SPANISH

 

November 30, 2015

CUBANS WILL NOW REQUIRE TOURIST VISA TO ENTER ECUADOR   

    
From Dec. 1, Cubans visiting Ecuador as tourists will also need a visa, valid for a maximum of 90 days, said acting Foreign Minister Xavier Lasso Thursday. The decision was taken after a meeting between the Central American Integration System and representatives of Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico and Colombia Tuesday in San Salvador, Lasso said at a press conference.
He added the step was taken in view of the current human rights crisis created by an influx of immigrants in Central America, including thousands of Cubans stuck on the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, leading to conflict between the two countries and concern over the living conditions of the immigrants.

      "The commitment we made in San Salvador is that from December 1, Ecuador will ask for visa from Cuban citizens, not because we have anything against Cuba, but to stop human rights violations and loss of lives," said Lasso. The Acting Foreign Minister also requested United States to review its policy that grants citizenship to Cubans as soon as they reach U.S. territory. "That stimulates the flow, besides the numbers have increased since the normalization of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States," he added. Lasso stressed Ecuador is not renouncing the principle of "universal citizenship" and therefore Cubans who wish to come to the country "are welcome", while insisting the visa requirement is based on the current situation in Central America.

     Lasso explained Cuban citizens who wish to enter Ecuador as tourists, for a maximum of 90 days and who do not possess a current visa, must register at an official website and fill out a single form for tourist validation. More than 2,000 Cubans are currently stranded in Costa Rica after Nicaragua refused to let them pass through its territory to reach United States. It is presumed the Cubans arrived by air from the Caribbean island to Ecuador and moved "irregularly" to Costa Rica, where they received a temporary visa to cross the country to Nicaragua. On Nov. 15, the Nicaraguan government accused Costa Rica of creating a "humanitarian crisis" and forcing the Cubans on its territory. Costa Rica said it is a human rights situation and advocated the need to create a "humanitarian corridor" from Ecuador to Mexico to ensure secure migrant traffic, free from people smugglers.

UNASUR MISSION CALLS ON MADURO TO LAUNCH THOROUGH INVESTIGATION INTO THE KILLING OF OPPOSITION LEADER

         
An electoral mission of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), the body in charge of monitoring Venezuela’s upcoming elections on December 6, called on the authorities in Caracas to immediately launch a thorough investigation into the death of an opposition politician at a rally, barely two weeks before crucial parliamentary elections. The brutal murder of opposition leader Luis Manuel Díaz, from Democratic Action party, threw Venezuela's polarized politics into even further turmoil (AFP) Díaz was shot at the end of a town-hall meeting; apparently he was shot at least 10 times. Diaz joined AD five years ago, before he belonged to the PSUV“Unasur expresses its most energetic rejection of all kinds of violence that could affect the normal development of the electoral process (in Venezuela)”

     Maduro (R) has repeatedly clashed with Almagro and following this last incident he furiously referred to the OAS chief as “Mr. Rubbish.” The brutal murder of local opposition leader Luis Manuel Díaz, of the opposition Democratic Action party (AD), on Thursday threw the country’s polarized politics into even further turmoil, prompting the Unasur bloc to call for an urgent probe in a statement published on its website. Díaz was shot at the end of a town-hall meeting, with witnesses claiming he was shot at least 10 times. “Unasur expresses its most energetic rejection of all kinds of violence that could affect the normal development of the electoral process (in Venezuela),” read the statement. Before Díaz joined AD five years ago, he was a member of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

      Details of the incident were initially scarce, with the opposition blaming the government and its supporters. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro meanwhile expressed his regret over the death of Díaz during an event in the western state of Portuguesa, broadcast on state television. The Venezuelan leader, who followed late former leader Hugo Chávez into Miraflores Palace, also faced pressure from the Organization of American States (OAS), which has clashed with Maduro over election monitors for the crucial vote, in which the PSUV could lose control of the National Assembly. Maduro has stepped up his rhetoric over recent weeks after OAS General Secretary Luis Almagro sent a letter to the head of the country’s National Electoral Council (CNE) earlier this month claiming that the government “can’t guarantee fairness” in its upcoming elections. Maduro hit back furiously calling the OAS “the most perverted, corrupt and discredited organization in the world.”

COLOMBIAN PRESIDENT CONDEMNS KILLING OF VENEZUELAN

    
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said on Friday the whole world should condemn the killing of a Venezuelan opposition activist ahead of the country's elections next week.

      Luis Diaz, a leader of the opposition Democratic Action party in Guarico state in Venezuela's central plains, was shot dead toward the end of a public meeting on Wednesday night, the latest of several violent incidents in the campaign ahead of Dec. 6 elections. "What happened in Venezuela of course deserves the condemnation of the whole world," Santos said during a visit to Monteria in northern Colombia. "This murder has no justification, we hope the case is investigated thoroughly and those responsible are tried."

      Polls show the ruling Socialists could lose the Venezuelan legislature for the first time in 16 years. The vote's high stakes have fuelled fears of political violence. Last year 43 people were killed and hundreds injured when opposition protests across the country turned violent. Neighbours Colombia and Venezuela have long had a fraught relationship. Tensions flared most recently in August, when Venezuela closed parts of the countries' shared border and deported more than 1,000 Colombians.

November 29, 2015

OPEC WILL NOT CUT CRUDE OIL PRODUCTION   

    
Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) ministers are likely to keep its output quota steady at a meeting on 4 December in Vienna. Last November, Saudi Arabia led the group in maintaining production, accelerating a plunge in Crude Oil prices. The supply of Crude Oil will grow more next year when Iran resumes sales that were restricted by sanctions. Money managers’ net-long position in WTI Crude fell 17% in the week ended 17 November, the lowest in more than 2 months, data from the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission show. Speculators/traders turned the most Bearish ever on Gasoline and Diesel as US refiners increased production.

     OPEC is considering raising its official production target by 1-M BPD to 31-M, to take into account returning member Indonesia, according to 2 OPEC delegates. A change does not imply higher production because the group said it pumped 31.38-M BPD in October, the 17th month running above its target. A warmer Winter may weaken heating-fuel demand enough to trigger a drop in the price of Crude Oil to 20 bbl, analysts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said in a note on 18 November. Inventories in developed countries have expanded to a record of almost 3-bbl, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on 13 November.

     Speculators’ net-long position in WTI dropped by 24,022 contracts to 120,832 futures and options, the lowest since Sept. 1, CFTC data show. Shorts climbed by 16,246 contracts while longs decreased by 7,776. Hedge funds cut their net-long position in Brent Crude Oil by 15% to 158,737 contracts, ICE Futures Europe data show. Speculators were net-short on NYMEX gasoline for the 1st time since Y 2010. Hedge funds sold 16,708 contracts to end the period short 1,274 lots, also a record short position, as futures dropped 9.1%. US refineries operated at the highest rate in 2 months in the week ended 13 November according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Plants typically ramp up in November after performing seasonal maintenance.

RUSSIA LAUNCHES ELECTRONIC WARFARE IN SYRIA AS TENSIONS RISE

         
Russia is preparing to begin waging electronic warfare in Syria with the institution of jamming systems that are meant to prevent an incident similar to the attack on Tuesday that brought down a Russian plane in the war-torn region, according to reports by the Russian news media. Moscow also will install in Syria a highly advanced missile system capable of shooting down aircraft from the ground.

     Russia’s massive military buildup in the region comes as its forces begin to suffer casualties as a result of the country’s efforts to defend President Bashar al-Assad and combat Islamic State militants. Turkish forces shot down a Russian Su-24 fighter earlier this week for reportedly crossing into the country’s airspace while conducting strikes against Islamic State forces in Syria. The incident has roiled tensions between Russia and Turkey with Vladimir Putin describing the strike as “a stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorism.”

      Russian Lieutenant-General Evgeny Buzhinsky, in responding to the incident, revealed that Russia will begin using electronic jamming systems that are based both on the ground and installed on special aircraft. The defensive weapons are aimed at stopping a similar attack in the future. “Regarding the possible impact of this incident on the further developments of the operation in Syria, I think that from now on, our pilots will be more attentive and if the Turks continue behaving in such a manner, Russia will have to resort to electronic jamming and other warfare equipment, including special aircraft with special equipment on board, in order to protect our pilots from being stricken with missiles,” Buzhinsky said, according to Sputnik News.

ANGRY CUBANS PROTEST AT ECUADOR VISA RULE

    
Hundreds of furious Cubans chanting and brandishing air tickets protested Friday outside Ecuador's embassy in Havana over new visa restrictions designed to stop Cuban migrants traveling through the region to the United States. It comes with 3,000 Cubans languishing at Costa Rica's border with Nicaragua after that country closed its border to them, triggering a regional crisis over what to do with desperate Cubans traveling through South and Central America in the hopes of making it to the US.

     Police watched on as about 500 people demanded they be refunded the money they had forked out for the air tickets, with the new Ecuadoran visa restrictions expected to come into effect on Tuesday. "If we can not get into Ecuador, if there is no solution, we want our money back," teacher Yeanneth Nunez, 31, told AFP. Nunez said she paid $1,200 to go on honeymoon with her husband in the coming days -- a vast amount by Cuban standards.

      The demonstrators were careful not to directly blame the government of Ecuador, which is a close ally of Cuban President Raul Castro. Rafael Correa's government justified the new visa measure as an attempt to discourage the illegal migration of Cubans who use Ecuador as a springboard to travel to the United States on a long and dangerous journey. The Ecuadoran consul in Havana, Soraya Encalada, had little sympathy. "It is beyond our control whether or not people have been able to reschedule their flight dates," he said.

November 28, 2015

UNASUR MISSION IN VENEZUELA MAKES AN APPEAL TO STOP VIOLENCE   

    
In reference to the murder on Wednesday of Venezuelan opposition leader Luis Manuel Díaz, Coordinator of the electoral mission of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), José Luis Exeni, urged "all (local) parties not to use violence." Díaz was in a rally along with the wife of imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo López, Lilian Tintori, who has conducted a campaign for the candidates of anti-government coalition Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) in several states nationwide.

      In the communiqué, the mission voiced its "strong rejection of any kind of violence that may disturb the normal development of the electoral process." Further Unasur requested Venezuelan relevant authorities to avoid impunity, particularly in this case. Henry Ramos Allup, the Secretary General of AD in Caracas, reported late Wednesday that Díaz died during an irregular situation. Coordinator of the electoral mission of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) for the upcoming parliament vote in Venezuela on December 6, José Luis Exeni, urged "all (local) parties" not to use violence, after the regional body condemned in a communiqué on Wednesday the killing of leader of opposition "Acción Democrática" party (Democratic Action-AD), Luis Manuel Díaz.

      "Our communiqué is based on principles. We will reaffirm this fundamental principle; we must urge all the parties not to use violence. We have made an exhortation for this event to be investigated by relevant authorities," Exeni told journalists, as reported by Efe. "We already know the Attorney General Office has taken note. We will expect the relevant report to be issued accordingly. That is fundamental, that we all undertake to conduct (the electoral) process peacefully," Exeni said in reference to the violent event. Díaz was shot dead on Wednesday at the end of a rally in which Lilian Tintori also took part. Tintori is the wife of opposition leader of opposition "Voluntad Popular" party (People's Will-VP), Leopoldo López, who is serving a sentence of almost 14 years in prison.

THOUSANDS OF CUBANS STUCK AFTER NICARAGUA DECLINES TO OPEN BORDER

         
Thousands of Cubans remain stuck on the Costa Rican side of the border with Nicaragua after Managua refused at a regional summit on Tuesday to open its doors to a wave of migrants heading for the United States. Fearing the recent rapprochement between Havana and Washington could end preferential U.S. policies for Cuban migrants, thousands of people from the Communist-ruled island have been crossing into South America and travelling through Central America hoping to reach U.S. soil.

     More than 3,000 Cubans have been stopped for days at the Costa Rican border after the Nicaraguan government shut its borders, denying them passage north through the country. At least 150 Cubans are arriving every day, exacerbating the problem. During a regional summit in El Salvador, which included representatives from the governments of Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico, Nicaragua rejected Costa Rica's suggestion of creating a "humanitarian corridor" for the migrants to pass through and said its border would remain closed. "Nicaragua demands that the government of Costa Rica ... remove all migrants from our border areas," said Nicaraguan first lady and government spokeswoman Rosario Murillo.

     Led by former Marxist guerrilla Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua is a close ally of Cuba, and his administration has complained that by issuing the Cubans with transit visas, Costa Rica has violated its national sovereignty. Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez told reporters he thought Nicaragua had blocked a reasonable policy suggestion for resolving the crisis. "It's unacceptable to kid around with people's suffering," he said. Since U.S.-Cuban ties began to thaw in December, the number of Cubans heading through Central America has climbed. According to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol data published by the Pew Research Center, 27,296 Cubans entered the United States in the first nine months of the 2015 fiscal year, up 78 percent from 2014. Under arrangements stemming from the Cold War era, Cuban migrants receive special treatment on reaching the United States. The "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy allows Cubans who set foot on U.S. soil to stay, while those captured at sea are sent back.

BRITAIN'S DAVID CAMERON SAYS TIME TO BOMB ISIS IN SYRIA

    
Prime Minister David Cameron said on Thursday it was time to join air strikes against Islamic State in Syria because Britain cannot "subcontract its security to other countries". Many Britons are wary of entering into another war in the Middle East after Western intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya failed to bring stability to the region and some believe led to the rise of militants groups such as Islamic State. But after Islamic State claimed responsibility for killing 130 people in Paris, some members of parliament who were reluctant to launch further military action in the Middle East now feel it is needed to protect Britain from such attacks. Cameron lost a vote on air strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces in 2013 and must persuade some wary members of his own Conservative Party and in the opposition Labour Party to back him if he is to win parliament's support for military action.

    After setting out his case, Cameron appeared to have persuaded at least two of 30 party "rebels" who voted against him in 2013, and his foreign minister, Philip Hammond, later said the government was now "building a consensus now for military action". "We do not have the luxury of being able to wait until the Syrian conflict is resolved before tackling ISIL (Islamic State)," Cameron wrote in a response to parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, which had said a policy to extend air strikes was "incoherent" without a strategy to defeat the militants. "It is wrong for the United Kingdom to subcontract its security to other countries, and to expect the aircrews of other nations to carry the burdens and the risks of striking ISIL in Syria to stop terrorism here in Britain," he added.

     But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran anti-war campaigner, wrote to his lawmakers later on Thursday to say Cameron had not made a convincing case. "I do not believe the Prime Minister’s current proposal for air strikes in Syria will protect our security and therefore cannot support it," he said in the letter, a copy of which was seen by Reuters. Corbyn said his team of senior lawmakers had debated the issue extensively during a meeting on Thursday and would meet again on Monday to "attempt to reach a common view". Cameron said in his 24-page response that the campaign against Islamic State was entering a new phase, focusing on command and control, supply lines and financial support - something that suited Britain's capabilities. Fearful of losing standing on the world stage, Cameron said Britain should respond to requests from allies, including the United States, but said he would not put a vote to parliament unless there was a majority backing action.

November 27, 2015

VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION LEADER LUIS MANUEL DIAZ SHOT DEAD A SHORT DISTANCE FROM LILIAN TINTORI   

    
A prominent opposition politician has been shot dead at a Venezuelan rally ahead of next weekend's tense parliamentary election, prompting accusations of intimidation against the Leftist government of Nicolás Maduro. Luis Manuel Díaz, a union chief and leader of the Democratic Action party in Guárico state, was killed by armed assailants in a vehicle, according to the party’s national leader Henry Ramos. “He’s just been assassinated by gunshot,” Ramos tweeted at around 8pm on Wednesday, adding that Lilian Tintori was sharing the stage, onlly a few feet from Díaz, in the town of Altagracia de Orituco with Lilian Tintori, wife of Venezuela’s best-known and jailed opposition leader, Leopoldo López. Díaz and Tintori were in the town to drum up support for Democratic Unity Table (MUD) candidates ahead of a legislative election on December 6 in which the united opposition front hopes to deprive Maduro’s ruling PSUV socialists of a majority for the first time since 1999.

     Ramos blamed the assassination on armed gangs linked to the ruling PSUV and denounced a series of attacks and instances of intimidation aimed at opposition candidates. Tintori, whose husband was recently sentenced to 13 years in jail for his role in leading anti-government protests which led to violence in 2014, said that she had been involved in two attacks on Wednesday in reference to Díaz’s murder and the discovery of technical faults on the plane in which she had travelled to the rally. Tweeting her condolences to the family of Díaz on Thursday, Tintori said: “Tomorrow I will denounce in detail the terror, harassment and violence being inflicted on us by the regime." In 2010 the PSUV won a majority of seats in Venezuela’s National Assembly despite only narrowly winning the overall vote with 48 per cent to MUD’s 47 per cent. But the government missed out on the super-majority that would allow it to pass laws authorizing the then-president Chávez to grant himself decree powers for eighteen months.

     Venezuela has rejected an offer by the Organization of American States (OAS) to send international observers to polling stations, although a team from the UNASUR bloc of South American nations will be allowed to oversee proceedings. Luis Almagro, OAS secretary general, sent a letter to Venezuela’s electoral board criticising what he said was an unfair process owing to the number of politicians imprisoned, state help for the PSUV campaign, an absence of independent media and gerrymandering of electoral districts to help the government side. “It’s worrying that the difficulties only impact the opposition parties,” Almagro wrote. Tintori denounced the “terror” that she charged was carried out by the governing party and said she had suffered multiple attacks in Altagracia de Orituco. The Dec. 6 elections are being fiercely contested as the opposition coalition, of which Democratic Action is a part, mounts one of its strongest challenges yet to the government amid severe economic problems in the oil-exporting country. The opposition says several activists have been wounded in recent days as government supporters crashed campaign events. The socialist party has denied that it is trying to intimidate the opposition with violence and called the allegations nothing more than the latest craze among the government’s foes.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: TURKEY HAS THE RIGHT TO DEFEND ITS AIRSPACE

         
President Barack Obama on Tuesday said Turkey has a right to defend its airspace after the U.S. ally shot down a Russian warplane flying over its territory, sparking a furious response from Moscow and a diplomatic scramble to prevent the incident from escalating hostilities in the already tense region. While acknowledging that the details are still unfolding, Obama said the incident pointed to the greater issue with the Russian military activity in Syria. He declined to elaborate on details, including saying whether the U.S. knew definitively that the plane had violated Turkish airspace. "My top priority is going to be to ensure that this does not escalate," Obama said.

     His remarks came during a joint news conference with French President Francois Hollande, who was in the United States before a planned meeting Thursday with RussianPresident Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Hollande is seeking to build consensus on a unified strategy for fighting the Islamic State group in Syria after the extremist group's deadly terror attack in Paris. Those efforts looked to be severely compromised by Tuesday's events, and Hollande appeared sanguine on the possibility of keeping the fragile coalition focused on the extremists. "This is what we must do, all of us – we, Turkey, Russia," Hollande said. A visibly angry Putin, meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II, called Turkey's downing of the plane a "blow in the back by accomplices of terrorists."

     Turkey contends the plane violated its airspace over a small strip of southern Turkey that juts into Syria and that it did not retreat across the border despite a series of 10 warnings over five minutes. Russia says the plane remained in Syrian airspace, where Russia flies at the invitation of Syrian President Bashar Assad. According to Putin, the plane was 1 kilometer from the Turkish border and "never threatened the territory of Turkey." The fate of the two pilots, who were seen on video footage parachuting out of the plane after it was struck, is unknown. The prospect of the military conflict escalating, either intentionally or unintentionally, due to the participation of nations with often conflicting priorities in the region has long been feared. The U.S. appeared eager to distance itself from the confrontation, despite the fact that Turkey is a member of the NATO alliance and sought a meeting with member countries almost immediately after the incident.

PRESIDENT ERDOGAN: NO APOLOGY FOR DOWNING OF RUSSIAN FIGHTER JET

    
Tensions remained heated between Ankara and Moscow Thursday following Turkey's shooting down of a Russian fighter jet near the Turkey-Syria border earlier in the week. In an interview with CNN, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country would not apologize for downing the jet. "I think if there is a party that needs to apologize, it is not us," Erdogan said. "Those who violated our airspace are the ones who need to apologize." His comments came after Russian President Vladimir Putin called the shoot-down "totally inexplicable treacherous stabs in the back from those we believed to be our partners and allies in the fight against terror." Putin again insisted that the plane was shot down in Syrian airspace, calling the incident "against common sense and international law."

     "We received no comprehensive apology from Turkey's highest political level, no offer of compensation for the harm and damage, and no promise to punish the culprits of this crime," he said. "One gets the impression that the Turkish government is consciously driving Russian-Turkish relations to a deadlock. We regret that." Immediately after the plane was shot down Tuesday, Putin called the incident a “stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists" that would have "serious consequences." In separate comments Thursday, Erdogan said the downing of the plane was "an automatic response" in line with the Turkish military's rules of engagement and that Russia had not been specifically targeted. But he said Turkey would respond in "the same way" should "the same violation happen again today."

      Earlier Thursday, Erdogan denied Russian accusations it has purchasedoil and gas from the Islamic State group while Russia announced it was tightening restrictions on Turkish food imports. Speaking to local officials in Ankara, Erdogan said his country's fight against the Islamic jihadists was "undisputed." He demanded anyone accusing Turkey of buying from the militants show proof of their accusations. He also said Turkey was taking precautions to stop oil smuggling at its borders, which has been a key source of revenue for the militant group. Russia also said Thursday it would subject Turkish food imports to extra scrutiny. A Kremlin spokesman denied Moscow was imposing an embargo on Turkey, but said the new restrictions were put in place for "various reasons," including the threat of "extremism."

November 26, 2015

PRESIDENT OBAMA HONORS GLORIA AND EMILIO ESTEFAN WITH MEDAL OF FREEDOM   

    
  The prominent Cuban-American couple most frequently associated with South Florida's Latin beat are among 17 people who received the nation's highest civilian honor on Tuesday. President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Gloria and Emilio Estefan in a White House ceremony. The Miami entertainers, impresarios and business owners were among 17 Americans recognized with the Medal of Freedom. “Today we celebrate some extraordinary people: innovators, artists and leaders who contribute to America's strength as a nation,” Obama said.

     Other recipients include the late baseball player Yogi Berra; fellow baseball legend Willie Mays; Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress; conductor Itzhak Perlman; film director Steven Spielberg and NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson. “From public servants who helped us meet defining challenges of our time to artists who expanded our imaginations, from leaders who have made our union more perfect to athletes who have inspired millions of fans, these men and women have enriched our lives and helped define our shared experience as Americans,” Obama said.

    Baseball legends Willie Mays and Yogi Berra, and politicians, activists and government innovators received the honors. Mays was among the first African-American players in Major League Baseball. Mays was among the first African-American players in Major League Baseball. Berra, who died in September, was a Yankee great at catcher, an 18-time All-Star and 10-time World Series champion. The politicians getting the honor are Democrats: Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, who has championed equal pay and women's health during her 44 years of public service; former Rep. Lee Hamilton from Indiana, a longtime advocate of American national security and international relations; and the late Rep. Shirley Chisholm from New York. Chisholm was the first African-American woman elected to Congress.

PRESIDENT OBAMA DIRECTS SECURITY TEAM TO 'INTENSIFY' ANTI-ISIS EFFORTS

    
In a meeting Tuesday with his National Security Council, U.S. President Barack Obama called for increased coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State. "The president directed his national security team tocontinue to intensify ongoing efforts to degrade and destroy ISIL," the White House said late Tuesday. Ongoing efforts include increased military cooperation with allies, disrupting foreign fighter networks, halting IS expansion outside of Syria and Iraq, and disrupting any IS external plotting efforts, the White House said, adding that the national security team sees "no specific, credible threat" to the U.S. currently.

     Nevertheless, the president plans to meet with members of his national security team Wednesday to be briefed on homeland security in the wake of the attacks in France. Earlier Tuesday, Obama and French President Francois Hollande stood together in the White House East Room, with words of solidarity and a vow to take the fight to the Islamic State militant group. Obama said the United States stands with France in the wake of the November 13 attacks, adding that when tragedy struck, "our hearts broke, too." At least 130 people were killed and more than 300 others were wounded in the attacks on five cafes and restaurants, a stadium and a concert hall.

     Hollande on Monday recalled a 2 a.m. phone call from his American counterpart with a message that the U.S. stood by France and was ready to offer unlimited assistance, and work jointly to fight terrorism. "The Paris attacks generated a lot of emotion, but that's not enough – compassion, solidarity – and I take note of it," Hollande said, "but we must act." The French president said he is working to persuade world leaders to act with greater intensity against the Islamic State. France has launched airstrikes against IS targets in Syria, and on Tuesday Hollande said both France and the U.S. will intensify the air campaign. "Against Daesh, we need a joint response, an implacable joint response. France and the United States stand together to bring that joint response," he said. He vowed to hunt down Islamic State leaders, dismantle their networks and take back their territory.

PRESIDENT OBAMA POINTS FINGER AT RUSSIA OVER JET SHOOT-DOWN BY TURKEY

    
President Obama pointed the finger at Russia over its warplane being shot down by Turkey, suggesting the incident might not have happened if Moscow were more concerned with hitting ISIS targets than moderate opposition to Syria’s Bashar Assad – a campaign that puts them dangerously close to the Turkish border. The president, speaking Tuesday alongside visiting French President Francois Hollande in Washington, stressed that officials are still gathering details on the international incident. He and Hollande both said they want to prevent an “escalation,” as Obama urged the Russians and Turks to talk to one another.

     But Obama also suggested the nature of Russia’s air campaign is contributing to such confrontations. “I do think that this points to an ongoing problem with the Russian operations,” Obama said. “In the sense that they are operating very close to a Turkish border, and they are going after moderate opposition that are supported by not only Turkey but a wide range ofcountries.” He said that if Russia directed its efforts toward the Islamic State, “some of those conflicts, or potentials for mistakes or escalation, are less likely to occur.” Obama also said Turkey “has a right to defend its territory and its airspace.” The French president arrived in Washington 11 days after the Paris terror attacks. Part of the purpose of the trip was to urge Obama to work with Russia to build a new coalition to fight the extremists.

    Obama said Tuesday he would like to have Russia’s cooperation in the fight against ISIS. “Them cooperating would be enormously helpful,” Obama said. But Obama said the challenge right now is Russia’s focus on “propping up Assad” rather than going after ISIS. He called Iran and Russia a “coalition of two” supporting Assad. The Turkey-Russia incident complicated Hollande’s visit, and his effort to build a broader coalition. Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier that Turkey’s decision to shoot down a Russian warplane near Turkey's border with Syria is a "stab in the back" and would have “significant consequences” for its relations with Turkey. Even before the incident, Hollande faced a tough challenge in getting Obama to agree to a partnership with Moscow. The U.S. is deeply skeptical of Putin's motivations, given his long-standing support for Assad.

November 25, 2015

STATE DEPARTMENT ISSUES A WORLDWIDE TRAVEL ALERT   

    
  The State Department issued a worldwide travel alert Monday over possible risks due to increased terrorism threats. The alert comes amid information that ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and other terrorist groups continue to plan attacks in multiple regions by employing a “wide variety of tactics,” according to the State Department. Authorities believe the likelihood of terror attacks will continue as members of ISIS return from Iraq and Syria, as well as the threat from “unaffiliated persons” planning attacks inspired by major terrorist organizations.

    The State Department said that U.S. citizens should “exercise vigilance when in public places or using transportation” and “avoid large crowds or crowded places.” Americans are also urged to exercise particular caution during the holiday season, and at holiday festivals or events. The worldwide travel alert expires on Feb. 24, 2016. The alert was issued after multiple attacks in the past year in France, Nigeria, Denmark, Turkey and Mali in the past year, as well as the bombing of a Russian airliner in Egypt, for which ISIS has claimed responsibility. The State Department said that U.S. citizens should factor updated information into personal travel plans, and urges anyone with specific safety concerns to contact local law enforcement authorities.

    A State Department official told Fox News that worldwide alerts “are issued periodically when there is a higher threat level," and are not the same as a warning tied to a particular event, like an election or hurricane. “We want folks to still travel, but just to exercise greater vigilance,” the official said. But despite the label “worldwide,” the alerts do not cover the territory of the United States itself. The State Department said the U.S. is exchanging information with allies about threats of international terrorism. The travel alert was issued the same day that Belgium's prime minister announced that Brussels would remain at the highest alert level for at least another week. The increased security measures following the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people have virtually shut down the Belgian capital. There have been a total of six worldwide travel alerts in the last four-and-a-half years.

TURKEY DOWNS WARPLANE NEAR SYRIA BORDER, PUTIN WARNS OF SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES

    
Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border on Tuesday, saying it had repeatedly violated its air space, one of the most serious publicly acknowledged clashes between a NATO member country and Russia for half a century. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the plane had been attacked when it was 1 km (0.62 mile) inside Syria and warned of "serious consequences" for what he termed a stab in the back administered by "the accomplices of terrorists". "We will never tolerate such crimes like the one committed today," Putin said, as Russian and Turkish shares fell on fears of an escalation between the former Cold War enemies.

     Each country summoned a diplomatic representative of the other and NATO called a meeting of its ambassadors for Tuesday afternoon. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov canceled a visit to Turkey due on Wednesday and the defense ministry said it was preparing measures to respond to such incidents. An image grab made from a video shows a burning Russian fighter jet coming down after being shot down near the Turkish-Syrian border, in Hatay on November 24, 2015. NATO member Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet on the Syrian border today, threatening a major spike in tensions between two key protagonists in the four-year Syria civil war. Footage from private Turkish broadcaster Haberturk TV showed the warplane going down in flames, a long plume of smoke trailing behind it as it crashed in a wooded part of an area the TV said was known by Turks as "Turkmen Mountain".

    Separate footage from Turkey's Anadolu Agency showed two pilots parachuting out of the jet before it crashed. A deputy commander of rebel Turkmen forces in Syria said his men shot both pilots dead as they came down. A video sent to Reuters earlier appeared to show one of the pilots immobile and badly wounded on the ground and an official from the group said he was dead. The Turkish military said the aircraft had been warned 10 times in the space of five minutes about violating Turkish air space. Officials said a second plane had also approached the border and been warned. "The data we have is very clear. There were two planes approaching our border, we warned them as they were getting too close," a senior Turkish official told Reuters. "We warned them to avoid entering Turkish air space before they did, and we warned them many times. Our findings show clearly that Turkish air space was violated multiple times. And they violated it knowingly," the official said.

THE FATE OF THOUSANDS OF CUBAN MIGRANTS WILL BE DETERMINED BY LATIN AMERICAN FOREIGN MINISTERS

    
Foreign ministers from across Central America, Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador are set to meet in San Salvador, El Salvador, on Tuesday to hammer out an action plan for an estimated 3,000 Cuban migrants blocked from entering Nicaragua on their way to the United States. Cuba was invited to participate but had yet to confirm on Monday. Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González, along with Immigration Director Kathya Rodríguez, will travel to San Salvador Tuesday morning to meet with counterparts at an airport Quality Inn to hash out a plan for what to do with the thousands of Cubans stuck at the Costa Rican-Nicaragua border since Nov. 15. “This is not just a problem for Costa Rica or even Central America – it’s a problem for all the countries on this migratory corridor,” González said during a news conference Monday.

      Costa Rica has proposed a “humanitarian corridor” through Central American that would allow the migrants — who are arriving in Costa Rica at a rate of nearly 300 daily – to pass freely through the region with temporary transit visas. González said Costa Rica would present this option but was open to hearing solutions from other countries. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez has yet to confirm his attendance at the meeting Tuesday but previously had met with representatives from Nicaragua and Ecuador. “I hope – and not naively – that these contacts between Cuba and Ecuador and Cuba and Nicaragua could facilitate a possible solution, what with the influence Cuba has with Nicaragua,” González said.

     Cuban migrants have been leaving the island in exponentially larger numbers during the last several years and especially this year, amid loosened travel restrictions and fears that rapprochement between the U.S. and the island’s government could lead to a change in the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy. Under current U.S. law, Cubans who reach U.S. soil can declare asylum and apply for permanent residency after one year. After facing a first migrant overflow on its southern border with Panama, Costa Rica started issuing seven-day transit visas for Cuban migrants with the intention that they would quickly pass through Costa Rica and on to Nicaragua. On Monday, Casa Presidencial announced that the visas would be extended to 15 days. Foreign Minister González said he is cautiously optimistic about the meeting but that the “humanitarian crisis” must be resolved as soon as possible. “All of these countries have been aware of this problem for years, have signed documentsand resolutions. But this has stayed on paper, not in actions,” González said. “The time has arrived.”

November 24, 2015

MAURICIO MACRI TO REQUEST MERCOSUR TO ENFORCE DEMOCRATIC CLAUSE AGAINST VENEZUELA   

    
  Argentinean President-elect Mauricio Macri said on Monday that in the next Summit of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) he plans to request the enforcement of the democratic clause against Venezuela due to the "prosecution" of government opponents and abuses against "freedom of speech." The Summit, which is scheduled for December 21 this year in Asunción, Paraguay, will be Macri's debut, who will take office on December 10. "It is evident that that clause must be applied, for reports are clear, convincing; they are not an invention," Macri said in his first press conference," Efe reported.

     In reference to Venezuela, Macri added that the current situation the country is facing under the government of President Nicolás Maduro is not in line "with the democratic commitment all Argentineans have assumed." Macri had already referred to his intention of denouncing Venezuela before Mercosur should he become president. Macri said that the current situation in Venezuela does not tally with democracy. Sunday was a hallmark day for the Republic of Argentina apropos the election of the new president. Hence, South American media offered an extensive coverage of the election, which aroused great interest in the presidents in the region. After an intensive day, most Argentineans voted Mauricio Macri, an engineer and candidate for Cambiemos (Let's Change), an alliance in support of the option of "change," promoted by Argentinean opponents.

      As soon as the news arrived, some Venezuelan opposition leaders expressed their happiness, for being identified with the political stance of the new president of Argentina. "Congratulations to Mauricio Macri and the whole Argentina; we, Venezuelans, share hope for a change that will bring prosperity and freedom," said deposed Venezuelan deputy María Corina Machado. Former Venezuelan presidential candidate Henrique Capriles wrote down in similar terms: "Congratulations to the dear Argentinean people for the historical day; congratulations to the new president, Mauricio Macri. Up Argentina!" The biggest expression of support and solidarity was exemplified by Lilian Tintori. The wife of opposition leader Leopoldo López not only was lavish in recognition on Twitter, but also appeared in Macri's campaign team. Macri, 56, a civil engineer and of opposition alliance Cambiemos, won the presidential election in a second round over Peronist candidate Daniel Scioli, thus ending with 12 years of political hegemony of Kirchnerism.

IRAN: U.S. POLICIES IN THE MIDDLE EAST REGION POSES A THREAT TO THE WORLD

    
The civil war in Syria has evolved into a wider proxy struggle between global powers, with Russia and Iran supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while Western powers,Turkey and Gulf Arab states want him out. "The Americans have a long-term plot and are trying to dominate Syria and then the whole region ... This is a threat to all countries, especially Russia and Iran," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, according to his website, at the meeting on the sidelines of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) Summit in Tehran.

     "The United States is now trying to achieve its failed military objectives in Syria by political means," he added, referring to proposed peace talks to end the civil war in Syria. At a meeting in Vienna this month following deadly attacks in Paris and Beirut, world powers, including Russia, the United States and countries from Europe and the Middle East agreed on a political process in Syria leading to elections within two years, but differences remained on key issues such as Assad's fate. A Kremlin spokesman was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying that Putin and Khamenei had agreed at their talks that global powers should not impose their political will on Syria. Putin, on his first visit to Iran since 2007, presented an old edition of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, to Khamenei, the Iranian leader's website said, publishing photos of the book.

     Khamenei praised Putin for "neutralizing Washington's plots" and said economic relations between the two countries could "expand beyond the current level". Tehran and Moscow have stepped up ties following a landmark nuclear deal in July between Iran and six world powers including Russia and the United States. Under the deal, Tehran agreed long-term curbs on its nuclear program in exchange for an easing of economic sanctions. On Monday Putin relaxed an export ban on nuclear equipment and technology to Iran. Iran's ambassador to Russia also said on Monday that Moscow had started the process of supplying Tehran with an S-300 anti-missile rocket system. Russia and Iran are undertaking joint military action in support of Assad. Backed by Russian air strikes, hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived since late September to take part in a major ground offensive planned in western and northwestern Syria, their biggest deployment in the country to date.

POPE FRANCIS PREPARES FOR RISKY AFRICA TRIP

    
Pope Francis heads to Africa this week for the riskiest trip of his papacy, defying danger with an open-topped popemobile and visits to a slum, refugee camp and mosque. The pontiff will urge efforts towards peace, social justice and conciliation between Islam and Christianity on his travels to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic (CAR) during the five-day trip from Wednesday (local time). His bodyguards will be working overtime in a region riddled with jihadist violence and following a spate of deadly attacks from France to Turkey and Mali by gunmen claiming to be acting in the name of Islam.

    The 78-year-old, a self-appointed defender of the downtrodden, will give 19 speeches on his 11th foreign trip, meeting with victims of war, child soldiers and AIDS sufferers, as well as those who live in extreme poverty. The Vatican has warned the CAR part of the trip could be changed or cancelled entirely if security risks increase. But Francis is keen for it to go ahead, particularly the planned opening on Sunday of a "Holy Door" in Bangui's cathedral 10 days before the start of the Jubilee Year, a period devoted by the Catholic Church to forgiveness and reconciliation. "If he opens the Holy Door in Bangui, a Jubilee Year will begin for the first time ever in the periphery" rather than the Church's seat in the Vatican, Giulio Albanese, an African expert with Radio Vatican, told AFP.

     "It would be the best summary of the pope's doctrinal attitude," of a humble church dedicated to the poor, he said. It may not happen: Vatican police warned Friday the schedule could change and sources say CAR's acting president Catherine Samba Panza could cut the visit to a few hours in Bangui airport under the watchful gaze of UN peacekeepers. A visit to a camp for people displaced by the conflict, a stop to pray at a mosque in Bangui's notoriously dangerous PK5 neighbourhood and a Mass in a sports stadium in the capital would be scrapped, disappointing thousands of pilgrims. Before CAR, Francis will travel to Kenya and Uganda, where a respective 32 percent and 47 percent of the populations are Catholic, and where the threat of attacks by the Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab is ever present.

November 23, 2015

MAURICIO MACRI WINS ARGENTINA'S HISTORIC PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION     

    
  Today’s historic runoff that had Daniel Scioli of the ruling Victory Front (FpV) competing against Mauricio Macri of the Let’s Change (Cambiemos) opposition coalition to become the successor of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has come to an end. First official results confirmed Macri has won with 54.05 percent against 45.95 percent for Daniel Scioli with 41.33 percent of polling stations reporting.

     Results were starting to be published with trends likely to be consolidated by 22.30, according to statements by national electoral director Alejandro Tullio. Starting at 8, citizens began to cast their ballots in different polling stations across the country. In the October 25 elections, Daniel Scioli and Carlos Zannini got almost a 3-point lead (37.08 percent) over Mauricio Macri and Gabriela Michetti (34.15 percent), a tighter-than-expected margin that led to today’s landmark voting. Victory Front candidate Daniel Scioli, will await the final results at his bunker placed at NH Bolivar hotel, near the Plaza de Mayo square, while Macri will show up in Costa Salguero.

      After a year-long presidential campaign that reached fever pitch after last month’s general election, Argentines will finally head to the polls today. For the first time in history voters had only two ballots to choose from: Let’s Change (Cambiemos) candidate Mauricio Macri or ruling Victory Front (FpV) contender Daniel Scioli. In the month since Macri shocked the nation by obtaining a strong 34.15 percent, compared to Scioli’s 37.08 percent, both candidates have turned the word “change” into a mantra. A key factor to watch will be the blank vote. Leftist parties have called on supporters to cast a blank ballot to show their displeasure for the candidates.

DANIEL SCIOLI CONCEDES DEFEAT IN ARGENTINA'S PRESIDENTIAL RUNOFF

    
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's hand-picked successor, DANIEL SCIOLI, conceded defeat Sunday in Argentina's runoff vote. "By the popular will a new president has been elected, Mauricio Macri, who I just spoke with on the phone, wishing him success for the good of our country," candidate Daniel Scioli said in a speech from his campaign headquarters. With more than 70% of votes counted, Macri of the Let's Change coalition had won more than 53% of votes, while Scioli garnered nearly 47%, elections officials said. The runoff -- Argentina's first ever -- was a closely watched vote that marks the end of a political dynasty.

     For Fernandez, who's slated to leave office in December after eight years at the helm, it was a test of whether her populist political legacy would endure. For a region where leftist movements have played a growing role, it's an election that could shift the balance of power. And for the finance world, it's a long-awaited moment that could change how the South American country handles its debt problems and interacts with Wall Street. Neither candidate won enough support during the first round of voting to win. In that election last month, Scioli won 37.08% of votes and Macri garnered 34.15%. The election of Macri, a center-right candidate who's mayor of Buenos Aires and the former president of the Boca Juniors football club, could signal a conservative shift for Argentina. Macri has said he wants to rewrite the playbook on Argentina's economy -- a campaign promise that's made him popular on Wall Street and drawn sharp criticism from his opponents.

     Scioli, who many had been expecting to sail to an election victory in October, launched attack ads against Macri in the days leading up to the runoff. Scioli was the first of the candidates to vote on Sunday, invoking the name of the Argentine-born pontiff on Twitter as he urged his fellow citizens to cast their ballots. "I ask that you vote in favor, that you go in search of the best for Argentina, vote your conscience as Pope Francis has said," he said. Opposition candidate Macri described the election as a "historic day" on Twitter. And Fernandez noted her family's legacy after she voted, referring to her two terms as President and the four years her husband, the late Nestor Kirchner, served as Argentina's leader. "We have never had a period of government of 12 and a half years with this social and economic stability and of constant progress," she said.

IRAN SENTENCED FOR ESPIONAGE THE WASHINGTON POST' JOURNALIST JASON REZAIAN

    
Iran has sentenced detained THE Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian to an unspecified prison term following his conviction last month on charges that include espionage, Iranian state TV reported Sunday. Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi, the spokesman for Iran’s judiciary, announced the punishment in a statement on the TV station’s website. “In brief, it is a prison sentence,” he said. The verdict is “not finalized,” he added, referring to an expected appeal. Rezaian’s lawyer, Leila Ahsan, told The Associated Press she had not been informed of the verdict — let alone details of the sentence. “I have no information about details of the verdict,” she said. “We were expecting the verdict some three months ago.”

     Rezaian was detained with his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, and two photojournalists on July 22, 2014. All were later released except Rezaian, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen. Rezaian went on trial in four closed-door court hearings at Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, which hears cases related to national security. Last month, he was convicted of spying and other charges. The Post has vigorously denied the accusations against its correspondent. “We’re aware of the reports in the Iranian media, but have no further information at this time,” Washington Post foreign editor Douglas Jehl said in a statement. “Every day that Jason is in prison is an injustice. He has done nothing wrong. Even after keeping Jason in prison 488 days so far, Iran has produced no evidence of wrongdoing. His trial and sentence are a sham, and he should be released immediately.”

     Rezaian, who has covered Iran for the Post since 2012, grew up in Marin County, California and spent most of his life in the United States. The Post, U.S. officials and Rezaian’s family have all called for his release. Iran does not recognize dual-nationality. Iran’s state media, citing the indictment, have said Rezaian collected information on Iranian and foreign individuals and companies circumventing sanctions and passed them on to the U.S. government. Iranian state TV has repeatedly called Rezaian an “American spy.” Earlier this month, the intelligence department of the powerful elite Revolutionary Guard claimed in a report to parliament that Rezaian is an agent seeking to “overthrow” Iran’s Islamic ruling system. His incarceration and trial played out as Iran and five world powers, including the U.S., negotiated a landmark agreement in which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Iranian media in August quoted officials discussing the possibility of swapping Americans detained in Iran for 19 Iranians held in the U.S. It’s unclear, however, whether that’s been seriously discussed between Iranian and U.S. officials.

November 22, 2015

MACRI PULLS AHEAD IN ARGENTINA PRESIDENTIAL RACE, POLLS SHOW     

    
   Challenger Mauricio Macri took the lead in Argentina's presidential election race against his ruling party rival, a poll showed on Sunday, two weeks before the Nov. 22 run-off vote. The Management & Fit survey put Macri eight points ahead with the backing of 51.8 percent of voters, including a projected share of undecided votes. His rival, Daniel Scioli, had 43.6 percent support. The numbers indicate Macri and his "Let's Change" alliance have maintained their momentum, after a surprisingly strong performance in the first round that stunned the ruling Front for Victory party and left Scioli scrambling to regain the initiative. However, more than one in 10 of Argentina's 32 million voters are still undecided, leaving the presidential race open. Macri's lead narrows to six points with 46.3 percent of support when undecided votes are excluded from the candidates' count.

     The outcome of the election will shape how the South American country tackles its economic woes, including high inflation, an over-valued peso and a central bank running precariously low on dollars. Macri promises to start dismantling a raft of protectionist currency and trade controls on his first day in office if he wins, to open up Latin America's third biggest economy. Scioli says gradual reforms are required to lure new investment and labels Macri a neoliberal beholden to corporations and the rich. Scioli has courted the 5 million voters of third-place candidate Sergio Massa with promises to increase pensions, scrap punitive taxes on corn and wheat exports and use the military to battle narco-gangs - all key Massa policy demands.

     Even so, the poll showed that 57 percent of Massa's support will split toward Macri, favoring change over continuity after President Cristina Fernandez's eight years in power, which have been deeply divisive. Massa has not explicitly endorsed either candidate. Scioli won 37.1 percent of votes in the first round and Macri defied pollsters to draw 34.2 percent support. The narrow margin was widely viewed as a slap in the face for Fernandez's brand of leftist populism and has forced Scioli to distance himself slowly from the outgoing leader. The poll showed Fernandez's approval ratings fell three points to 38.8 percent from less than a month earlier. Management & Fit polled 2,400 people nationwide between Nov. 1 and 5. The survey has a 2 percent margin of error.

LEONEL FERNANDEZ, CLOSE FRIEND OF NICOLAS MADURO, HEADS THE UNASUR MISSION TO SUPERVISE ELECTIONS

         
Leonel Fernández, former President of the Dominican Republic and Special Representative of the Unasur support electoral team, said on Wednesday that the regional bloc has been instructed "not to take sides with anybody, but the people of Venezuela," and "act as guardians of the expression of the will" of citizens in the parliament vote to be held nextDecember 6. Fernández commented that the main goal of the mission, which has been vested in with immunity and the authority to pass by all polling stations throughout the nation, is to contribute to the country peace.

     "At the end, there will be a report that we will submit to the national electoral commission, making our remarks, indicating the weaknesses and strengths of the process and making our recommendations ," he added in a talk show aired on Wednesday on private TV channel Globovisión. The electoral monitoring team of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) for the upcoming parliament vote in Venezuela on December 6 was installed on Tuesday at the auditorium of the local National Electoral Council (CNE). The team comprises fifty technicians of the electoral bodies of the 12 Unasur countries, and it will be led by former Dominican President Leonel Fernández.

      Fernández will have the support of José Luis Exeni, former president of the National Electoral Court and incumbent member of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of Uruguay. Exeni will serve as general coordinator or Unasur monitoring team leader. Unasur Secretary General Ernesto Samper, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez, diplomatic representatives and CNE directors headed by Tibisay Lucena took part in the installation. Samper, Fernández, and Exeni explained that the support group would discuss the concerns of the Venezuelan political parties, and they announced they would meet on Wednesday with representatives of those organizations to talk over the parliament election. The Secretary General of UNASUR, former president of Colombia Ernesto Samper Pizano, manifested that the mission represents an opportunity for the millions of Venezuelans to decide for themselves, through the choosing of their spokespersons in the Assembly, the course they wish for their country in the years to come”.

HENRY RAMOS ALLUP: "WE CAN ACT WITH SIMPLE MAJORITY AT THE CONGRESS"

    
Henry Ramos Allup is the Unified Democratic Panel candidate for Caracas running for the National Assembly (Oswer Díaz Mireles. "If people don't want a slaughter, we, the political leaders are not to be the ones who will decree that war." "We are fully convinced that we will have election on December 6, that the MUD (Venezuelan opposition coalition Unified Democratic Panel) will win in a sound manner as to the number of votes and deputies, that the government will recognize the results, and that there will not be any riot or fright at all." "We are betting on the beginning of the end of the government," affirmed Ramos, a former deputy of the extinct Congress and the current National Assembly and a candidate for Caracas. This year, in the middle of August, the campaign team of United Venezuela- MUD appointed Ramos Allup as the liaison officer with the National Electoral Council (CNE).

     "This is not another parliament vote, because the intention to vote, exceeding 80%, is similar to that of a presidential election," he explained. After December 6, the government will be very feeble, because of the very defeat, because of the internal debate, where they will blame each other, and because the government does not have a united command. For 14 years, it had a sole chief and nowadays it is a tretarchy: Nicolás Maduro (Venezuela's President), Diosdado Cabello (Congress Speaker), Tareck El Aissami (Aragua state governor) and the Defense Minister, Wladimir Padrino López, in this case.

     We must tell people that with this parliament vote, we are not changing the Executive Office, and the new National Assembly will neither administer the budget nor execute works or rectify the economic policy. Such authority falls to the Executive Office. It distresses me to listen to candidates with a retail legislative promise. The core of our parliament promise is the enormous challenge of recovering the autonomy of the legislature, discussing openly, legislating without subordinations or delegations, and controlling. We must do what has not been done for 17 years. We are not to win to unleash any war or become the counter-power. We will act, though, as an autonomous power and the government will have to accept it democratically. I wish we could get qualified majority! But getting simple majority is not all disappointment, particularly with all this gerrymandering, tailor-made for the government. With simple majority, we can make all decisions and exercise all our powers as a State autonomous power.

November 21, 2015

JONATHAN POLLARD, SPY FOR ISRAEL, FREED ON PAROLE AFTER 30 YEARS IN PRISON     

    
   American Jonathan Pollard, a Navy intelligence analyst who pleaded guilty in 1987 to passing information to Israel, was released Friday from a North Carolina prison after serving 30 years, according to a U.S. official and Israeli Prime MinisterBenjamin Netanyahu. Ed Ross, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, said that “as of this morning, Jonathan Pollard is no longer in BOP custody," the Associated Press reported. Officials at the Butner, N.C., facility were not available to answer questions Friday. “I have waited for this day for 30 long years, unbelievable.” Anne, his ex-wife told Army Radio, an Israeli station. “It's an amazing moment.”

      Under the terms of his parole on a life sentence, the 61-year-old Pollard will be required to remain in the United States for five years and cannot leave for Israel as he has requested. He will also be barred from giving interviews and his and from going online without extensive monitoring, Ynet News reported. His lawyers immediately filed documents challenging the terms of his release, which they termed "unreasonable and unlawful." Pollard expects to begin working as a research analyst in the finance department of a New York investment firm, which willrequire access to computers, they said, according to the New York Times. The monitoring requirement would complicate his employment, the lawyers argue.

     Netanyahu said on Twitter that "the people of Israel welcome the release of Jonathan Pollard" and that he “had long hoped this day would come.” Pollard, greeted outside the prison by his wife, Ester, headed to Manhattan for his first Shabbat dinner with his wife outside of a government facility, according to Pollard's lawyer, the Post reported. Pollard, 61, a U.S. Navy Investigative Service civilian analyst, was sentenced to life in prison following his 1985 arrest. He pleaded guilty to selling classified information to Israel. Under federal guidelines at the time of Pollard's conviction, a person serving a life sentence is eligible for mandatory parole after 30 years unless the Parole Commission "determines that he has seriously or frequently violated institution rules or that there is a reasonable probability that he will commit any federal, state or local crime.'' U.S. officials have not asserted those provisions to challenge Pollard's release. "The Department of Justice has always maintained that Jonathan Pollard should serve his full sentence for the serious crimes he committed, which in this case is a 30-year sentence, as mandated by statute..,'' according to a statement issued Thursday by the Justice Department.

DOZENS FEARED DEAD AS HOSTAGE SITUATION IN MALI HOTEL

         
The deadly hostage situation at a hotel in Bamako, Mali's capital city appeared to come to an end Friday, but the fate of dozens of guests and hotel workers was still unclear. Local media reported there were no more hostages by Friday afternoon. United Nations peacekeepers say they saw at least 27 bodies inside the hotel in Bamako, Sky News reports. It was not immediately clear how many attackers were still alive inside the hotel. A Mali security ministry spokesman told Reuters that some of the attackers have "dug in in the upper floors" of the building. "They are alone with the Malian special forces who are trying to dislodge them," spokesman Amadou Sangho said.

     Gunfire continued into the late afternoon and Malian army commander Modibo Nama Traore said operations were continuing. Al Qaeda-linked jihadists claimed responsibility for the siege. Traore told The Associated Press that at least one guest reported the attackers instructed him to recite verses from the Koran before he was allowed to leave the hotel. At least five U.S. Defense Department personnel and one other American were freed, according to a defense official and a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command. A senior U.S. defense official told Fox News that the 22 Department of Defense and military personnel in Bamako at the time of the incident "have all been accounted for." Traore said Malian special forces entered the hotel and freed hostages "floor by floor." Hours after the attacks began, local TV images showed heavily armed troops in what appeared to be a lobby area. Some U.S. military personnel in Bamako are assisting with the rescue efforts, a defense official told Fox News.

     Traore said 10 gunmen stormed the hotel Friday morning shouting "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great," in Arabic before firing on the guards. A staffer at the hotel who gave his name as Tamba Diarra said over the phone that the attackers used grenades in the assault. Al-Mourabitoun, a militant group based in northern Mali, said on Twitter that it was behind the attack, but the claim could not immediately be verified. The group is led by notorious one-eyed jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who gained recognition in 2013 for an attack on an Algerian gas plant that left 40 people dead, including three Americans. A handful of jihadi groups, some linked to Al Qaeda, seized the northern half of Mali -- a former French colony -- in 2012 and were ousted from cities and towns by a French military intervention. The Brussels-based Rezidor Hotel group that operates the hotel said the assailants had initially "locked in" 140 guests and 30 employees.

AT LEAST 5 DEAD, INCLUDING AMERICAN TOURIST, IN WEST BANK AND TEL AVIV TERRORIST ATTACKS

    
An 18-year-old American tourist has been identified as one of the victims shot and killed by a Palestinian terrorist Thursday in the West Bank, Israeli police tell Fox News. The shooting and a knife attack in Tel Aviv Thursday left at least five people dead, and two suspects – both identified as Palestinians -- were in custody, according to Israeli media reports. The attacks took place a day after the one-year anniversary of the brutal killingsof five worshippers -- including three Americans -- inside a Jerusalem synagogue by two Palestinians armed with meat cleavers and a gun.

     In the West Bank, at least three people were killed and three others were wounded after a Palestinian terrorist opened fire from his vehicle on cars stuck in a traffic jam in Gush Etzion, the Jerusalem Post reports. The Algemeiner reported that a second Palestinian terrorist was involved in the attack. Paramedics pronounced an 18-year-old American tourist dead at the scene, and efforts to resuscitate him failed, the Jerusalem Post reported. An Israeli man in his 50s who was critically wounded in the shooting later died after being taken to a hospital, and a third victim has been identified as a Palestinian bystander.

     The other people injured in the shooting are being treated at the Shaare ZedekMedical Center in Jerusalem. Some of the wounded are Americans, Israeli media added. “The murderous terror has struck Gush Etzion and Tel Aviv," Prime MinisterBenjamin Netanyahu said, according to Ynetnews. "My heart is with the families of the murdered and I send my wishes for a speedy recovery to the wounded. Whoever condemned the attacks in France needs to condemn the attacks in Israel. It’s the same terror. Whoever does not do this is a hypocrite and blind.” Israeli media reported that one terrorist continued driving after shooting at a car, slamming into another vehicle. He then exited his vehicle and tried to fire more shots but was met with return fire from Israeli security forces and was taken into custody, according to the Jerusalem Post. Israel's military said the Hamas militant group, on Twitter, praised the attack.The attacks Thursday are the latest in a two month-long outburst of Israeli-Palestinian violence, stemming from tensions over a Jerusalem holy site.

November 20, 2015

RINGLEADER BEHIND PARIS ATTACKS KILLED IN A POLICE RAID     

    
   France confirmed the suspected ringleader of last week's Paris attacks was killed in a police raid Wednesday, and officials said he has been implicated in four of six foiled attacks in the country this year. The Paris prosecutor's office said the bullet-riddled body of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian national of Moroccan descent, was found inside an apartment targeted in the seven-hour police raid in Saint-Denis, a northern suburb of Paris. He was identified from fingerprints. Abaaoud, who was 27 or 28 years old, had been linked to an April attack on a church in Villejuif, in which one person was killed, and to an August attack on a high-speed train that was thwarted by three young Americans. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said France only found out after last week's attacks that Abaaoud was in Europe.

     European Union interior ministers will hold crisis talks in Brussels Friday to discuss security issues raised by the Paris attacks. Speaking to reporters Thursday, Cazeneuve urged EU ministers to act quickly and decisively to develop a plan to fight terrorism, including reiforcing borders and sharing intelligence information. "Everyone must understand it is urgent that Europe wakes up, organizes itself and defends itself against the terrorist threat," he said. At least eight people were arrested in the raid, during which a woman identified as Abaaoud's cousin died when she detonated her explosives-filled vest. Three police officers were wounded and a police dog was killed. "A new team of terrorists was neutralized, and all indications are that, given their arms, their organizational structure and their determination, the commandos could have struck" again, Paris Prosector Francois Molins said after Wednesday's police raid.

     The operation took place about 2 kilometers from the football (soccer) stadium attacked last week during a match attended by President Francois Hollande. French lawmakers voted Thursday to extend state of emergency declared after Friday's attacks by three months. The National Assembly approved the measure, and the Senate is expected to vote on it Friday. Prime Minister Manuel Valls said state-of-emergency rules are necessary because of the broad risk of terrorist attacks – including, he said, the possible use of chemical or biological weapons. Emergency rules allow police officers to carry their weapons while off-duty. President Francois Hollande said Wednesday the extension includes a provision that enables authorities to close "any association or gathering," which includes mosques and community groups, where people are "glorifying terrorism" or encouraging people to carry out terrorist acts.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: NEW YORK CITY WILL NOT BE INTIMIDATED BY ISIS

    
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said his city will not be intimidated or live in fear after the Islamic State group released a new video Wednesday evening threatening the largest city in the U.S. "We understand it is the goal of terrorists to intimidate and disrupt out democratic society," de Blasio said. "We will not submit to their wishes."  He spoke from Times Square, a popular tourist spot that appears in the video.

     The images show what appears to be an explosive device that is then zipped inside someone's leather jacket followed by shots of Times Square. The New York Police Department (NYPD) and the mayor pointed out that some of the footage used in the video was old. De Blasio said there is no credible threat to New York and encouraged people to continue with their normal business in the city. "In New York, we understand that we are a terrorist target," he said. "It reflects the importance of this city. Understanding that, this city places great importance on the safety of New Yorkers and almost 60 million visitors who have come to this city."

      NYPD Director of Communication J. Peter Donald also stressed there is no current threat to the city but said on Twitter the city is on alert. "We will remain at a heightened state of vigilance and will continue to work with the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the entire intelligence community to keep the city of New York safe," Donald said. The threat to New York follows one made against Washington Monday in an Islamic State video that also threatened all countries “that take part in the crusader campaign." U.S. President Barack Obama’s top adviser on counterterrorism said Wednesday there is no “credible threat” against Washington.

VENEZUELA QUESTIONS U.S. TIES AFTER OIL-SPYING CLAIMS

    
Venezuela's Head of State Nicolás Maduro said: "I have ordered an investigation; I instructed Foreign Minister (Delcy Rodríguez) to summon the chargé d'affaires to the US (Maximilien Sánchez Arveláiz) and deliver him a note of protest. I asked her to start a comprehensive revision of the US-Venezuela relations, for Venezuela must be respected. Maduro also ordered a review of ties with Washington after uncovering allegations the United States was spying on employees at the state oil company. Maduro said his administration received documents suggesting the U.S. National Security Agency spied on workers with Petroleos de Venezuela, known also as PDVSA, by intercepting phone calls and emails from former Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez.

     Maduro was quoted by Univision as saying his administration "will initiate a comprehensive review of the relationship with the U.S. government because Venezuela is respected." The president referenced reports from The Intercept, teleSUR and the Wall Street Journal saying U.S. officials were looking into allegations of corruption at PDVSA. Many of the allegations were revealed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Venezuela is the No. 4 crude oil exporter to the United States, after Canada, Saudi Arabia and Mexico, respectively. Crude oil exports of 703,000 barrels per day for the week ending Nov. 13 were 25 percent lower than for the same week in 2014. In March, the U.S. government sanctioned seven Venezuelan officials for human rights offenses, saying Washington was "deeply concerned" by the culture of political intimidation in Caracas.

      Diosdado Cabello, speaker of the Venezuelan Congress, said the sanctions were an open threat from Washington. Maduro in October threatened to sue the United States after it said Venezuela was a threat to U.S. national security. The Central Bank of Venezuela blamed last year's collapse in oil prices for a drop in gross domestic product. High inflation in the country is eroding consumerpurchasing power, which in turn has led to frustration with the Maduro administration. Maduro has faced mounting pressure from his opponents at least since taking the reins in Caracas after his predecessor Hugo Chavez died in 2013. María Corina Machado, a former assemblywoman who helped lead protests against Maduro last year, recently called on Pope Francis to step in to a fracturing Venezuela. During a rally held in northeastern Anzoátegui state, Maduro said he would take drastic measures, DPA highlighted.

November 19, 2015

CUBA BLAMES U.S. FOR MIGRANT CRISIS IN CENTRAL AMERICA

     
Cuba's Communist government on Tuesday blamed the United States' Cold War-era immigration law for a migrant crisis in which more than 1,000 Cubans have been getting stuck at Central American border crossings in an attempt to reach the United States. The Cubans have been making their way north from Panama to Costa Rica to Nicaragua, seeking to eventually reach the United States, where Cubans receive special treatment that welcomes them without a visa. But Nicaragua, a close ally of Cuba, closed its border with Costa Rica on Sunday to stop them. "The Foreign Ministry wishes to emphasize that these citizens are victims of the U.S. government's politicization of immigration issues," according to a statement read on the national news broadcast.

      It was the first report about the ongoing migrant crisis in Central America in Cuba's officially controlled media, but it did not mention Nicaragua's decision to halt them at the border. Cuba said it was in contact with the Central American governments involved to find a solution and that its people were also victims of human traffickers and criminal groups that prey on migrants. Cubans are immediately received at the U.S. border and obtain permanent U.S. residence with relative ease. In addition, the United States applies a "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy that allows Cubans who set foot on U.S. soil to stay while those captured at sea are sent back to their Caribbean island nation. But with U.S.-Cuban relations improving since last December's detente, Cuban migration to United States has increased as Cubans anticipate a possible end to the preferential treatment.

     Cuba has long complained that the U.S. law, known as the Cuban Adjustment Act, and the "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy intentionally lure Cubans on a dangerous journey. "This policy stimulates irregular emigration from Cuba toward the United States and constitutes a violation of the letter and the spirit of migration accords that are in force and through which both countries assume an obligation to guarantee legal, safe and orderly emigration," the statement said. Some 1,200 Cubans had been stuck in Panama, attempting to cross into Costa Rica when Costa Rica suddenly tightened its immigration policy, then reversed course and allowed the Cubans in on Saturday. But after passing through Costa Rica they were stopped at the Nicaraguan border on Sunday. Nicaragua's accused Costa Rica of sparking a "humanitarian crisis" by allowing more than 1,000 Cubans to proceed.

U.S. OFFERED APOLOGIES FOR ENTERING VENEZUELAN AIRSPACE    

    
General John Kelly, Commander of U.S. Southern command, said that the violation of Venezuela’s airspace took place while they were tracking a boat carrying a ton of cocaine. The Government of the United States offered apologies to Venezuela for flying over its airspace during an anti-drug operation at the beginning of month, said the highest U.S. military officer for Latin America and the Caribbean. However, Venezuela didn't explain why it allowed a boat with a ton of cocaine to enter its waters.

      Commander of US Southern Command General John Kelly said the airplane flew 3.5 minutes over Venezuelan territorial airspace within the 12-mile limit "The airplane flew 3.5 minutes within the 12-mile limit, yet it did not reach nine miles," Kelly stated when answering a question made by the Associate Press during a conference he gave at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "We admit it and regret it," he added. The general explained the flight took place during the monitoring of a ship carrying a ton of cocaine. "We would like to have better anti-drug cooperation from Venezuela. We have cooperation from almost all the countries of the region (Latin American and the Caribbean)," Kelly stated But there are a couple that do not cooperate with us', the general said. "

      Reference was made to remarks made by Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López, who reported earlier this month on the violation of the airspace over Los Monjes archipelago, and he questioned the presence of US carrier George Washington near Venezuela during the upcoming parliament election. Kelly said on Tuesday that the carrier's route was set three years ago and denied any relation with the election. "It will not be closer to Venezuela than to the rest of the Caribbean. There is no relationship whatsoever with the elections,” he said.

AN ACTIVE DUTY OFFICER OF VENEZUELAN AIR FORCE WAS THE PILOT OF THE JET THAT TOOK THE FIRST LADY'S NEPHEWS TO HAITI

    
Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efraín Campo Flowers traveled to the capital of Haiti in a Citation jet number YV2030 that belongs to a construction company. The nephews of the First Lady Cilia Flores were arrested for conspiracy to bring drugs to the United States. The jet was piloted by Pablo Urbano Pérez and Pedro Miguel Rodríguez González, the latter a Lieutenant Colonel active in the Venezuelan Air Force, based in Maracay.

     Rodriguez Gonzalez is a member of Group 5 and also works for a component of the Inspector-General of the Venezuelan Air Force. He is married to an officer of the armed forces. In March 2014, still with the rank of major, González had to appear as a witness in the trial of two captains and a sergeant who stole a small plane in Maiquetia and took it to Apure, in September 2011. The soldiers were sentenced by a military court. After executing the detention in Haiti, American officials made a sweep to the jet and then allowed its return to Venezuela. On Monday, it was announced that the appearance of Flores de Freitas y Campo Flores was rescheduled for December 2.

     The judge leading the case in the Southern District of New York, Paul Crotty, received on Monday a request from the lawyer of Campo John Reilly, asking the judge to postpone the hearing scheduled for yesterday Wednesday. The document indicates that the request was made by mutual agreement between Franqui Flores Freitas’ lawyers, Vincent Southerland and Jonathan Marvinny, and the representatives of the Prosecutor's Office who perform as accusers. Flores y Campo were arrested at a hotel in Port-au-Prince by agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration, (DEA by its acronym in English) and transferred on November 12 to New York, where they are being processed for conspiracy to carry to the United States a cache of 800 kilos of cocaine. The charges presented before a grand jury in that city indicates that both accusers and others whose names still not have been reported allegedly conspired to take the cocaine from Venezuela to Mexico, making scale in Honduras. The two defendants declared themselves innocent during the presentation hearing. They are held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center of New York.

November 18, 2015

MORE THAN A DOZEN U.S. GOVERNORS REFUSE TO ACCEPT SYRIAN REFUGEES

     
After the terror attacks in Paris that killed at least 129 people, the placement of refugees fleeing Syria has come under scrutiny as at least two dozen governors — mostly Republicans — have raised concerns about Syrian refugees relocating to their state. "The first and foremost responsibility of government is to keep its people safe," Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Monday. "We are working on measures to ensure ... that Texans will be kept safe from those refugees." Nearly 2,000 refugees from Syria have relocated to the United States since 2012, the New York Times reports and President Barack Obama has said that the U.S. will accept 10,000.

     Texas Governor 'Won't Roll the Dice' With Syrian RefugeesIn a letter to the president, Abbott wrote, "A Syrian 'refugee' appears to have been part of the Paris terror attack," likely referring to the Syrian passport that was found near the body of one of the suicide bombers near the Stade de France, the national sports stadium. Abbott is joined by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner who also announced their states would "suspend" the resettlement of Syrian refugees The governors of Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin made similar vows following the attacks, which killed at least 129 people.

     North Carolina and Idaho governors said they oppose the admittance of Syrian refugees but have not said they wouldn't accept them. Massachusetts' governor said he wants to know more before accepting them and Nevada's governor has not said either way but said he is requesting a review from the federal government. Opponents of the refugee program are also asking for Congress to play a part. They asked congressional leaders to strip funding for aid to refugees from a government spending bill that must pass before December 11. "There are a lot of holes, gaping holes," Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in on "Meet the Press." "We don't want to be complicit with a program that could bring terrorists into the United States."

AT LAST, RUSSIA ADMITS THAT BOMB DOWNED PASSENGER JET; PUTIN VOWS REVENGE  

    
Russia concluded Tuesday that a bomb brought down one of its passenger jets over the Sinai Peninsula last month, with President Vladimir Putin vowing vengeance against those who carried out the attack. "We will search for them anywhere they might hide," Putin said. "We will find them in any part of the world and punish them." The Russian leader did not specifically blame the Islamic State for downing the Metrojet A-321 aircraft, killing all 224 aboard, but within hours launched an aerial bombardment on Raqqa, the Islamic State's self-described capital in northern Syria. France also bombed Raqqa in response to last week's deadly terrorist attacks in Paris, with the Islamic State taking credit for both the destruction of the Russian jet and the carnage in the French capital that has shocked the world.

    The Kremlin said Putin and French President Francois Hollande agreed in a telephone call to "ensure closer contact and coordination" in their attacks on Islamic State targets. Putin ordered the Russian navy in the eastern Mediterranean to work "as allies" with the French navy, while adding 37 planes to the Russian strike force off the shores of Syria. The United States said Russia carried out a "significant number" of airstrikes on Raqqa, possibly including sea-launched cruise missiles and long-range bombers. U.S. defense officials said their Russian counterparts informed them ahead of time of the bombardment as part of an agreement between the two countries as both carry out air missions in Syria. Putin said, "The combat work of our aviation in Syria must not only be continued. It must be intensified so that the criminals understand that vengeance is inevitable."

      Since September, Russia has been conducting airstrikes in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad, while the United States and its allies for more than a year have been conducting raids against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria. The head of Russia's security service, Alexander Bortnikov, described the October 31 Metrojet crash as a terrorist act and that explosives were found in both the wreckage and on luggage from the aircraft. "According to our experts, a homemade explosive device equivalent to one kilogram of TNT went off onboard, which caused the plane to break up in the air, which explains why the fuselage was scattered over such a large territory. I can certainly say that this was a terrorist act," Bortnikov said. The Federal Security Service also announced a $50 million reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible. The Metrojet flight from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh was headed to St. Petersburg when it crashed in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula.

THE KINGPIN OF THE CARTEL OF THE SUNS, DIOSDADO CABELLO, AFFIRMS THAT DEA 'KIDNAPPED, NOT ARRESTED TWO NEPHEWS OF THE FIRST LADY, CILIA FLORES

    
The President of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, called into question the arrest of two nephews of first lady Cilia Flores during a DEA operation in Haiti. “I do not see it as an arrest, they kidnapped two people," said Cabello, widely considered the government’s No. 2 after President Nicolas Maduro.

     In an interview broadcast from the northern state of Monagas, Cabello said there is no direct link between Efrain Campos and Francisco Flores, the two men arrested, and President Maduro. “A plane arrived in Haiti with six people and two [of them] were kidnapped," he said, in the first official remarks on the matter made by a Chavista official. "What the DEA has done in this case is very irregular and it is the DEA’s normal procedure to kidnap people in many places," he added. Cabello, who is seeking reelection in next month’s vote, also denied that one of the two nephews was raised in President Maduro’s household, as some have speculated.

     The case also comes just three weeks before key legislativeelections that opinion polls have been suggesting could hand the ruling party its worst defeat in 16 years as Venezuela's struggles with triple-digit inflation and widespread shortages of basic goods. "The timing is hardly ideal," Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue think tank, said inan email after the arrests were revealed Wednesday. "The arrests could give Maduro the excuse he was hoping for to declare a state of emergency and postpone the elections. He will blame the arrests on U.S. imperialism and see them as an attempt to undermine his government."

November 17, 2015

PRESIDENT OBAMA: NO US GROUND TROOPS TO FIGHT ISIS

     
President Barack Obama said it would be a mistake to deploy ground forces to defeat Islamic State militants, resisting calls at home and abroad for a more forceful U.S. strategy in the wake of Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris. Capping the two-day G-20 summit in this Mediterranean resort, the U.S. leader held a news conference at which he called the Islamic State terrorist group "the face of evil" and promised intensified efforts but not a new strategy.

      Obama said the Paris attacks were a "terrible and sickening setback" in the fight against IS, but he ruled out deploying large numbers of U.S. ground troops. "We have the finest military in the world and we have the finest military minds in the world," he said. "I’ve been meeting with them intensively for years now, discussing these various options and it is not just my view but the view of my closest military and civilian advisers that that would be a mistake." Ending wars and avoiding new ones has been a cornerstone of Obama’s presidency. He indicated he wanted to avoid a repeat of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, "not because our military could not march into Mosul or Raqqa or Ramadi and temporarily clear out ISIL but because we would see a repetition of what we have seen before.

     The U.S. leader said any new strategy needs to be sustainable. “Let’s assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria. What happens when there’s a terrorist attack generated from Yemen?” asked Obama. "Do we then send more troops into there? Or Libya, perhaps? Or if there’s a terrorist network that’s operating anywhere else – in North Africa, or in Southeast Asia?” Events in Paris pushed the focus of leaders away from the formal agenda of trade and economics. Leaders’ attention was mainly on talking strategy to beat the Islamic State group and end the war in Syria. In a final statement, the G-20 leaders vowed to increase intelligence sharing, tighten their national borders and attempt to cut off terrorist funding in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris.

CIA DIRECTOR ANTICIPATES MORE ISIS ATTACKS 'IN THE PIPELINE'  

    
ISIS probably has plans for more attacks “in the pipeline,” according to the head of the CIA, although President Barack Obama’s national security team said over the weekend that the threat to Europe is greater than it is to the U.S. “I certainly would not consider it a one-off event,” said CIA Director John Brennan, speaking at a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum in Washington on Monday. “It is clear to me that ISIS has an external agenda, that they are determined to carry out these types of attacks,” he continued, using another term for ISIS. “This is not something that was done in a matter of days. This was carefully planned over the course I think of several months, in terms of making (sure) they had the operatives, the weapons and the explosives with the suicide belts.” He concluded, “And so I would anticipate this is not the only operation that ISIS has in the pipeline.”

     On Monday, ISIS released a new video threatening that the United States could be next. “I swear to God, as we struck France in its stronghold Paris, we will strike America in its stronghold, Washington,” an ISIS fighter declared in a video released Monday. The speech, and ISIS’ latest threat, came as police scoured France and Belgium in a hunt for suspects in Friday’s brutal attacks, which left at least 129 dead and 352 wounded. ISIS members have worked hard to learn new ways to conceal their tactics from Western law enforcement entities, according to Brennan. “There has been a significant increase in the operational security in the number of these operatives in these terrorist networks because they have gone to school on what it is they need to do to keep their activities concealed from the authorities,” he said.

     The comments from Brennan came the day after members of the President’s national security team said that while ISIS certainly has the ambition to launch similar attacks on U.S. shores, the capability is not great. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters that one big difference between the situation in Europe and that in the U.S. is that “thousands” of fighters have traveled to Syria and then returned to Europe. The number being tracked in America is far smaller — around 40, according to an estimate by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper earlier this year. Clapper added that not all of those ISIS joiners were necessarily fighting — some might have served other roles for the terrorist group, such as first aid — and he knew of no terrorist plots that any of those returning have been involved in once back in the U.S.

ISIS SWEARS THAT "IT WILL STRIKE AMERICA AT ITS CENTER IN WASHINGTON"

    
Islamic State warned in a new video on Monday that countries taking part in air strikes against Syria would suffer the same fate as France, and threatened to attack in Washington. The video, which appeared on a site used by Islamic State to post its messages, begins with news footage of the aftermath of Friday's Paris shootings in which at least 129 people were killed.

    The message to countries involved in what it called the "crusader campaign" was delivered by a man dressed in fatigues and a turban, and identified in subtitles as Al Ghareeb the Algerian. "We say to the states that take part in the crusader campaign that, by God, you will have a day, God willing, like France's and by God, as we struck France in the center of its abode in Paris, then we swear that we will strike America at its center in Washington," the man said. It was not immediately possible to verify the authenticity of the video, which purports to be the work of Islamic State fighters in the Iraqi province of Salahuddine, north of Baghdad.

     The French government has called the Paris attacks an act of war and said it would not end its air strikes against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. French fighter jets launched their biggest raids in Syria to date on Sunday targeting the Islamic State's stronghold in the city of Raqqa. The operation was carried out in coordination with US forces. Police raided homes of suspected Islamist militants across France overnight following the Paris attacks. "Al Ghareeb the Algerian" also warned Europe in the video that more attacks were coming. "I say to the European countries that we are coming, coming with booby traps and explosives, coming with explosive belts and (gun) silencers and you will be unable to stop us because today we are much stronger than before," he said. Apparently referring to international talks to end the Syrian war, another man identified in the video as Al Karrar the Iraqi tells French President Francois Hollande "we have decided tonegotiate with you in the trenches and not in the hotels."

November 16, 2015

PRESIDENT OBAMA AND PUTIN HELD AN INFORMAL MEETING OIN GTHE SIDELINES OF THE GROUP OF 20 ECONOMIC SUMMIT

     
President Obama said Sunday at an international summit that America stands with France in its pursuit of those who committed the “horrific” terror attacks in Paris and met informally with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “We stand in solidarity with (France) in hunting down the perpetrators of this crime and bringing them to justice,” Obama said during the first day of the Group of 20 economic summit in Turkey. The two-day summit follows the terror attacks in and around Paris on Friday night that killed 129 people and wounded hundreds more. The Islamic State has taken credit for the attacks.  The terror group has flourished in Syria, where the United States is supporting rebel forces trying to remove President Bashar Assad, while Russia has increased airstrikes to destroy the rebel forces, who support Assad.

     The United States also has been critical of Putin’s action in neighboring Ukraine. Putin annexed Ukraine's eastern peninsula of Crimea in the aftermath of residents last year ousting their pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovich. And Putin has since backed forces trying to disrupt Ukraine’s new, pro-Democratic government.
Rival's Obama and Putin on Sunday chatted in a foursome with Obama's National Security Adviser Susan Rice and a Russian aide. Their meeting was visible on a television feed provided by the summit's host country of Turkey, but their conversation couldn't be heard.

    Reporters weren't allowed in for the meeting, which took place during a working lunch for leaders attending the summit. Obama and Putin both leaned in close to each other as they talked, with Obama gesturing expressively with his hands. “The skies have been darkened by the horrific attacks that took place in Paris,” Obama also said in his public address. “The killing of innocent people based on a twisted ideology is an attack not just on France … it's an attack on the civilized world. “As a NATO ally, we have worked together to bring about pressure on (the Islamic State) even as we also try to bring about a political transition inside of Syria.” He said world leaders at the summit will also discuss how to work together to fortify the borders between Syria and Turkey that have allowed the Islamic State to operate and the burden Turkey has incurred in taking in Syrian refugees.

FRENCH JETS TARGET ISIS IN RAQQA 

    
French jets struck the heart of ISIS-controlled territory on Sunday in the first direct retaliation for Friday’s deadly terror attacks that killed 129 in Paris. French fighter jets dropped 20 bombs on a command and control center, jihadi recruitment center, munitions depot and ISIS training camp in the Syrian city of Raqqa, AP and Reuters reported, citing a statement from the French Defense Ministry. The "massive" raid was launched from the United Arab Emirates and Jordan and was carried out in coordination with U.S. forces.

     A Pentagon source told Fox News, "these were French strikes but they were conducted within the coalition. We helped with target list." Raqqa is the de facto capital of the Islamic State's "caliphate." The French strikes come the same day the U.S. delivered an ammunition shipment by land to Syrian-Arab coalition forces in Syria, an American official told Reuters. The U.S. has conducted the vast majority of coalition attacks on ISIS territory up to this point, and has been almost solely responsible for all coalition bombings of ISIS inside Syria.

    The personal nature of Friday's attacks, which devastated France and shocked the world, changed the calculus. The official casualty toll stood at 129 dead and 352 wounded after the heinous, coordinated attacks at various public locations in and around Paris. French President Francois Hollande called Friday's Islamist spree an “act of war” during a nationally televised address. Hollande vowed France “will be merciless toward the barbarians of Islamic State group.” The first opportunity for payback came Sunday in an effort that included 12 aircraft, 10 of which were French fighter jets. ISIS, in an online statement, described Paris as "the carrier of the banner of the Cross in Europe" and described the attackers as "eight brothers wrapped in explosive belts and armed with machine rifles."
 

COSTA RICA RE-OPENS BORDER, ISSUING VISAS TO CUBAN MIGRANTS

    
To cheers from a large crowd of Cuban migrants, Costa Rica on Saturday re-opened its border with Panama after a sudden tightening in its immigration policy had left more than 1,200 of them stranded there. Like other countries in the region, Costa Rica has seen a surge in the number of Cubans entering as the process of detente between Washington and Havana announced in December stirs fears that longstanding U.S. asylum rights may soon be lost. "The situation we're facing is extraordinary – we've never dealt with this before," said Costa Rica's Assistant Director of Immigration Gladys Jiménez. "We hope Nicaragua will accept them with their documents so they can continue on."

       Cuban migrants receive special treatment in the United States from Cold War-era arrangements, and have long travelled through Mexico and Central America to reach the U.S. border. If successful, they can take advantage of the so-called "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy under which Cubans who set foot on U.S. soil can stay, while those captured at sea are sent back. It is a policy many Cubans feel may be running out of time. "The situation between the United States and Cuba is an issue because they're talking, and could possibly deny us the support of the Cuban Adjustment Act and the ability to request asylum," said Alain Pentón, 38, a Cuban migrant at the border.

     Pentón said he left Cuba on a route taken by many: flying legally to Ecuador, then crossing illegally into Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica. The overland route was safer and less heavily policed than the Straits of Florida, he said. As of September, 12,166 Cuban migrants had been identified this year by Costa Rican authorities, more than double the figure for last year and over five times the 2013 total. According to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol data requested by the Pew Research Center, 27,296 Cubans entered the United States in the first nine months of the 2015 fiscal year, a 78 percent increase from 2014.

November 15, 2015

PRESIDENT HOLLANDE: PARIS ATTACKS AN ACT OF WAR BY ISIS

     
France's president vows the nation will be "merciless towards the barbarians of the Islamic State group" after a night of terror. French President Francois Hollande has blamed Islamic State (IS) for a night of terror in Paris that killed 129 people. In a televised address to the nation, he described the attacks on a stadium, concert hall and Paris cafes and restaurants as "an act of war that was prepared, organised, planned from abroad with internal help". ISIS, which has been hit by French airstrikes in Iraq and Syria as part of a US-led coalition, has claimed responsibility, saying the attacks were in response to the bombing campaign. Mr Hollande said the murders were "committed by a terrorist army, the Islamic State group, a jihadist army, against France, against the values that we defend everywhere in the world, against what we are: a free country that means something to the whole planet".

    An extra 1,500 troops have been deployed as police hunt for potential accomplices to the eight attackers killed in Friday's terror. The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum and other top tourist sites in Paris have been closed until further notice. Leaders from around the world have been expressing solidarity with France. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the attackers "hate freedom" and Pope Francis condemned the events as "unjustifiable, inhuman acts". Russian President Vladimir Putin said the bloodshed was "the latest testimonial to the barbaric essence of terrorism" and Moscow's security services are on high alert. US President Barack Obama called Friday's events an "attack on all humanity" and an "outrageous attempt to terrorise innocent civilians". United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned "the despicable terrorist attacks",

     Australian team captain Steve Smith along with team mates, officials and members of the public also paid tribute to those killed before the start of the second day of the second cricket test against New Zealand. Bullet holes are shown in the window of a patisserie at the Rue de Charonne. At least six attacks, including shootings and explosions, have taken place across the French capital. Warning: some of the following images are distressing. Other countries have stepped up security, including Belgium and Switzerland which border France. France's southern neighbour Spain said it was maintaining its state of alert at level four on a five-point scale. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the Netherlands would tighten security at borders and airports, and said his country is "at war" with IS. Syrian President Bashar al Assad said the policies of some Western countries, including France, in the Middle East are partly to blame for the growth of terrorism. He urged Mr Hollande to alter his policies and "work for the interest of the French people".

FRANCE IS DECLARING A STATE OF EMERGENCY AND CLOSING ITS BORDERS AMID PARIS ATTACKS 

    
French President François Hollande is declaring a nationwide state of emergency and closing the country's borders to keep the perpetrators from escaping, he announced in a brief statement Friday evening. The near-simultaneous attacks in Paris that killed at least 128 people were an "act of war" organised by the Islamic State (IS) militant group, French President Francois Hollande says. He said the attacks, carried out by eight gunmen and suicide bombers, were "organised and planned from outside". The targets included bars, restaurants, a concert and a high-profile football match. IS claimed the attacks.

     Mr Hollande has declared three days of national mourning. He raised the security threat level to its highest point and imposed a nationwide state of emergency. Hospital officials now put the number of injured at 300. Eighty are in a critical condition. These are the deadliest attacks in peacetime France, and only the fourth time since WW2 that a state of emergency has been imposed. The last time was during a 2005 wave of riots in poor suburbs. The night of violence unfolded soon after 21:00 (20:00 GMT) as people were enjoying a Friday night out in the French capital. A gunman opened fire on Le Carillon bar in the rue Alibert, not far from the Place de la Republique, before heading across the road to Le Petit Cambodge (Little Cambodia), killing at least 12 people.

    At around the same time, on the northern outskirts of Paris, 80,000 people who had gathered to watch France play Germany at the Stade de France heard three explosions outside the stadium.
President Hollande was among the spectators and was whisked to safety after the first explosion. It later emerged three suicide bombers blew themselves up atfast food outlets and a brasserie near the stadium. The attack on the 1,500-seat Bataclan concert hall was the deadliest of Friday night's attacks. Gunmen opened fire on a sell-out gig by US rock group Eagles of Death Metal, killing at least 80 people. "At first we thought it was part of the show but we quickly understood," Pierre Janaszak, a radio presenter, told AFP news agency. "They didn't stop firing. There was blood everywhere, corpses everywhere. We heard screaming. Everyone was trying to flee." He said the gunmen took 20 hostages, and he heard one of them tell their captives: "It's the fault of Hollande, it's the fault of your president, he should not have intervened in Syria". Within an hour, security forces had stormed the concert hall and all four attackers there were dead. Three had blown themselves up and a fourth was shot dead by police.

ISIS CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR PARIS TERROR ATTACKS

    
Islamic State claimed responsibility on Saturday for a coordinated assault by gunmen and bombers that killed 127 people at locations across Paris that President Francois Hollande said amounted to an act of war against France. In the worst attack, a Paris city hall official said four gunmen systematically slaughtered at least 87 young people at a rock concert at the Bataclan concert hall before anti-terrorist commandos launched an assault on the building. Dozens of survivors were rescued, and bodies were still being recovered on Saturday morning. Some 40 more people were killed in five other attacks in the Paris region, the official said, including an apparent double suicide bombing outside the Stade de France national stadium, where Hollande and the German foreign minister were watching a friendly soccer international.

     The assaults came as France, a founder member of the US-led coalition waging air strikes against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, was on high alert for terrorist attacks. It was the worst such attack in Europe since the Madrid train bombings of 2004, in which 191 died. Hollande said the attacks had been organized from abroad by Islamic State with internal help. "Faced with war, the country must take appropriate action," he said after an emergency meeting of security chiefs. He also announced three days of national mourning. Former president Nicolas Sarkozy added in a statement: "The war we must wage should be total." During a visit to Vienna, US Secretary of State John Kerry said "we are witnessing a kind of medieval and modern fascism at the same time."

     In its claim of responsibility, Islamic State said the attacks were a response to France's campaign against its fighters. It also distributed an undated video in which a militant said France would not live peacefully as long it took part in US-led bombing raids against them. "As long as you keep bombing you will not live in peace. You will even fear traveling to the market," said a bearded Arabic-speaking militant, flanked by other fighters. A French government source told Reuters there were 127 dead, 67 in critical condition and 116 wounded. Six attackers blew themselves up and one was shot by police. There may have been an eighth attacker, but this is not confirmed. The attacks, in which automatic weapons and explosives belts were used, lasted 40 minutes. "The terrorists, the murderers, raked several cafe terraces with machine-gun fire before entering (the concert hall). There were many victims in terrible, atrocious conditions in several places," police prefect Michel Cadot told reporters.

November 14, 2015

TWO NEPHEWS OF VENEZUELAN CILIA FLORES HAVE ORDERED HELD WITHOUT BAIL ON U.S. NARCOTICS CHARGES

     
Efrain Campos and Francisco Flores did not enter pleas to the charges of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States. Their next court date is scheduled for next week, and their lawyers said after the hearing that they will plead not guilty. An indictment unsealed Thursday alleges Campos and Flores participated in meetings in Venezuela about a shipment of cocaine that was to be sent to the U.S. via Honduras. It provides no other details. The arrest of the two men is likely to exacerbate already tense relations between the U.S. government and the socialist Venezuelan administration led by President Nicolas Maduro.

     Venezuela's opposition is pouncing on the news that relatives of President Nicolas Maduro have been charged with drug trafficking. Hard-line opposition leader Maria Corina Machado is calling for Maduro's resignation, saying important parts of his government "have become criminal organizations." Venezuela's more moderate opposition coalition called on Venezuela's National Assembly to immediately investigate the situation. Opposition spokesman Jesus Torrealba said Thursday the case has shocked the entire nation. An indictment unsealed in New York on Thursday accuses two nephews of first lady Cilia Flores of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States. Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro finished a speech in Geneva without directly addressing the arrest his wife's nephews on cocaine smuggling charges.

      Maduro spoke in broad terms about imperialism and lashed out at a U.S. general in a speech at the United Nations' top human rights body. He also defended his country's independence and said it would not accept interference from outside. Â Thursday's speech at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva came as U.S. officials handed down indictments against two nephews of Venezuela's first lady on narcotics charges. It also comes three weeks before Venezuela holds parliamentary elections. An indictment unsealed on Thursday accuses Efrain Campos and Francisco Flores of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States. The defendants were expected to appear in federal court in Manhattan later in the day. The indictment says the pair participated in meetings in Venezuela about a shipment of cocaine that was to be sent to the U.S. via Honduras. It provides no other details. The arrest of Efrain Campos and Francisco Flores is likely to exacerbate already tense relations between the U.S. and Venezuela and cast a hard look at U.S. accusations of drug trafficking at the highest levels of President Nicolas Maduro's socialist administration.

DOMINICAN POLICE RAID MANSION, YACHT OF VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT'S KIN, FINDE 280LB OF COCAINE 

    
Police in the Dominican Republic raided a mansion owned by one of the two nephews of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro facing charges for allegedly trying to traffic cocaine into the U.S.

       Police found more than 280 pounds of cocaine and 22 pounds of heroin hidden inside the nephew’s posh Casa de Campo property and a 135-foot yacht named “The Kingdom” docked behind it. The mansion belonged to Francisco Flores de Freites, 30, who was arrested along with Efraín Campos, 29, for allegedly conspiring to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the U.S. The two, nephews of Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores, remain in federal lockup in New York. They were arrested in Haiti Tuesday night and transported to New York, where they are being held without bail.

       The raid in the D.R. was first reported by CDN, a major news outlet in the country. Dominican police found 176 pounds of drugs in the home and the rest in the yacht, which according to CDN had a helicopter pad. The boat had a Bahamas registration, CDN reported. The ship captain, a Venezuelan national, was arrested during the raid. According to CDN, the man is now under full protection of the DEA and is cooperating with federal investigators. The indictment unsealed Thursday in New York charges the pairwith one count of narcotics conspiracy. It alleges the men participated in meetings in Venezuela regarding a plot to smuggle cocaine into the United States via Honduras, but provided few other details. Conviction carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

US AIRSTRIKE KILLED NOTORIOUS ISIS MILITANT 'JIHADI JOHN'

    
The Pentagon said late Thursday it had launched an airstrike in Syria targeting "Jihadi John", a British national seen in videos depicting the beheading of hostages held by ISIS. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook confirmed that the airstrike in Raqqa was directed at the notorious militant, also known as Mohamed Emwazi. It was not immediately clear whether Emwazi died in the airstrike, but a senior U.S. military official told Fox News, "we are 99 percent sure we got him." The Pentagon was monitoring the aftermath of the strike before making a definitive announcement. A senior U.S. defense official told Fox News that a drone was used in the airstrike. According to a senior military source, the drone had been trackingEmwazi for most of the day Thursday while he met with other people. The source said the strike took place shortly after Emwazi came out of a building in Raqqa, when he was "ID'd and engaged."

     Sky News, citing sources inside Raqqa, reported that Emwazi was badly hurt in the air strike but still alive when he was brought to the hospital there. Later, however, the same sources said the hospital was sealed off to the public. Locals say the hospital is usually closed when an ISIS figure is killed, which allows the group to go on social media and claim he is still alive. A representative of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told the Daily Telegraph, "a car carrying four foreign Islamic State leaders, including one British jihadi, was hit by U.S. air strikes [near] the governorate building in Raqqa city. "All the sources there are saying that the body of an important British jihadi is lying in the hospital of Raqqa," the activist added. "All the sources are saying it is of Jihadi John but I cannot confirm it personally."

      Early Friday, British Prime Minister David Cameron said that officials are not yet certain whether Emwazi was dead, but said the action was "a strike at the heart" of ISIS, as well as "an act of self-defense" and the right thing to do. Cameron said Britain has been "working, with the United States, literally around the clock to track him down." "This was a combined effort," he said. "And the contribution of both our countries was essential." Cameron said that "it will demonstrate to those who would do Britain, our people and our allies harm: We have a long reach, we have unwavering determination and we never forget about our citizens." Bethany Haines, the daughter of David Haines, told Sky News Friday that she felt an 'instant sense of" relief" when she heard Emwazi may have been killed. She said her feeling was because of "'knowing he wouldn't appear in any more horrific videos."

November 13, 2015

VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION GROUP ASKS INTERNATIONAL COURT TO INVESTIGATE PRESIDENT NICOLAS MADURO

     
A group of Venezuelan opposition figures has asked the international criminal court (ICC) to probe the country’s leader, Nicolás Maduro, and other officials for “crimes against humanity”, exiled dissident Carlos Vecchio said on Wednesday. “Yesterday we formally presented a request for the court to open a preliminary inquiry into high-ranking officials, especially Maduro, because we consider that they have committed crimes against humanity,” Vecchio told reporters in Madrid. The move – confirmed by an ICC source – comes just weeks before 6 December legislative elections in Venezuela, which polls say the opposition may win as people in the oil-rich country suffer runaway inflation and shortages of basic goods. “We are faced with a case of crimes … that involve murders, torture, illegal detentions, persecution, inhuman treatment,” said Vecchio, the coordinator of opposition party Popular Will, whose leader Leopoldo López is in prison.

     The request to the Hague-based court, which targets eight officials including Maduro, was made in the name of a group of alleged victims of the current regime, in which Vecchio has included himself. It lists more than 30 alleged murders, 3,700 detentions that the opposition considers illegal, nearly 400 suspected cases of torture and some 800 people allegedly injured since February 2014 when deadly, nationwide protests against Maduro’s government broke out. Venezuelan opposition leader's case plotted by government, prosecutor says Franklin Nieves has fled to US and apologized for ‘sham trial’ in which Leopoldo López was convicted for inciting violence at 2014 anti-government protest

     The prosecutor’s office at the ICC has between three to six months to decide whether to accept requests it receives, but Vecchio said his complaint was urgent as the elections near. Maduro is due to make a speech on Thursday at the UN’s Human Rights Council, of which Venezuela is a member, in Geneva. Vecchio’s announcement came a day after the head of the Organization of American States (OAS) – a regional grouping – questioned whether the forthcoming polls would be transparent and fair. Last month, Venezuela rejected a request from the OAS to send an observer mission to monitor the elections. The OAS secretary general ,Luis Almagro, pointed out that López was in jail, adding that opposition parties were having trouble getting air time on media. Some opposition candidates have been disqualified, and opposition parties also have trouble getting access to campaign funding, he wrote in an 18-page letter to the head of the Venezuelan electoral commission.

157 LEGISLATORS FROM SIX LATIN AMERICAN COUNTRIES SEEK FREE VENEZUELA ELECTIONS

    
U.S. senators and leading lawmakers from SIX Latin America asked Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday to guarantee free, transparent and democratic parliamentary elections next month. The 157 legislators from the United States, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica and Peru also asked Maduro to allow election observers from the Organization of American States and the European Union to watch the Dec. 6 vote.

     They expressed concern that several opposition leaders who are behind bars will be unable to participate in the elections. "We reiterate our desire for a successful outcome in the upcoming elections in Venezuela and the need for your support in facilitating the participation of international election observers to guarantee the objectivity and credibility of the process," their letter said. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro smiles during a summit of Arab and South American leaders in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015.

     The two-day summit beginning Tuesday aims to improve coordination among political leaders and civil society groups in the two regions, focusing on economics, science and technology, the environment and social and cultural affairs. A written copy of the missive was delivered to the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington early Wednesday. The mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The legislators' request came one day after OAS Secretary General Luis Almargo declared that Venezuelan authorities were not guaranteeing "a level of transparency and justice" necessary to hold the contest. Diosdado Cabello, president of Venezuela's National Assembly, responded shortly after Almargo's statement, characterizing it as a threat and saying the OAS was a discredited organization.

US AGRICULTURE SECRETARY TOM VILSACK VISITS CUBA

    
US Secretary of Agriculture of the United States, Thomas Vilsack, arrived in Cuba on Wednesday for a working visit, reported dpa news. Vilsack, the third member of the Obama cabinet to visit Cuba since the two countries resumed diplomatic relations in July, met in Havana with Ricardo Cabrisas, one of Cuba’s vice presidents.

     The US official and Cabrisas spoke on “the interests of United States agriculture” and the restrictions of the US embargo against Cuba, said the Cuban news agency. Vilsack’s delegation includes three members of the US House of Representatives, Democrats Terri Sewell (representative of Alabama), Kurt Schrader (Oregon) and Suzan Delbene (Washington) and Senator Jeff Merkley, also from the Democratic Party . The agriculture secretary came to the island for a two-day visit. He follows Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in Cuba in August, and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker who came in October.

    Many US politicians have traveled to Cuba after the two countries announced a historic diplomatic rapprochement in December 2014, after years of disruption and ideological hostilities. As part of the thaw, the Obama administration has relaxed some of the restrictions of the trade embargo Washington imposed on Cuba since the early 60s, for example in the telecommunications, agriculture and travel fields. However the embargo is still in effect and can only be rescinded by Congress. Companies in several US states with a strong agricultural industry have shown interest in the Cuban market this year.

November 12, 2015

OAS' ALMAGRO LAMBASTED CNE FOR NOT ALLOWING OBSERVATION IN PARLIAMENT VOTE

     
The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, blasted the decision of the Venezuelan government to prevent the organization from observing the parliament election scheduled for December 6 in Venezuela.

      "It is also regrettable that the denial was based on a political stance rather than on arguments rooted in justice and the necessary guarantees to undertake an electoral process," Almagro said in a letter of 18 pages, addressed to Tibisay Lucena, the president of the National Electoral Council (CNE). Earlier, in a letter, Lucena had refused OAS offer of international observation. Almagro pointed out that the Venezuelan dissent has asked for international observation, regarded as "meddling" by the government of President Nicolás Maduro. "You owe to them guarantees as well, as your Government has many ways of ensuring that the result is fair." The Secretary-General told Lucena.

      The opposition has requested international observers to vouch for a fair process, after the claims of rigged elections in 2013, DPA reported. CNE claims to be "the most perfect" electoral system in the world and promised not to allow external organizations to monitor the election. Instead, the CNE established a system of "escorts" for a rather limited involvement compared to international observation, particularly concerning the customary report. "On you will depend the legitimacy of the ultimate political weapon left to your people, which is the right to vote with guarantees for all," Almagro noted.

MARCO RUBIO AND TED CRUZ, THE CUBAN-AMERICAN SENATORS ACE OF GOP DEBATE

    
Republican presidential hopefuls Sens. Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz WON the Republican presidential debate in Boulder, Colo. Oct. 28, 2015.  Nobody delivered a knockout punch at last night’s fourth Republican presidential debate, but the Fox Business Network debate did seem to go a long way to clarifying the race. On the strength of last night’s performances, it appears increasingly likely that the Republicans will nominate a 45-year-old Cuban-American senator for president when they convene in Cleveland in July.

     It’s just a question whether it will be Ted Cruz, who will turn 45 on December 22, or Marco Rubio, who won’t reach that milestone until May 28. Each brings his own distinct strengths.Pardon me for being so shallow, but Rubio is simply better looking. He’s got far more of a JFK/New Frontier/Passing-the-torch-to-a-new-generation thing going. While both Cruz and Rubio attempt to appropriate the sunny Reagan optimism, it seems a far more natural fit for Rubio, while Cruz comes across as a bit mean, with the heart of a killjoy, hardly lovable and, to those who aren’t true believers, barely likable.

      On the other hand, even though it is Rubio who has far more experience as an elected official – at both the state and federal level – Cruz comes across as older, wiser, and quicker and more confident on his feet. Rubio is good at soaring eloquence, but it seems very practiced, canned, rehearsed. And being “boyish” – an appellation always applied to Rubio but never to Cruz – is both a blessing and a curse. The turn-the-page, vote-for-the-young-guy could be very effective for Rubio against Hillary Clinton, but he is also more vulnerable than Cruz to being portrayed as a callow youth, not quite read and more vice presidential than presidential material. One can more easily imagine Rubio than Cruz capturing the national imagination accepting his party’s nomination in Cleveland.But, I think Cruz is a surer bet to acquit himself well in debate with Clinton, less likely to stumble.

CUBA-US AGREEMENT ON FLIGHTS LIKELY IN COMING MONTHS 

     Cuban officials said Tuesday that negotiations on the normalization of relations with the United States are likely to produce agreements on regularly scheduled airline flights and three other areas in the coming months. U.S. officials have been appealing to Cuba to help produce concrete results in the normalization talks in order to solidify President Barack Obama's opening to Cuba announced late last year after more than 50 years of official hostility. Obama's strategy faces vehement opposition from Cuban-American lawmakers and his administration is struggling to make progress despite the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba and Cuba's own restrictions on trade and commerce.

      Josefina Vidal, Cuba's head of North American affairs, told reporters at the Cuban Embassy in Washington that agreements on flights, environmental protection, direct postal service and the fight against drug trafficking are very likely by the end of the year. "We are very close to the first agreements that we can announce in the next few weeks," she said. "I am almost certain that by the end of the year we can announce some results in those areas." Gustavo Machin, deputy director for U.S. affairs at Cuba's Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Havana that a deal on direct flights could be struck in the "short term."

      Hundreds of Cubans and visitors from other countries gather across the street from the newly reopene … "I think this is one of the issues that we have advanced on most and on which we are close to reaching an agreement," Machin said. "We are talking of one month, two months, three months." Both Vidal and Machin emphasized that airlines would have to make their own deals with the individual government before flights could actually begin. Direct flights are seen as a potential game changer in U.S. travel to Cuba, which has risen dramatically since Obama's announcement and subsequent loosening of U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba. Travelers to Cuba from the U.S. must now take expensive and chaotic charter flights that feature three-hour check-ins for a 45-minute flight and draconian limits on baggage.

November 11, 2015

LAW ENFORCEMENT DIALOGUE BETWEEN USA AND CUBA IN WASHINGTON

     
Today, the United States and Cuba held an inaugural Law Enforcement Dialogue in Washington, DC. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Alex Lee and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Swartz led the delegation for the United States, and Mr. Abel Gonzalez Santamaria, Deputy Advisor of the Commission on Defense and National Security, and Ambassador Yuri Gala Lopez, Director of Bilateral Affairs, Directorate General for the United States, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, led the Cuba delegation.

     Law enforcement is a key area in the bilateral relationship as the United States continues on the path toward normalized relations with Cuba. The meeting took place in a respectful and productive environment and reinforced the benefits of law enforcement cooperation to both countries. The discussion focused on a wide range of areas of cooperation in law enforcement, including counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, transnational crime, cyber-crime, secure travel and trade, and fugitives.

       Both delegations were made up by a broad representation of law enforcement agencies which, in the case of the United States, are under the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security and, in the case of Cuba, are under the Ministry of the Interior, the Attorney General’s Office and the General Customs of the Republic of Cuba. The representatives from both countries agreed on the importance of making progress in the cooperation and establishment of mechanisms to promote cyber-security and combat terrorism, drug-trafficking, trafficking and trade in persons, money laundering, smuggling and other transnational crimes. Likewise, they addressed other issues, such as the case of fugitives from the justice systems of Cuba and the United States. Both sides agreed to follow up on this dialogue and promote the holding of technical meetings between law enforcement agencies from both countries with the purpose of materializing bilateral cooperation.

STATE-SUPPORTED DOPING: INVESTIGATORS ACCUSE RUSSIA OF SABOTAGING OLYMPICS, CALL FOR BANS

    
In a devastatingly critical report, a World Anti-Doping Agency panel accused Russia on Monday of complicity in widespread doping and cover-ups by track and field athletes during the 2012 London Olympics and other major events, and said they should all be banned from competition until the country cleans up its act. WADA commission leader Dick Pound says Russia seems to have been running a "state-supported" doping program, adding, "I don't think there's any other possible conclusion." The commission's report said the London Games were sabotaged because track's governing body and Russia's anti-doping authority didn't take doping seriously enough and allowed runners to compete who should not have.

      In addition, the report claimed the country's intelligence service, the FSB, infiltrated anti-doping work at the Sochi Olympics. One witness told the inquiry that "in Sochi, we had some guys pretending to be engineers in the lab but actually they were from the federal security service." The commission recommended that WADA immediately declare the Russian federation "non-compliant" with the global anti-doping code, and that the International Association of Athletics Federations suspend Russia from competition. It also said the International Olympic Committee should not accept any entries from the Russian federation until the body has been declared compliant with the code and the suspension has been lifted. Such a decision could keep Russian athletes out of next year's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

     The commission also accused the Russian state of complicity. It said its months-long probe found no written evidence of government involvement, but it added: "It would be naive in the extreme to conclude that activities on the scale discovered could have occurred without the explicit or tacit approval of Russian governmental authorities." "It may be a residue of the old Soviet Union system," Pound added. Staff at Russia's anti-doping lab in Moscow believed their offices were bugged by the FSB and an FSB agent, thought to be Evgeniy Blotkin or Blokhin, regularly visited. This was part of a wider pattern of "direct intimidation and interference by the Russian state with the Moscow laboratory operations," the report said. The Russian sports ministry said late Monday it is "not surprised by most of the points" in the scathing report on doping in the country and that it is working to correct the problem. The ministry issued a statement in English in response to the WADA commission report. The ministry said "we are fully aware of the problems in the All-Russia Athletic Federation (ARAF) and we have undertaken measures to remedy the situation: there is a new president in ARAF, a new head coach, and they are currently rejuvenating the coaching staff." It added that "Russia has been and will continue to be fully committed to the fight against doping in sport.
 

NICOLAS MADURO SAYS US INTELLIGENCE PLANE VIOLATED VENEZUELA'S AIRSPACE 

    
NICOLAS MADURO claims a U.S. Coast Guard planeHE describes as an intelligence aircraft violated the South American country's airspace. Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino also said Sunday the Dash-8 aircraft flew out of Curacao, a Dutch island not far off Venezuela's Caribbean coast. He said that during a 30-minute period the plane twice entered Venezuelan airspace over the tiny archipelago of Los Monjes on Friday while performing what appeared to be a reconnaissance mission in the Gulf of Venezuela, which is also bounded by Colombia.

     In comments on the state channel Telesur, Padrino said other U.S. reconnaissance and military transport aircraft had flown close to Venezuela in recent days. While he offered no evidence to back the claims, he said the timing of the apparent maneuvers, as the country prepares for key legislative elections next month, was suspicious, recalling other U.S. military exercises that allegedly preceded a brief coup in 2002 against then President Hugo Chavez. "It's completely unusual that these types of aircraft, with all their electronic surveillance characteristics, to come near our area of influence," said Padrino, adding that the USS George Washington aircraft carrier would pass nearby Venezuela around the same time as the Dec. 6 vote.

     The U.S. Embassy in Caracas and State Department didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. The U.S. operates a so-called forward operating location on Curacao and neighboring Aruba responsible for drug-interdiction operation in the Caribbean region. President Nicolas Maduro said he would denounce the alleged "military provocation" to the United Nations as well as regional groups such as the Union of South American Nations. Relations between Venezuela's socialist government and the United States have been strained for years. Earlier this year, Washington sanctioned several senior Venezuelan officials accused of violating human rights of government opponents during a crackdown on anti-government protests. Several other Venezuelan officials, including a former defense minister and the former head of military intelligence, have also been sanctioned for alleged involvement in drug-trafficking.

November 10, 2015

OBAMA, NETANYAHU MEET ON ISRAEL SECURITY, MIDDLE EAST UNREST

     
U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in Washington Monday, trying to find ways to cope with what the U.S. leader described as a deteriorating security environment in the Middle East. The two leaders have often had a fractious relationship and their meeting was the first in more than a year. The White House talks occurred in the aftermath of Netanyahu's vocal opposition to the Iran nuclear deal negotiated in July by the United States and five other world powers, but Obama called that a "narrow issue" of disagreement. Both leaders warmly embraced the long-standing military and security alliance between their countries, with Obama calling "the security of Israel one of my top foreign policy objectives."

    Obama said he and Netanyahu would discuss "how we can blunt the activities" of the Islamic State, Hezbollah and other insurgent groups that "carry out terrorist activities." While he acknowledged Israel's opposition to the Iran deal that restrains Tehran's nuclear program but also lifts economic sanctions against it, Obama said the two leaders would find common ground in halting "destabilizing activities that Iran may be undertaking." Obama administration officials said last week that the U.S. president no longer believes that agreement on creation of a Palestinian state can be achieved before he leaves office in early 2017. Netanyahu said, "We have not given up on our hopes for peace, two states for two people," with ademilitarized Palestinian state and recognition of the Jewish state's right to exist. "We genuinely want to achieve peace" with other Middle East countries if they do as well, Netanyahu said.

      Netanyahu was among the most vocal critics of the Iran pact, saying it would not slow Tehran's work toward a nuclear weapon and would put Israel in danger. He highlighted his concerns in an address to the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress in March during a trip in which he did not meet with Obama. Hours before he left Israel, Netanyahu said the talks would focus on "strengthening the security" of Israel. He said Israel's security is something the U.S. has always been committed to, with the goal of maintaining Israel's comparative military advantage in the face of a changing Middle East. Israel already receives more than $3 billion a year in U.S. military aid, and officials say Netanyahu hopes to get that raised to $4 billion to $5 billion annually. The current 10-year arrangement expires in 2017. "I believe that this meeting is important in order to clarify the continuation of American aid to Israel in the coming decade," Netanyahu said. Obama said they would talk about a new military assistance agreement, although U.S. officials say a new defense deal will not be finalized at the meeting.

JORDANIAN KILLS 2 AMERICANS, 1 SOUTH AFRICAN AT POLICE TRAINING SITE

    
A Jordanian police officer gunned down two Americans and a South African before local forces shot the attacker Monday at a training center outside of Amman. Security sources say the assailant also wounded two American trainers and four Jordanians at the Jordan International Police Training Center. A senior U.S. official confirms the Americans killed were part of State Department police training program.

   A Jordanian government spokesmen says an investigation is underway to determine the "motives behind the crime." U.S. Central Command tells VOA that all American military personnel in Jordan are accounted for. The deceased worked as contractors with Jordan's Public Security Department, Mohammad Momani said. The U.S. and Jordanian governments signed an agreement in 2003 establishing the facility to train tens of thousands of police officers from neighboring Iraq. The effort later included training Palestinian security forces. Jordanian staff have worked alongside international experts for more than decade at the site.

       The State Department funds security training at the Jordan International Training Center near Amman, Jordan. A Jordanian officer opened fire, killing two American military personnel and a South African, Nov. 9, 2015. The attack comes 10 years to the day after of the one of the worst attacks in the kingdom's history, when suicide bombings at three hotels in Amman killed more than 50 people. Three of the attackers died in the blasts. Earlier this year, Jordan executed Sajida al-Rishawi, who was convicted for her part as a failed suicide bomber on Nov. 9, 2005. Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for the bombings.

VENEZUELA WITHDRAW USD 467 MILLION FROM ITS SAVINGS AT IMF 

    
Venezuela withdrew in October USD 467 million from its savings in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), according to data supplied by the organization. This is the third operation of such kind this year in the middle of economic recession in Venezuela following the plunge of its oil income.

     The website of the IMF showed data that indicate that Venezuela cashed money from its special drawing rights (SDR) to have more liquid position of its international reserves and use such funds to pay debt and finance imports, Reuters reported. Venezuela counts its position in SDRs as part of international reserves, which had dived to their lowest level in 12 years, in the middle of crumbling oil prices. After this recent withdrawal, in addition to a couple withdrawals made earlier, in April and July, one for USD 1.8 million, Venezuela's position in SDRs shrank near USD 806 million, according to latest data.

      Venezuela had not withdrawn SDRs since 2006, based on IMF data. SDRs are assets whose value depends on a basket of four foreign currencies: Euro, Japanese yen, Sterling Pound, and US dollar. The country reserves stand at USD 14.8 billion, a plunge from around USD 22 billion ending last year, and the lowest amount since March 2003, when the oil industry was halted by a nationwide strike. Most reserves are invested in gold. This year, the Central Bank also resorted to at least two swaps of gold for cash to rise its liquid assets in international reserves, as appears from the BCV data.

November 9, 2015

U.S. WARNS OF CONFLICT IN S. CHINA SEA

     
The United States will conduct freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea again, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a speech on Saturday, although he gave no timeline for any such actions. Carter's comments, delivered at a defense forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, came at the close of a trip to Asia, where he cruised on a U.S. aircraft carrier operating in the South China Sea and blamed Beijing's island-building for rising tensions in the region.

      In October, a U.S. guided-missile destroyer, the USS Lassen, challenged territorial limits around one of China's man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago with a so-called freedom-of-navigation patrol. "We've done them before, all over the world," Carter said, in reference to the operation. "And we will do them again." A rising and more ambitious China and a Russia intent on flouting the international order mean the U.S. military must adapt its strategies and operations, he said. "How China behaves will be the true test of its commitment to peace and security," Carter said. "This is why nations across the region are watching China's actions in areas like the maritime domain and cyberspace." China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims. "China has reclaimed more land than any other country in the entire history of the region," Carter said.

      The United States is "deeply concerned" about the extent of land reclamation and the prospect of further militarization there, which could lead to a greater "risk of miscalculation or conflict," he said. The United States is responding to China's moves by putting its "best and newest" assets in the Asia-Pacific and investing in space, cyber, missile defense, and electronic warfare, he added. Another challenge for the United States is Russia's "provocations," including in Europe and the Middle East, Carter said, adding that Russia has violated the sovereignty of Ukraine and is trying to intimidate Baltic states. He also criticized Russia for prolonging Syria's civil war, although he said it was possible Russia could play a constructive role in ending the conflict.

U.S. CAN STILL CLOSE GUANTANAMO PRISON BEFORE PRESIDENT OBAMA LEAVES THE WHITE HOUSE

    
The Obama administration still has time to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison before the president leaves office, the White House said on Friday, adding that it is continuing to work on transferring detainees from the center.The United States is working to reach agreement with countries around the globe to transfer 53 eligible Guantanamo prisoners from the facility in Cuba, White Housespokesman Josh Earnest said, adding that some transfers would take place by the end of the year. "Absolutely it's still possible. It's still something that we are working very hard to accomplish," Earnest said.

     A senior U.S. official told Reuters “there is a very real possibility” that the number of inmates at Guantanamo, now at 112, could be reduced to less than a hundred by the end of the year. “We’re aiming for this,” the official said, but added that there was no guarantee of hitting that milestone by Dec. 31. We’re aiming for this,” the official said, but added that there was no guarantee of hitting that Opponents of moving Guantánamo detainees to the U.S. mainland are firing a new round of warning shots ahead of an Obama administration plan regarding closing the facility.

     Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., told reporters Thursday he could hold up as many nominations as needed to try to thwart implementation of any executive actions on transferring individuals held at the prison facility at the naval base to the United States. “This administration has continually gone around the Congress and tried to figure out which button to push to irritate Congress the most,” Roberts said. “Well, he sure as hell has pushed my button. As I have said for years and years, we are not going to have terrorists from Gitmo come to Fort Leavenworth, the intellectual center of the Army, or any other location in the United States. That will not work. We will not let that happen.” If President Barack Obama is going to use an executive order that runs afoul of the legislative intent of lawmakers, “Why do we even have a Congress?”
 

MACRI PULLS AHEAD IN ARGENTINA PRESIDENTIAL RACE, POLL SHOWS 

    
Challenger Mauricio Macri took the lead in Argentina's presidential election race against his ruling party rival, a poll showed on Sunday, two weeks before the Nov. 22 run-off vote. The Management & Fit survey put Macri eight points ahead with the backing of 51.8 percent of voters, including a projected share of undecided votes. His rival, Daniel Scioli, had 43.6 percent support. The numbers indicate Macri and his "Let's Change" alliance have maintained their momentum, after a surprisingly strong performance in the first round that stunned the ruling Front for Victory party and left Scioli scrambling to regain the initiative.

     However, more than one in 10 of Argentina's 32 million voters are still undecided, leaving the presidential race open. Macri's lead narrows to six points with 46.3 percent of support when undecided votes are excluded from the candidates' count. The outcome of the election will shape how the South American country tackles its economic woes, including high inflation, an over-valued peso and a central bank running precariously low on dollars. Macri promises to start dismantling a raft of protectionist currency and trade controls on his first day in office if he wins, to open up Latin America's third biggest economy. Scioli says gradual reforms are required to lure new investment and labels Macri a neoliberal beholden to corporations and the rich.

     Scioli has courted the 5 million voters of third-place candidate Sergio Massa with promises to increase pensions, scrap punitive taxes on corn and wheat exports and use the military to battle narco-gangs - all key Massa policy demands. Even so, the poll showed that 57 percent of Massa's support will split toward Macri, favoring change over continuity after President Cristina Fernandez's eight years in power, which have been deeply divisive. Massa has not explicitly endorsed either candidate. Scioli won 37.1 percent of votes in the first round and Macri defied pollsters to draw 34.2 percent support. The narrow margin was widely viewed as a slap in the face for Fernandez's brand of leftist populism and has forced Scioli to distance himself slowly from the outgoing leader. The poll showed Fernandez's approval ratings fell three points to 38.8 percent from less than a month earlier.

November 8, 2015

LILIAN TINTORI: LEOPOLDO LOPEZ'S PRISON TREATMENT AMOUNTS TO TORTURE

     
In September 2015, a Venezuelan judge sentenced opposition leader Leopoldo López to nearly 14 years in prison for his role in anti-government protests that swept the South American nation in early 2014. On October 1, Lilian Tintori, a human rights activist and López’s wife, talks about conditions in Venezuela, her husband’s incarceration and upcoming parliamentary elections. . They just sentenced Leopoldo — unjustly and lacking proof and witnesses — to 14 years in prison. It’s a farce [...] and the world is aware of what’s happening in Venezuela. And due to that awareness, we’re asking the international community to help us secure qualified international observers for the next parliamentary elections on December 6.

     We want to be able to count on the [Organization of American States] and the European Union during this process. Leopoldo is strong despite the fact that they’ve tried to break him. They treat him inhumanely and torture him. Leopoldo is alone in a four-story tower. He sleeps in a cell that doesn’t have electricity. They lock him up from 8:00 pm to 6:00 am without a light. They limit his studies, his reading and his ability to write. They’ve stolen his writings and his defense for his trial. In the past month they’ve moved him to a different cell three times to psychologically torture him. And despite all of this, Leopoldo remains strong and asks us for our solidarity. And our form of solidarity is not surrendering. We will not surrender.

     We will keep fighting for the freedom of all of the political prisoners and we will continue to fight to rescue Venezuela’s democracy. Our prediction and our hope for the parliamentary elections in December is that the Venezuelan people will win. We hope that the people will protest for their vote, that they will peacefully defend their right to vote. We want to be able to count the votes and achieve a change in the National Assembly. The region is key: they’re our brothers, they’re our neighbors. What happens in Venezuela affects the region. We’ve traveled throughout Latin America and have found solidarity and a deep commitment to democracy in the congresses of Brazil, Peru and Argentina. But we need more. We need more support from the international community, and this support can materialize in the next few weeks.

RAUL CASTRO, PEÑA NIETO SEAL WARMER CUBA-MEXICO TIES

     
Cuban leader Raul Castro received a warm welcome in Mexico as President Enrique Pena Nieto sought to end a diplomatic chill and boost business opportunities on the island. With the colonial Caribbean city of Merida serving as the backdrop, Castro was given red carpet treatment at the Yucatan state government palace for his first official visit to Mexico since taking power in 2006. "Long live the indestructible brotherhood between the people of Cuba and Mexico," Castro said as he delivered a speech alongside Pena Nieto following a private meeting. For his part, Pena Nieto greeted Castro with an embrace and told him that "Mexico welcomes you with open arms." The two governments signed five cooperation agreements in migration, education, diplomacy, fishing and tourism. Both leaders made clear that the improved relations could lead to more investment opportunities for Mexican companies as the communist nation implements economic reforms.

     The diplomatic reconciliation between the United States and Cuba has raised the prospect of new business opportunities on the island, though the US embargo remains in place. In May 2014, Mexico sent a business delegation to Havana representing 48 companies. It also opened a trade promotion office in Havana. Mexico has several investment projects in Cuba's Mariel megaport. "We are pleased by the interest that Mexican companies have in doing business and investing in Cuba, especially at the special development zone of Mariel and in sectors like agriculture and tourism," said Castro, who returns to Havana on Saturday. In his bid to improve ties since taking office in 2012, Pena Nieto forgave 70 percent of Cuba's $487 million debt in 2013 and held a state visit in Havana a year later.

       The US-Cuba rapprochement has had another effect for Mexico, as thousands of Cubans have been entering the country on their way to the United States. The surge is driven by fears among Cubans that the US-Cuba detente will prompt Washington to stop giving them automatic visas when they step on US soil. Mexican government figures show that nearly 6,500 Cubans were taken to migration centers in the first nine months of this year, three times more than in all of 2014. Pena Nieto said the two governments signed an agreement to broaden legal tools to ensure a "legal, safe and orderly" flow of migrants between both countries, and combat human trafficking. Castro's visit sealed a warming of relations between two nations that have had close ties in past decades. Mexico was the only Latin American nation to resist US pressure to break relations with Havana during the Cold War.But relations turned sour under Vicente Fox's 2000-2006 presidency, which condemned Cuba at the UN Human Rights Council.

VENEZUELA'S FOOD SHORTAGES TRIGGER LONG LINES AND  VIOLENCE 

    
-Hours after they looted and set fire to a National Guard command post in this sun-baked corner of Venezuela earlier this month, a mob infuriated by worsening food shortages rammed trucks into the smoldering edifice, reducing it mostly to rubble. The incident was just one of numerous violent clashes that have flared in pockets around the country in recent weeks as Venezuelans wait for hours in long supermarket lines for basics like milk and rice. Shortages have made hunger a palpable concern for many Wayuu Indians who live here at the northern tip of Venezuela’s 1,300-mile border with Colombia.

     The soldiers had been deployed to stem rampant food smuggling and price speculation, which President Nicolás Maduro blames for triple-digit inflation and scarcity. But after they seize contraband goods, the troops themselves often become targets of increasingly desperate people. “What’s certain is that we are going very hungry here and the children are suffering a lot,” said María Palma, a 55-year-old grandmother who on a recent blistering hot day had been standing in line at the grocery store since 3 a.m. before walking away empty-handed at midday. In a national survey, the pollster Consultores 21 found 30 percent of Venezuelans eating two or fewer meals a day during the second quarter of this year, up from 20 percent in the first quarter.

     Around 70 percent of people in the study also said they had stopped buying some basic food item because it had become unavailable or too expensive. Food-supply problems in Venezuela underscore the increasingly precarious situation for Mr. Maduro’s socialist government, which according to the latest poll by Datanálisis is preferred by less than 20 percent of voters ahead of Dec. 6 parliamentary elections. The critical situation threatens to plunge South America’s largest oil exporter into a wave of civil unrest reminiscent of last year’s nationwide demonstrations seeking Mr. Maduro’s ouster. “It’s a national crisis,” said Marco Ponce, head of the Venezuela Observatory of Social Conflict, noting that unlike the political protests of last year, residents are now taking to the streets demanding social rights.

November 7, 2015

PUTIN HALTS RUSSIAN FLIGHTS TO EGYPT

     
Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended all of his country's commercial flights to Egypt Friday as investigators continue to probe whether a bomb brought down the Russian jetliner last weekend that crashed into the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people aboard. The Russian leader acted quickly after the chief of the country's FSB security service, Alexander Bortnikov, recommended the halt in flights "until we have determined the true reasons" for last Saturday's crash.

    Russia had for days dismissed as speculative pointed suggestions by U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron that Islamic State insurgents planted a bomb aboard the Metrojet A-321 flight from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin ordered the government to work out details of how to repatriate Russians who are currently vacationing at the resort along the Red Sea, a favorite holiday destination for many Europeans. British vacationers encountered long delays in leaving Sharm el-Sheikh Friday, with the budget airline easyJet only making two flights to London and canceling seven others.

     No explanation was given, with the airline saying Egyptian authorities had blocked the additional flights. But the British ambassador denied that Egypt had curtailed the planned departure of hundreds of Britons and pleaded with angry travelers for patience. The British Ambassador to Egypt, John Casson, talks to British tourists after the announcement by easyJet staff that there would not be any more flights today to evacuate tourists from Sharm el-Sheikh, south Sinai, Egypt, Nov. 6, 2015. British authorities forced the 359 travelers who left Sharm el-Sheikh on the two flights to leave most of their luggage behind, except for carry-on bags, so that thorough searches of it could be conducted before it is transported on separate flights. Russia joins numerous other European national carriers that have blocked flights to the Sinai resort in the days after the Russian jetliner plummeted into the desert. Belgium on Friday recommended "heightened vigilance" for any of its citizens traveling to Egypt and that they not go to Sharm el-Sheikh.

MISSION OF EURO-DEPUTIES TO VISIT VENEZUELA IS "EXPLORATORY"

     
The European Parliament reported on Tuesday that a mission of three deputies that will head on Wednesday for Venezuela is "exploratory" and will help to "assess the political situation" and "prepare the commission" of a full parliament delegation. "The purpose of the exploratory mission (...) is meeting with representatives both of the Venezuelan government and the opposition political forces to assess the political situation and lay the foundations for an ad hoc full delegation of the European Parliament," stated a press release. Last October 22, the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliamentordered the delegation to visit Venezuela on July 16-19.

     However, the action was deferred due to "lack of cooperation of Venezuelan authorities," parliament sources told Efe. After the visit of the first small mission of three deputies, the European Parliament trusts that a full delegation will be able to come to Venezuela after the parliament vote slated for December 6.  The coordinator of international affairs of opposition umbrella group Unified Democratic Panel (MUD), Edmundo González, asserted that the visit of euro-deputies is made following the European Parliament's decision of "observing in situ the political and human rights situation in the country" Deputies from the European Parliament will meet with MUD leaders. Related Content The coordinator of international affairs of opposition umbrella group Unified Democratic Panel (MUD), Edmundo González, informed on Thursday that the heads of the coalition would meet with Euro-deputies visiting Venezuela on Friday at 9:00 am (Venezuelan time).

      González asserted that the visit of euro-deputies is made following the European Parliament's decision of "observing onsite the political and human rights situation in the country." He added that the deputies would try to visit political prisoners, although he warned that Venezuelan authorities usually do not authorize those visits. "What is important here is tounderscore the attitude, the concern, and the interest of Euro-deputies ahead of the election," González remarked in aradio interview. The Euro-deputies met with deposed opposition Deputy María Corina Machado, and plan to meet on Thursday with Caracas Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma, currently in home arrest. The deputies are also expected to meet with Minister of Foreign Affairs Delcy Rodríguez,

NICOLAS MADURO PLEDGES TO SHAVE HIS MUSTACHE FOR SOCIALISM  

    
The President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, threatened to shave his moustache if his government does not reached 1 million homes before the end of the year. Since Chavez began this mission, according to Minister Quevedo, 753,000 houses have been built, remodeled or half-finished, 753.000. How will they build 250,000 in the remaining 56 days. After consulting a spouse, Cilia Flores, present in the program, if she agrees with his bet and receive as a response that he will wake up on January 1 with his characteristic moustache, the head of State asked in jocular tone to the construction workers help him win the bet.

     Maduro earlier this week provoked laughter from friends and foes alike when he in jest pledged to cut his bushy facial hair if the goal wasn't met. He repeated the pledge on Thursday, telling his Housing Minister that the future of the country's most-watched moustache was in his hands. "If by December 31 we have reached the 1 million mark, I'll cut off my moustache as a form of self-punishment so everyone knows we didn't meet the goal," Maduro said at a ceremony to deliver 2,520 apartments in a housing project named for the late President Hugo Chavez.

     "My moustache depends on you Minister, and more than my moustache, the housing projects depend on us. We can't fail," he said. While Maduro lacks the charisma of his mentor Chavez, and is struggling ahead of legislative elections next month to straighten an economy wracked by widespread shortages and triple-digit inflation, such folksy, self-effacing humor plays well with many Venezuelans. While opponents like to mock the president with graffiti stencils of his jet-black mustache, for many poor Venezuelans it's a symbol of the former bus driver's working class roots.

November 6, 2015

PRESIDENT OBAMA CONSIDERING AN ARRAY OF OPTIONS FOR CLOSING GUANTANAMO PRISON 

The White House is considering a "wide array" of options for closing the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, spokesman Josh Earnest said on Monday, declining to rule out executive action as an option. Earnest said the best route for closing the prison would be winning Congressional approval to do so. The White House said last month that it would soon be sending a plan to Congress to close the prison, which President Barack Obama has made a priority. Obama vowed to close Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, where 112 detainees suspected of terrorism are kept, amid mounting concern about human rights abuses committed by US personnel against detainees, before he leaves office in 2017.

    Members of Congress have blocked the move. Asked if Obama would consider taking executive action to close the prison if Congress blocks him, Earnest said, "The president and his team are always considering a wide array of options. "But the fact is the best way for us to do this is for members of Congress of both parties to work effectively with the administration," Earnest said. Closing the prison is likely to involve transferring some detainees to prisons within the United States. Republicans have barred those transfers and already have begun to push back against suggestions floated by the administration as possible host sites.

      Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Aug. 20 that a U.S. army delegation had visited a potential facility in Leavenworth, Kansas, and would soon tour the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig at Charleston, South Carolina Special: Blake Shelton Opens Up About Divorce and His Dramatic Weight Loss In response, Republican South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said at a news conference, "We are not going to allow any terrorists" to be housed in Charleston.  While stressing the White House hopes to close the prison "in a timely manner," Earnest said: "The president believes this is a priority and the president is determined to make progress on this." At the same time, Cuban dictatort Raul Castro demanded that the United States hand back its Guantanamo Bay military base - an apparent bargaining tool in the restoration of full diplomatic relations between the countries.

RUSSIA SENDS ANTI-AIRCRAFT MISSILES TO SYRIA

     
Russia has sent anti-aircraft missiles to Syria in order to safeguard its jets involved in airstrikes against militants in the war-battered Arab country, the commander of the Russian Air Force was quoted as saying Thursday. Russia has been carrying out airstrikes on Islamic State fighters in Syria since the end of September at the request of President Bashar Assad, Russia's long-term ally.

     Russian officials have insisted that their military involvement in Syria will be limited to an air force operation. Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev said in an interview with the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda that the anti-aircraft missiles are there to project Russian fighter jets from a possible attack or hijack while on mission. "There can be different emergencies, such as hijacking the jet on the territory of a neighboring country or an attack on it," he said. "We should be prepared for that." Bondarev did not specify the type of missiles Russia provided.

     Russia and Western nations have been engaged in intense diplomatic talks in the past few weeks, aiming to bring about a political settlement in Syria, which has been torn by a civil war since 2011 that has killed 250,000 people and forced millions to flee. A Russian deputy foreign minister said earlier this week that Moscow is aiming to host a round of talks between Syrian officials and opposition leaders next week. He said the Syrian government has agreed to participate but it's unclear which opposition groups might come. At the same time, Russia has urged the US to engage in military co-operation amid reports it is sending an advanced anti-aircraft missile system to Syria. Russia is also staging naval exercises off Syria's coast. The anti-aircraft system would be operated by Russian troops, rather than Syrians, the Western officials said.

UNASUR: OBSERVATION MISSION FOR ELECTION IN VENEZUELA ON HOLD  

    
The observation mission of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) that will visit Venezuela in the context of the parliament vote to be held in December 6 in Venezuela has not been established yet because the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the Unasur members countries have notsigned the agreement to establish the mission, informed the Uruguayan Electoral Court (CEU), which heads the Electoral Council of the regional organization. "We still lack a head of the mission and ageneral coordinator," said Pablo Klappenbach, member of the CEU.

     Klappenbach highlighted the "international prestige" of Unasur's observation missions, as they comprise people in charge of ensuring fair electoral processes. He added that Unasur missions do not only limit themselves to "go see how people vote on Sunday." The senior officer underscored that Unasur's observation missions required specific arrangements before and after the election, and considering that the vote will be held within just a month and a couple of days, the meaning and reputation of these missions could be in jeopardy. "It is not late for the approval of the international observation" for the parliament vote of next December 6, reported on Wednesday the president of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (CNE), Tibisay Lucena. She explained that the National Council of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) should appoint a technical coordinator and recalled that observers on behalf of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Union (EU), among other organizations, have attendedelections as observers previously held in Venezuela.

      In "Vladimir a la 1" a talk show aired by private TV channel Globovisión, Lucena played down the remarks of the secretary-general of the Unified Democratic Panel (MUD), Jesús "Chúo" Torrealba. Earlier, Torrealba disclosed that the opposition coalition would bring its own guests as international observers for December 6. "Beware of false expectations that anybody of any country may come and enter polling stations without CNE's consent," Lucena replied. With regard to the exploratory mission of the European Parliament, the CNEdirector commented: "It is a neocolonialist proposal of the Eurochamber." Moreover, Lucena explained that the Unasur observation mission is late because the regulations are still in the process of approval and neither the ad hoc representative nor the technical coordinator has been appointed. "Lucena opined that an international mission "ensures nothing." She insisted on saying that CNE is the only one able to give assurances, "thanks to its auditable and verifiable system."

November 5, 2015

'I WENT WITH A NERVOUS HEART: TOP CUBAN-AMERICAN DHS OFFICIAL MAKES EMOTIONAL RETURN TO CUBA 

Alejandro Mayorkas, deputy secretary of Homeland Security traveled to Havana last week for talks with Cuban officials, it was far more than just the latest step in the normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations. The trip represented an emotional return to his birthplace for Mayorkas, who fled Fidel Castro’s regime with his parents when he was less than a year old and had never been back in the 55 years since. Yet even as Mayorkas hailed his homeland as “a beautiful land, with warm people,” he also felt a sense of loss. His father, Charles, who grew up in Cuba and had one day hoped to return with his son, died three years ago. “I went with a nervous heart,” Mayorkas said in an interview Tuesday. “My hope and my father’s hope and intention was always to return together, and that I would really have the opportunity to understand his youth and the places and experiences of his youth with him.”

      A visibly emotional Mayorkas spoke before an awards ceremony in Washington, during which he and DHS secretary Jeh Johnson presented awards for meritorious service to more than 300 DHS employees. Now, more than a half-century after fleeing Cuba as an infant, Mayorkas is the highest-ranking Cuban American in the Obama administration. Though it is unclear how many Cuban Americans serve in the administration, they have taken on an increasingly prominent role in U.S. politics with the rise of Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz — both Cuban Americans — in the Republican presidential race. Mayorkas’s three-day trip came at a historic time in U.S.-Cuban relations. The deputy secretary — accompanied by R. Gil Kerlikowske, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection — met with leaders in the Cuban Ministries of Interior, Transportation and Foreign Relations.

      But it was the personal part of the trip that most touched Mayorkas’s heart. On his last afternoon, after the talks concluded, he found time to visit a family cemetery, where his grandmother, great aunt and great uncle are buried. He visited his father’s elementary school. He drove by the steel wool factory his father once owned, a business he lost in the chaos of the Castro revolution. Mayorkas emigrated to Miami (he grew up mostly in Los Angeles) with his mother and sister in August 1960. His father followed a few months later. “It was quite a journey,” said Mayorkas, adding that his father “did not want to raise his family in a Communist regime.” His Cuban hosts, Mayorkas said, were aware of his personal history and “could not have been more gracious and kind.” In perhaps the ultimate symbolism, they presented the top U.S. official with a gift: his family’s original Cuban government immigration file. “I’m very happy that I went, both personally and professionally,” Mayorkas said.

CHINA, TAIWAN LEADERS TO MEET FOR FIRST TIME IN 66 YEARS

     
China's President Xi Jinping will meet with his Taiwanese counterpart later this week, marking the first time leaders of both countries will hold talks since the Chinese civil war ended 66 years ago. Xi will hold talks with Taiwan's Ma Ying-jeou in Singapore on Saturday, Taiwan's Central News Agency and China's state-run People's Daily newspaper reported on Wednesday. meeting will focus on issues involving peace and development and no major agreements or joint statements were expected, Taiwan's Central News Agency added.

     "This is a truly historic event," Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, told NBC News. "It is historic for these top leaders to meet, but it will not produce any immediate political impact." Taiwan has been self-ruled since Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists fled to the island following their defeat by Mao Zedong's Communists after World War II. China's ruling Communist Party has gone to great lengths in recent years to cultivate strong economic ties with Taiwan, but those closer ties have not extended into the political realm because Beijing still sees the island as a breakaway province that should return to mainland control.

     Activists protested against the meeting between Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou and Chinese President Xi Jinping in front of the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan, on Wednesday. The announcement, which came ahead of Taiwanese elections on Jan. 16, took regional analyst Michael Cole by surprise. "Like everybody else, I didn't see it coming," the Taipei-based fellow at University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute told NBC News viaemail. "The highly symbolic value of the historic meeting will force Taiwanese society and politicians to make the China 'issue' more of an issue in the elections, which so far have focused largely on domestic issues." The news of the meeting sparked a small protest outside Taiwan's parliament, according to Reuters. Younger Taiwanese in particular worry about Beijing's growing influence on the island.

MORE THAN 43,000 CUBANS CAME TO U.S. OVER PAST FISCAL YEAR  

    
More than 43,000 Cubans immigrated to the United States during the fiscal year ending on Sept. 30, an increase of more than 77 percent compared with the previous fiscal year. U.S. Customs and Border Protection told EFE that between Oct. 1, 2014, and Sept. 30, 2015, 43,159 Cubans arrived in the United States, while during the previous fiscal year (from October 2013 through September 2014) there were 24,278 Cuban arrivals. That significant increase in the number of Cubans fleeing the communist island has come during the year in which Washington and Havana have been normalizing their diplomatic relations after half a century of diplomatic deep freeze and a trade embargo.

     According to U.S. government figures, the main entry points for Cuban immigrants were the border crossing points with Mexico, the cities of Miami, Tampa, Buffalo and Seattle. The great majority – 30,966 – of the immigrants crossed over the border with Mexico, according to figures compiled by border authorities in El Paso and Laredo, Tucson and San Diego. On the other hand, 9,999 Cubans entered through the Miami airport, and another 4,000-plus were intercepted by the Coast Guard in the Florida Strait, the Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean. Between October 2014 and the end of September 2015 more than 4,300 Cubans tried to reach the Florida coast illegally, while 3,677 were reported to have made the attempt during the previous fiscal year.

      Those illegal migrants are attempting to take advantage of the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act and its “wet foot/dry foot” policy that establishes that Cubans who manage to make it to U.S. soil may remain in this country while those who are intercepted at sea, even if they are only feet from the shore, are returned to Cuba. According to immigration experts, the flow of illegal migrants will continue and is a result of Cubans’ fear of losing the immigration benefits after the normalization of relations between Washington and Havana, a process launched in December 2014. Jorge Duany, the head of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, told EFE recently that it’s a “trend that’s definitely going to keep increasing,” not only across the Florida Strait but especially along the border with Mexico.

November 4, 2015

U.S. VENEZUELA IS THE MAIN EXIT ROUTE FOR COLOMBIAN DRUGS 

William Brownfield, US Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, asserted that the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), which he described as one of the largest drug cartels in the world, ships more than half of their narcotics from Colombia through Venezuela. "Drug traffickers have decided that the neighboring country (Venezuela) is the more economical and efficient route," Brownfield commented in an interview with Colombian newspaper El Tiempo.

    The US official added that coca growing in Colombia has increased over the last years in Colombia, and forecasted that it will continue on the rise for the rest of 2015. According to a recent report issued by the United Nations, Colombia exported some 442 tons of cocaine in 2014, 52% higher than the exported volume in 2013. EEUU: We see an increase in cocaine use and again here in Colombia and the crop and production is also increasing", he said. The US official said he was optimistic with the consequences that will have on the reduction of drug trafficking the peace process that Colombian Government has been moving forward for three years with the terrorist revolutionary armed forces of Colombia (FARC) after half a century of armed conflict.

     However, Brownfield recalled that United States considers the FARC one of the world's largest drug-trafficking organizations. "When we speak of drug trafficking of cocaine, we have to include the FARC in the Group of the 10 first, perhaps in the top 5 in all the world, he said. Colombia announced in May the suspension of spraying glyphosate, a method used during the last 20 years in the country in the war against drugs, however, after the World Health Organization considered it likely carcinogen. "Since the Government of Colombia is a sovereign country, it decided to end the spraying with glyphosate, therefore, we're in dialogue to see what is the correct tactics to replace the efforts of aspersion", added the politician, who applauded the manual spraying of illegal crops, permitted by the Colombian authorities.

SPRINT TO BEGIN ROAMING SERVICE IN CUBA

     
Sprint signed a roaming agreement with Cuba's telecommunications company Monday, becoming the second U.S. company able to provide roaming service on the island. As the commercial relationship between the United States and Cuba progresses and with more U.S. travelers to the island expected, “We want to make sure any Sprint customertraveling to Cuba can use their phone the same way as they do in the United States,” said Marcelo Claure, Sprint chief executive. Claure made the announcement at a signing ceremony in Havana on a trip to Cuba with a delegation from the U.S.-Cuba Business Council. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce formed the advocacy group in September as part of its commitment to building a strategic commercial relationship between the United States and Cuba.

       Sprint said rates and a start date for the service will be announced soon. The direct arrangement includes a direct roaming agreement and a direct long-distance interconnection between Sprint, the nation’s fourth largest carrier, and Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba (ETECSA), Cuba’s government telecom company. In September, Verizon Wireless became the first U.S. wireless company to offer roaming in Cuba. Customers with a world device who sign up for the company’s Pay-As-You-GoInternational Travel option can make and receive calls while traveling in Cuba. Verizon charges $2.99 per minute for voice calls and $2.05 per megabyte for data.

        Verizon’s roaming arrangement is with a third-party company, and it does not have a direct agreement with ETECSA, said Chuck Hamby, a company spokesman. “The feedback we’ve had so far [on the carrier’s roaming in Cuba] has been great. Our customers tell us they like the convenience of being able to use their own phones on the island.” Even though the U.S. trade embargo remains in effect, as part of the rapprochement with Cuba that began Dec. 17 last year, U.S. companies are allowed to sell personal communications equipment and telecom services in Cuba and to enter into agreements to improve Cuba’s Internet and telecom infrastructure. A set of U.S. regulations released in September went even further, allowing telecom companies to have a presence on the island through subsidiaries, branches, offices, joint ventures, franchises, agencies or other business relationships with ETECSA, other businesses or individuals.

SPAIN AGREES TO FORGIVE PART OF CUBA'S SHORT-TERM DEBT  

    
On Monday, Economy Minister Luis de Guindos signed an agreement in Havana with Cuban Vice President Ricardo Cabrisas that paves the way for Spain to forgive part of the money it lent to Havana, including interest and penalties for late payments. Cuba’s debts with Spain total about €535.6 million, but this figure had increased five-fold in the last three decades

      The money is owed to CESCE (Spanish Company for Insured Credit for Export), which earlier this year resumed short-term coverage for Spanish businesses in Cuba after it stopped covering investors in 2000 because of the size of the debt. The agreement, which was signed at the the Council of State’s headquarters in Havana, came after government officials from both sides held talks in July in Madrid to bolster relations, including cooperation in joint research and development projects. Spain has been anxious to strengthen its economic ties with Cubanow that the United States has begun a process of normalizing relations with the government of Raúl Castro, a move that is expected to lead to more foreign investment in the island.

     This summer, Castro agreed to renegotiate Cuba’s debt, which he estimated stands at $15 billion (€13.7 billion), with 16 creditor nations belonging to the Paris Club, an informal group of official creditors who seek solutions to payment difficulties experienced by debtor countries. Cuba’s debts with Spain total about €535.6 million, but this figure had increased five-fold in the last three decades with interest and penalties for late payments. “As new stages and new opportunities are opening, I’m convinced that Spain – as occurs in foreign trade and in many other markets – will play a fundamental role, especially given the long-standing relationship with Cuba,” Efe news agency reported De Guindos as saying.

November 3, 2015

SINAI PLANE CRASH: AIRLINE BLAMES 'EXTERNA INFLUENCE' 

The only reasonable explanation for the crash of a Russian passenger jet in Egypt is “an external influence,” an executive from the airline that operated the flight said today, stressing that planes don’t just break apart in midair. Kogalymavia Flight 9268 broke into pieces before it hit the ground in a remote area of Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, killing all 224 people on board. The executive was not specific about what he meant by an external influence. Experts say it is too early to know for certain what caused the plane to break up at the start of what could be a lengthy investigation. “We exclude technical problems and reject human error,” Alexander Smirnov, a Kogalymavia airline official, said at a Moscow news conference as he discussed possible causes of the crash.
  
      He added that the crew did not issue any warnings or communications during the final moments, indicating that the flight crew must have been disabled and not able to radio out. However, Smirnov said that while the plane’s flight and voice data recorders had been recovered, they had not been read or decoded. Officials have played down an apparent claim by Islamic militants in Sinai that they brought down the Airbus A321-200, saying technical failure is the most likely reason for the crash. Flight 9268 was on its way from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg early Saturday when it dropped off radar about 23 minutes into the flight, Egyptian officials say. Air traffic controllers apparently didn’t receive any distress calls from the pilots. “There was nothing abnormal before the plane crash,” Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Hossam Kamel said Saturday. “It suddenly disappeared from the radar.”
   
        CNN aviation correspondent Richard Quest said it was “unusual” for an aircraft to go down roughly 20 minutes into a flight. “At this point, a plane is on autopilot. It’s reaching its initial cruising altitude, and there is little that can or should go wrong,” he wrote in an analysis. But the website Flightradar24, which tracks aircraft around the world, said it had received data from the Russian plane suggesting sharp changes in altitude and a dramatic decrease in ground speed before the signal was lost. “It’s disturbing to me. It indicates to me that something occurred possibly in the way of aerodynamic stall. I mean, an airplane just cannot fly at those lower speeds,” said CNN aviation analyst Les Abend, although he cautioned that the Flightradar information was very preliminary. “Disintegration of the fuselage took place in the air, and the fragments are scattered around a large area” covering about 20 square kilometers (8 square miles), Viktor Sorochenko, executive director of Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee, told reporters Sunday.

TURKISH PRESIDENT ERDOGAN'S MAJORITY WIN IN SNAP ELECTION

     
Mary, a young Turkish writer from Istanbul, had high hopes that Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Turkey would follow on from June’s election when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political party failed to win a majority. The 24-year-old, who preferred not to give her full name once the election results were revealed, citing threats to her security, was overjoyed at the prospect Turkey would finally start addressing long-neglected human rights and minority issues. But her excitement was short-lived. As she watched the results come in from Sunday’s snap election, indicating Erdogan had won outright, Mary’s main feeling was one of fear. “I was not expecting this outcome at all,” Mary said. “I’m very scared about how things are going to continue.”

      After winning a majority -- at 49.4 percent of the vote compared to 25.4 percent for the main opposition party, Republican People’s Party (CHP) -- Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) is no longer required to form a coalition government. The majority win for AKP will yield 316 seats in Parliament, well over the 276 seats required to consolidate government and run the country on its own. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the election results were a "victory for our democracy and our people.” But many were surprised by the results. Sunday’s election was the second of its kind in just five months, a symptom of an increasingly fragmented political system in the country with a worsening security situation, and an electorate increasingly skeptical of the government’s, and Erdogan’s, intentions. “Turks are telling me they’re so disappointed. They’re living in a corrupt country,” said David Phillips, director of Columbia University’s Program on Peace-Building and Rights, and senior adviser to the State Department for the past three administrations.

     The financial markets were equally surprised by the AKP’s majority win. For the last year, Turkey’s economy had been feeling the effects of the country’s increasingly unstable security situation and the Turkish lira had dropped 20 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund. Just hours after election results were announced, the lira jumped nearly 3 percent, the strongest it has been since mid-August. Sunday’s win for AKP also allowed Erdogan to edge out some of the pro-Kurdish parties that had prevented him from winning a majority in June. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) political party won 10.4 percent of the votes, enough to get 59 seats in Parliament, 21 seats fewer than they won in June. Before the June elections, Erdogan announced if AKP won a majority, he would hold a referendum to construct a constitution that would give the president new executive powers. Some have interpreted this announcement as the words of an autocrat trying to consolidate his power and further curtail freedom of speech and other human rights.

VENEZUELAN INDUSTRIES BARELY SURVIVING  

    
Venezuelan industries find themselves in a "desperate struggle for survival" says the President of Venezuelan Confederation of industrial (Conindustria), Juan Pablo Olalquiaga. But, despite adversity, the country's manufacturing sector "is determined to move forward to maintain production and preserve jobs". Since 1999 - the year when the current regime came to power -the industrialsector in Venezuela "has been falling slowly but steadily, heading toward a virtual standstill," for a variety of reasons, says Olalquiaga. In 1998 the manufacturing sector's share of the gross domestic product (GDP) stood at 17.4%; in 2012 it fell to 13.9%; in 2013 it stood at 13.7%; and in the third quarter of 2014 at 13.4%, according to figures provided by Conindustria.

     If corrective actions are not implemented to address all of the failure causes "all the jobs in the industrial sector are at risk of being lost," says Olalquiaga. According to official figures from the National Statistics Institute (INE), there were at least 11,117 industrial facilities in full production in Venezuela at the end of 1998, employing 449,636 workers. By 2007 the number of industries dropped to 7,093 and employment declined to 345,168. Government takeover of domestic and foreign companies has been on the rise since 1999. Some companies were transferred to state ownership through the purchase of assets, but in the majority of cases measures such as expropriation, plundering, nationalization and takeover were applied.

     According to Conindustria figures, 1,322 cases of government takeovers were recorded between 2002 and 2015, 416 of which in the industrial sector. Comprehensive statistics on the Venezuelan industrial sector have not been available since 2007, but the trend towards a reduction of industries has continued unabated, says Olalquiaga. Between 2007 and 2010, 130 major industries were operating in different areas, according to the Large Industrial Companies Survey 2007-2010 published by the INE in March 2012. The survey notes that "the corporations'payroll rose every year from 125,600 staff in 2007 to 134,600 in 2010, accounting for an increase of 7.2%". Six sectors increased their payroll, "most notably food, beverages and tobacco with an increase of 6,100 staff; and the base metals and processed metal articles sector, hiring 2,000 additional workers." Payroll was reduced in two sectors, particularly in the automotive sector, with a reduction of 1,900 staff.

November 2, 2015

SINAI PLANE CRASH: RUSSIAN AIRLINER 'BROKE UP IN MID AIR'

A Russian airliner which crashed in Egypt's Sinai peninsula, killing all 224 people on board, broke up in mid-air, a Russian official says. Victor Sorochenko, the head of Russia's Interstate Aviation Committee, said it was too early to conclude what caused the crash on Saturday. He told reporters debris was found across a 20sq km-wide area of Sinai. So far 163 bodies have been found. Russia observed a day of mourning on Sunday after its worst air disaster. President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi also urged caution on Sunday, saying the investigation into the cause was a "complicated matter" that could take months. Russian Transport Minister Maksim Sokolov said no evidence had been seen that indicated the plane was targeted, and IS has not produced pictures or video footage to substantiate its claim.

     A number of major airlines - Emirates, Air France-KLM, Lufthansa, and Qatar Airways - have decided not to fly over the Sinai Peninsula until more information is available. Two smaller carriers, flydubai and Air Arabia, also said they would re-route flights, while Etihad Airways said it would avoid only "certain areas of airspace" over Sinai. Germany's transport ministry has told German airlines not to follow the same route taken by the Russian plane. British Airways said it regularly assessed the safety of its routes. BA said it would not confirm flight routes, but that it "would never fly a route unless it was safe to do so". The plane came down early on Saturday, shortly after leaving the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for the Russian city of St Petersburg.Russian and French investigators have joined the Egyptian-led probe, along with experts from Airbus, which is headquartered in France. Egyptian officials said some bodies had been recovered within a radius of 5km on Saturday, but that of a three-year-old girl was found 8km from the scene One unnamed official told Reuters the plane appeared to have split in two, with one part burning up and the other crashing into a rock.
  
     The plane's flight recorders have been found and sent for analysis, officials said. Russia's transport regulator said on Sunday it would check all the airline's A-321 planes, but Kogalymavia said this would not affect their operations. Egypt's civil aviation minister Hossam Kamal said there had been no sign of any problems on board the flight, contradicting earlier reports that the pilot had asked to make an emergency landing. An Egyptian ground service official who carried out a pre-flight inspection of the plane said the aircraft appeared to be in good shape "We are all shocked. It was a good plane. Everything checked out in 35 minutes," the official told AP. However, the widow of the plane's co-pilot told Russian TV her husband had complained about the aircraft's technical condition. The plane's flight recorders have been recovered and sent for testsImage copyrightReutersImage captionOne official said the plane appeared to have broken in two The plane's flight recorders have been found and sent for analysis, officials said.

NATIONS AGREE ON NEW SYRIA TALKS, BUT SAY LITTLE ABOUT PRESIDENT ASSAD

     
The United States, Russia, Iran and more than a dozen other nations agreed Friday to launch a new peace effort involving Syria’s government and opposition groups, but carefully avoided any determination on when President Bashar Assad might leave power — perhaps the most intractable dispute of the conflict. There was no guarantee that either Assad or the vast array of rebel groups fighting against him would join the push for peace. The plan was hashed out after two days of discussions in Austria’s capital among some of the fiercest geopolitical foes on the planet, including governments fighting directly or by proxy on opposing sides in a civil war that has killed more than 250,000 people, uprooted 11 million from their homes, led to the emergence of the Islamic State and sparked a refugee crisis throughout Europe since beginning in 2011.

     Although details were vague, the approach has clear differences with previous such efforts. Chief among them: The US and allies including Saudi Arabia softened calls for Assad’s quick removal from power. Russia and Iran didn’t rule out his eventual departure. “Four-and-a-half years of war, we all believe, has been far too long,” US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters. “I did not say that Assad has to go or that Assad has to stay,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at the news conference with Kerry and the UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura. The new diplomatic push coincided with a US announcement that a small number of American special operations forces will be sent to northern Syria to work with local ground forces in the fight against Islamic State fighters. It would mark the first time American troops would be deployed openly on the ground in the country.

     Kerry said the US was intensifying a “two-pronged” effort. Diplomatically, it wants to see peace between the government and rebels as quickly as possible. Militarily, it is determined to defeat the Islamic State. For Washington, the new, UN-led process reflects a realization that stopping the bloodshed ought to be the top priority, even if that means relegating its longstanding demand for Assad to step aside so that a peaceful, secular and more inclusive Syria can be established. It may be seen as a concession by rebel militia groups determined to defeat Assad on the battlefield as well as by American critics of President Barack Obama who believe he hasn’t acted forcefully enough against Assad or his international backers. But no agreement was reached on Assad, whose future lies at the center of the conflict.

ATTORNEY GENERAL LUISA ORTEGA DISMISSES PROSECUTOR IN LEOPOLDO LOPEZ'S TRIAL  

    
Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz announced on Monday that she had dismissed Franklin Nieves -one of the prosecutors in the case against opposition leader Leopoldo López- who had denounced that he was under pressure from his superiors to convict López with false evidence. Nieves left Venezuela on October 19 with his family bound for Aruba, and then he landed in the United States, where he is allegedly under protection by US authorities.

     Ortega Díaz said that Nieves had violated his oath. She added that Nieves' claims, aired online on a video on October 23, had political interests and that they were not sincere. She pointed out that during López's trial, which lasted a year and eight months, prosecutor Nieves never reported irregularities in the case. The Attorney General denied that Nieves and other prosecutors receivedinstructions from her or the government. "He (Nieves) left through the main international airport of our country. That proves he was not being harassed or under pressure, otherwise he would not have been able to get out." Ortega Díaz denied that Nieves' claims would affect López's conviction to nearly 14 years of imprisonment.

     Ortega says she has sacked the prosecutor who criticized the conviction and imprisonment of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. She said Franklin Nieves, who fled the country, had abandoned his post, and also denied that officials had been pressured to provide false evidence at Lopez's trial. "At the state prosecutors' office we don't pressure anyone," she said, adding that Nieves had given in to "pressures from foreign and domestic elements", but was not specific. Ortega also rejected that the allegations by Nieves were grounds for overturning the verdict in Lopez's trial. Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori, repeated her call for his release on Monday. "It is clear that the case was manipulated, a complete farce," she says. (BBC News, Venezuela has the highest number of political prisoners in the continent, surpassing even Cuba, claimed NGO Foro Penal Venezolano’s CEO Alfredo Romero. He said "Regretfully, Venezuela is world leader in political persecution and justice manipulation. This stands out even more clearly with statements such as those of prosecutor Nieves in Leopoldo López’ case.”

November 1st., 2015

RUSSIA'S PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN ORDERS EMERGENCY TEAMS TO EGYPT PLANE CRASH SITE

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the emergency ministry to dispatch rescue teams to Egypt, where a Russian passenger plane with 224 on board crashed on Saturday. "The head of state has given orders to send emergency ministry (teams) to Egypt immediately to work at the plane crash site," a Kremlin statement said. Putin also ordered thegovernment to launch a special commission "due to the catastrophe of Kogalymavia company plane in Egypt," the statement said.

      An emergency ministry meeting shown on Russian television announced that teams of rescue workers along with the emergency minister, Vladimir Puchkov, will fly out to Egypt at 1300 GMT. Russia's transport minister Maksim Sokolov and the head of Russia's air transport agency Alexander Neradko are also leaving for the site, Russian agencies quoted the ministry's representative as saying. Russia's Investigative Committee said it had launched a criminal probe into any possible violation of air safety rules, a standard procedure when air crashes involving Russian planes occur. It is also sending investigators to the scene.

     Russia's air transport agency Rosaviatsia said that the plane, an Airbus 321, was carrying 217 passengers and seven crew when it disappeared from the radar after taking off for Saint Petersburg from the Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh. It was operated by Kogalymavia, an airline carrying out charter flights for tourism operators, and operating under the brand Metrojet. The charter flight booked by Moscow-based tourist firm Brisco, a representative of the firm told AFP. In Egypt, military planes have spotted the wreckage of the plane in the Sinai peninsula and 45 ambulances have been directed there to evacuate the dead and injured, the government said.

AT THE UNITED NATIONS, U.S. AND CUBA CLASH OVER EMBARGO

     
 In an indication of how far they still have to go before relations between them are normal, the United States and Cuba clashed last week at what has become an annual ritual of international condemnation of U.S. policy toward the island. For the 24th year in a row, and by a wider margin than ever before, the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to urge the United States to end its economic embargo on Cuba. Despite the Obama administration’s professed eagerness to do precisely that, the United States was one of only two nations to vote no. Joined by Israel, against a 191-vote majority, the U.S. delegation dismissed the Cuban-sponsored resolution as failing to reflect the “spirit of engagement President Obama has championed.” If Cuba thought “this exercise” would move things forward between the countries, “it is mistaken,” said Ambassador Ronald D. Godard, senior adviser on Western Hemisphere affairs at the U.S. mission to the United Nations.

     Administration officials had indicated in recent weeks that they were prepared for the first time to abstain in the vote, provided Cuba altered the wording. Cuba, an administration official said, was unwilling even to discuss the subject. “Their argument was, ‘You ¬haven’t lifted the embargo, so we can’t really change the language,’ ” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic conversations. “To run the same resolution you always run . . . seemed to us stuck in the past.” Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced in December their intention to normalize relations, and in July the two countries reestablished diplomatic ties severed more than 50 years ago. The administration has made regulatory changes to ease certain aspects of the embargo — imposed in 1962 and strengthened in 1992 and 1996 — but only Congress has the power to remove it. Despite Obama’s urging, and opinion polls indicating that a majority of the American public favors ending the trade sanctions, none of several pending bills to do that has been considered in the House or Senate.

      Two Republican presidential candidates, Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Ted Cruz (Tex.), oppose any action to improve U.S. relations with Cuba. In a series of meetings in recent months, the administration has pressed Havana to loosen economic and political restrictions on the Cuban people to provide the U.S. side with signs of progress to press Congress for action. Before the vote, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez spoke at length about what he called a “flagrant, massive and systematic violation of the human rights of all Cubans.” Listing U.S. medical exports that are off-limits to Cuba and fines imposed on banks and firms even in the past year, he said that U.S. and other companies are reluctant to trade with Cuba even in those areas the law allows. “We should not confuse reality with wishful thinking or expressions of goodwill,” Rodríguez said of U.S. actions. “We can only judge based on facts.” Ten months after the announcement,” he said, there has been “no tangible, substantial modification.”

VENEZUELAN FOREIGN MINISTER DELCY RODRIGUEZ: THE US "BUYS OFF" PUBLIC PROSECUTORS IN LATAM  

    
Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs Delcy Rodríguez rejected the statements of US State Department spokesperson John Kirby regarding denounces made by a former public prosecutor in Leopoldo López's case. "The way the US blackmails, threatens, and buys off public prosecutors in Latin America to hinder justice and satisfy its interests is vulgar," said Affairs Delcy Rodríguez on her Twitter account on Wednesday.

     Reference was made to the statements issued on Tuesday evening by former public prosecutor Franklin Nieves, who stressed that the Executive Office and the National Assembly had "kidnapped" all State powers and reasserted that the evidence used to convict dissenter leader Leopoldo López was "100% false." The foreign minister further rejected the remarks of US State Department spokesperson John Kirby regarding the statements made by former prosecutor Nieves. "If true, these statements highlight the lack of judicial independence and adherence to due process in Venezuela," Kirby said in a press statement on Tuesday.

     "We call on the Venezuelan government to respect the rights of all political prisoners; and to guarantee fair and transparent public trial, consistent with the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Venezuela's Constitution," the US official added. "Venezuela rejects the insolent remarks of the US State Department spokesperson John Kirby, who attacks the powers of our homeland," Minister Rodríguez posted. "The US dares to talk about lack of judicial independence in Venezuela, and in that country, the president nominates top justices," she added.


 

 





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