October 31, 2016


TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS  --   The government of Honduras arrested a man suspected to be related to the nephews of the first lady of Venezuela Celia Flores, accused in the US on charges of drug smuggling, reports Reuters. As stated by the police spokesman Louis Sabas, a citizen of Honduras, Roberto de jesús Soto Garcia was detained on the island of Roatan in the Caribbean sea.

     According to him, the arrest and extradition Soto garcía had previously asked the US authorities. As reported, Soto Garcia was wanted in connection with the case of drug smuggling involving the nephews of the first lady of Venezuela Frankie Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores. According to the indictments, young people from October 2015 were in collusion with other people “to violate U.S. laws prohibiting the importation of cocaine.”

     The suspects are accused of intention “to import five or more kilograms of cocaine in the United States of a foreign state” and “to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine.” It is punishable up to life imprisonment. The investigation is conducted by administration of drugs. In November 2015, the nephews of the first lady of Venezuela were detained by Haitian police in Port-AU-Prince. The Wall Street Journal, citing sources, reported that relatives of the President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro, was arrested by us agents on charges of conspiring to send U.S. 800 kilograms of cocaine.


  Venezuela's government and opposition leaders said they would meet Sunday for Vatican-backed talks in a bid to settle the country's deepening political crisis. It will be the first open dialogue between the sides in nearly a year of opposition efforts to drive President Nicolas Maduro from power. His opponents blame him for an economic crisis that has caused food shortages and riots. The start of the talks has been fraught with disagreement among the opposition coalition, which voiced suspicion of Maduro even as it confirmed it would attend.

     The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) agreed to join with feelings of "skepticism and distrust," its leader Jesus Torrealba said in a statement late Saturday. Maduro's Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said the talks would go ahead Sunday "to contain actions that aim to overthrow the Venezuelan government by unconstitutional and undemocratic means." It was not immediately clear where or exactly when the meeting would take place. Sources told AFP on Sunday it would be in a Caracas hotel. It would be the first official dialogue between the sides since the opposition took control of the legislature in January.

      Maduro has persistently vowed to resist its efforts to unseat him since then. He announced the plan for a "national dialogue" on Monday after an audience with Pope Francis. The proposal appeared to sow divisions among the opposition, with some senior MUD leaders rejecting the move as a ploy. The MUD had pushed to hold a referendum on removing Maduro from power. When the authorities blocked that move, it vowed to hold a political trial against him. Maduro responded by threatening to jail his political enemies. Agreeing to join the talks, Torrealba reiterated the MUD's demands that the government respect the constitutional right to a referendum, and that it free imprisoned MUD activists.


        LIMA, PERU --
The Peruvian Legislature passed a motion condemning the systematic actions of the Venezuelan government to prevent a recall referendum against President Nicolás Maduro

     On Thursday, the Peruvian Congress asked President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in an official statement to recall Peruvian Ambassador to Venezuela Mario López, "as a message of protest against the anti-democratic events" that occurred in that country. The Peruvian Legislature passed a motion condemning the systematic actions of the Venezuelan government to prevent a recall referendum against President Nicolás Maduro, and deemed that those measures meant "a breaking of the constitutional order and an unacceptable coup d’État" in Venezuela, Efe reported.

     The motion, which had already been passed on Monday by the Legislative Committee of Foreign Affairs, was ratified on Thursday with 81 votes in favor and 13 against. Peruvian legislators voiced their solidarity with the Venezuelan opposition-led National Assembly, and backed the "Agreement for the Restitution Constitutional Order" passed by Venezuelan opposition parliamentarian majority on October 23.

October 30, 2016


CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA --   Venezuela's fast-escalating political crisis and Colombia's stuttering peace process dominated discussions at the Ibero-American Summit on Saturday, despite an official agenda about youth, entrepreneurship and education. Amid a swing to the political right around the region, Peru President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski led calls for heads of state not to ignore Venezuela's troubles. Venezuela's socialist government is facing an escalation of opposition protests after electoral authorities suspended a referendum on President Nicolas Maduro's rule that could have led to his departure from office.

     "The neighboring country is suffering a tremendous economic crisis and also a crisis of political rights and also I would say human rights," Kuczynski, a former investment banker, told the leaders in the Colombian coastal city of Cartagena. "There's no eagerness to interfere in what happens in other countries," he said. "But there is eagerness to insure all Latin Americans progress and not regress." Maduro's popularity has plummeted during a deep economic crisis. Maduro was not in attendance at the summit. Heads of state and officials from around Latin America, as well as Portugal and Spain, were set to release a statement later on Saturday.

     Argentina's foreign minister, Susana Malcorra, applauded a recent announcement that the Vatican will mediate talks between the Venezuelan opposition and the government. Venezuela's strife "occupies us and worries us," she said. Venezuela, despite having the world's largest oil reserves, is mired in a prolonged recession, with many people skipping meals due to food shortages and soaring prices. Critics say Maduro, 53, has kept a grip on power by side-lining the legislature, arresting opponents


        MADRID, SPAIN--
  Spain'sconservative leader Mariano Rajoy secured another term in power after his Socialist rivals agreed to abstain in a confidence vote, ending 10 months of political stalemate. The country has been in limbo after two general elections in which no party won a majority, and was on the verge of heading to the polls for a third time. The Socialist PSOE party last Sunday decided that its members of parliament would abstain in the confidence vote on Mr Rajoy held today 31 which allowed him to form a government.

    The PSOE carried the vote by 170 to 111 against and 68 abstentions. They met without an official leader, after Pedro Sánchez resigned earlier this month over criticism of his insistence on voting against a Rajoy-led PP government. Sánchez’s bid to become prime minister with the support of anti-austerity party Podemos and a smattering of Catalan nationalists had already caused a very public split among leading party members. Javier Fernández, interim PSOE leader, admitted that there had been a “frank and tough” debate.

    He said all of the party’s members of Congress accepted the decision or face disciplinary measures. “All Socialist deputies abstained, as simple as that," he said. Ciudadanos, a centrist party, support ed Rajoy in exchange for pledges on a series of anti-corruption measures. Shortly after Sunday's vote, Sánchez said that “party members will soon recover and rebuild a PSOE which is independent and distanced from the PP”. Given the depth of the divide among Socialists, many parliamentarians felt relief that they are not going to face another election this year, with Podemos twice having come close to overtaking the party to become Spain’s second biggest political force last December and again in June.


Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro accused the country’s parliament of treason after the national assembly speaker called for foreign assistance in resolving the crisis. Last week, Henry Allup said he planned to address the United Nations with a request to intervene in the critical situation in Venezuela. “I want to organize a historical process, which will demonstrate to the entire nation the usurpation of power [by the parliament] and treason, which the National Assembly fell into,” Maduro said as quoted by the Venezuelan news agency AVN.

     Maduro has been facing a wave of criticism from his country’s opposition; discontent with his government has spiked amid acute economic and social problems that have accompanied the marked drop in oil prices. Last year, the government attempted to implement official exchange rates and price controls amid hyperinflation, leading to a surge in black market currency transactions, long lines, empty shelves and punitive actions against retailers.

     In December, Venezuelans voted out Maduro’s ruling Socialist Party in the country’s National Assembly elections, but the country’s problems have only worsened as a regional drought has threatened both Venezuela’s agricultural sector and its power supply, due to low water levels at the reservoirs that power its hydroelectric dams. Maduro has been facing a wave of criticism from his country's opposition; discontent with his government has spiked amid acute economic and social problems that have accompanied the marked drop in oil prices. Last year, the government attempted to implement official exchange rates and price controls amid hyperinflation, leading to a surge in black market currency transactions, long lines, empty shelves and punitive actions against retailers.

October 29, 2016


CARACAS, VENEZUELA --   Venezuelan Congress Speaker Henry Ramos Allup said Thursday that the dissent political forces expect conversations may take place for a “pro-dialogue preparatory meeting.” In an interview with CNN in Spanish, the parliamentarian claimed the dissent agreed to begin “not talks, for such initiative has not materialized yet, but preparatory meetings to see if dialogue may be held.”

     Ramos Allup further noted that the anti-government coalition Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) has suggested that talks should not take place in Margarita Island, north-eastern Nueva Esparta state. In that connection, the official added that they welcomed mediation of former Head of Government José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (Spain), ex-presidents Leonel Fernández (Dominican Republic) and Martín Torrijos (Panama), and a representative from the Vatican.

     He reported that the dissent bloc would set its pro-dialogue agenda: electoral solution (recall vote), release of political prisoners, and freedom of speech, human rights, food crisis, and separation of powers. “We will rally peacefully. May the government be responsible for the costs of repression,” Ramos Allup underscored in reference to a march convened next November 3 towards the Miraflores Presidential Palace, downtown Caracas.


        WASHINGTON, D.C.  --
   The Democratic Initiative of Spain and the Americas (IDEA), composed of 25 former heads of State and government, issued a communiqué voicing “concern” over what they have viewed as a rupture of the constitutional order in Venezuela, as a consequence of actions undertaken by President Nicolás Maduro’s administration disregarding “decisions made by the Legislature.” In IDEA’s words, the government move “mirrors a serious attempt against democracy and means loss of legitimacy of origin of the ruling regime in Venezuela.”

     Additionally, the group urged the Organization of American States (OAS) “to adopt measures to protect democracy, as set forth in rules “governing the regional body.” The countries taking part in the initiative include Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, and Uruguay. Meantime, on Thursday, the Peruvian Congress asked President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in an official statement to recall Peruvian Ambassador to Venezuela Mario López, "as a message of protest against the anti-democratic events" that occurred in that country.

     The Peruvian Legislature passed a motion condemning the systematic actions of the Venezuelan government to prevent a recall referendum against President Nicolás Maduro, and deemed that those measures meant "a breaking of the constitutional order and an unacceptable coup d’État" in Venezuela, Efe reported. The motion, which had already been passed on Monday by the Legislative Committee of Foreign Affairs, was ratified on Thursday with 81 votes in favor and 13 against. Peruvian legislators voiced their solidarity with the Venezuelan opposition-led National Assembly, and backed the "Agreement for the Restitution Constitutional Order" passed by Venezuelan opposition parliamentarian majority on October 23.


The Parties UPP (Popular Political Party 89) and MEP (Electoral Movement of the People), made public today their decision to completely separate from the current Government alliance, the National Directorate of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and the Great Patriotic Pole (GPP).

     The two parties have reached to the conclusion that the Government has shown no interest whatsoever in the continuation of the revolutionary process, the construction of the socialism, the preservation of the legacy of former President Hugo Chavez, is not defending the interests of the people and not satisfying their basic needs. The leaders of our government are "only protecting their personal and group interests, and are clinging to their positions of power". The two parties claim that "the Government is not adopting real measures in the area of economic, only concealing or covering up the reality, and making constant use, almost systematically, of lies", to ensure their permanence in power to maintain their "position of institutional control over the TSJ and the other public powers".

     They pointed out that there is a degradation in politics and there is a "consistent demoralization of our society, induced from power, which stifles the creative energies of the individual, which mutilates any genuine will of participation and which relegates principles set forth without any content", strongly states the two parties’ press release. The two parties concluded that it is urgently needed a negotiated solution to the crisis, which should go beyond the PSUV and the MUD, the re-legitimization of the positions through a new popular election of the President of the Republic and of Deputies and members of the National Assembly.

October 28, 2016


CARACAS, VENEZUELA --   The opposition MUD alliance is calling for a 12-hour general strike in Venezuela today and a protest at the presidential palace on Nov. 3, the political group’s executive secretary Jesus Torrealba said. At the end of a demonstration that brought more than a million of people into the streets of Caracas and was part of Wednesday’s broader “Takeover of Venezuela” rallies nationwide, the MUD’s leaders said they would march to the Miraflores presidential palace to notify President Nicolas Maduro of the unicameral National Assembly’s decisions pertaining to his tenure in office.

     The general strike will be staged to protest the “violation of the right to vote,” Torrealba said, referring to electoral authorities’ decision last week to suspend the opposition’s campaign to recall the leftist head of state. He added that the opposition-controlled Assembly was carrying out impeachment proceedings aimed at removing Maduro from office for allegedly abandoning his duties. The congressional action is essentially symbolic, however, because Supreme Court rulings since the opposition won a majority in the National Assembly last year have rendered it largely powerless.

    The MUD called on Venezuelans to leave the country’s streets empty during the 12-hour general strike, while Maduro urged business leaders and workers not to take part in the job action. “I’m issuing a call to work, and through work to defeat those who want to do harm to our country, those who want to fill us with violence, those who want to destabilize the country,” the socialist head of state told thousands of his supporters at the end of a pro-government march Wednesday in Caracas. He said the opposition was following the same blueprint it used in April 2002, when it briefly ousted his mentor and predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, from power in a coup after a strike in the oil sector and later carried out a crippling general strike from December 2002 to February 2003.


 The United States on Wednesday will abstain for the first time from a U.N. resolution criticizing America's economic embargo against Cuba, according to diplomats familiar with the matter. Such a step would effectively pit the Obama administration and Cuba with the world body against the Republican-led Congress, which supports the 55-year-old embargo despite the U.S. resumption of full diplomatic relations with Cuba. The diplomats said the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, will explain the decision shortly before the U.N. General Assembly vote. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the vote publicly.

    A U.S. official said Power would point to elements of this year's resolution that the U.S. does not back, despite its overall support for lifting the embargo, as the reason why the U.S. was abstaining instead of voting for the resolution outright. The U.S. has always opposed the annual resolution condemning the embargo. But an abstention would be in keeping with the administration's belief that the embargo should be lifted as part of normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba. General Assembly resolutions are nonbinding and unenforceable. But the 24-year-old exercise in which the U.N. overwhelmingly votes to condemn the embargo has given Cuba a global stage to demonstrate America's isolation on its Cuba policy.

    The administration had considered abstaining from the vote last year, but concluded it could not do so because the resolution did not reflect what it considered to be the spirit of engagement between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro. The 2015 vote ended up 191-2 to condemn the commercial, economic and financial embargo against Cuba; it was the highest number of votes ever for the measure. Only Israel joined the United States in opposing the resolution. Obama and Castro announced on Dec. 17, 2014, that they were restoring diplomatic ties, which were broken in 1961 after Fidel Castro took power and installed a communist government. On July 20 last year, diplomatic relations were restored and embassies of the two countries were reopened, but serious issues remain, especially the U.S. call for human rights on the Caribbean island and claims for expropriated property.


The news agency Bloomberg says that the Federal prosecutors are preparing to charge several individuals and confiscate their property over the alleged looting of Venezuela’s state oil company in what may amount to one of the biggest asset seizures in U.S. history. Three people familiar with the case say the government has been investigating at least a dozen Venezuelans and is expected to file charges in Houston against a few of them as soon as next month.

    Those on the list, including former executives of Petroleos de Venezuela SA, known as PDVSA, are suspected of having taken bribes from middlemen to award contracts at inflated prices, helping to siphon more than $11 billion out of the country. All three people spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing and sensitive due to its impact on U.S. foreign policy. The government has set its sights on a number of U.S. assets, including about 20 residential properties, some in West Palm Beach and the Houston suburbs. Switzerland has seized $118 million in assets from Swiss banks related to the matter and sent $51 million to U.S. authorities, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.

    Venezuela’s opposition-run congress is separately seeking to recover $11.3 billion that went missing from PDVSA between 2004 and 2014 while Rafael Ramirez, currently Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations, was company president. It seeks to hold him politically responsible. The people under investigation include current Venezuelan government officials, prominent businessmen and individuals suspected of involvement with cocaine trafficking, two of the people said. Homeland Security Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI are all involved in the investigation, which has been under way for at least three years and looks at activity going back to 2005.

October 27, 2016


CARACAS, VENEZUELA --   Venezuela's political standoff deepened as thousands of protesters took to the streets in several cities. Some schools and shops were closed Wednesday in Caracas as demonstrators marched toward key points around the city to back a recall campaign against President Nicolas Maduro. Electoral authorities blocked the recall last week, and the faceoff escalated Tuesday when the opposition-led legislature voted to hold a political trial of the president, accusing him of violating constitutional order. Such a trial would have little legal effect because Venezuela's constitution does not give congress power to oust the president.

    The protests are the first such mass gatherings since September 1, when hundreds of thousands of dissatisfied Venezuelans marched through Caracas in opposition to Maduro. Both sides have accused each other of attempting to launch a coup as the country grapples with massive food shortages and soaring inflation. Polls show around 75 percent of Venezuelans want to see Maduro removed from power and blame him for the collapse in the country’s standard of living, though he has called the economic collapse a capitalist conspiracy.
Speaking at a rally Tuesday to thousands of his supporters, Maduro said opposition lawmakers were acting like members of a “circus” with their attempts to remove him.|

    “The National Assembly has been transformed into a bastion of evil and bitterness. It is useless to the interests of our country and our people,” he said. Maduro controls the Supreme Court, and it has already declared the National Assembly to be illegitimate. Despite the growing tensions, Pope Francis met privately Maduro at the Vatican on Monday and urged him to spark a meaningful dialogue with opposition leaders. The Vatican said Pope Francis urged Maduro to promote a social cohesion to help Venezuela recover from its recent economic crisis. Speaking in Caracas, Papal envoy Emil Paul Tscherrig said the two sides hoped to begin talks on October 30 on the Venezuelan island of Margarita. A spokesman for the opposition MUD coalition later denied the two sides agreed to the terms of the Margarita meeting, though he was encouraged by the involvement of the Vatican in the talks.


 Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said in an armed forces statement on Tuesday that there was no coup in Venezuela, as claimed by the opposition-majority National Assembly. A congressional resolution on Sunday declaring a rupture in the constitutional order and urging military personnel to disobey the government was “an incitement to insubordination and mutiny,” the minister said on state television. “There has been no act of force” to justify such a declaration, he said, accusing the assembly of seeking to undermine Venezuela’s institutions “to bring down the legitimately constituted government” of President Nicolas Maduro.

    As a “strictly professional” institution, the military remains “unconditionally loyal” to the head of state and commander in chief, Padrino said. The opposition convened a special session of congress on Sunday after the CNE electoral council put on hold the second phase of gathering signatures to force a referendum on recalling Maduro. The CNE’s action followed court ruling in five states that invalidated some of the signatures collected in the first phase of the process.

    During Sunday’s session, the National Assembly not only urged soldiers to disregard “unconstitutional” orders, they also asked the international community to take action against Maduro. Padrino denounced the lawmakers for inviting foreign intervention “under the fatuous argument that assumes a disturbance of constitutional order through an alleged coup d’état that did not happen.” Hours after the defense minister spoke, congress began a debate that could lead to an impeachment of Maduro that the opposition acknowledges would have no practical force. Though the “greatest sanction” a president can face is being recalled, a vote by the National Assembly declaring Maduro responsible for a breach in the constitutional might shame the leftist government into calling early elections, opposition legislator Juan Miguel Matheus said.


As many as 49 human rights organizations requested the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, to resume steps to enforce the Inter-American Democratic Charter against Venezuela.

    The move comes apropos claims that the Venezuelan government “closed all democratic, participative and peaceful ways to solve conflict among Venezuelans” after the suspension of a phase to set in motion a recall vote against President Nicolás Maduro. Following allegations that six of the articles of the regional legal instrument are being systematically violated in Venezuela, the NGOs warned that the recall vote suspension creates “conditions for new violent confrontations in the country, with unforeseeable consequences.”

     The petition, which was made in a letter and sent to Almagro, reads: “Given the dismantling of the democratic institutionality and impossibility for OAS representatives to visit the country, based on Article 18 of the Charter, we ask the secretary general to promote the activation of mechanisms set in Article 19, due to the rupture of the democratic and constitutional order in Venezuela and, as long as this situation persists, to prevent the Venezuelan State from participating” in any meeting and body of the organization.

October 26, 2016

CARACAS, VENEZUELA --   Senior opposition leader denied agreeing to hold talks with government, saying it was a ploy to resist efforts to remove Maduro from power. The opposition leader said they did not agree to hold talks with the government after Pope Francis weighed in on the dispute. Henrique Capriles, a top figure in the opposition MUD coalition, said the announcement of talks was a ploy by President Nicolas Maduro to keep resisting the opposition's efforts to remove him from power. "What dialogue? No dialogue has been started in Venezuela," said Henrique Capriles, a senior MUD figure, in an address broadcast online.

     The Vatican had intervened to calm tensions in the country after the opposition accused the President of trampling on democracy by blocking a referendum to vote him out of power. However, the opposition said that President Maduro had jumped the gun by announcing the talks before terms had been agreed, with one leader accusing him of taking advantage of the Pope's "good faith". Earlier, the Vatican envoy to Argentina, Emil Paul Tscherring said that both sides had met and agreed to initiate a national dialogue with the purpose of establishing conditions for holding a plenary meeting later this month.

     Capriles, however, added that he welcomed the Vatican's offer to help. His announcement came after President Maduro received a private audience at the Vatican with Pope Francis. "I thanked him in the name of Venezuela for all the support, so that at last, definitively, a formal dialogue could be started in Venezuela between the opposition and the legitimate Bolivarian government that I lead," Maduro said in televised comments afterward. The pope urged both parties "to show courage in pursuing the path of sincere and constructive dialogue, to alleviate the suffering of the people, particularly of the poor, and to promote renewed social cohesion," a Vatican statement said.


 Venezuela's government Monday proposed talks to ease the country's political crisis after Pope Francis intervened, but an opposition leader branded it a ploy by President Nicolas Maduro to cling to power. The move had aimed to calm tensions after the opposition accused the socialist president of staging a "coup d'etat" by blocking its bid for a vote on removing him. But the opposition said Maduro had jumped the gun by announcing the talks before terms had been agreed. One leader accused him of taking advantage of the pope's "good faith. "Months of tension that have included riots and looting threatened to boil over after authorities enraged the opposition last week by annulling its drive for a recall referendum.

     Maduro had a private audience with the pope at the Vatican on Monday. He said afterwards that Francis had supported the opening of a "formal dialogue" between government and opposition. Papal envoy Emil Paul Tscherrig said separately in Caracas that both sides had launched a "national dialogue." He said they aimed to formally open talks on October 30 on the Venezuelan island of Margarita. The opposition MUD coalition later insisted it had not agreed to those terms, though it welcomed the Vatican's efforts to help. "What dialogue? No dialogue has been started in Venezuela," said Henrique Capriles, a senior MUD figure, in an address broadcast online.

    Maduro's side "is trying to use Pope Francis's good faith and the good faith of the Vatican envoy... to say: nothing has gone wrong here," he alleged. "Rest assured the opposition will never go along with that." The MUD said in a statement separately that it would only enter talks if the government respected the right to a referendum and freed political prisoners, among other demands. Maduro has repeatedly refused to allow a referendum. The MUD statement also said any talks should take place in the capital Caracas, "in the public eye." "A meeting in Margarita was never up for discussion," said Capriles. "I heard about it on television." The opposition members who hold a majority in the legislature had vowed to debate on Tuesday whether to mount a "political trial" against the president. They also vowed massive nationwide street protests on Wednesday.


Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro met Monday with Pope Francis as the Vatican took a more active role trying to defuse a tense political standoff in the South American nation. Maduro spoke with the Pope in a private meeting on his way back to Venezuela following a tour of oil-producing nations of the Middle East. As news of the surprise papal meeting surfaced, back in Venezuela Monsignor Emil Paul Tscherrig, who Francis dispatched in a bid to jumpstart dialogue between the government and the opposition, announced that representatives of the two sides would meet Oct. 30 on the Venezuelan island of Margarita under the auspices of the Vatican and the Union of South American Nations.

     "It's important to have light, a lamp to guide us through this tunnel of a fight that we've entered," opposition alliance chief Jesus Torrealba said prior to his meeting with the Tscherrig, the Vatican's representative to Francis' native Argentina. "We're embarking on a process of struggle that will be complex and difficult." When Maduro arrives back to Venezuela in the coming hours he'll be stepping into a political crisis months in the making that hadn't yet erupted when he went abroad. Shortly after he left Thursday for Azerbaijan, electoral authorities suspended a recall referendum seeking his removal, prompting the opposition-controlled congress to call for demonstrations and declare that the government had carried out a coup.

    The Vatican said the pope urged Maduro to courageously take the path of "sincere and constructive dialogue" to alleviate the suffering of the Venezuelan people, especially the poor. He called on Maduro to promote a climate of renewed social cohesion that would allow everyone to look to the future with hope, the Vatican said in a statement. It's not clear how much influence the Vatican will have in bringing the two sides together in a country that for almost two decades has been bitterly divided. As soon as the meeting was announced some of Maduro's most-prominent critics expressed dismay that hours after declaring itself in open rebellion and calling for a mass protest Wednesday the opposition alliance was now engaging with the government.

October 25, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. --   The Organization of American States should invoke the Inter-American Democratic Charter to press Venezuela to restore judicial independence and the protection of fundamental rights, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro. Under the charter, the OAS secretary general or any other member country can convoke a Permanent Council meeting to address situations where there has been an “unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order in a member state.”

     This application of the charter does not require consent from the government of the country whose democracy has been impaired. The Venezuelan foreign affairs minister, Delcy Rodríguez, said in a meeting at the OAS Permanent Council that the government rejected the OAS application of the charter, contending that it would violate Venezuela’s sovereignty and interfere with its internal affairs. “The OAS should hold Venezuela accountable for its flagrant disregard of judicial independence, a core element of the Democratic Charter that is essential to protect fundamental rights,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

      “If the OAS really needed to ask offending governments for their permission before doing anything, it would completely defeat the purpose of the charter. Fortunately, for situations as bad as Venezuela’s, the charter doesn’t include such an absurd requirement.” The Inter-American Democratic Charter states that representative democracy is indispensable for the stability, peace, and development of the region, and that governments have an obligation to promote and defend it. One of the key principles enshrined in the charter is that an essential component of representative democracy is “the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government.”


 On Sunday, in an extraordinary session, the Venezuelan legislature approved an agreement declaring the president, along with the judicial and electoral authorities, to have broken the legal constitutional order. The Venezuelan opposition, which holds a parliamentary majority, will push for proceedings against President Nicolas Maduro to determine responsibility for what it considers to be a “rupture” of the constitutional order, the head of the group, Julio Borges, announced on Sunday.

     Borges said that the National Assembly was assuming its responsibility to “restore democracy,” which the Venezuelan opposition says was violated by Maduro with a “coup d’état” by suspending the procedure to implement a referendum – preparations for which have been under way for months – to recall him. “All this is being done in the name of the people who elected us, in the name of 14 million people who gave us their votes,” said the opposition lawmaker.

    On Sunday, in an extraordinary session, the Venezuelan legislature approved an agreement declaring the president, along with the judicial and electoral authorities, to have broken the legal constitutional order. Among the measures under consideration and to be discussed at the extension of the session on Tuesday, the chamber agreed to launch a process to determine Maduro’s constitutional status. Opposition lawmakers claim that Maduro may hold “double nationality” and that “well-founded reasons” exist to look into the president’s abdication of his responsibilities. Meanwhile, dozens of supporters of Maduro’s Chavista government burst into the National Assembly on Sunday while legislators were discussing how to potentially bring about Maduro’s ouster.


The Chilean right will, in all likelihood, take several key municipalities from the governing center-left New Majority coalition if the trend spotted so far in the vote count for Sunday’s local elections holds up. With 50 percent of the votes counted, the mayorships of Central Santiago, Providencia and Maipu, all located in Greater Santiago, will almost assuredly move into the hands of the political right, who will also retain Las Condes, Vitacura, Viña del Mar, Temuco and Ñuñoa, among others.

    The New Majority appears set to retain the city of Concepcion, the country’s second-largest, while the right lost Valparaiso, which fell into the hands of the leftist Democratic Revolution party. “Along with recognizing this result, there is much to be thankful for this evening despite being faced with a defeat,” said the mayor of Central Santiago, Carolina Toha, with the Democracy Party, or PPD, which is part of the New Majority coalition. “Democracy is democracy and is respected ... We need to congratulate the victors,” said Toha, who lost the mayorship to Felipe Alessandri, an independent candidate with the conservative Let’s Go Chile coalition, who after learning of his apparent win said: “We’re making history in Santiago.”

    Former Health Minister Helia Molina, who was running for the mayorship of the capital municipality of Ñuñoa for the governing coalition, acknowledged her defeat and said that this was a punishment vote against the government of Michelle Bachelet. “I think that – in some way – it’s a punishment of the New Majority government. It’s a public trial,” said Molina, adding that “when there’s a lot of absenteeism, the right benefits.” Participation in the local elections was around 35 percent, much below the 2012 municipal elections, when 43 percent of voters turned out. One of the biggest surprises of the day came in the port city of Valparaiso, where independent Jorge Esteban Sharp with the Democratic Revolution party, appears to have defeated the candidates of the two majority coalitions.

October 24, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. --   The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, today called on the countries of the region to take "concrete actions to defend democracy in Venezuela" after the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (CNE) suspended the process of the collection of signatures to convene a recall referendum, an action he regarded as an inflection point and a breakdown of the democratic system.

    The Secretary General underlined that "only dictatorships deprive their citizens of rights, ignore the legislature, and hold political prisoners," and added: "Today we are more convinced than ever of the breakdown of the democratic system. It is time to take concrete actions." He explained that the denial by the CNE of the constitutional right of the people of Venezuela to hold the recall referendum violates their rights and violates popular sovereignty. Almagro said the President of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, lost "all of his legitimacy of origin after leaving the people of Venezuela without electoral rights" and that therefore the political instability created will be his responsibility.

    The OAS leader called on the countries of the Americas to act in the framework of article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which "imposes the obligation of concrete results," and urged the use of mediators that have "the trust of everyone." In this context, the OAS Secretary General referred to the dialogue initiative led by the former Presidents José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Martín Torrijos y Leonel Fernández: "it has failed to prevent institutional breakdown; on the contrary whatever its intentions it has aided the string of obstacles placed before the realization of the recall referendum." Therefore - concluded Almagro-- is essential that "there be a new mediation


 Led by women dressed in white, several thousand Venezuelans marched through Caracas on Saturday in the first of what the opposition hopes will be growing protests against the quashing of a referendum to remove President Nicolas Maduro. The opposition coalition, seeking to end 17 years of socialism in the South American OPEC nation, says this week's suspension of its drive for a plebiscite against the unpopular leader shows Venezuela has abandoned democracy. "We're here to demand respect for the constitution, for Venezuelans to have elections to escape dictatorship," said human resources worker Nayiber Bracho, 35, marching under a hot sun in a crowd with banners, whistles and pets.

    The marchers closed one lane of a major highway. They were headed by Lilian Tintori and Patricia Gutierrez, both wives of jailed political leaders and advocates of hardline tactics against the government. "There's no obstacle that can defeat Venezuelan mothers, fighting for the future of their children," said Tintori, who has called for civil disobedience in Venezuela, saying democratic options are lacking. Despite sitting on the world's biggest oil reserves, Venezuela is undergoing an unprecedented economic crisis, with many people skipping meals amid shortages and soaring prices.

    Polls showed the majority wanted the recall referendum, but the election board halted the process this week citing court orders based on government allegations of fraud during an initial signature drive. That left Maduro, who won an election to succeed Hugo Chavez in 2013, on track to complete the six-year term. Government officials have been exulting at the referendum's failure, saying the opposition is to blame for delaying the process and then committing fraud by adding names of minors and dead people to their first signature drive. "Under no circumstances are we going to let them overthrow the government," Socialist Party second-in-command Diosdado Cabello said at a press conference later on Saturday. Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader narrowly elected three years ago after Chavez died from cancer, has seen his popularity tumble to just above 20 percent.


      WASHINGTON, D.C. --
 The Democratic candidate for vice president, Sen. Tim Kaine, said Saturday in an interview with EFE that relations with Cuba, resumed under the Barack Obama government, may progress faster or slower but "never go back" to what they were. "The process will go forward, never backwards, but we need to work with Cuba on matters of importance, especially on human rights issues," said the Spanish-speaking senator from Virginia, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "So we may have a fast or slow process, but we're not going back," Kaine said in a telephone interview with EFE when asked about possible Republican obstacles to lifting the embargo on the island.

     The senator, who has special ties with Latin America and the Hispanic community, spoke of the benefits that the new diplomacy with Havana means for the United States. Our process with Cuba is helping the United States in its relations with every country in the Americas - normalizing relations with Cuba is opening doors with other countries in the Americas, and Hillary (Clinton) and I want to work with all the nations of the continent," the vice-presidential hopeful said. "From the Yukon to Patagonia" we want to "work in a different, special way with the nations of the Americas," the senator said in his fluent Spanish.

    Obama, who announced the renewal of relations with Cuba in December 2014, recently issued an executive order to make the process of normalizing relations with Cuba "irreversible." However, the president continues to come up against major stumbling blocks in Congress with its Republican majority, where a strong group of lawmakers appears totally opposed to lifting the embargo on the island. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is in that camp as well. He says that if he wins the election he will reverse the U.S. opening toward Cuba promoted by Obama, unless religious and political freedoms are established on the island.

October 23, 2016

CARACAS, VENEZUELA.  --   Venezuela’s MUD opposition alliance on Friday called for nationwide demonstrations on Oct. 26 to protest the electoral authorities’ decision to suspend a presidential recall referendum campaign. “That day will be the start of a nationwide mobilization. We’d already warned (this would happen). On Wednesday, we’ll take Venezuela from end to end, every corner of the country. I hope to see the people mobilized to restore the constitutional order,” former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said at a press conference along with the MUD’s other top leaders.

     Capriles, who spearheaded the campaign to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro, said Wednesday’s “Takeover of Venezuela” would not be like the Sept. 1 mass demonstration in Caracas when hundreds of thousands of anti-government marchers withdrew at 1:00 p.m., but instead would be carried out in all 23 states as well as the nation’s capital. “A coup occurred yesterday (Thursday) that only deepens the crisis we Venezuelans are suffering,” Capriles said, referring to high inflation and food and medicine shortages in the oil-rich nation, which has been battered by the steep drop in international crude prices.

    “We’re going to mobilize wherever necessary to restore the constitutional order,” he added, though stressing that the MUD does not want a putsch or social unrest. The National Electoral Council, or CNE, halted the referendum campaign on Thursday after five regional courts, all in states governed by Maduro’s allies, ordered the opposition signature drive be suspended due to alleged fraud in an initial signature-gathering process in May. The CNE’s decision came as the opposition was preparing for the next stage in its presidential recall campaign – a drive in which it was required to collect the signatures of 20 percent of Venezuela’s registered voters, or roughly 4 million people.


 TSJ), issued against the National Assembly (AN) the ruling No. 808 rendering “fully void and without legal force and effect” all actions, including passed laws and reforms, from the Legislature elected on December 6, 2016, by people’s vote. This comes apropos one of the first rulings handed down by the high court’s Electoral Chamber against the Legislature on December 30 last year, suspending the appointment of deputies for Amazonas state for alleged “election fraud.”

    Even though the Congress observed the ruling, they received no reply from the Judiciary regarding the electoral process and so reinstated the opposition legislators. Ignoring government criticism, the National Assembly carried out its functions on a regular basis with a qualified majority, despite the fact that TSJ disapproved most laws passed or reforms made, terming them “unconstitutional” for alleged flaws. On Tuesday, October 11, the Judiciary ratified a decision on “nullity” of the National Assembly and issued other rulings that grant more power to the country’s President Nicolás Maduro.

    Similarly, the Legislature exercises control functions over the government and the national public administration, and supervises due compliance with other powers’ functions. Notwithstanding, the ruling No. 808 indicates that the National Assembly “will be unable to exercise powers” unless it acts in keeping with constitutional and democratic principles and values,” and “observes decisions made by the Electoral Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice by suspending temporarily” the reinstatement of the three deputies for Amazonas state.


      WASHINGTON, D.C. --
  The United States on Thursday said that the announcement that a recall vote against President Nicolás Maduro would not take place this year prevents Venezuelan citizens from deciding on their future. In that connection, the North American nation called the Venezuelan government to listen to “all Venezuelan voices” through a dialogue. “The US is troubled by yesterday’s (Thursday) announcement by the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (CNE) that its recall referendum process might not be completed until 2017,” stressed US Department of State Spokesperson John Kirby in a communiqué released in New York.

    “This decision, continuing media restrictions and other actions to weaken the authority of the National Assembly (AN), deprive Venezuelan citizens the opportunity to shape the course of their country,” Kirby added. In the spokesperson’s words, there is “a package of actions that reinforce” US concerns about the impartiality of the process of CNE to respond to the opposition’s request for a recall vote. This has to do with CNE’s “unexplained delays in announcing the dates for the next phase of the process, its decisions to establish a very limited number of polling stations for the October 26-28 signature collection, to distribute those polling stations in a partisan manner, and to impose an irregular state-by-state requirement for those signatures,” he continued.

     “We call on the Venezuelan executive branch to engage in a serious dialogue with both the opposition and Venezuelans from across the political spectrum. Now is the time to listen to all Venezuelan voices and work together to find solutions,” Kirby concluded. The Venezuelan opposition underscored that the recall vote should be held before January 10, 2017, when Maduro begins his fourth year in office. Otherwise, should the president be defeated in the referendum, no new elections would be called and Executive Vice-President Aristóbulo Istúriz would replace him. To the mind of US Department of State Spokesperson John Kirby there is “a package of actions that reinforce” his country’s concerns about impartiality of the Venezuelan electoral authority over a recall referendum against President Nicolás Maduro.

October 22, 2016

CARACAS, VENEZUELA.  --   The National Electoral Council of Venezuela announced Thursday night it has postponed the next phase to activate a presidential recall referendum – originally scheduled for next week – after the decision of five regional courts to annul the results of the first stage. The CNE said in a statement that the courts notified it about the matter, and the failures have led to the shutdown of the next step needed to activate the referendum, which consisted of collecting the support of 20 percent of voters. “These decisions have resulted in the paralysis, until a new court order, in the process of collecting 20 percent of the votes, which was scheduled for October 26, 27 and 28,” the CNE said.

      Due to allegations of fraud, regional courts in the states of Aragua, Carabobo, Bolivar, Apure and Monagas annulled the results of the first stage of requirements to activate the recall, which consisted of collecting the support of 1 percent of voters. The Electoral Council said in its note on Thursday that “in adherence to the constitutional framework, the CNE abides by the measures ordered by the courts and has issued instructions to postpone the collection process until further judicial investigation.” The electoral authority also reiterated its call for “national dialogue as a democratic formula par excellence to preserve the peace and stability of the Republic.” It also appealed to political actors and national institutions “to assist in the search for the best conditions to make this meeting fruitful.”

     Information about the suspension of the first phase to activate the recall by the courts was provided to Chavista governors in the states of Aragua, Carabobo, Bolivar and Apure. Meanwhile, the first deputy chairman of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and right-hand man of Chavez, Diosdado Cabello, broke the news about the judgment in his home state of Monagas. The opposition has rejected the court decisions and maintained its plan to collect 20 percent of votes. Following the announcement by the CNE, the governor of the central state of Miranda and main promoter of the recall, Henrique Capriles, tweeted, “We warn the diplomatic corps in our country that the government today has reached a very dangerous stage and increased the crisis.”


 Five regional courts on Thursday placed new roadblocks on the path of the recall referendum against Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro. Criminal courts in the states of Apure, Aragua, Bolívar, Carabobo and Monagas have put the referendum on hold while authorities investigate alleged fraud during stage one of the process, which involved obtaining signatures from 1% of the voters in each state and presenting them to the National Electoral Council (CNE). The government is pushing toward a very dangerous scenario that increases the crisis The opposition turned in two million signatures in June, but the CNE said that voters had to return to the polling stations to verify their signatures through fingerprint detection.

     After overcoming that hurdle, the opposition was getting ready for stage two of the process: securing signatures from 20% of voters in a three-day drive between October 26 and 28. But now, the entire process is on hold again until further notice. The opposition MUD coalition has accused the government of sabotaging the referendum through delays, obstacles and veiled threats. In a release, the CNE said it is respecting the decisions by the five courts, and called for “national dialogue as the best democratic formula to preserve the peace and stability of the Republic.”

    The decision opens up a dangerous and uncertain period in the already acute political and economic crisis gripping the South American nation. The recall referendum was being viewed as a last-resort solution to avoid outright confrontation between Venezuelans. Efforts to get the sides sitting down at a table for talks have come to nothing. And if the political confrontation persists, there is no guarantee of continuity for a process that has the backing of the Union of South American Nations (USAN), whose mission to Venezuela is led by former government heads José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (Spain), Martín Torrijos (Panama) and Leonel Fernández (Dominican Republic). Venezuela is in the throes of an unprecedented crisis that is hitting it from all sides: it has the highest inflation rate in the world, violence is rampant, people have trouble finding and buying necessary everyday items, and social fabric is breaking down.


      WASHINGTON, D.C. --
  U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today urged the Obama Administration to sanction Venezuelan government official Rafael Ramirez for corruption during his tenure as head of Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). According to Reuters, a new report by a Venezuelan congressional commission says approximately $11 billion went missing at the state-run oil company between 2004 and 2014 under Ramirez. Specifically, Rubio is calling on the administration to sanction Ramirez under Executive Order 13692, which implements the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014, and targets public corruption by senior government officials and companies owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, Venezuela’s government. Ramirez currently serves as Venezuela’s envoy to the United Nations.

     “Venezuela is blessed with abundant natural resources and a talented population, which should make it the crown jewel of economic prosperity and opportunity in the Western Hemisphere,” said Rubio. “Instead, corruption, criminality and human rights abuses at the highest levels of Venezuela’s government have tragically brought the country to the brink of becoming a failed state. Venezuela suffers from self-inflicted shortages of food, medicine and basic necessities, but there is no shortage of images coming out of the country each day showing how dire things have become there, with the most heartbreaking being the recent photos of newborn babies being placed in cardboard boxes because Venezuelan hospitals can’t afford cribs.

     “Rafael Ramirez oversaw corruption at PDVSA to the tune of $11 billion, which is not just criminal; it’s downright cruel and inhumane when you consider the daily challenges confronting the Venezuelan people,” Rubio continued. “Mr. Ramirez belongs in jail along with everyone else who stole this $11 billion, and it’s an outrage that he can instead be seen gallivanting today around Manhattan, living the high life as Venezuela’s United Nations envoy. “I urge U.S. government agencies, including the Departments of Justice, Treasury and State, to coordinate on any ongoing investigations into corrupt officials of the Venezuelan regime,” added Rubio. “The Obama Administration should sanction Rafael Ramirez and send a strong message that the U.S. will stand with the Venezuelan people against those who commit human rights abuses and plunder that nation’s vast wealth.”

October 21, 2016

CARACAS, VENEZUELA.  --   A report by a Venezuelan congressional commission accused Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) of corruption yesterday, saying about $11 billion in funds went missing from the state-run oil company while Rafael Ramirez was at the helm from 2004-14. “It is more than the (annual) budget of five Central American countries,” said Freddy Guevara, comptroller commission president and a member of one of Venezuela’s hardline opposition parties, alleging widespread malfeasance at the state oil producer. “We’re talking about $11 billion they cannot justify,” he added, as he presented a report by the legislative body that audits the state.

     Raising the spectre of default, cash-strapped PDVSA said on Monday it “could be difficult” to pay large looming debt commitments if a proposed $5.3 billion bond swap does not go through. “If PDVSA is unable to pay its international creditors … it is because they robbed this money,” said Guevara, a Deputy of the NA. As he addressed his fellow lawmakers, he flicked between slides illustrating what he described as various cases of wrongdoing at PDVSA, repeating: “Where is the money?” The congressional investigation focuses on 11 cases, ranging from known scandals in an Andorran bank and PDVSA pension funds to alleged overpricing in purchases of oil equipment. The accusations are based in part on documents from PDVSA, auditor KPMG and foreign investigations.

     The U.S. Justice Department has said there is a large, ongoing investigation into bribery at PDVSA. In the most high-profile case to date, a Venezuelan businessman pleaded guilty in a U.S. court in June to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for his role in a scheme involving PDVSA officials. U.S. authorities have linked more than $1 billion to the scheme. In the Andorran case, the United States alleged last year that a bank there had facilitated the laundering of $4.2 billion of Venezuelan money. In addition to the 11 cases documented in the report, Guevara told Reuters the commission was currently investigating another six.


        BAGHDAD, IRAQ --
 Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Thursday that Iraqi forces were moving faster than expected towards Islamic State's stronghold of Mosul, and that the coordination between Shi'ite militias and Kurds showed Iraq's unity in opposing the group. Foreign ministers and senior diplomats from several Western and Middle Eastern countries were meeting in Paris to discuss how to restore peace and stability to Mosul after Islamic State has been routed from its Iraqi stronghold. Speaking on a video conference call from Baghdad, Abadi said all efforts were being made to create humanitarian corridors for civilians fleeing Iraq's second-largest city, where some 1.5 million people still live.

   "The forces are pushing towards the town more quickly than we thought and more quickly than we had programmed in our campaign plan," Abadi said. Iraqi and Kurdish forces said on Tuesday they had secured some 20 villages on the outskirts of Mosul, the biggest city under the control of Islamic State, which grabbed vast stretches of Iraq and Syria in 2014. Retaking Mosul would signal the defeat of the ultra-hardline Sunni jihadists in Iraq but could lead to further sectarian bloodletting, something the Baghdad government and its international backers are keen to prevent.

    Abadi said human rights violations would not be accepted. He sought to try to reassure international backers that his country was entering a new phase of cooperation, to avoid falling into the sectarian violence that has torn it apart since a U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein in 2003. "Our war today in Mosul is an Iraqi war conducted by Iraqis for Iraqis and for the defense of Iraq's territory," he said, stressing that it was the first time in 25 years that Iraqi forces had entered northern Kurdish territory to fight together. "Full Iraqi unity is shining through and more than ever showing the unity to vanquish terrorism," he said.


  On visit to China the leader repeats his denunciation of Barack Obama as a ‘son of a whore.’ Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte during his visit to China where he said it was time to say goodbye to the United States. President Rodrigo Duterte met with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping Thursday, state media said, as the Philippines’ leader seeks closer ties with the Asian giant while blasting his US allies. Duterte is in China for a four-day trip that is expected to confirm his tilt away from Washington and towards Beijing’s sphere of influence.

     The two leaders were to hold official talks and sign a “series of cooperation documents”, the official Xinhua news service reported. Philippines secret death squads: officer claims police teams behind wave of killings. Thousands of people have been killed since Rodrigo Duterte became president and, according to one officer, secret police teams are partly responsible. Duterte is hoping to take advantage of Beijing’s deep pockets to score a raft of trade and infrastructure deals. His recent rhetoric blasting the US and President Barack Obama and promising to sideline a territorial dispute over the strategically vital South China Sea has been welcomed in Beijing.

     During a speech addressing the Filipino community in Beijing Wednesday, the firebrand president said the Philippines had gained little from its long alliance with the US, its former colonial ruler. “Your stay in my country was for your own benefit. So time to say goodbye, my friend,” he said, as if addressing the US. He also repeated his denunciation of Obama as a “son of a whore”. China, he said earlier, was “good”. “It has never invaded a piece of my country all these generations.” Foreign policy under Duterte has dramatically shifted from that pursued under predecessor Benigno Aquino, who took Beijing to an international tribunal over its extensive territorial claims in the South China Sea – where it has built artificial islands capable of hosting military facilities – and won a resounding victory.

October 20, 2016

CARACAS, VENEZUELA.  --   After pouring billions into Venezuela over the last decade, China is cutting off new loans to the Latin American nation. It's a major reversal of relations between the two nations, experts say. It also comes at the worst time for Venezuela, which is spiraling into an economic and humanitarian crisis. "China is not especially interested in loaning more money to Venezuela," says Margaret Myers, a director at Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington research group that tracks loans between China and Latin America. Since 2007, China's state banks loaned Venezuela $60 billion, according to the Inter-American Dialogue. That's more that it loaned to any other Latin American country.

     Of that, Venezuela still owes China approximately $20 billion, experts say, and there's no sign that it can pay back the amount amid its crisis. Venezuela pays back the vast majority of its loans to China with oil shipments. Last year, Venezuela's state-run oil company, PDVSA, shipped about 579,000 barrels of oil per day to China, according to the company's financial audit. But this year, Venezuela -- which has the world's largest oil reserves -- has seen oil production crash to a 13-year low. Some of its service providers, such as Schlumberger (SLB), have dramatically lowered operations due to unpaid bills from the Venezuelan government.

    Socialist president Nicolas Maduro has led a regime that mismanaged Venezuela's resources and pushed the economy into a crisis, experts say. China has now run out of patience. "The Chinese have allowed the Venezuelans to be stupid," says Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who tracks Chinese investment around the world. "The Chinese don't want to allow the Venezuelans to be stupid anymore." Like the government, Chinese companies too are losing interest interest in Venezuela. Since 2010, Chinese companies have invested $2.5 billion a year on average in projects in Venezuela. In the first half of this year, they only invested $300 million, according to AEI. Venezuela’s currency has plummeted in value and many experts believe Venezuela could default on its debt.


 Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., or PDVSA, failed to get investors to agree on a deal to push back debt payments by three years. The company said it is extending its deadline for a third time so investors can accept a deal by Friday night. This time, it warned that things could get messy. "If the exchange offers are not successful, it could be difficult for the company to make scheduled payments on its existing debt," PDVSA said in a statement Monday night. PDVSA owes $1.6 billion in principal and interest on October 28 and another payment of $2.9 billion is due on November 2 for a separate bond.

    It's unclear if PDVSA may actually default or if it's trying to strong arm investors to take the deal. "I don't think they've prepared themselves for a default, I think it's mostly just a threat. The concern is that they're starting to talk about it," says Siobhan Morden, head of Latin America fixed income strategy at Nomura Holdings. In total, Venezuela is asking investors to "swap" $5.3 billion of bonds due in 2017 with bonds due in 2020, essentially allowing the government to push back payments. But PDVSA hasn't been able to lure enough investors to accept the offering. It's led Standard & Poor's to cut its rating on PDVSA in mid-September to two notches above default.

     PDVSA represents much more than just an oil company. It is Venezuela's lifeline. Oil shipments make up over 95% of the country's export revenue -- that's cash the government badly needs to pay for imports of food and medicine, which are in short supply. Things have been so badly mismanaged that Venezuela's oil production hit a 13-year low over the summer after oil services provider such as Schlumberger (SLB) dramatically reduced operations earlier this year due to unpaid bills. "They're running out of money and they're running out of runway, they need to sell bonds," says Russ Dallen, managing partner at Caracas Capital Markets, a firm based in Miami. "Venezuela is desperate for cash."


  Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, or CNE, has officially delayed gubernatorial and regional elections, originally set for December, possibly by up to half a year and a whole year, respectively. The ruling was announceed by CNE President Tibisay Lucena, who said Venezuelans will be able to vote for the governors of the country’s 23 states in the first half of 2017, followed by regional elections in which the mayors of Venezuela’s 335 municipalities will be chosen by the end of 2017.

     Lucena said political parties will hold primary elections likely in March or April.The CNE’s ruling comes after Venezuela’s highest court, the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, or TSJ, ruled late Monday the Democratic Unity Roundtable opposition coalition must collect signatures from 20 percent of voters in each state to initiate a recall referendum — aggravating the already difficult task of removing President Nicolas Maduro from power. Previously, the Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD, opposition coalition had to collect 3,893,128 signatures — exactly 20 percent — from Venezuela’s voting-eligible population between Oct. 26 and Oct. 28. The CNE, along with the TSJ, are accused of working as an extension of Maduro’s socialist regime.

    Henry Ramos Allup, leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, on Tuesday said neither the “unconstitutional” TSJ nor the CNE will be able to prevent the opposition’s recall of Maduro. The Venezuelan anti-government alliance Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) rejects timetable for election of governors, mayors in Venezuela. In a communiqué, the Venezuelan opposition alliance Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) deplored recent remarks made by the National Electoral Council (CNE) that the election of new governors and mayors would be held in 2017. The state and municipal balloting is expected to take place in the first and second halves next year, respectively. In that connection, MUD termed “delayed” the schedule, adding that such move “confirms CNE irresponsibility and regime’s cowardice.”

October 19, 2016

CARACAS, VENEZUELA.  --   The Venezuelan lawyers’ guild prepared a communiqué in rejection of rulings issued by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) in the last months. An unprecedented situation in Venezuela’s democratic history came last Saturday when the guild of lawyers, represented by the Lawyers’ National Federation, the Lawyers’ Social Security Institute (Inpreabogado) and the 21 associations nationwide, voiced disagreement with regard to the decisions recently made by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ). 

    Lawyers’ associations nationwide set a course of action following the systematic violation of the Venezuelan Constitution by the country’s top court. The Constitutional Bloc and a number of non-governmental organizations joined the move.

    Through his Twitter account, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, spoke out against a judgement recently issued by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) authorizing the Executive Office to submit the domestic budget for FY2017 to the Judiciary instead of the Legislature. Likewise, the executive secretary of the oppositon alliance Unified Democratic Panel (MUD), Jesús Torrealba, reacted describing the top court's move as “a strong reason to remove this government.” He further highlighted that the TSJ lacks “legal competence, technical ability and legitimacy to do it so.”


  The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) of Venezuela resolved that the collection of 20% of signatures of voters should be attained in any and all 23 states and the Capital District; otherwise, the procedure will be null and void

     The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) of Venezuela ratified that the collection of signatures of the people enrolled in the register of voters for a recall referendum against the government of President Nicolás Maduro should be attained in all the 23 states of Venezuela plus the Capital District. In a decision posted on the TSJ website, the high court notes that “failure to collect such percentage in any of the states or the Capital District would make null and void the call for the recall referendum.”

     At the same time, the Venezuelan lawyers’ guild prepared a communiqué in rejection of rulings issued by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) in the last months. An unprecedented situation in Venezuela’s democratic history came last Saturday when the guild of lawyers, represented by the Lawyers’ National Federation, the Lawyers’ Social Security Institute (Inpreabogado) and the 21 associations nationwide, voiced disagreement with regard to the decisions recently made by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ). Lawyers’ associations nationwide set a course of action following the systematic violation of the Venezuelan Constitution by the country’s top court. The Constitutional Bloc and a number of non-governmental organizations joined the move.


The ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV, on Monday said regional and gubernatorial elections set for December have been suspended over the opposition's efforts to recall President Nicolas Maduro. PSUV spokesman Roy Daza, a member of Venezuela's International Affairs Committee, said the opposition -- consolidated in the Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD, coalition -- should suspend efforts to recall Maduro. "Yes, we want gubernatorial elections this year, but while the application for the recall referendum is introduced, regional elections are suspended," he told Globovisión, adding that the MUD suspending its recall efforts would "unlock" the political situation in Venezuela.

     Venezuelans were scheduled to elect 23 governors who would serve from 2017 until 2021. Venezuela is facing an economic and political crisis. Basic goods such as food and medicine are often unavailable or unaffordable amid open hostility between the PSUV and MUD, which accuse one another of causing Venezuela's woes. Despite well-documented reports of Venezuela's economic crisis which, for example, has led to 17 percent of Caracas' residents to dig through garbage for food, Daza said there is no humanitarian crisis in Venezuela -- calling the reports accusations used by the opposition to promote violence in order to seek a "military foreign intervention" against Venezuela's ruling government.

     Daza also called on three opposition parliamentarians to withdraw from their posts. In late December, Venezuela's highest court -- the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, or TSJ -- suspended the three coalition members and one pro-government member who were elected to the National Assembly unicameral legislature in elections pending an investigation of allegations of electoral fraud. The suspension removes the MUD's two-thirds super-majority, which would enable it to remove judges from the high court, particularly after the PSUV was accused of stacking the court before the change of power. Several of Venezuela's institutions are accused of making decisions in favor for late former President Hugo Chavez's socialist regime, including the TSJ and the National Electoral Council -- which sets the date for elections.

October 18, 2016

Washington, d.c.  --   The Obama administration is contemplating an unprecedented cyber covert action against Russia in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election, U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News. Current and former officials with direct knowledge of the situation say the CIA has been asked to deliver options to the White House for a wide-ranging "clandestine" cyber operation designed to harass and "embarrass" the Kremlin leadership. The sources did not elaborate on the exact measures the CIA was considering, but said the agency had already begun opening cyber doors, selecting targets and making other preparations for an operation.

    Vice President Joe Biden told "Meet the Press" moderator Chuck Todd on Friday that "we're sending a message" to Putin and that "it will be at the time of our choosing, and under the circumstances that will have the greatest impact." When asked if the American public will know a message was sent, the vice president replied, "Hope not." Retired Admiral James Stavridis told NBC News' Cynthia McFadden that the U.S. should attack Russia's ability to censor its internal internet traffic and expose the financial dealings of Putin and his associates.

     President Obama will ultimately have to decide whether he will authorize a CIA operation. Officials told NBC News that for now there are divisions at the top of the administration about whether to proceed. Two former CIA officers who worked on Russia told NBC News that there is a long history of the White House asking the CIA to come up with options for covert action against Russia, including cyber options — only to abandon the idea. "We've always hesitated to use a lot of stuff we've had, but that's a political decision," one former officer said. "If someone has decided, `We've had enough of the Russians,' there is a lot we can do. Step one is to remind them that two can play at this game and we have a lot of stuff. Step two, if you are looking to mess with their networks, we can do that, but then the issue becomes, they can do worse things to us in other places."


         MOSCOW, RUSSIA --
  Russia's U.N. ambassador said that tensions with the United States are probably the worst since the 1973 Mideast war. But Vitaly Churkin said Friday that Cold War relations between the Soviet Union and the U.S. more than 40 years ago were different than U.S.-Russia relations today. "The general situation I think is pretty bad at this point, probably the worst ... since 1973," he said in an interview with three journalists at Russia's U.N. Mission.

     Churkin pointed to the U.S. and NATO deciding to build their security "at the expense of Russia" by accepting many East European nations formerly in the Soviet bloc as NATO members, and the United States pullout from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2001. One of "the greatest provocations" during President George W. Bush's administration was the 2008 NATO summit, which decided that Ukraine and Georgia should become NATO members, he said. Most important, he said, was the conflict that erupted in eastern Ukraine in April 2014, weeks after a former Moscow-friendly Ukrainian president was chased from power by massive protests.

     Churkin called it "a coup" supported by the United States. Soon after, Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, which has led to Western sanctions against Moscow. Ties between Washington and Moscow have deteriorated further in the past month after the collapse of a cease-fire in Syria and intensified bombing on Aleppo by Syrian and Russian aircraft, and U.S. accusations that Russia is meddling in the U.S. presidential election next month. But despite the strained relations, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met Saturday in Lausanne, Switzerland, in an effort to look at possibilities for restoring a cease-fire.


       BEIJING, CHINA --
China's Shenzhou 11 "heavenly vessel" launched Monday from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert. The launch was shown on state broadcaster CCTV. This is China's longest-ever crewed space mission. On board are two astronauts -- Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong. They will dock with the Tiangong-2 space lab, which was launched last month. Jing and Chen will remain in space for a total of 33 days, with 30 of those spent conducting experiments related to medicine, physics and biology in the space lab. Since October 2003, China has completed five manned space flight missions -- the last one took place in 2013 and lasted 15 days.

     The Tiangong-2, and its predecessor Tiangong-1, are prototypes for China's ultimate goal -- a permanent 20-ton space station, which is expected to be sent into orbit in 2022. China aims to send its space station into orbit two years before the International Space Station (ISS) retires in 2024, according to state news agency Xinhua. Once the ISS goes out of service, China potentially will be the only country with a permanent space presence. European astronauts are said to already be learning Chinese in anticipation but unless there is a change in US policy, American astronauts are unlikely to be involved. Since 2011, the US Congress has barred NASA from contact with China's space program because of national security concerns.

    "Chinese politicians certainly have wanted to work with the United States in space, to show they are an accepted part of the international family of space-faring nations, but with their own space station forthcoming and international partners other than the US willing and lining up to work with them, that imperative decreases," Johnson-Freese said. China was late to the space race -- it didn't send its first satellite into space until 1970 -- just after the United States put the first man on the moon. But in the decades since, China has pumped enormous amounts of money and resources into research and training. Future plans include sending a robotic probe to Mars and a potential manned mission to the moon. "If the US does not change its policies very soon and begin to work with China in space, it will lose whatever leverage it might have in shaping Chinese space plans for the future, " Johnson-Freese said.

October 17, 2016

Washington, d.c.  --   The U.S. government on Friday announced new measures to ease the economic embargo on Cuba, including regulations that will promote joint medical research and help improve the Communist-ruled island’s agricultural sector and infrastructure. The departments of Commerce and Treasury unveiled the new amendments to the sanctions regime imposed on Cuba under the decades-old economic embargo. They are due to take effect on Monday after being published in the Federal Register. The new regulations will facilitate joint medical research projects linking U.S. and Cuban citizens and allow imports of Cuban-made pharmaceutical products that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

     Authorized American citizens also will be permitted to offer services related to the development, repair and maintenance of infrastructure in Cuba. For many Americans, the most welcome change is one that will allow visitors to the island to bring back an unlimited amount of Cuban tobacco and rum in their luggage for personal use. In the agricultural area, the United States will be able to export pesticides, tractors and other products without them being subject to limited payment and financing terms that require cash in advance or third-country financing.

     Another restriction was lifted that prevented foreign vessels from loading or unloading freight at a U.S. port for 180 days after calling on a Cuban port for trade purposes. Also Friday, President Obama approved a presidential policy directive aimed at making the U.S.-Cuba thaw “irreversible.” In the directive, Obama listed six objectives for U.S.-Cuban relations in the medium term: government-to-government interaction, engagement and connectivity, expanded commerce, economic reform, respect for human rights and Cuban integration into international and regional systems. Since the U.S.-Cuba bilateral thaw began in December 2014, Obama has issued several executive measures to ease the economic embargo on Cuba. A complete lifting of the 54-year-old embargo will depend on Congress, which the Republicans currently control.


         WASHINGTON, D.C.--
  The USS Mason conducts maneuvers as part of a exercise in the Gulf of Oman.  Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen may have launched missiles at U.S. Navy ships for the third time this week, defense officials said Saturday. Initially, a U.S. defense official said multiple missiles were fired at three ships patrolling international waters at around 3:30 p.m. ET. U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson appeared to confirm that assesment, telling reporters the vessels seemed "to have come under attack in the Red Sea, again from coastal defense cruise missiles fired from the coast of Yemen."

    However, a Pentagon official later said only that the vessels "detected possible inbound missile threats and deployed appropriate defensive measures." The official added that all U.S. warships and vessels in the area were safe and that "post-event assessment is ongoing," but declined to give further details. Two guided-missile destroyers, the USS Mason and USS Nitze, as well as the amphibious transport ship USS Ponce were patrolling north of the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, which connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, when the incident occurred. The USS Mason launched countermeasures, according to one official, likely using SM-2 surface-to-air missiles to engage the possible Houthi cruise missiles.

    The incident occurred two days after President Obama authorized a Tomahawk cruise missile strike against three Houthi radar facilities in Yemen in retaliation for two missile attacks against the US Navy ships earlier in the week. A U.S. official told the Associated Press that additional radars could have been used in Saturday's reported attack. The American cruise missile strike from USS Nitze, which U.S. officials said destroyed the radar installations, marked the first direct US involvement in Yemen's two-year civil war. The United States has supported a Saudi Arabia-led coalition against the Houthis over the past year with intelligence, weapons and mid-air refueling aircraft.


       WASHINGTON, D.C.  --
The U.S. military has detected a failed North Korean launch of a Musudan Intermediate missile, the seventh test this year of the mobile-launched missile. A U.S. official said the missile never achieved flight. It is the latest provocation from North Korea, which seems undeterred in its pursuit of a ballistic missile and nuclear weaponsprograms despite international condemnation. "U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) systems detected what we assess was a failed North Korean missile launch at 10:33 p.m. CDT, October 14, 2016, near the northwestern city of Kusong," said a statement issued by U.S. Strategic Command.

     "The missile is presumed to be a Musadan intermediate-range ballistic missile," continued the statement. "The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America." A U.S. official said the Musudan missile exploded immediately after launch. The failed missile test marks the seventh time this year that North Korea has tested its Musudan missile, which has drawn concern from American officials because as a mobile-launched system it can be hard to detect and can be fired on short notice. Though displayed in military parades in recent years, the missile had never been test-fired until March this year.

     Two more launches followed in late April, another in late May and two more in mid-June. The first five launch attempts failed, before a successful launch was achieved on the sixth attempt in June. That missile test drew concern because it traveled 250 miles before falling into the Sea of Japan. U.S. officials said that successful launch indicated the North Koreans were learning from each failed launch to make technical adjustments. The Musudan test Saturday is the latest provocation from North Korea, which has conducted multiple nuclear tests and ballistic missile tests this year, seemingly unfazed by international sanctions that prohibit their development of those programs. The nuclear tests in January and September marked the first time that North Korea has tested two nuclear devices in one calendar year.

October 16, 2016


CARACAS, VENEZUELA --  Nicolas Maduro on Friday signed off on Venezuela's 2017 budget, drawing fire from the opposition-led National Assembly which accused the unpopular leftist leader of despotism for bypassing the legislature. The Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed Maduro to put forth the budget without lawmakers' approval, overriding a constitutional obligation. The opposition, which is trying to unseat Maduro as Venezuela wrestles with a deep economic crisis that has families skipping meals, says the government is trying to undermine it to keep its grip on power.

      "I have the 2017 budget ready!" Maduro told cheering red-shirted supporters, as he held up the document and vowed to pour money into social projects, pensions, and salaries for public servants. "Long live the people! Long live the civil-military union! Long live the support from the streets!" The budget is around 8 trillion bolivars, roughly $8 billion dollars at the black market exchange rate and almost six times this year's budget amid raging inflation. The opposition said the budget lacks legitimacy as it is to be approved by the Supreme Court's constitutional chamber, rather than by the national assembly, as the constitution stipulates.

     "They're burying the constitution, which will very soon recover thanks to the recall referendum," said opposition lawmaker Jose Guerra on Twitter, referring to a push to remove Maduro via a plebiscite. Not consulting congress on Venezuela's debt plans for 2017, which are meant to be presented in tandem with the budget, could spook bondholders, including those considering an ongoing debt swap offer by state oil company PDVSA, analysts said. A future government would have a "strong legal argument" that debt contracted in 2017 would not be legitimate because the National Assembly did not sign off on the Annual Indebtedness Law, Francisco Rodriguez, chief economist at Torino Capital LLC, said in a note to clients this week.


  President Nicolas Maduro decreed on Friday the 2017 budget without submitting it for the approval of the nation’s legislative body, controlled by the opposition and declared in contempt by the judiciary. The socialist president signed the budget for the coming year before hundreds of his followers and accompanied by members of his Cabinet in a public act outside the National Pantheon in Caracas. “Here is the 2017 budget,” the president said, and asked for “the support of the people, of the civic-military union, of those in the street.”

      Maduro recalled that, “with the quandary of a National Assembly in contempt of court,” he consulted the Supreme Court of Justice, or TSJ, about what he should do with the 2017 budget. The TSJ ruled that on this occasion, the president should present the national budget to the high court before Oct. 16 as a decree that would have the standing and power of law, avoiding in that way its submission to the legislature. The budget was signed for an amount of more than 8 trillion bolivars and based on oil revenues estimated at $30 per barrel. “We have placed the price of oil as moderate to low, though we know we we’re going to recover,” Maduro said.

     The Venezuelan Constitution obliges the executive branch to present before the National Assembly the country’s budget for the following year before Oct. 15 of the previous year, and for the first time this document will be presented to another institution, in this case the TSJ. As a result, the legislature loses is power to make any changes to the budget. The Venezuelan opposition, which for the first time in 17 years controls the country’s legislature, has rejected this decree, which it calls “unconstitutional.” The high court’s decision was based on the “contempt which the majority group of lawmakers voluntarily maintains with regard to the rulings of the TSJ and of the Constitution,” plus the fact that the country is in a state of exception and economic emergency.


Enrique Márquez, the first vice-president of the Venezuelan National Assembly (AN), said on Friday that a recent decision of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice of Venezuela (TSJ) letting the Executive Office approve the domestic budget for FY2017 is “a coup d’état” against another public branch of government, which is the Venezuelan parliament.

       “The coup d’état is not only against the Executive Office. In this case, there is a coup against a State power, such as the National Assembly, by exercising the prerogatives of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ),” the deputy pointed out. In this regard, Márquez, also a member of the Unified Democratic Panel (MUD), promised that the National Assembly would not adhere to any decision that violates the Constitution. Márquez noted that when the three deputies-elect for Amazonas state abided by the TSJ decision nullifying their participation in the parliament for alleged election fraud, the opposition meant “to encourage dialogue on the issue” with the government.

     The Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) approved on Tuesday the presentation by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro of the country budget for FY2017 at the TSJ Constitutional Chamber instead of the National Assembly. The judgment was issued through a decree with full force and effect. In a press release, the top court argued that the decision is due “to the pressing necessity to complete a stage in the legal drafting of the national budget, with a duty to honor separation and balance of the powers comprising the Public Power, and in order to preserve the State's operations, the guarantee of fundamental rights and the constitutional order.”

October 15, 2016


UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK --  The Socialist former prime minister of Portugal has been confirmed as the next Secretary-General of the United Nations – taking over at a time when the world is rocked by terrorism, reeling from the refugee crisis, and struggling to resolve the war in Syria. Antonio Guterres, the 67-year-old former secretary of Socialist International and head of the UN's refugee agency, will succeed Ban Ki-moon on January 1. On Thursday the UN general assembly approved the recommendation made by the Security Council on October 5.

     Ban, speaking ten years to the day after his own appointment as Secretary-General, said: “Secretary-General-elect Guterres is well known to all of us in the hall. But he is perhaps best known where it counts most: on the frontlines of armed conflict and humanitarian suffering." Noting that he has long valued his advice and admired his spirit of service, Mr Ban said: “He is a wonderful choice to steer this organisation as we build on the progress of the past decade, while addressing the insecurity and uncertainties of today's world.” “Thanks! Thanks! Thanks!” he tweeted following his election by the Security Council, saying he was "honoured and happy."

     Matthew Rycroft, Britain's ambassador to the UN, said he was "delighted" at the result, and described Mr Guterres as "exactly the strong Secretary-General the UN needs." And yet the Portuguese politician was at the helm of the UN’s refugee organisation precisely when the refugee crisis began to spiral out of control. The UN has so far been unable to galvanise support for any significant solutions to the problem, described as the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. The UNHCR – which Mr Guterres ran until December – estimates that 34,000 people are forced from their homes every day, and there are now 21.3 million refugees, half of them children.


         OTTAWA, CANADA--
 Canada joined the list of countries which have recommended their citizens not to travel to Venezuela, for security purposes. In a notice issued late Wednesday by Global Affairs Canada, the Canadian government advised against visiting the South American nation unless essential. Global Affairs Canada advises against non-essential travel to Venezuela due to the significant level of violent crime, the unstable political and economic situations and the decline in basic living conditions, including shortages of medication, food staples and water, in the country. A nationwide state of exception (state of emergency) has been in effect since January 15, 2016.

     The alert makes reference to “the significant level of violent crime, the unstable political and economic situations” Venezuelans are going through.Add to this, “the decline in basic living conditions, including shortages of medication, food staples and water.” In addition, Canada has issued health notice for travel to Venezuela: The Public Health Agency of Canada has issued a Travel Health Notice for the Global Update: Zika virus infection recommending that Canadians practice special health precautions while travelling in affected countries. Pregnant women and those considering becoming pregnant should avoid travel to Venezuela. See Health for more information.

     If you decide to travel to Venezuela despite this advisory, carefully plan your trip to Venezuela before your arrival. Seek help from a reputable tour company, family or friend who has a good understanding of the current situation. Stay in accommodations with good security. Venezuela has one of the world’s highest homicide rates. Murder and other violent crimes, including armed robbery, home invasion, carjacking and kidnapping for ransom, are pervasive throughout the country. Violence against locals and visitors alike can occur in both urban and rural areas, including in those popular with tourists. Organized criminal groups and gangs are rampant. Many criminals carry firearms, and victims are often injured or killed for failing to cooperate. If you are threatened, stay calm and do not resist.


       WASHINGTON, D.C.--
President Barack Obama issued a presidential directive on Cuba Friday that seeks to cement his policy changes toward the island and encourage further engagement even after he leaves office. His administration also released a sixth set of regulatory changes designed to enhance business and trade between the United States and Cuba. Obama said the presidential policy directive is “another major step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. This directive takes a comprehensive and whole-of-government approach to promote engagement with the Cuban government and people, and make our opening to Cuba irreversible.”

      A senior administration official said that going forward the detailed, 12-page document, which builds on and consolidates changes the administration has made since rapprochement between the United States and Cuba began in December 2014, would be “the manual that will be used by various agencies” to guide them in their relations with Cuba. The official said the directive, which supersedes any previous presidential directives on Cuba, would stand as U.S.-Cuba policy until it is replaced, but added: “It takes a significant amount of time to develop a presidential directive.”

     The senior administration official also said it seems unlikely a future U.S.president would try to close the U.S. Embassy in Havana, end regularly scheduled flights to the island or disrupt the increasing number of budding business partnerships with Cuba. To do so, the official said, would be “cutting against the grain of public opinion here in the United States.” The directive makes it clear the president would like to see the embargo lifted: “The United States government will seek to expand opportunities for U.S.companies to engage with Cuba. The embargo is outdated and should be lifted. “My administration has repeatedly called upon the Congress to lift the embargo, and we will continue to work toward that goal.

October 14, 2016


CARACAS, VENEZUELA --  Clashes broke out Wednesday between supporters and opponents of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as opposition protesters sought to show momentum in their push to oust him in a referendum. Sticks, stones and punches flew on the Caribbean island of Margarita as red-clad Maduro supporters tried to block opponents determined to march on the town of Villa Rosa, an AFP photographer said. Several protesters were wounded, said the center-right opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), which accuses Maduro of steering Venezuela into an economic crisis marked by severe shortages of food and medicine, spiraling inflation, and rampant crime.

     The scuffles came as the opposition held nationwide anti-Maduro rallies, seeking to show its strength by having protesters sign largely symbolic petitions calling for him to face a recall referendum. The rallies amounted to a dress-rehearsal for an official petition drive later this month, when the opposition will have just three days to gather the four million signatures required to force a recall vote. That process, scheduled for October 26 to 28, will be overseen by electoral authorities at 1,356 designated sites across the country. But the opposition is hoping to score a symbolic victory before then. "If we get seven or eight million (signatures), it will send a message to Maduro that we want change now," said Ismael Dacorte, a 51-year-old lawyer, at one rally in the capital Caracas.

     Maduro supporters held rival rallies of their own across the country. Addressing the main one, in Caracas, Maduro hailed the strength of his socialist "revolution." "Today the revolution is going on the offensive toward the years 2017, 2018 and beyond. What's ahead for the right are dark days of collapse, defeat and division," he said. The speaker of the opposition-majority legislature, Henry Ramos Allup, fired back with equally strong words. "Watch out: the people are mobilized to get rid of this band of thugs that's looting Venezuela," he said. The clashes in Villa Rosa were the only immediate report of violence. The town was also the scene of an anti-government demonstration that embarrassed Maduro in September, when he was greeted during a visit by residents banging pots and pans in protest. Some 30 people were arrested in the aftermath.


         MOSCOW, RUSSIA ---
 Russian jet fighters on Tuesday resumed heavy bombing in rebel-held eastern districts of the war-shattered Syrian city of Aleppo, targeting two opposition-held neighborhoods and killing more than 20 people. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights called Tuesday's onslaught "the heaviest Russian bombardment" since the government of President Bashar al-Assad announced last week it would cut back on airstrikes, ostensibly to allow civilians to disarm and leave opposition-held neighborhoods. However, civilians, distrustful of the Assad government, have largely ignored the offer, which insurgents fighting to topple the government have called a deception.

     Civil defense members and men inspect a site damaged after an airstrike in the besieged rebel-held al-Qaterji neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, Oct. 11, 2016.
Separately, the government's SANA news agency reported rebel shelling on government-controlled districts in the western part of the city, with at least four killed and 14 others wounded. Earlier Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin, under intense Western criticism for Moscow's military role in Syria, canceled a planned visit to France after French President Francois Hollande insisted their upcoming meeting focus solely on Syria.

     Putin's move came a day after French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault warned that Russia could face war crime charges in the International Criminal Court, the ICC, for its ongoing bombing campaign in Aleppo. Ayrault told French radio that potential war crimes charges would extend to "all those complicit in what's happening in Aleppo, including Russian leaders." To that end, Russia on Saturday blocked a United Nations Security Council resolution proposed by France and Spain to end the Aleppo bombing. Monitors and aid workers say airstrikes have killed more than 300 people in the northern city — most all of them civilians — since September. It is not clear how the International Criminal Court could investigate the Aleppo bombings, because neither Russia nor Syria is a member of the ICC.


U.S.-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles destroyed three coastal radar sites in Houthi-controlled territory on Yemen's Red Sea Coast early Thursday, officials said, a retaliatory action that followed two incidents this week in which missiles were fired at U.S. Navy ships. The strikes marked the first shots fired by the U.S. in anger against the Houthis in Yemen's long-running civil war. The U.S. previously only provided logistical support and refueling to the Saudi-led coalition battling Yemen's Shiite rebels known as Houthis and their allies, including supporters of Yemen's former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

     While the U.S. military has been focused on al-Qaida in Yemen, the Houthis had not been a primary target of American forces until the missile launches from Houthi-controlled territory this week. No information on casualties from the U.S. missiles was provided by American officials. The three radar sites were in remote areas, where there was little risk of civilian casualties or collateral damage, said a military official who was not authorized to be named and spoke on condition of anonymity. President Barack Obama authorized the strikes at the recommendation of Defense Secretary Ash Carter and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement. U.S. officials had said earlier that the U.S. was weighing what military response to take.

     "These limited self-defense strikes were conducted to protect our personnel, our ships and our freedom of navigation in this important maritime passageway," Cook said following the U.S. action. "The United States will respond to any further threat to our ships and commercial traffic, as appropriate, and will continue to maintain our freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, the Bab al-Mandeb and elsewhere around the world." Loai al-Shami, a Houthi spokesman, declined to comment immediately on the U.S. strike. Early Wednesday, two missiles were fired at the USS Mason, an Arleigh Burke class of guided missile destroyer that is conducting routine operations in the region with the USS Ponce, an amphibious warship. Neither missile got near the ship, said a U.S. military official.

October 13, 2016


CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- Venezuela’s highest court ruled President Nicolas Maduro can sidestep presenting his 2017 budget to the opposition-controlled parliament. The Supreme Tribunal of Justice ruled Tuesday that Maduro can present the national budget to the Constitutional Hall of the tribunal, or TSJ — citing the decision was made to “maintain the function of the state.”

     “Faced with the urgent need to complete the stage … of the national budget, with the duty to honor the principles of separation and balance of powers … and in order to maintain the function of the state, the Supreme Tribunal of Justice declares” that Maduro can present the budget to the Constitutional Hall, the TSJ wrote in a statement. The TSJ also said the decision was based on an economic crisis decree issued by Maduro, as well as over the “voluntary contempt maintained” by the Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD, opposition coalition, which has a majority control of the unicameral National Assembly.

     Since assuming control of parliament after December elections, the opposition has had several measures struck down by the TSJ, which is accused of working in favor of Maduro’s socialist regime. The TSJ’s ruling has been criticized by the opposition as an reckless decision in favor of Maduro. “The TSJ does not have the legal competency, technical capacity, nor the legitimacy to debate the national budget,” MUD leader Jesus “Chuo” Torrealba said in a video he shared on social media. “Who the heck is the TSJ to debate the national budget? What technical resources do they have, what technical commissions do they have to discuss, to analyze, to process the budget law of 2017?” “The TSJ’s Constitutional Hall is a place that will say ‘Amen’ to what the government wants, what the government says,” Torrealba added.


         MOSCOW, RUSSIA ---
 A full year after Russia stepped into the Syrian quagmire on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Moscow has come to rival and challenge the US and NATO in virtually every arena possible. A quick glance at what Russia has accomplished just in the last month or so show the following: Likely bombed a UN humanitarian aide convoy trying to provide relief to besieged Aleppo, derailing joint US and Russian peace talks. Continued to strike civilian targets in Syria — using chemical weapons, experts have said — exacerbating the refugee crisis in Europe. Sent nuclear-capable missiles to Kaliningrad, Russia's European enclave.

     In addition, Russia has suspended an agreement with the US to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium because of what Russia viewed as "unfriendly" acts by the US. Sent additional missile defense batteries to Syria, and even threatened to shoot down US planes flying in Syria without warning. Participated in military drills with China in the South China Sea, where China has illegally annexed and militarized artificial islands. And, likely hacked the Democratic National Committee and other US government agencies and leaked the information to the public in an effort to delegitimize the US's upcoming election and destabilize the country at large.

     Without a doubt, relations between Russia and the West have reached their lowest point since the height of the Cold War. Retired Russian Lt. Gen. Evgeny Buzhinsky told the BBC that for its part, Russia sees the West as the belligerent party, citing sanctions against Russia as well as barring the Russian Paralympic team from the Rio Olympics for well-documented and state-sponsored doping as Western aggression against Russia. "Of course there is a reaction. As far as Russia sees it, as Putin sees it, it is full-scale confrontation on all fronts. If you want a confrontation, you'll get one," Buzhinsky told the BBC. "But it won't be a confrontation that doesn't harm the interests of the United States. You want a confrontation, you'll get one everywhere."


A U.S. judge on Wednesday declined to throw out the alleged confessions from two nephews of Venezuela's first lady, ruling they knew what they were doing when they spoke to U.S. agents after their arrest on narcotics charges. Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas, 30, and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, 29, are scheduled to go on trial next month in federal court in New York City on charges they conspired to import cocaine into the United States. Their statements to agents, as well as other material they sought to suppress, are expected to be introduced by prosecutors as key pieces of evidence.

     Lawyers for the two men, who are nephews of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's wife, Cilia Flores, had argued they were in custody for hours before agents identified themselves and that they did not fully understand their U.S. right to remain silent. In a written opinion, U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty said the men were informed of their rights and had signed waivers of those rights before confessing to agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Campo Flores even told agents he was an attorney, the judge said."There is no credible evidence that the DEA agents used mental or physical coercion in eliciting defendants' waiver or statements," Crotty wrote.

     The judge also declined to suppress secretly made audio recordings of the two men, who are cousins. Their lawyers argued the recordings were selectively made to exclude parts of conversations favorable to them, but the judge disagreed. The nephews' case has been an embarrassment for Maduro, who is facing a political and economic crisis in Venezuela. Flores in January called their arrest a "kidnapping." The nephews were arrested at a hotel in Haiti in November 2015 and flown to the United States. They are fighting U.S. charges that they worked with others to try to send 800 kilograms of cocaine from Venezuela to Honduras for importation into the United States. The case, which arose from a DEA sting operation, is one of several U.S. investigations that have linked individuals connected to the Venezuelan government to drug trafficking.

October 12, 2016

MOSCOW, RUSSIA--- The man in charge of Russia’s largest oil company Rosneft is skeptical about a global crude production freeze or cut, despite President Putin's pledge to cooperate with OPEC. Oil prices surge as Putin says Russia ready to support OPEC production freeze or even cut "Why should we do it?" said Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin to Reuters, when asked whether his company, which accounts for 40 percent of Russian oil production, plans to take part in the proposed OPEC output cap. Sechin is known for his hostility toward OPEC, and repeatedly says the cartel no longer controls the global oil market.

     He also doubts OPEC members such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela would even cut production, as oil above $50 per barrel will make US shale projects profitable again. According to Sechin, in 2016 Rosneft will “significantly” increase oil production compared to last year. Last month, Russia pumped a record volume of oil of more than 11.2 million barrels per day. Oil prices surged on Monday to year highs after Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow is ready to support a freeze or even a cut in crude production. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sechin isn’t contradicting President Putin's position, adding that Reuters chose just a fragment of a longer response the CEO gave.

    “The official position was voiced by President Vladimir Putin, and it is a wish to freeze or reduce oil production,” Peskov said. Prices backtracked slightly on Tuesday, with the US crude benchmark West Texas Intermediate down 16 cents at $51 per barrel. Brent crude was losing 20 cents, trading at nearly $53 per barrel. Goldman Sachs wrote to clients on Tuesday saying that even if major oil producers agree on joint action, the market is unlikely to rebalance next year. "Higher production from Libya, Nigeria and Iraq are reducing the odds of such a deal rebalancing the oil market in 2017," the bank said. Goldman also agreed with Sechin that a rise in prices will allow US oil companies to boost production. The global crude glut is estimated at 1.0 million to 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd). On September 28, OPEC agreed to curb production by 700,000 bpd. The formal agreement is expected to be signed during the official OPEC meeting on November 30.


 Brazilian prosecutors said on Monday that they brought new charges against former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, adding yet another accusation to a series of corruption charges against the embattled left-leaning leader who is also a presidential hopeful for 2018. Federal prosecutors said in a statement that Silva interfered in state-run development bank BNDES to assure financing for a small firm owned by a nephew of his late first wife. The charges against him and 10 other people, including executives of Brazil's mammoth construction company Odebrecht, include corruption, money laundering, influence trafficking and criminal organization.

    Silva's attorney, Cristiano Zanin, said in a press conference that he didn't have access to the probe and that his client couldn't have interfered because Brazil's development bank only makes collegial decisions. He also rebuked the accusation made by prosecutors that speeches given by the once hugely popular politician were actually a disguise to channel bribes. Monday's announcement is only the most recent of Silva's growing legal woes. Last month Sergio Moro, a judge hailed as a hero by adversaries of Silva's Workers' Party, ruled that the former president must stand trial on money laundering and corruption charges involving company-financed improvements at a beachfront apartment. Silva says he never owned the apartment.

    Silva will also stand trial in a separate case in which a former ally-turned-enemy senator accuses him of obstruction of justice in the sprawling scandal at state-run oil giant Petrobras. Attorney Zanin did not speak of the specifics of the new charges, but said Silva was the "elected enemy" of politically-biased Brazilian authorities and mentioned those involved in the Petrobras probe. Zanin also said he will file a petition to remove Moro, who presides many of the state-oil related investigations, from cases related to Silva. Among his reasons: Moro's presence in business forums organized by Sao Paulo's mayor elect, who is now a key member of center-right Brazilian Social Democracy Party, the main adversaries of Silva's Workers' Party. "There has been no respect to the former president's legal assurances," Silva's attorney said. "There is a will to keep Lula out of the 2018 presidential elections" via legal wrangling.


Just hours after Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for his work in attempting to end the country’s decades-long civil conflict with the FARC rebels, Venezuela decided to create its own peace prize — in honor of late socialist leader Hugo Chávez. And the inaugural winner of the award is Russian President Vladimir Putin. "I've decided to create the Hugo Chávez prize for peace and sovereignty," Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said during the unveiling of a statue of Chávez designed by a Russian artist, according to Reuters.

     Describing Russia’s Putin as a "fighter for peace," Maduro added: "I think President Vladimir Putin deserves this Hugo Chavez award." Maduro said the prize would be offered to national and international figures “who have excelled in the struggle for peace” and added that Putin was chosen to be the inaugural winner of the award because he is a strong ally of Venezuela. While winners of the Nobel Peace Prize receive a nice financial prize of almost $1 million, winners of the Chávez will be given a miniature replica of the statute as a reward from the cash-strapped Venezuelan government.

    Putin, who has been heavily criticized for his support of Syrian strongman Bashar Al-Assad, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, despite Russian soldiers invasion of Ukraine that same year. He eventually lost to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai, who were recognized for their work against the suppression of children and young people. The Hugo Chávez award is another puzzling twist by Maduro amid the country’s continuing political and economic woes. Under Chávez’s 14 years in power, Venezuela built close alliances with traditional adversaries of the United States including Russia and China and challenged the U.S.-influence in Latin America.

October 11, 2016

MOSCOW, RUSSIA--- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said some policymakers in Washington had been heard to advocate such a scenario of targeting Syrian airfields as an option in an attempt to cripple Damascus in airstrikes against the positions of terrorists in the country. “This is a very dangerous game given that Russia, being in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate government of this country and having two bases there, has got air defense systems there to protect its assets,” the Russian foreign minister said in an interview with the Russian state TV's First Channel on Sunday.

      Russian warplanes have been pounding the positions of terrorists in Syria since September 30, 2015, upon a formal request from Damascus. Lavrov, however, said he was convinced that outgoing US President Barack Obama would not adopt such a scenario. Elsewhere in his remarks, the Russian foreign minister cast doubt on the nature of Washington's so-called war on terror in Syria. “US bombers very often return to the Incirlik Air Base [in Turkey] or to other bases they use, with unspent ammunition. There is a high frequency of flights, but the efficiency is very low. Some estimates put it at 15 to 20 percent,” Lavrov said.

     Moscow “doesn’t see any facts that the US is seriously battling al-Nusra [now known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham],” the Russian foreign minister said, adding that Russia was also suspicious about Washington’s calls for Moscow and the Syrian air force to end their airstrikes against terrorists in eastern Aleppo “because, yes, the main force of al-Nusra Front is there.” Lavrov said he was suspicious about Washington's secret work to hatch the plot of saving Jabhat Fateh al-Sham for turning it into a main force to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the future. The Russian foreign minister, however, added that he had asked US Secretary of State John Kerry about the possibility of such a plot, but Kerry “swore that this was untrue.”


         MOSCOW, RUSSIA ---
In 2001, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the military to pull back from Cuba as he sought to bolster ties with the United States. The U.S.-Russian relations now have plunged to the lowest point since the Cold War times amid strain over Syria and Ukraine, and with John Kerry exclaiming “war crimes” and every neoconned American lining up behind Hillbama proclaiming Putin (and Assad) ‘satan’, the Russian Defense Ministry said Friday, that the Russian military is considering the possibility of regaining its Soviet-era bases. Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov told lawmakers Friday that the ministry is considering the possibility of establishing footholds far away from Russia’s borders.

    Amid the deterioration of ties with the West, the military began pondering plans to re-establish its global presence. A small naval supply facility in the Syrian port of Tartus is now the navy’s only outpost outside the former Soviet Union. “The global situation is not static, it is in flux, and the last two years have made significant changes to international affairs and security,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters. “Therefore, it’s quite natural that all countries assess these changes in line with their national interests and take certain steps in the way they consider appropriate.”

     As AP concludes, Oleg Nilov of A Just Russia, one of the factions in the Kremlin-controlled lower house, pointed at the U.S. and its NATO allies’ deployment near Russian borders as he argued that Russia needs to regain its Soviet-era bases. “It’s time to reach agreements to return to faraway outposts if they don’t understand the language of diplomacy,” he said during debates. Just as Paul Craig Roberts warned, War is the only destination to which Washington can lead. The oligarchy, he said, is entrenched in Washington with control over economic and foreign policy positions, think tanks and other lobbyists, and the media. What does the world think when they see Donald Trump damned because he doesn’t want war with Russia or the American economy moved offshore?


Two missiles fired from rebel-held territory in Yemen fell short of a US warship patrolling the Red Sea off the coast of the war-torn country, the US navy said Monday. The USS Mason "detected two inbound missiles" within an hour of each other from around 7:00 pm (1600 GMT) on Sunday, said US Naval Forces Central Command spokeswoman Paula Dunn. The destroyer had been "conducting routine operations in international waters" at the time, she said in a statement. "Both missiles impacted the water before reaching the ship," said Dunn, adding that "there were no injuries to our sailors and no damage to the ship".

     "We assess these missiles were launched from Huthi-controlled territory in Yemen," she said, referring to the Iran-backed rebels fighting Yemen's internationally recognised government. The Huthis described as "unfounded" reports they fired missiles at the US destroyer. Rebel forces "did not target any warships," said a spokesman quoted by the insurgents' website. Also on Monday, the Arab coalition fighting the Huthis accused the rebels of firing a ballistic missile towards the southwestern Saudi city of Taif. The missile was one of two which the Saudi-led coalition intercepted on Sunday, the coalition said, adding the other was launched toward Marib, east of Yemen's rebel-held capital Sanaa.

     The incidents come after the United Arab Emirates said last Wednesday that Yemeni rebels struck a "civilian" vessel in the strategic Bab al-Mandab waterway, wounding crewmen. That attack, which was carried out on October 1, was claimed by the Shiite rebels. The UAE is a key member of a Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting the Yemeni rebels since March last year. Coalition warships have imposed a naval blockade on rebel-held ports along Yemen's Red Sea coast allowing in only UN-approved aid shipments. In its statement on Monday, the US navy said the United States remains "committed to ensuring freedom of navigation everywhere in the world". "We will continue to take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of our ships and our service members," its spokeswoman was quoted as saying.

October 10, 2016

UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK-- A Russian resolution calling for a separation of moderate and extremist forces in Syria but making no mention of a bombing halt in the besieged city of Aleppo has been defeated in the UN Security Council. The draft, put forward by Russia late yesterday, failed to get the minimum nine “yes” votes required. In today’s vote, the draft resolution got four “yes” votes, nine “no” votes and two abstentions. Britain’s UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft called the resolution “a sham” that would do nothing to protect civilians being killed in Aleppo.

     The UN Security Council will vote today on rival Syria resolutions sponsored by France and Russia and both are virtually certain to be vetoed, leaving the war-ravaged country and the besieged city of Aleppo engulfed in conflict and key powers deeply divided.   Russia’s last minute introduction of a rival resolution yesterday afternoon took Western supporters of the French draft by surprise. Several diplomats privately called it a brilliant move by Moscow because it will force Western powers to veto as well. So instead of Russia alone being put in a negative spotlight for vetoing the French resolution demanding an end to the bombing campaign by Syrian and Russian aircraft in Aleppo, the Western powers are highly likely to veto the Russian draft because it makes no mention of a bombing halt.

     As a result, the votes today afternoon, first on the French draft and then on the Russian proposal, are expected to exacerbate tensions between Moscow and the West over the Syrian conflict that has raged for more than five years, killing over 300,000 people. The rival resolutions can also be defeated if they don’t get the minimum nine “yes” votes in the 15-member Security Council. Since the collapse of the US-Russia-brokered cease-fire two weeks ago, the situation in Syria has dramatically deteriorated, with both countries escalating their rhetoric and actions.


         MOSCOW, RUSSIA ---
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday he had detected increasing U.S. hostility towards Moscow and complained about what he said was a series of aggressive U.S. steps that threatened Russia's national security. In an interview with Russian state TV likely to worsen already poor relations with Washington, Lavrov made it clear he blamed the Obama administration for what he described as a sharp deterioration in U.S.-Russia ties.

      "We have witnessed a fundamental change of circumstances when it comes to the aggressive Russophobia that now lies at the heart of U.S. policy towards Russia," Lavrov told Russian state TV's First Channel. "It's not just a rhetorical Russophobia, but aggressive steps that really hurt our national interests and pose a threat to our security." With relations between Moscow and Washington strained over issues from Syria to Ukraine, Lavrov reeled off a long list of Russian grievances against the United States which he said helped contribute to an atmosphere of mistrust that was in some ways more dangerous and unpredictable than the Cold War.

     He complained that NATO had been steadily moving military infrastructure closer to Russia's borders and lashed out at Western sanctions imposed over Moscow's role in the Ukraine crisis. He also said he had heard that some policy makers in Washington were suggesting that President Barack Obama sanction the carpet bombing of the Syrian government's military air fields to ground itair force. "This is a very dangerous game given that Russia, being in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate government of this country and having two bases there, has got air defense systems there to protect its assets," said Lavrov.


Twelve bodies have been unearthed from a landfill in eastern Venezuela’s Bolivar state, where another massacre earlier this year saw 17 miners gunned down by criminal gangs, according to Venezuelan opposition lawmaker Americo De Grazia. According to information from inhabitants of Nuevo Callao in Tumeremo, the bodies of three women and nine men – supposedly missing since Oct. 5 – were dumped in the Tumeremo Landfill.

     Reporting the case in a series of tweets, the lawmaker blamed the deaths on security officials as well as the leader of the gang, who has also been implicated in the March 4 massacre. “Family members of those kidnapped from the Nuevo Callao mines Wednesday #Oct5 by Anderson Pereira, heir to El Topo, know nothing,” wrote De Grazia, adding that a group of people is still being held in the area. El Topo, the leader of the gang allegedly behind the miner massacre, was killed by security forces in a shootout. One of the survivors of the latest alleged massacre “managed to reach the Guaiparo hospital wounded” and the public ministry has been informed, he claimed.

     However, there has been no official word so far confirming or denying the disappearances alleged by De Grazia, the same parliamentarian who in March announced that 30 miners had gone missing from the area. The allegations were immediately refuted by Governor Francisco Rangel Gomez, who said the charges were politically-motivated in order to create terror in the people. But a massive 10-day search later led to the recovery of 17 bodies from a five-meter deep grave. The victims were all shot dead and the Attorney General’s Office assured that there were not more than 17 dead, as opposed to the 30 alleged by De Grazia.

October 9, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C.-- The United States called Friday for a war crimes investigation of Russia and Syria, ramping up the rhetoric against Moscow for its part in a deadly military offensive in Aleppo while potentially making it harder to restart diplomatic efforts to end the conflict. Secretary of State John Kerry said Syrian forces hit a hospital overnight, killing 20 people and wounding 100, describing what would be the latest strike by Russia or its ally in Damascus on a civilian target. A spokesman said the attack occurred Thursday outside Damascus, while human rights group accuse the pair of killing thousands in their assault on Aleppo, Syria's largest city.

     "Russia and the regime owe the world more than an explanation about why they keep hitting hospitals and medical facilities, and children and women," Kerry told reporters alongside French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who arrived in Washington directly from meeting Russian officials in Moscow. "These are acts that beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes," Kerry said. "They're beyond the accidental now, way beyond, years beyond the accidental. This is a targeted strategy to terrorize civilians and to kill anybody and everybody who is in the way of their military objectives." The U.S. has little chance of being able to initiate a war crimes probe of either Russia or Syria.

     Russia has veto power at the U.N. Security Council and has blocked repeated attempts over the last 5½ years to put pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad's government or hold it accountable for the widespread allegations of indiscriminate killing, torture and chemical weapons attacks. Ayrault spoke of a new French effort for a cease-fire in Syria that would include a U.N. Security Council vote on Saturday. But it's unclear what advantages his plan would have over the U.S.-Russian led process that collapsed last month. Speaking in English, Ayrault called Syria a "human tragedy" that demands every effort to restart a peace negotiation.


         MOSCOW, RUSSIA ---
Russia has deployed an advanced anti-missile system to Syria for the first time, three US officials tell Fox News, the latest indication that Moscow continues to ramp up its military operations in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad. It comes after Russia's actions led to the collapse of a cease-fire and the cut-off of direct talks with the U.S. While Moscow’s motives are not certain, officials say the new weapon system could potentially counter any American cruise missile attack in Syria. Components of the SA-23 Gladiator anti-missile and anti-aircraft system, which has a range of roughly 150 miles, arrived over the weekend “on the docks” of a Russian naval base along Syria’s Mediterranean coastal city of Tartus, two US officials said.

     It is the first time Russia has deployed the SA-23 system outside its borders, according to one Western official citing a recent intelligence assessment. The missiles and associated components are still in their crates and are not yet operational, according to the officials. The U.S. intelligence community has been observing the shipment of the SA-23 inside Russia in recent weeks, according to one official. While the purpose is not clear, one US official asked sarcastically, “Nusra doesn’t have an air force do they?” speaking about the Al Qaeda-linked group in Syria. The Islamic State also does not fly any manned aircraft or possess cruise missiles, in a sign that Russia is directing its actions to protect itself against any potential attack from the United States or its allies.

     The SA-23 can fire two different types of missiles. A smaller missile is used against aircraft and cruise missiles and is known by NATO as Gladiator. The larger missile is used against intermediate-range ballistic missiles and jamming aircraft and is known as Giant. Both missiles use the same type of warhead containing over 300 pounds of explosives, according to Russia deployed a separate air defense system, the S-400, to Syria after a Russian jet was shot down by a Turkish warplane last November. Since the S-400 deployment, the U.S. military has been careful about flying manned aircraft inside the range of the system, despite repeated pledges by the US military that its airstrikes in Syria are focused on ISIS, not the Assad regime.


       WASHINGTON, D.C. -- 
More than 50,000 Cubans have been airlifted and bused into the US from all over Central America over the last few months, driven by an anticipation that Washington may soon halt the “wet foot, dry foot” migration policy. The “wet foot, dry foot” policy comes from the 1995 revision of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, which said that anyone who fled Cuba and entered the United States would be granted permanent residence a year later. In 1995, the US government agreed with Cuba that it would stop admitting people intercepted in US waters. Since then, a Cuban invader caught on the waters between the two nations (with “wet feet”) would summarily be sent home or to a third country.

     However, an invader who makes it to shore (“dry feet”) gets a chance to remain in the United States, and later would qualify for expedited “legal permanent resident” status and eventually US citizenship. It did not take long for the Cubans to realize that the legal loophole in this new rule was simply to enter the US via Mexico, and, having “dry feet,” they would be admitted to America. As a result, more than 40,000 Cubans bought plane and boat tickets to Central American states, mostly landing in Ecuador, which offered visa-free entry for Cubans. From there, they moved north via Nicaragua, but in mid-November, this route was blocked by the Nicaraguan government, which is an ally of Cuba.

     Thousands of Cuban invaders found themselves trapped in nations such as Costa Rica and Panama, with many thousands more on the way. Then, the Central American Integration System (Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana, or SICA), which is the formal economic and political organization of Central American states, stepped in—and arranged flights for the invaders to El Salvador. From there, they are bused up through Guatemala and Mexico to the US border, where all they have to do is present themselves, and then they immediately become parasites off the American taxpayer. Costa Rica, for example, issued 8,000 temporary transit visas to Cuban invaders between November 14 and December 18 alone.

October 8, 2016

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA--Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his efforts to end a 52-year-old war with Marxist guerrillas, a surprise choice and a show of support days after voters rejected a peace deal he signed with the rebels. The Norwegian Nobel Committee said Santos had brought one of the longest civil wars in modern history significantly closer to a peaceful solution, but there was still a danger the peace process could collapse. The award excluded FARC guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londono, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, who signed the peace accord with Santos in Cartagena on Sept. 26.

     Santos has promised to revive the plan even though Colombians narrowly rejected it in a referendum on Sunday. Many voters believedit was too lenient on the FARC guerrillas. "There is a real danger that the peace process will come to a halt and that civil war will flare up again. This makes it even more important that the parties ... continue to respect the ceasefire," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said. "The fact that a majority of the voters said 'No' to the peace accord does not necessarily mean that the peace process is dead." More than 220,000 people have died on the battlefield or in massacres during the conflict between leftist guerrillas, government troops and right-wing paramilitaries.

    Millions have been displaced and many beg on the streets of the capital, while economic potential has been held up in the mostly rural nation. "I infinitely appreciate from all of my heart this honorable distinction, not in my name, but the name of all Colombians, and especially the millions of victims that have been left by the conflict we have suffered for more than 50 years," Santos, 65, said in a brief statement. "Thank God peace is close. Peace is possible." Asked why Londono was left out, committee leader Kaci Kullmann Five said Santos had been central to the process. "President Santos has been taking the very first and historic initiative. There have been other tries, but this time he went all-in as leader of the government with a strong will to reach a result. That's why we have put the emphasis on president."


         MOSCOW, RUSSIA ---
A senior Russian defense official has announced that Moscow is looking to build military bases throughout different countries in Asia and the Western Hemisphere. According to RIA Novosti, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia is looking to build military bases in Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, the Seychelles, Singapore and several other countries. “The talks are under way, and we are close to signing the relevant documents,” Shoigu said, according to RIA Novosti.

     The newspaper noted that “Moscow currently has only one naval base outside the former Soviet Union – in Tartus, Syria, but the fate of this naval facility is uncertain because of the ongoing civil war in that country.” The comments are probably intended in part to shore up domestic support for Vladimir Putin among Russian nationalists who are likely reassessing his leadership abilities in light of the events in the Ukraine in past weeks. However, the timing and substance of the comments also suggest that Russia is trying to antagonize the United States because of the collapse of the Russian-backed Ukrainian government last week. The bases, as noted above, are largely focused in Asia and the Western Hemisphere.

    Asia is the region that the U.S. has identified as the most important one for its national security in the decades ahead. Moscow is likely to trying to remind Washington that it has some ability to frustrate U.S. objectives in that theatre should Washington continue to press its claims in countries Russia views as vital to its security. The parallel to Ukraine is even more apparent with regards to the Latin American countries, particularly Cuba which is just 90 miles from the United States. Much like Ukraine itself, Cuba and Nicaragua also immediately harken back to the Cold War era as both served as battleground states between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, or at least were perceived as such by leaders in Washington. Russia’s message to the United States couldn’t be clearer: “if you start meddling in our neighborhood, we’ll start meddling in your neighborhood.”


       WASHINGTON, D.C. -- 
In pursuing his historic opening of relations with Cuba, President Obama has frequently pushed legal and political boundaries. Now congressional Republicans are up in arms about another such initiative: an airline travel agreement they say exposes the United States to dangerous security gaps at Cuban airports. Congressional committees charged with overseeing the Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration have engaged in a months-long feud with the administration over security vulnerabilities at 10 Cuban airports that have begun direct flights to the United States.

     The lawmakers say the lapses increase the risk of terrorists, criminals, drugs and spies entering the United States. The security dogs that can be seen at Cuban airports are “mangy street dogs” that were fraudulently posed as trained animals, the TSA’s top official for the Caribbean, Larry Mizell, told congressional officials behind closed doors in March, according to these officials. He also told them that there are few body scanners at the Cuban airports and that those in place are Chinese-made versions for which no reliability data exists. When direct commercial flights began in August, federal air marshals were not allowed on them by order of the Cuban government.

      employees for the U.S. carriers are being hired, vetted and paid by the Cuban regime, lawmakers said, and the United States has not been given information that resulted from their vetting or how it was conducted. “In an effort to secure Obama’s legacy on Cuba, they rushed to get it done without doing the proper due diligence,” said Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee’s subcommittee on transportation security. “Our concern is oversight, to make sure what the agency tells us we can verify. There are still a lot of things we don’t know. What we do know is troubling.”

October 7, 2016

CARACAS, VENEZUELA--Venezuelan Congress Speaker Henry Ramos Allup claimed that Venezuela is going through “a serious impairment of the democratic order” following President Nicolás Maduro’s claims that elections are not a priority in 2016. Certain that Maduro knows his government is very likely to lose any election, Congress Speaker Henry Ramos Allup lambasted the Head of State for remarking that “priority in Venezuela is not holding an election, but recovering the economy, production.”

     “The president (of the Republic) wants no vote (…) He has rejected a recall referendum (against his term in office) because he knows he would be defeated. He knows the potential results (of such vote). Nor does he want gubernatorial elections,” Ramos Allup underscored during a phone interview with a show hosted by César Miguel Rondón, on private radio station “Circuito Éxitos.”

     Similarly, the legislator highlighted the dilemma was posed by the very president and deplored the fact that he relies on the country’s ongoing economic crisis to justify the non-holding of the election this year. “In order to solve the economic situation, political issues must be resolved first; in other words, to solve the government removal from office democratically,” Ramos Allup reasoned.


         BOGOTA, COLOMBIA ---
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Wednesday peace with the FARC rebels is "close," but his top opponent demanded an overhaul of a "weak" deal. The tension between the two men has taken center stage since Colombians unexpectedly voted "No" Sunday to the deal, which sought to end half a century of conflict with the Marxist guerrillas. Santos -- who also held talks with former president Andres Pastrana (1998-2002), another leading opponent of the deal -- tried to sound upbeat after the meetings at the presidential palace. "Peace in Colombia is close, and we will achieve it," he said in a national address.

     He vowed to work with the "No" camp to "find a path that allows us not only to conclude the peace accord with the FARC, but to strengthen it." "It's better to achieve peace for all Colombians than a weak accord for half the nation's citizens," the opposition senator told journalists after the meeting. He criticized the deal signed on September 26 for granting "total impunity" for rebel crimes and allowing guerrillas guilty of gross human rights violations to run for elected office.

     He also asked for the "understanding and support" of the international community -- much of which was taken aback by the referendum result. Santos will face the challenge of selling any changes to the deal to the FARC. The United States, a key ally of Colombia, has also sent its special envoy for the peace process, Bernie Aronson, back to Havana, the State Department said. Ahead of Wednesday's meetings, Santos warned that saving the peace deal was urgent. "We are in a gray area -- a sort of limbo that is very dangerous and very risky, which can spoil the entire process," he said. He said Tuesday the army would end the ceasefire it has been observing with the rebels on October 31 if no solution is found -- opening the prospect of a return to war after coming within about 50,000 votes of sealing the peace.


       SEOUL, SOUTH  KOREA -- 
Confusion continues to surround the rumored defection of high-ranking North Korean officials from Beijing. Originally, the JoongAng Ilbo reported that two high-ranking officials had defected with their families in September. JoongAng’s source alleged that the officials and their family members were trying to reach Japan, but Yonhap’s source presents a conflicting picture – that there was a high-ranking defector, but that the defector and his family were not seeking to defect to Japan. Japan’s foreign ministry told Yonhap that no North Korean was in contact with Japan’s embassy in Beijing about seeking asylum, and South

     Korea’s unification ministry said there was “nothing to confirm” at this time.
It is surprising that these envoys took the risk, despite the increased scrutiny that overseas North Korean elites have been under since a recent uptick in defections. Thae Yong-ho, North Korea’s deputy ambassador in London, who defected to South Korea with his family last July, became one of the most senior North Koreans to do so.Around the same time, media reports claim that a North Korean diplomat based in Vladivostok, Russia also defected to an unidentified country South Korea’s National Intelligence Service has not clarified whether this individual came to South Korea or not.

     According to The Korea Times, this unidentified individual is “known to be a higher-level official than Kim Chol-song, the third secretary and trade representative of the North Korean mission,” who likewise defected from St. Petersburg in July. And it’s not just political elites fleeing a sinking ship. Though unconfirmed by the South Korean government, it is widely believed that an 18-year-old math genius also sought asylum from the South Korean consulate in Hong Kong, while in the city for an international math competition. The teenager reportedly has since landed in Seoul. As such elites are the most well-off within North Korea’s extremely stratified society, it speaks volumes about the desperation tinging the regime.

October 6, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C.--The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, said Wednesday in Asunción, Paraguay, suggested “drastic measures” if the Venezuelan government resolves not to hold a recall vote against the term in office of President Nicolás Maduro. “Should the recall vote not take place, adopting drastic measures would be necessary definitively,” Almagro told journalists after an interview with Paraguayan Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga. The diplomat further stressed that the vote would be helpful to overcome the “deep institutional crisis” in Venezuela.

    “All of us have expectations around the potential recall vote. Once this issue is solved, we expect to find an institutional and democratic solution. That is the path for Venezuela,” he added. At the same time, the Uruguayan party requests inquiry into business with Venezuela Jaime Trobo, a representative of Uruguayan anti-government National Party, claimed that the investigation taskforce seeks to collect information to determine whether “the appointment of certain agents for negotiations with Venezuela was a transparent or arbitrary decision” The Uruguayan opposition National Party (PN) will establish a taskforce to enquire into the election of private enterprises linked to Venezuela, since they seemingly “acted as intermediaries in businesses with public entities” in Venezuela.

    Last year, the Uruguayan opposition briefed their then President José Mujica on suspicions about alteration in the election of companies for conducting businesses. However, Mujica denied any unlawful link. “Uruguay negotiated with Venezuela’s state-run monopolistic companies through private agents who have profited from trade. We know neither how nor why those companies were chosen,” said PN Deputy Jaime Trobo. Similarly, Trobo explained that the taskforce aims to obtain information to determine whether “the appointment of certain agents for negotiations with Venezuela supposed a transparent or arbitrary decision, having in mind links between the companies and the government,” Efe reported.


Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday told U.S. President Barack Obama to "go to hell" and said the United States had refused to sell some weapons to his country but he did not care because Russia and China were willing suppliers. In his latest salvo, Duterte said he was realigning his foreign policy because the United States had failed the Philippines and added that at some point, "I will break up with America". It was not clear what he meant by "break up". During three tangential and fiercely worded speeches in Manila, Duterte said the United States did not want to sell missiles and other weapons, but Russia and China had told him they could provide them easily.

     "Although it may sound shit to you, it is my sacred duty to keep the integrity of this republic and the people healthy," Duterte said. "If you don't want to sell arms, I'll go to Russia. I sent the generals to Russia and Russia said 'do not worry, we have everything you need, we'll give it to you'. "And as for China, they said 'just come over and sign and everything will be delivered'." His comments were the latest in a near-daily barrage of hostility towards the United States, during which Duterte has started to contrast the former colonial power with its geopolitical rivals Russia and China.

     In Washington, U.S. officials downplayed Duterte's comments, saying they were "at odds" with the two countries' warm relationship and decades-long alliance. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said there has been no communication from the Philippines about making changes in that relationship. Earnest did not, however, back down from criticism of Duterte's tactics in his deadly war on drugs. "Even as we protect the strong alliance, the administration and the United States of America will not hesitate to raise our concerns about extrajudicial killings," he said at a briefing. 'On Sunday, Duterte said he had received support from Russia and China when he complained to them about the United States. He also said he would review a U.S.-Philippines Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement.


Brazilians voted in more than 5,000 mayors on Sunday, in an election marked by the ongoing political crisis and the tension resulting from recent street violence. The strain is such that President Michel Temer, who was sworn in on August 31 after Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, showed up at the polling station in São Paulo three hours ahead of the time he had announced, in order to avoid a planned student protest against him. Yet despite his low popularity ratings (only 14% of Brazilians approve of his being the president), the outcome of the Sunday elections has provided support for Temer – if only in an indirect way.

     Temer, of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), can only benefit from the humiliating defeat sustained by the Workers’ Party (PT), which was once the largest left-wing force in all of South America but is now fighting for survival in the wake of the Petrobras corruption scandal. The PT debacle in São Paulo must have tasted especially sweet to Temer: the city awarded a crushing victory to the Brazilian Social Democrat Party (PSDB), headed by João Doria Jr., a conservative businessman whose campaign was based on resentment against traditional politics and against the left in particular.

     Doria, who supported Temer during the Rousseff impeachment process, will not have to go to a runoff. But his victory in the biggest city in South America is no more relevant than the fact that the outgoing mayor, Fernando Haddad of the PT, was able to muster no more than 16.43% of the vote. In Rio de Janeiro, analysts were surprised at the strong performance by Marcelo Freixo, the candidate for a tiny group called Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL), which is ideologically to the far left of the PT. Freixo will face off with the conservative bishop Marcelo Crivella, of the Republican Party (PRB), in the upcoming runoff vote.

October 5, 2016

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA -- Argentine President Mauricio Macri and his Brazilian counterpart, Michel Temer, agreed on Monday on the need to strengthen the Mercosur trade bloc and to make its rules more “flexible” to “give certain autonomy to the (member) states in their international relations.” The pair held an official meeting in Buenos Aires, after which they gave a press conference at which they remarked on their two countries’ stances vis-a-vis the present and future of the trade bloc, which also includes Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela.

     After noting the “historic ties” linking his country with Argentina and the “similarity of positions” with the Macri government, Temer emphasized the need to work together to “strengthen Mercosur” and make its rules more flexible to give countries more international autonomy. “That’s the challenge, to believe in what we can do and build if we integrate ourselves. It’s conquering fears. I think that from 1991 – when the bloc was founded – up to now, we’ve made much progress, at other times we’ve moved backwards ... But now we see that the world has an enormous attraction to Mercosur,” said Macri.

    The Argentine leader noted that the pair had exchanged offers with the European Union “to start down a road that will take many years.” “There are many countries and regions that are asking us if we really have free trade treaties and trade more. On that road, clearly we have to prepare ourselves,” he added, emphasizing the need to protect jobs in each country but look for “conditions” under which to create new ones, since the current number of jobs “is not enough.” Macri said that Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay have a “long road” behind them of building “unity” and of “shared learning” that must have “better frameworks” for progress for their people as its final result.


José Luis Parada, former manager of Petroleos de Venezuela, who has been in house arrest since last May awaiting trial, is not in Venezuela, according to judicial sources. The former official, close friend of Ambassador Rafael Ramirez would be in Canada after escaping from security controls. A very close relative of Parada confirmed his escape as well as his possible destination. Officials Bolivarian Intelligence Service (Sebin) have confirmed the escape and began an investigation to determine his whereabouts

     Parada was arrested in March 2015 on corruption charges, a week after authorities had arrested an oil ministry employee, reported to be his sister, on similar charges. He was formally accused of embezzlement sanctioned by Law against Corruption and Organic Law against Organized Crime. In the brief submitted to the Court 8 Control of Zulia, the prosecutors requested the admission of the indictment and prosecution of the man, who was detained in a Sebin facility located in the Helicoide. Before Parada’s arrest which was carried out in less than 72 hours, also was apprehended the Director General Internal Market of the Ministry of Petroleum and Mining, Gladys Parada Nubia Mendoza, a cousin of Jose Luis.

     The arrest of Parada was initiated because the prosecutors received a complaint from the board of the National Union of Oil Workers in which it complained about Parada’s "administrative irregularities in contracting companies for the distribution of gasoline," the prosecutor's office said in a statement on Monday. After the complaint was filed, the prosecutors began the investigation and were able to determine the link between the corporate manager with the case. As a result, Jose Luis Parada was arrested in compliance with an arrest warrant submitted by the Public Ministry, at an air base in the Western state of Zulia near the Colombian border when he was ready to leave on his private plane from Maracaibo.


Two nephews of Venezuela's first lady, who face charges of conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, confessed to U.S. agents after being arrested in November to being involved in the drug scheme, newly-filed court records state. Details of the confessions by Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas, 30, and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, 29, were contained in documents U.S. prosecutors filed late on Friday in a Manhattan federal court. The papers include summaries of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration interviews conducted on a Nov. 10 flight to New York from Haiti, where authorities had arrested the two nephews of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's wife, Cilia Flores.

     The summaries were filed as exhibits to a motion by prosecutors opposing a bid by the men to have their post-arrest statements suppressed on the grounds that they did not fully understand their rights under U.S. law to remain silent. Both men have been held without bail since their November arrest and indictment for conspiring to import cocaine into the United States. According to the DEA records, Campo Flores said they planned to get the cocaine from an individual who was in turn supplied by the Colombian paramilitary group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

     Asked why he got involved in the deal, Flores de Freitas said: "To make money." Specifically, he expected the first load to make $5 million, earning him $560,000, the records state. Prosecutors said the pair had hoped a series of drug shipments they would be involved in would generate $20 million. Prosecutors accuse the nephews of working with others to try to send 800 kilograms of cocaine from Venezuela to Honduras so that the drug could be imported into the United States. The case is one of a series of enforcement actions and investigations by U.S. authorities which have linked individuals connected to the Venezuelan government to drug trafficking. The nephews' case has been an embarrassment for Maduro, who is embattled by a political and economic crisis in Venezuela.

October 4, 2016

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA-- Colombians narrowly rejected a peace deal with Marxist guerrillas in a referendum on Sunday, plunging the nation into uncertainty and dashing President Juan Manuel Santos' painstakingly negotiated plan to end the 52-year war. The surprise victory for the "no" camp poured cold water on international joy, from the White House to the Vatican, at what had seemed to be the end of the longest-running conflict in the Americas. The "no" camp won by 50.21 percent to 49.78 percent. Voter turnout was only 37 percent, perhaps partly owing to torrential rain through the country. Both sides in the war immediately sought to reassure the world they would try to revive their peace plan. Santos, 65, said a ceasefire already negotiated would remain in place.

    He vowed to sit down on Monday with the victorious "no" camp to discuss the way forward, and send his chief negotiator back to Cuba to meet with FARC rebel leaders. "I will not give up, I will keep seeking peace until the last day of my term because that is the way to leave a better nation for our children," said Santos, who cannot seek re-election when his second term ends in August 2018. The commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, known by his nom de guerre, Timochenko, gave a similar message from Havana, where peace negotiations have taken place over the last four years. "The FARC reiterates its disposition to use only words as a weapon to build toward the future," said Timochenko, whose real name is Rodrigo Londono. "To the Colombian people who dream of peace, count on us, peace will triumph."

    Santos recently said a "no" vote would mean a return to war, and opinion polls had predicted he would win comfortably. Traditionally conservative Colombian voters, in favor of peace in principle but unhappy at perceived soft treatment for the guerrillas, confounded those forecasts. "I voted no. I don't want to teach my children that everything can be forgiven," said Bogota engineer Alejandro Jaramillo, 35. Opponents want a renegotiation of the deal with rebel leaders serving jail time and receiving no free seats in Congress. "We all want peace, no one wants violence," said influential former president Alvaro Uribe who led the "No" campaign. "We insist on corrections so there is respect for the constitution... We want to contribute to a national accord and be heard."


On the scale of political earthquakes, the decision by Colombian voters on Sunday to reject – by the narrowest of margins – a peace deal that would have gone a long way toward ending a 52-year civil war in the country, was right up there with the recent Brexit vote in the UK. With all the machinery of government pushing for a ‘yes’ vote in a plebiscite on the peace accords and the polls suggesting a victory was imminent, the final count, which saw 50.2% of voters snub the deal, has left the government reeling and without a clear way forward. For Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the man behind the deal with leftist rebels of the FARC, the result was a slap in the face. His administration must now regroup and find a new way forward in a political landscape plagued with uncertainty.

    But for another major political figure in Colombia, Sunday’s vote was a huge victory. After two electoral defeats, one at the national level and another on a regional scale, former president Álvaro Uribe had been wandering the political desert. Without financial resources and ignored by the media, the one-time mentor of the current president spent the months leading up to the vote on the peace deal talking at low-key events in villages, universities and theaters far from the razzmatazz of the ‘yes’ campaign.After Sunday’s result, however, Uribe, president of Colombia from 2002 to 2010, is well and truly back on center stage. And while Colombia’s statutes prohibit him from running for the country’s highest office again, he has made it clear he has an army of loyal followers who would follow him to hell and back, without necessarily letting pollsters in on that fact.

    Uribe’s decision to take up the cause of the ‘no’ camp was not enough to defend at first. The international community saw it as a continuation of the toxic confrontational style that had made the former leader so popular in the first place. It was also a position that threatened to derail a peace process that had seen the Colombian government and the FARC actually talking to each other and that had had seen membership of the leftist group dwindle to around 6,000 people. But the former leader’s key message during the lead-up to the plebiscite – he criticized the peace deal because it would offer impunity to FARC members who recognized their crimes – seems to have tapped into the deep distrust many Colombians feel when it comes to the guerrilla group.


In an interview on Sunday with Argentine daily La Nación, Brazilian President Michel Temer said his government supports a recall vote in 2016 against the term in office of his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolás Maduro. “We want it (the recall vote) to take place this year.

    That is our proposal. Otherwise, we will see in the future what stance to take,” Temer added, as reported by AFP. The Brazilian President is to hold this Monday a bilateral meeting with his Argentine counterpart Mauricio Macri in the middle of a crisis in the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) triggered by the Uruguay’s transfer of the rotating presidency of the bloc to Venezuela, a move rejected by the governments of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. “We are concerned about detentions of political nature taking place there (in Venezuela),” Temer stressed. He further denied they are isolating Caracas from the trading bloc. “The issue is about Venezuela’s participation or not in Mercosur. And Venezuela’s presidency of the bloc was questioned precisely for what is going on there.”

    At the same time, UN's Ki-moon asks President Maduro “to hear” Venezuelan protesters. Ki-moon, said Monday he expects that Venezuelans protesting against their country’s ongoing situation may be listened to by the government of President Nicolás Maduro. “I know that the economic situation is hard, but protests staged by the (Venezuelan) people, not only by political parties, should be taken into account seriously,” Ki-moon said during a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland. The UN top representative stressed that “the (Venezuelan) people must be heard as soon as possible.” Similarly, he recommended observing “freedom of assembly and media freedom,” Efe reported.

October 3, 2016

HAVANA, CUBA--  Cuba will allow U.S. air marshals on regularly scheduled commercial flights between the two countries, island authorities announced Friday. Josefina Vidal, director of the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s department for the United States, posted on her Twitter account that an “arrangement on the deployment of Air Marshalls on board airlines was amended to make it applicable to scheduled flights.” The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) confirmed the agreement in a statement to el Nuevo Herald Friday.

     “With regard to Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) coverage on flights to/from Cuba, TSA has an arrangement in place for charter and scheduled commercial flights,” the statement said. “As a general matter, to protect the operations and efficacy of our Federal Air Marshal program, TSA does not provide specific information about when or which flights are covered by our air marshals, as that could potentially compromise security. ” The twin announcements eliminate a confrontation between the Obama Administration and members of Congress over the security of flights to and from Cuba.

     The TSA admitted in mid-September that no federal air marshals were aboard the regularly scheduled commercial flights to Cuba that started in late August. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fl., and other Congress members quickly accused the Obama administration of lying because TSA officials had declared earlier that a bilateral agreement for the air marshals would be in place by the time the flights started. As the controversy continued, the House Committee on Homeland Security approved a measure to suspend the regular flights until the TSA certified that Cuban airports met all security requirements. The measure was submitted by Rep. John Katko, R-NY, chairman of the subcommittee on transportation security.


On Sunday, Colombians will vote on the newly signed peace agreement between the FARC guerrillas and the government of Colombia. The peace accord is an opportunity to end the longest-running conflict in Latin America. The conflict began in 1964. An estimated 220,000 people have been killed and millions more displaced. The accord was signed this week between the government of Colombia and the FARC guerrillas and is now being submitted to the people for approval through a referendum. The vote is the final, crucial step in ratifying this peace agreement. Here’s what you need to know.

     When Colombians vote on Sunday, they will read on their ballots this single sentence: “Do you support the final accord to end the conflict and build a stable and lasting peace?” They will then vote a simple “yes” or “no.” The accord is composed of five elements, including disarmament and demobilization of the FARC, justice for victims of violence, cutting guerrilla ties to the drug trade, rural development and political participation for the FARC. Some of these are widely popular, but others are deeply controversial. Opposition forces have campaigned for separate elements of the deal to be up for a vote. Multiple ballot measures are far more difficult to pass, however. In 1998, Guatemala’s four votes on its peace accord failed in large part for this reason.

     The “yes” or “no” measure may increase the referendum’s chances of passing because of voters who support peace but not all of the accord’s provisions. This vote is the fulfillment of President Juan Manuel Santos’s promise at the outset of negotiations to allow voters an opportunity to accept or reject the results. That promise was made to bolster public support for a sequestered peace negotiation, in contrast with the open talks conducted by former president Andrés Pastrana from 1999 through 2002. The referendum may therefore legitimize an agreement reached by elites. It may also erode the legitimacy of those who oppose it. A leading opponent is former president Álvaro Uribe, who was dedicated to defeating the FARC during his presidency (2002 to 2010). Uribe currently leads the conservative Democratic Center party. The former president and his party opposed the peace talks and are now campaigning against the referendum. Uribe enjoys a great deal of public support.


       WASHINGTON, D.C. -- 
 Russian warplanes and their Syrian government allies battered rebel-held areas in and around Aleppo on Saturday, and rebels and aid workers accused them of destroying one of the city's main hospitals and killing at least two patients. M10, the city's main trauma hospital, in eastern Aleppo, was struck as the United States and its allies urged Russia, which is trying to crush resistance to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to halt the bombing and reach a diplomatic resolution. Saturday's air strikes focused on major supply lines into rebel-held areas of Aleppo - the Castello Road and Malah district and around the Handarat camp.

        Fighting also raged in the city in the Suleiman al Halabi neighbourhood, the front line to the north of Aleppo's Old City and in the residential Bustan al Basha quarter. Rebels and rescuers said at least seven missiles were dropped on the hospital, more commonly known as Sakhour, by both Russian jets and Syrian helicopters. An American relief organisation said two patients were killed and 13 injured in the attack, which was the second on the hospital in less than a week. "The hospital is now out of service completely. There's destruction to walls, infrastructure, equipment and generators. There are no more guards or staff left. It's complete darkness," said Mohammad Abu Rajab, a radiologist in the hospital.

     The attack drew immediate condemnation from France and Germany. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the shelling of healthcare structures and personnel in Aleppo amounted to war crimes, adding: "Their perpetrators will be held to account." "The bombing of Aleppo needs to finally stop! Whoever wants to fight terrorists does not attack hospitals!" German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier tweeted. The U.S envoy to the United Nations last week called Russia's actions in Syria "barbarism," not counter-terrorism.An official for U.S. President Barack Obama's administration condemned the bombing, citing "total disregard" for medical professionals and those needing their help.

October 2, 2016

SANTIAGO DE CHILE, CHILE--  The Spanish president Felipe Gonzalez said today that the government of President Nicolas Maduro is "arbitrary tyranny that mocks its own legality." "What happens in Venezuela is a difficult situation, which is not comparable to anything. It's not a dictatorship, it is an arbitrary tyranny that mocks its own legality," said the historical socialist leader during a seminar held in Santiago de Chile. Gonzalez spoke of leadership in times of crisis during an event organized by the company investment advisory Picton in which said we must avoid the situation in Venezuela, where in his opinion there is a "no government judges."

     "We have to avoid the governments of the judges or governments without judges, which is the case of Venezuela. It is not because there are no judges, but because they are consistently transgressors, under the control of the executive and the dictates of the executive, therefore no no guarantee, "he said. "The assembly has approved 20 laws and 19 have been annulled by the Constitutional Court changed the previous assembly. The assembly that lost the election by two-thirds changed the Constitutional Court to the new Assembly could not legislate. Of these decisions come these dramatic situations, "he added. For the historical leader of Spanish socialism and head of the Government of Spain for 14 years in a row (1982-1996), the situation that is happening Venezuela is "the worst problem in Latin America."

     "Maduro remained without votes and may run out of boots," said Gonzalez, who said "the implosion of Venezuela will affect all Latin America." Also, the Spanish politician who is in Chile after attending Monday in Cartagena de Indias to the signing of the peace agreement the Colombian government and the FARC, said another situation that must be avoided is that of Brazil, where his opinion there is a "government of judges". "I could never imagine that I could find so hard and so difficult crisis in representative democracy with a clash of legitimacies as that is occurring in Brazil between the legitimacy of a president elected directly and the legitimacy of a parliament which, at least he has discussed it are the causes of 'impeachment' "he said. According to Gonzalez, in the midst of this situation, "national heroes" Brazil are "judges" because "there is not a single politician who can lift his head."


          WASHINGTON, D.C. -
The United States will send around 600 new troops to Iraq to assist local forces in the battle to retake Mosul from Islamic State that is expected later this year, U.S. and Iraqi officials said on Wednesday. The new deployment is the third such boost in U.S. troop levels in Iraq since April, underscoring the difficulties President Barack Obama has had in extracting the U.S. military from the country.

      "American President Barack Obama was consulted on a request from the Iraqi government for a final increase in the number of trainers and advisers under the umbrella of the international coalition in Iraq," Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement. The new troops will train and advise Iraqi security forces and Kurdish peshmerga forces, primarily in the Mosul fight but also serve "to protect and expand Iraqi security forces' gains elsewhere in Iraq," U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said. "We've said all along - whenever we see opportunities to accelerate the campaign, we want to seize them," Carter said.

     Though Iraqi forces will be in the combat role, "American forces combating ISIL in Iraq are in harm's way," Carter said, using an acronym for Islamic State. Some of the 615 new service members will be based at Qayara air base, about 40 miles (60 km) from Mosul, Carter said. Iraqi forces recaptured the base from Islamic State militants in July and have been building it into a logistics hub to support their offensive into the northern city. Other U.S. troops will go to Ain al Asad air base in western Iraq, where hundreds of U.S. personnel have been training Iraqi army forces. Carter, who spoke to reporters while traveling in New Mexico, declined to name other locations where the new U.S. forces will be based.


 Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte appeared to liken himself to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler on Friday and said he would "be happy" to exterminate 3 million drug users and peddlers in the country. Although the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama played down the remark, Duterte's comments triggered shock and anger among Jewish groups in the United States, which could create pressure on the U.S. government to take a tougher line with the Philippines leader. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told a news conference following a meeting Southeast Asian defense chiefs in Hawaii that he personally found Duterte's comments "deeply troubling", though the matter wasn't discussed at the meeting.

     State Department spokesman Mark Toner had earlier described Duterte's remarks, made in a rambling speech in Davao City, as "a significant departure" from America's partnership with the Philippines "and we find them troubling." Duterte told reporters that he had been "portrayed to be a cousin of Hitler" by critics. Noting that Hitler had murdered millions of Jews, Duterte said, "There are 3 million drug addicts (in the Philippines). I'd be happy to slaughter them. "If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have ...," he said, pausing and pointing to himself. "You know my victims. I would like (them) to be all criminals to finish the problem of my country and save the next generation from perdition."

    U.N. special adviser on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, expressed alarm and urged the Philippines leader to exercise restraint in his use of language, a U.N. statement said. Dieng also called on Duterte to support an investigation into the reported rise in killings resulting from his anti-drug campaign, the statement said. In August, Duterte threatened to withdraw the Philippines from the United Nations after it called for an end to the killings. In Washington, a State Department spokeswoman, Anna Richey-Allen, had repeated concerns about reports of extrajudicial killings but offered no response to Duterte's comment referring to Hitler. A White House official on Friday stuck to a strategy of stressing Washington's long-standing ties with Manila, saying, "We continue to focus on our broad relationship with the Philippines and will work together in the many areas of mutual interest."

October 1st., 2016

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO--  Mexico has joined five South American countries in expressing concern over the decision by electoral authorities in Venezuela to effectively delay a presidential recall vote until 2017. The foreign ministers of Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru and Paraguay signed an open letter criticizing the decision, which they said undermines the point of having a referendum in the first place.

     Venezuelan electoral officials said last week that while opponents of socialist President Nicolas Maduro can try to trigger the recall by collecting signatures from 20 percent of voters next month, any referendum would not be held until next year. The ruling all but assures the socialists will remain in power until the next regularly scheduled presidential election in 2018 because if Maduro is not recalled before the midpoint of his term, or Jan. 10, 2017, he would be replaced by his vice president. The decision has also drawn rebuke from U.S. officials.

     On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida urged President Barack Obama to sanction Tibisay Lucena, the head of Venezuela's electoral council, and two other officials for violating human rights of Venezuelans. The decision "has shown once again the regime's anti-democratic tactics," Rubio said. If Rubio's request to sanction Lucena, another electoral council member and former Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres should be approved, the three would be banned from traveling to the U.S. and any assets of theirs in the United States would be frozen.


On behalf of some thirty countries including Spain, Paraguayan Foreign Vice-Minister Oscar Cabello Sarubbi on Thursday requested the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to foster protection programs for food security in Venezuela, an initiative labeled as meddling attempts by Caracas. The minister, who traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, to deliver a speech at the Human Rights Council, additionally asked the High Commissioner to assess “a cooperation proposal” from the Holy See, which recently volunteered as a mediator in Venezuelan government-opposition talks.

     “We urge the Venezuelan government to embrace the Holy See’s willingness. We are convinced that timely and bona fide political talks will be the most efficient instrument to address urgent needs of the Venezuelan people, preserve peace and security,” he added. Last week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, lamented that Venezuela had denied access to experts in fundamental rights and liberties, despite serious claims of abuses, Efe cited.

     At the same time, the Ex Spanish Head of Government Felipe Gonzáles blasted the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, pointing to a breach in the rule of law, during a seminar held in Santiago de Chile. "A difficult situation is happening in Venezuela which cannot be compared with anything. It is not a dictatorship; it is an arbitrary tyranny that makes fun of its own legitimacy,” the socialist leader hurled, as quoted by Efe. “The (Venezuelan National) Assembly has passed 20 laws and 19 out of them have been nullified by the Constitutional Chamber (of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice), which was changed by the former Assembly,” he spelled out. "Maduro was left without votes and he is likely to be left without boots," González said, asserting that “Venezuela’s implosion will make an impact on all Latin America.”


Wilmer Ruperti, a rags-to-riches shipping magnate is fronting the legal fees for two of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s nephews who are facing jail time in the United States for allegedly conspiring to import 800 kilograms of cocaine into the U.S. Ruperti made a fortune in shipping thanks to close ties to Venezuela’s Chavista government, told the Wall Street Journal that he will be paying the legal bills of Efraín Antonio Campo Flores and Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas.

    The two nephews of Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores, were arrested by police in Haiti in November 2015 and transported to New York, where they have pleaded not guilty to the conspiracy charges. Ruperti believes the charges levelled against Maduro’s nephews are part of a plot by opposition politicians and the U.S. government to destabilize Venezuela. In the past few years, U.S. authorities have indicted or blacklisted more than half a dozen top Venezuelan officials for alleged drug trafficking ties. “It’s a giant conspiracy to help the opposition,” Ruperti said. “There’s an attempt to label Venezuela as a narco-state.”

    No proof has directly linked Maduro to the drug trade, but his two nephews reportedly told the Drug Enforcement Administration that they were acting in connection with Diosdado Cabello, the former speaker of the National Assembly and former Minister of the Interior Tareck el Aissami – both close allies of the president. While Ruperti claims he underwrote the legal fees for Maduro’s nephews out of patriotism, the shipping mogul continues to do business with the Venezuelan. He was recently awarded a multimillion-dollar contract from the state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA). Critics say Ruperti is doing Maduro – who is deeply unpopular as the country struggles with crippling economic and political turmoil – a favor by paying the bill.