiling point last month when the MUD's main strategy against Maduro -- a recall referendum -- was halted by the authorities over fraud allegations. After massive anti-government protests and the threat of a "political trial" in the opposition-majority legislature, Maduro proposed holding talks. But 16 MUD members, led by Popular Will, are refusing to take part. Popular Will is one of the most hardline anti-Maduro parties. Its founder, Lopez, is serving a 14-year prison sentence on charges of inciting unrest at anti-government protests that left 43 people dead in 2014.

US URGES THE VENEZUELAN GOVERNMENT TO FREE MORE POLITICAL PRISONERS

        WASHINGTON, D.C. --
  The United States claimed that the dialogue between the Venezuelan government and opposition will only be effective if human rights and democratic processes and institutions are respected. The US government praised this Monday the release of five political prisoners in Venezuela, and called for “immediate” liberation of all people held in custody for political reasons in the Caribbean nation, an action that would facilitate an “effective dialogue” between the government and the opposition.

    “We welcome reports that some political prisoners detained by the Venezuelan government have been released. We call for immediate liberation of all those people jailed for their political ideology,” a spokesperson from the US Department of State told Efe. “An effective dialogue between Venezuelans from all political spectra is a necessary step to find a solution to the economic and political challenges the country is facing.

     Particularly important are respect for human rights and democratic processes and institutions, including the constitutional right of Venezuelans to participate in a recall referendum,” the spokesperson added. The Venezuelan dissenting sector has set out as a condition to continue with the dialogue process, which began Sunday, the release of political prisoners. In that connection, they informed Monday that five of them have been freed. US remarks coincided with a visit to Caracas by US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Thomas Shannon, to meet with President Nicolás Maduro and opposition representatives to mediate in the dialogue process.

VENEZUELA CURRENCY IS COLLAPSING ON THE BLACK MARKET AGAIN

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
Venezuela’s currency is so weak, shopkeepers have taken to weighing it. In 2015, the black-market bolivar frequently fell more than 10 percent a month. In the six months through September the black-market currency actually appreciated, even as prices for unregulated goods began to skyrocket. The calm ended in October, when the bolivar lost almost a third of its value compared to the U.S. dollar in a matter of weeks.

     “There are a combination of things going on, as the stability we saw for most of this year was because things last year had been so abrupt and the decline so steep,” Henkel Garcia, director of Caracas-based consulting company Econometrica, said in a telephone interview. “Public spending may be pressuring the black-market rate, in addition to the exasperation of the people and political tension. People see the decline and start to buy more” dollars.

     Venezuela has maintained strict currency controls since 2003 and currently has two legal exchange rates -- known as the Dipro and Dicom rates -- of 10 and 658 bolivars per dollar used for priority imports. On the black market, where people and businesses turn when they can’t obtain government approval to purchase dollars at the legal rates, the bolivar has weakened 50 percent over the past year to 1,567 bolivars per dollar on Nov. 1, according to dolartoday.com, a widely watched website that tracks the exchange rate in Caracas. On the border with Colombia, the rate is even weaker at 1,737.50 bolivars per dollar, according to the website.

November 2, 2016

FOES IN VENEZUELA'S POLITICAL CRISIS AGREE TO COOL RHETORIC

    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --    Opposition and government leaders agreed Monday to tone down their heated rhetoric in the first step of Vatican-sponsored talks on defusing Venezuela’s political crisis over efforts to remove embattled President Nicolas Maduro. After a six-hour meeting that wrapped up at 2 a.m., participants said they would immediately create committees to address the devastated economy, electoral schedule, human rights and the rule of law. Those talks will be mediated by a Vatican envoy and former presidents of Spain, Panama and the Dominican Republic, all of whom were at the meeting along with Maduro at a museum in western Caracas.

     A senior U.S. diplomat, Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon, arrived Monday for a three-day visit to show support for the dialogue, according to the State Department. Shannon, who has made several previous trips to Caracas seeking to improve relations between the two governments, met for about an hour with Maduro at the presidential palace. The talks between the opposition and government are mired in distrust. Many of the president’s foes fear they could be a stalling tactic designed to ease pressure on the unpopular socialist leader, whom Venezuelans overwhelmingly blame for triple-digit inflation and widespread food and medicine shortages.

     Fifteen parties belonging to the Democratic Unity opposition alliance boycotted the talks, saying they are not prepared to sit across from the government until it releases several jailed opposition activists and reverses its decision to cancel a constitutionally allowed recall referendum against Maduro. Even opposition figures who support the talks, like former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, are expressing doubts. “I don’t believe Maduro even when he says ‘Good Morning,’” Capriles tweeted. “They are devils capable of anything. But I do trust Pope Francis and believe in the church.” The talks come as the opposition is stepping up its campaign seeking to force Maduro from office.

BILLIONAIRE DENOUNCES VENEZUELA GOVERNMENT HARASSMENT

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
  Lorenzo Mendoza, president of Empresas Polar, the largest private food company in Venezuela, denounced on Monday what he considered the “harassment” by the government intelligence service of himself, his family and the more than 30,000 employees of his company. “I wish to reject as strongly as possible the harassment and persecution of which I am the victim – I, my workers and my family – by the political police of the Sebin” national intelligence service, Mendoza told reporters at Polar headquarters on the east side of Caracas.

     The statement came four days after a group of Sebin agents, armed with assault rifles and wearing ski masks, were stationed outside the company’s headquarters and around his home. According to Polar, they are still there. Mendoza believes the agents’ presence is unjustified and, to the contrary, is part of an organized intimidation process that the government has been developing against him “for several years now.” This harassment, according to the entrepreneur, means that his employees “have a hard time getting through what should be a normal workday that benefits them, their families and all Venezuela.”

    Mendoza recalled that Polar has been the object of many audits ordered by the government, “many of them unjust, arbitrary, and not according to the law,” and in recent months several of his workers have been arrested. He also slammed “the constant defamation campaigns,” which, he said, are launched by state media against his company, himself and his workers. “The commitment that Empresas Polar and all its workers and I have to Venezuela cannot be broken by anything we must suffer now – here I stay and here I will continue working,” the entrepreneur said. Sebin agents were deployed at Polar headquarters and at the Mendoza residence on the eve of the 12-hour general strike called by the Venezuelan opposition last Friday as part of its campaign to apply pressure for political change in this South American country.

THE RUMOR SPREADED IN AN OPINION ARTICLE ON THE PROBABILITY THAT MICOLAS MADURO IS NEGOTIATING POLITICAL ASYLUM WITH PANAMA

        PANAMA CITY, PANAMA --
The rumor spreaded in an opinion article on the probability that the president of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro is negotiating with the government of Juan Carlos Varela to adopt the isthmus as his second home, unfolded an intense debate in mass media and social networks Everything began as an open secret. Then, this Wednesday, the article "Tal Cual" of the diary La Prensa written by Rodrigo Noriega indicated: "HERE COMES THE WOLF”. Yesterday, in the morning, it was spreaded a rumor on the possibility that Nicolás Maduro would take refuge in Panama.

     In the exchange of opinions given by the digital version of this diary, some readers answered in a radical way with comments as these: "Imagine the disorder that would be that Masburro was taking refuge in Panama, streets closed by thousands of Venezuelans opposite to this asylum, imagine this dantesque picture, Panazuela paralyzed by the thousands of anti chavistas that we have here (Álter ego)". Another one of the out-standing positions indicates: "In Panama we are capable of sheltering him... but he will not come as a bus driver. He will come to spend money and to showcase his millions. Something like Bucaram … (Irreverent)".

     And certainly, the incredulous is never absent: "The Colombian wolf Comes, I doubt that he asks for asylum in Panama, since here we have thousands of Venezuelans sheltered, the sure thing is he will go away to the side of Raúl Castro to Cuba (Don Joaquín)." Guillermo Cochez, Former OAS ambassador and the one who was the first in denouncing publicly Nicolás Maduro's double nationality issue, declared across his Twitter account and said that he would support the government of Panama "if with that it, reaches the peace and democracy in Venezuela"; he added besides the fact that really it would not be the first time that the isthmus helps in governability conflicts.

November 1st., 2016

VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION TO PROCEED WITH ITS PARALIAMENTARIAN AGENDA AND STREETS PROTESTS

    
CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --   Executive Secretary of opposition coalition Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) Jesús Torrealba made clear that although the first meeting with government representatives had taken place on Sunday evening and early on Monday, the Venezuelan opposition will continue with scheduled parliamentarian and protest activities in the upcoming weeks

     After a meeting that had place from Sunday evening to Monday morning between Venezuelan government and opposition representatives, along with international mediators, Jesús Torrealba, Executive Secretary of opposition umbrella group Unified Democratic Panel (MUD), highlighted that this first exploratory rapprochement was the result of "five hours of taut, intense debate in which we brought forward a set of very clear proposals…" In a telephone conversation with journalist César Miguel Rondón on Monday, Torrealba noted that talks were “only the beginning of the road” which will go on "with the other two lines of struggle" defined by the MUD, including the parliamentarian agenda and street anti-government demonstrations. "None of those actions will be called off."

     Regarding the call for a demonstration on Thursday, November 3, to reach the Presidential Palace in Caracas, the opposition representative asserted that "the street agenda goes on." Torrealba added that the MUD would assess the upcoming moves promised by the government of Nicolás Maduro to figure out whether the terms of scheduled street demonstrations will remain unchanged. Finally, Torrealba commented that in internal meetings of MUD parties held over the weekend, the coalition discussed several aspects, including the current political situation and two key matters: the need to ensure unity within the opposition and the presence of the Vatican in Venezuela, possible thanks to the request of government opponents.

DEADLOCK OVER: MARIANO RAJOY IS WORN IN AS SPANISH PRIME MINISTER

        MADRID, SPAIN --
  Mariano Rajoy of the conservative Popular Party (PP) was sworn back in as prime minister on Monday, after winning an investiture vote in Congress on Saturday. After 10 months of political deadlock, the abstention of the main opposition Socialist Party (PSOE) was essential for him to be successful at the vote. The PP had won the most seats at general elections held in December and June, but had fallen well short of a majority. Rajoy will now preside over a minority government after Spain’s political parties failed to work out a coalition deal.

     Monday’s ceremony took place in La Zarzuela palace in the presence of Spain’s King Felipe VI. Rajoy will present his new government this Thursday. The ceremony lasted just four minutes, and afterwards Rajoy was congratulated by those present. The event marked the first such ceremony for Felipe VI since he came to the throne after the abdication of his father, King Juan Carlos. For Rajoy, it was his second time, after the elections of November 20, 2011, at which his party won an absolute majority at the polls. The country’s political scene has been thrown into an unprecedented period of turbulence

     The king is scheduled to officially open the XII Legislature in the middle of the coming week. The swearing-in of Rajoy brings to an end 10 months of an acting PP government, in the wake of the two general elections that have brought about an end to the two-party system that had been in place in Spain since the end of the Franco dictatorship at the end of the 1970s. During the failed XI Legislature, Rajoy rejected the offer from the king to form a government given that he knew he lacked the support to get through the investiture votes (at the first of which an absolute majority of 174 votes is needed, and at the second a simple majority).

THE WORKERS PARTY OF LULA AND DILMA, LOSES BIG IN BRAZILIAN MUNICIPAL RUN-OFF ELECTIONS

        BRASILIA, BRAZIL --
Authorities arrested 48 people for violating election laws in Brazil on Sunday during run-off elections for local government posts, the national elections office said. Many of the arrests were for campaigning inside polling places, an act that is illegal in Brazil, the national elections office said in a statement, although no reports of significant incidents were received. Marcelo Crivella on Sunday won the mayor’s race in Rio de Janeiro, beating leftist Marcelo Freixo by a wide margin. With 99 percent of the ballots counted, Crivella, with the Brazilian Republican party, garnered 59.35 percent of the votes to 40.65 percent for Freixo, who is with the Socialism and Freedom Party.

    The 59-year-old Crivella is an engineer, writer, gospel singer and the nephew of Edir Macedo, the founder of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. Meanwhile, the Workers Party of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and deposed President Dilma Rousseff was soundly defeated in the municipal election run-off round, losing the mayorships in Santo Andre, one of its political bastions, and Recife, the only state capital where it was competing in a second mayoral round. The leftist PT suffered a sound drubbing in the Oct. 2 first electoral round, its worst defeat in the past 20 years.

     With the loss in Santo Andre, the PT will have to give up its bastion in the Sao Paulo metro area, once considered a “red belt” due to the weight the party had achieved in the industrial zone. The PT also lost the reins of power in Sao Bernardo do Campo, the city in which it was founded and where Lula lives, although he did not go to the polls on Sunday because of disagreements with the candidates, who belong to parties that supported his protege Rousseff’s ouster. Of the four state capitals that the PT won in 2012, it maintained its control only in Rio Branco, in the small Amazon state of Acre, bordering on Bolivia and Peru.

 

 

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