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September  30, 2016

CARACAS, VENEZUELA--  U.S. State Secretary John Kerry could visit Venezuela “very soon” in the highest level official diplomatic visit since the Chavez era started in 1998. Special U.S. envoy Thomas Shannon will also be visiting, Maduro said Tuesday night during his weekly radio show. Kerry and Shannon met with Maduro Monday during the peace accord signings in Colombia. “Very soon under secretary Thomas Shannon together with other components members of that delegation will be in Venezuela. And I hope that also very soon we will have John Kerry in Venezuela,” said Maduro.

    Of the Kerry meet, the President said: “I asked him, ‘when are you visiting with us in Venezuela?' And he told me ‘if things go well, I will be going to Venezuela.’ And I told him, ‘you will be welcome in Venezuela, John Kerry. And that way we all should know that it is possible to move forward.'” Maduro also said that the meeting with the Secretary of State was “a pleasant, frank, respectful and diplomatic.” If and when Kerry comes, it will be the first time for the former Senator and U.S. Presidential candidate. Venezuela broke off ambassador-level relationships with the U.S. a decade ago.

     Venezuela's leaders refer derisively to the U.S. as “the empire” and accuse it of plotting to overthrow Maduro in cahoots with the local opposition, where U.S. oil companies have been chased out and US interests expropriated and even where a U.S. Mormon missionary awaits trial on trumped-up weapons charges. Shannon, on the other hand, has had a crash course on Venezuela since 2015: The envoy has visited the country four times in about a year, and also met with pro-Maduro lawmaker Diosdado Cabello in Haiti during that period. Maduro, a lifelong socialist who was publicly and repeatedly admitted to being a follower of Indian sage Sai Baba, offered his “Christian” credentials as evidence that he wants to turn things around between the U.S. and Venezuela.


          WASHINGTON, D.C. -
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s western hemisphere subcommittee, today urged President Obama to apply visa bans and financial asset freezes to several Venezuelan officials involved in human rights abuses.

     Rubio highlighted the ongoing humanitarian and economic crisis in Venezuela, called for the release of all political prisoners, and named three officials who should be sanctioned under the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act, a law Rubio spearheaded in 2014 and which was extended through 2019 earlier this year.‎ “Under Maduro’s mismanagement and corruption, 20 percent of the population reportedly now only eats one meal a day. Reported shortages of medicine, including vaccines, are frightening. Newborn deaths have also been reported in Anzoategui’s Razetti hospital because pregnant mothers are not receiving the proper nutrition to feed their babies,” ‎states Rubio's letter to President Obama.

      “I respectfully request that you demand that President Maduro and his government immediately release all political prisoners, including Leopoldo Lopez, schedule local elections as soon as possible, and take concrete steps to allow the elected members of the National Assembly to carry out their work,” Rubio continued. “The law mandates the imposition of sanctions against individuals who have committed significant acts of violence or human rights abuses,” added Rubio. “It is imperative that more corrupt individuals who have violated human rights, such as Tibisay Lucena Ramirez, President of the National Electoral Council, Vice-President Sandra Oblitas Ruzza, and Former Minister of Interior and Justice Miguel Rodriguez Torres are sanctioned under this law.” Democracy requires respect for human rights.


Pollster Venebarómetro informed that 67.8% of Venezuelans would remove President Nicolás Maduro in the event of referendum this year. A survey conducted by pollster firm Venebarómetro and released Wednesday found that 67.8% of Venezuelans would vote against President Nicolás Maduro in a potential recall vote. The poll, which was administered to 1,200 people in August 26-September 4, concluded that Maduro would be widely defeated. A total of 67.8 % maintained they would back the referendum against the president’s government, while only 23.5% would support his continuing in power, AFP reported.  As much as 8.8% of the interviewees abstained from responding.

     In February 2015, the number of people that would have voted for Maduro stood at 59.5% in surveys. For 76.4% of respondents, the president’s administration is negative; out of that percentage, 50.5% termed it terrible. Maduro’s popularity has waned in the middle of a serious crisis in Venezuela related to lack of foreign currency, a scourge that derives from declining crude oil prices. Venezuelans are facing 80% of food and medicine shortages, according to private estimates, and the highest inflation rate in the world, estimated at 720% by the International Monetary Fund for 2016.

    The poll showed that 90.9% of respondents described as regular, bad, and very bad the country’s situation, a figure that hit 73.3% in November 2015. The opposition alliance Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) is pushing for recall vote this year. However, the National Electoral Council (CNE) dismissed that possibility last week when announcing that the referendum would take place in February or March 2017 should relevant requirements be met. According to Venebarómetro’s survey, carried out before CNE remarks, 60.7% of respondents viewed the election in 2016 as likely. Whereas 54.7% voiced willingness to participate in the collection of 4,000,000 signatures (20% of the electorate) to activate the recall vote, 11.8% said they would perhaps do it. The poll has a margin of error of 2.37%, with a 90% confidence level.

September  29, 2016

CARACAS, VENEZUELA--  Venezuela's opposition coalition called for the Vatican to join an international mediation effort with the government, but said it would not back down on a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro. An effort by former leaders of Spain, Panama and the Dominican Republic to launch dialogue "needs to be broadened," the MUD coalition said in a statement, released on Thursday. "We consider the participation of a representative of the Holy See to be fundamental," alongside that of former Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and former presidents Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic and Martín Torrijos of Panama, it said.

     If a Vatican official were included, and the recall vote against Maduro guaranteed, MUD said it was ready to enter discussions next Tuesday.The Venezuelan president, however, has demanded the talks take place "without conditions." His government has also launched hundreds of complaints over signatures gathered to hold the referendum aimed at ousting him. Venezuela is suffering a deep recession driven by falling prices for its oil exports. The crisis has prompted food shortages and deadly looting. The opposition blames the socialist president's economic mismanagement.

      Maduro meanwhile regularly accuses business elites of waging an "economic war" against him by hoarding supplies to aggravate the crisis. Archbishop Diego Padron, chairing an annual conference of Venezuelan bishops, said he was willing to help with the mediation bid. However he also said Maduro "lacked moral authority to call for dialogue and for peace" because of the government's inability to provide food and medicine for the country's population. In a sign of Maduro's concern at mounting social unrest, the president on Thursday replaced the head of the National Guard, even as he confirmed his defense minister, Vladimir Padrino Lopez, in his post.


          WASHINGTON, D.C. --
President Obama nominated Jeffrey DeLaurentis Tuesday to serve as the first U.S. ambassador to Cuba in more than 50 years. DeLaurentis has already been serving as the senior U.S. diplomat in Havana while Obama worked on restoring relations with the Communist island. Technically, he already has the rank of ambassador, but the post must still be confirmed by the Senate.

     “Jeff’s leadership has been vital throughout the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, and the appointment of an ambassador is a common sense step forward toward a more normal and productive relationship between our two countries,” Obama said. “There is no public servant better suited to improve our ability to engage the Cuban people and advance U.S. interests in Cuba than Jeff.”

     The decision will undoubtedly face strong opposition from a Republican-controlled Senate. Cuban-American Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas have been very vocal in their criticism of opening relations with Cuba, arguing the country and its leader have done nothing to earn American engagement. Both senators have stated they would block any ambassador appointed by Obama. “A U.S. ambassador is not going to influence the Cuban government, which is a dictatorial, closed regime,” Rubio said during a phone interview with Politico in July


A long-awaited investigation by international prosecutors has found that Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over east Ukraine two years ago using a missile brought from Russia and fired by Russian-backed rebels. All 298 aboard the plane were killed. During a presentation today in the Dutch city of Nieuwegein, an international Joint Investigation Team (JIT) led by Dutch prosecutors, said it had concluded “without any doubt” that the flight was struck by an anti-aircraft missile fired by pro-Russian rebels and that it had established the missile’s route from Russia to the launch the site.

    "Based on the criminal investigation, we can conclude that flight MH17 was shot down on July 17, 2014, by a BUK missile brought from the territory of the Russian Federation and that after it was launched, the system returned to Russia,” Wilbert Paulissen, a Dutch investigator, told a news conference. The JIT consists of representatives from Malaysia, Ukraine, Australia, Belgium and the Netherlands, which had the largest number of citizens aboard the flight. The investigators did not accuse Russia of supplying the missile, saying that the next stage of its investigation would now focus on firmly establishing suspects and bringing criminal charges against them. However, the JIT said it had already identified 100 individuals connected with the shooting and was now working to establish levels of involvement.

    The investigation provided the most comprehensive case yet that the missile was fired by rebels and appeared to rule out many other scenarios, mostly put forward by Russia, that Ukrainian government forces were to blame for disaster.
Ahead of its release, Russia has sought to discredit the Dutch investigation, and on Monday its military released what it claimed was radar images showing the missile could not have been fired by the rebels. Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, reiterated the claim just an hour before the JIT delivered its findings, saying the facts were “undeniable." The investigation will now seek to build a criminal case against those responsible for firing the missile. The investigators issued a call for witnesses, saying the investigation was working to establish the chain of command that led to the missile's firing.

September  28, 2016

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA--  'We're very, very concerned for the people of Venezuela, for the level of conflict, starvation, lack of medicine, Kerry said. Kerry has expressed concerns over the current political and economic turmoil in Venezuela as he met the OPEC nation's President Nicolas Maduro on Monday It was the first official meeting between the two since Kerry took charge. They met in Cartagena in Colombia, on the sidelines of a ceremony held for the signing of a peace agreement between Colombia and FARC rebels to end that country's civil war. US Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed concerns over the current political and economic turmoil in Venezuela as he met the Opec nation's President Nicolas Maduro on Monday.

     It was the first official meeting between the two since Kerry took charge. They met in Cartagena in Colombia, on the sidelines of a ceremony held for the signing of a peace agreement between Colombia and Farc rebels to end that country's civil war. Kerry said he was extremely worried about tensions in Caracas as Maduro's recall referendum is reported to be getting delayed. John Kirby, US State Department's spokesman said during his weekly briefing that Kerry highlighted how millions of Venezuelans were affected because of the country's political and economic challenges. He urged Maduro to "work constructively with opposition leaders to address these challenges", Kirby said.

     "Everybody knows we're working toward this recall. It's been delayed. That is problematic," Reuters quoted Kerry as saying. "And we need to find a way forward that can provide a consensus that provides relief to a nation under siege. "We're not looking for conflict. We're looking for a solution here that works for the people of Venezuela writ broadly," Kerry added. Maduro's opponents have been demanding a recall vote to determine whether Venezuelans want to cut short the president's term before it expires in 2019. He has been blamed for the chaos in the country, which is facing over 700% inflation leading to severe shortages of food and medical supplies.


          MOSCOW, RUSIA--
Russia has offered Cuba 55 bilateral cooperation projects with a total value of about $4 billion, Russia’s Deputy Minister of Economics Nikolai Podguzov told TASS on Monday after a meeting of the working group for trade and economic cooperation and priority projects of the Russian-Cuban Intergovernmental commission for trade and economic, scientific and technical cooperation, which was held in Cuba’s capital of Havana. "Given the change in the commodity market climate, we need to find new drivers for economic growth and reduce our dependence on commodities exports," the Russian deputy minister stated.

     Taking into consideration "the establishment of a new economic agenda in Russia" he believes that Russian and Cuban economics complement each other. "We are offering Cuba indispensable industrial equipment, infrastructure development options that can build a good foundation for economic growth on the island state," Podguzov noted. He added that "these are important projects for the development of Russia’s economy as well." That is why, in his words, "both sides have been taking a pragmatic approach towards these projects that can help Russian-Cuban relations reach a new level." "In the first nine months of the current year, there was significant growth in trade turnover following a clear-cut decline, and the implementation of these priority projects could help strengthen this positive trend," the deputy minister said.

     "The key issue for all these projects is securing their financing," Podguov said. According to him, most often funding is provided through Russian bank loans under the safeguards of Russia’s Agency for Export Credit and Investment Insurance products (EXIAR). In Podguzov’s opinion, "the options for assurances need to be defined together with EXIAR so that Russian banks can provide loans for purchasing goods and thus clinching these deals." He also said that "the range of projects that EXIAR will support is rather wide." Russia’s deputy minister expects that these projects will soon get underway with EXIAR’s help which will improve the situation in selected Cuban industries.


Colombia’s former president Alvaro Uribe explicitly refused to meet with the FARC leader “Timochenko” to discuss his opposition to the ongoing peace talks in Havana. During his time as President of Colombia between 2002-2010, Uribe took a hard-line stance against FARC rebels and restored a semblance of order to the country at a major human cost. Uribe has opposed the peace talks formalized by his successor, Juan Manuel Santos, in his position as a senator and enjoys significant popular support.

    Timochenko had sent two very politely worded letters to Uribe asking him to meet and discuss the peace talks and the former president’s opposition to them. “President Uribe, we are ready to speak calmly with you about the future of our nation. In Havana, or in whatever place in Colombia you prefer… Let’s discuss your call for national resistance to peace. While Colombia’s FARC guerrillas invite Uribe to reconcile, Santos hurls accusations. Former Minister Alvaro Leyva (Conservative Party) also lent his support to the idea on Tuesday, saying that “a peace without Uribe is an incomplete peace.”

     However, after initially ignoring Timochenko’s letters, Uribe made it clear he has no intention of meeting Timochenko. “The government is qualified to take part in the negotiations. From my position as a simple citizen with the responsibilities of a senator, I have made some observations and I have made them known to the government and to those who are talking with FARC” The former president said his objections to the peace talks could be transmitted by the negotiators or by the international delegates taking part. He added that he had voiced his concerns about the peace agreement through the appropriate channels, but claimed none of his proposals had been incorporated in made deals between the government and the guerrillas.

September  27, 2016

CARACAS, VENEZUELA--  Venezuelan opposition alliance Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) on Monday promised to meet most conditions imposed on September 22 by the National Electoral Council (CNE) in relation to the collection of 20% of the electorate’s signatures so as to activate a recall vote against the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Based on a document titled “The people will force the government to observe the Constitution,” the alliance’s executive secretary Jesús Torrealba clarified that they would abide by the Constitution only: the collection of signatures of registered voters representing at least 20% of the Venezuelan electorate. Additionally, Torrealba warned that should the government fail to comply with the Constitution they would take to the streets and stage peaceful demonstrations.

    In that sense, the political leader convened a rally nationwide next Wednesday, October 12. “We will make them know that they are not set to impose the rules, but they (the rules) are contained in the Constitution,” he added. Spokespersons of 64 NGO’s disclosed some actions that would be announced on Monday by the opposition umbrella group Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) during a rally east Caracas. Such actions include the establishment of a civil group to reinforce the opposition alliance and encourage Venezuelans to take part in the recall vote against the term in office of President Nicolás Maduro and overcome the obstacles imposed by the National Electoral Council (CNE) in that connection.

     Journalist Francisco “Kico” Bautista; Ana Rosario Contreras, from Nursing Association of the Capital District; and Pedro Arturo Moreno, the executive secretary of the Confederation of Workers of Venezuela (CTV), claimed they delivered a document signed by 31 of the 64 NGO’s. During the weekend, all of them discussed some proposals to be announced Monday by MUD. In the debate, all attendees agreed to call to electoral uprising, yet not in terms of insurrection or confrontation, but in the exercise of civic participation including meetings, assemblies, mock referendums for collecting signatures, Bautista explained during a press conference.


A final peace agreement between Colombia’s government and a national guerrilla movement was signed Monday, bringing to an end the longest-running insurgency in the Western hemisphere and the last full-blown one inspired originally by Cuban and Soviet ideology against democratic institutions in the Americas. The conflict between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, whose funding was primarily derived from the country’s illicit cocaine industry, is blamed for displacing millions of people and leaving more than 250,000 dead.

    The front page of Monday’s El Tiempo newspaper put it more precisely: "La paz luego de 267,162 muertos". (Peace after 267,162 dead). Numerous heads of state and foreign ministers, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, attend the signing ceremony at the convention center in Cartagena. Kerry told reporters Monday in the Caribbean port city, founded in the 16th century, that depending on the implementation of the peace pact, the United States could remove the FARC from its terrorism list.“The announcement is an idea,” Kerry said. “The implementation are facts so let’s see how it proceeds but we clearly are prepared to review and make judgments about that as the facts come in.”

    FARC has also agreed to cooperate with de-mining. Colombia has the second highest number of land mines in the world after Afghanistan. The United States is taking some of the credit for bringing about the peace pact, which diplomats in Washington describe as a transformational event for Colombia and the region and one that President Barack Obama has described as one of the most important achievements during his presidency. Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, who has staked his reputation on ending the war, had asked the United States to increase its engagement in the four year negotiating process, which mostly took place in Cuba, and a special envoy, Bernard Aronson, was named who participated in the talks.


Accord reached between government and FARC was signed today, but still has to pass test of the people. After four years of peace negotiations, on Monday Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos signed an accord and then shook hands with Rodrigo Londoño, the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), ending half-a-century of conflict with the leftist guerrilla force. Present at the ceremony in the Caribbean resort of Cartagena de Indias were 13 heads of state, some 30 foreign ministers, and more than 2,500 dignitaries.

     But while the leaders of the two sides are in agreement about ushering in a new era of peace, the conflict in this South American country will not truly be over until the Colombian people validate the accords in a referendum that will take place on October 2, in a week’s time. The government and the FARC hope the ceremony will boost support in the referendum Opinion polls currently suggest that the electorate will vote Yes and approve the peace deal. But given that in recent weeks the polls have swung in both directions, and given the their fallibility in the case of the UK’s Brexit vote, an air of uncertainty hangs over the plebiscite as voting day approaches.

     When the referendum was called, most people rejected a deal with the FARC; but when the peace accords with the guerillas was announced at the end of August after talks in Havana under the auspices of the Cuban government, support shifted significantly, with some polls putting the Yes camp 30 points ahead of its opponents. Over the last week, that lead has slowly eroded: the latest poll, by Opinómetro de Datexco, shows 55.3% in favor, with 38% against and 4.3% still undecided. Despite the nervousness within the government and the FARC, some on the respective negotiating teams argue that media coverage of the narrowing gap between supporters and opponents of the deal will mobilize the still undecided to see the importance of a formal deal to end decades of violence and for the FARC to join mainstream politics.

September  26, 2016

CARACAS, VENEZUELA--  In response to Kerry, Rodriguez said that Venezuela is a free and independent country and added, “the times in which the U.S. dictated norms to Venezuela are over, thanks to the anti-imperialist actions of the Venezuelan people.” Instead, relations between Venezuela and the U.S. should be based on mutual respect and international norms, the foreign minister said. Kerry’s claims about political prisoners refers to politicians arrested not for their political views but their orchestration of a wave of violence that led to the deaths of 43 Venezuelans in 2014.

    Venezuela and the U.S. currently have not had ambassadors in each other’s countries since 2010, when Venezuela refused to admit the newly appointed U.S. ambassador because of negative comments he made about Venezuela’s military during his Senate confirmation hearing. The U.S. subsequently expelled Venezuela’s ambassador, Bernardo Alvarez.

     Ever since there have been negotiations on and off between the two countries about the exchange of ambassadors. The most recent effort was torpedoed by President Obama’s issuing of an executive order that declared Venezuela an “extraordinary and unusual threat” to U.S. national security and imposed sanctions on several Venezuelan government officials. Since then, new negotiations have taken place on the initiative of President Maduro, according to State Department advisor Thomas Shannon.


The price Venezuela receives for its mix of medium and heavy oil fell for the fourth week in a row. According to figures released by the Venezuela Ministry of Petroleum and Mining, the average price of Venezuelan crude sold by Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) during the week ending September 23 was $37.58, down 94 cents from the previous week's $38.52. WTI in New York averaged $44.41 -- down 50 cents -- for the week, while Brent crude traded in London averaged $46.42 -- down 75 cents from the previous week.

     According to the US Department of Energy, Venezuela was the fourth-largest supplier of imported crude oil and petroleum products to the United States behind Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico. U.S. imports from Venezuela have been on an overall decline in recent years. In the month of October 2015, the United States imported an average of 802,000 barrels per day of crude oil and petroleum products from Venezuela, a decline of 49% from a decade ago. A Venezuela sends a large share of its oil exports to the United States because of the proximity and the operation of sophisticated U.S. Gulf Coast refineries specifically designed to handle heavy Venezuelan crude.

    While U.S. imports of primarily crude oil from Venezuela have been on the decline, U.S. exports of petroleum products to Venezuela have increased largely because of Venezuela’s tight finances that leave it unable to invest and maintain its own domestic refineries. In January, Venezuela became the first Latin American -- and OPEC member -- country to purchase U.S. oil since the U.S. export ban was lifted by Congress in December. According to Reuters correspondent Marianna Parraga, Venezuela's state-run oil company PDVSA imported a 550,000-barrel cargo of WTI crude on January 28.


While holding that PDVSA's proposed swap might be a credit positive event for Venezuela as it puts off up to $7.1 billion in one year debt maturities, international ratings agency Moody's also concludes that the swap as presently proposed meets their definition of default. "Upon closing, however, and depending on the transaction’s final terms and conditions, the actual exchange could be characterized as a distressed exchange and thus a default under our definition of default.

     This is the case because PDVSA has limited access to external financing and the exchange could help the company avoid a potential payment default," writes Moody's analyst Nymia C. Almeida. "Holders of existing bonds would get security in return for accepting to exchange for new notes. However, there would be a loss relative to the original promise because holders would not be paid in full at the original maturity date." Rating's agency Standard and Poor's also reached a similar conclusion of default and lowered their rating on PDVSA to CC. Fitch concluded that the Citgo collateral did not improve the rating on the new potential PDVSA bond, but put Citgo on negative watch.

    "PDVSA's refinancing risk is high, which, combined with the lack of visibility regarding the company's investing and comprehensive refinancing plans, exacerbates its probability of default or further debt restructuring in the next twelve to eighteen months," Moody's Almeida concluded. Almeida also covers Mexico state oil company Pemex (Baa3) and Brazil state oil company Petrobras (B3), as well as Argentina's renationalized oil company YPF (B3), all of which are rated higher than Venezuela state oil company PDVSA (Caa3).

September  25, 2016

CARACAS, VENEZUELA-- Venezuelans who are committed to the change in Venezuela know that the President of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Tibisay Lucena, together with the government and its allies, have taken action to delay the call for a referendum process against Maduro. To begin, if in the activation process referendum it was necessary to gather the signatures of 1% of the population, then these signatures should be validated and verified by the electoral body (CNE).

     More than half of the signatures collected were discarded due to, in the words of the CNE, “fraud”, and some of these allegations included signatures of political leaders who were filmed signing. To start validations of these firms, the CNE apparently had flaws in their databases that changed voters home addresses, which resulted in many voters having to travel between states to validate their signatures. Conveniently, the government decided to make massive construction throughout the country, which hindered much the transportation of these voters.

     The CNE had a lapse of three consecutive days for the verification of these validated signatures, as stipulated in the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela. This three-day period expired more than a month ago and still the CNE had been silent about it. Moreover, some people reported on social networks that were called by the CNE to their CANTV phones (the operator CANTV is a government company) to survey them, asking them questions about the government and the current socioeconomic situation. When the participants responded with dissatisfaction about the government, or mentioned the crisis that exists in Venezuela negatively, they cut the call. Shortly after being contacted, individuals would look on the CNE page and find that they were not on the voter list.


In a long anticipated announcement, the National Electoral Council (CNE) presented its roadmap to a presidential recall referendum. Opposition groups staged nationwide protests last week calling for the release of the roadmap, though the final outcome fell short of what they were demanding. According to the CNE, the vote will not be possible until “halfway through the first quarter of 2017” at the earliest. The move immediately sparked condemnation from opposition leaders. In a statement calling for fresh protests, the largest opposition coalition, the MUD, labelled the CNE’s roadmap a “violation of the constitution”.

     “We reject this unconstitutional act, and warn the public there will be massive, energetic, nationwide protests in defence of the constitution,” they said in a statement. Since the start of the year, the opposition has been demanding a recall referendum that could force President Nicolas Maduro from office before he begins the final two years of his term on January 10. If a referendum is held before that date and the opposition garners more votes than Maduro won in 2013, new presidential elections will be held. However, if the president loses a referendum after that date, he’ll simply be replaced by his vice president.

    Under the CNE’s latest roadmap, a recall referendum before the January 10 cut off point might now be impossible. Yet this is not the only detail of the roadmap that has frustrated the opposition. According to the CNE, the opposition will be required to collected signatures from 20 percent of the national electorate between October 26 and October 28. This figure accounts for roughly 4 million Venezuelans. If they are successful, the signatures will be reviewed by CNE officials the following month. However, the CNE also tacked on an additional requirement that the 20 percent of signatures be collected from each state. A state by state percentage count would likely force the MUD to collect significantly more signatures, particularly outside their own electoral strongholds.


National Electoral Council (CNE), which answers to the government of President Nicolás Maduro, announced on Thursday that there will be no recall referendum until February 2017, thus preventing any possibility of the country’s opposition taking power until the next elections are due, in 2019. The recall referendum provides a mechanism to remove President Maduro, who took over from Hugo Chávez after his death in March 2013, and is the equivalent of a popular no-confidence vote. Opinion polls suggest the vote would support Maduro’s removal from office.

      The opposition, which has organized the recall referendum, wanted the vote to take place before January 10, 2017. Under Venezuela’s Constitution, this would have meant fresh elections if Maduro were to lose the plebiscite. Shortages of food and medical supplies prompted nationwide riots earlier this year. Now that the vote will take place after that date, a successful recall simply means that the vice-president, Aristóbulo Isturiz, would take Maduro’s place and serve out the remaining two years of his mandate. Venezuela’s opposition has reacted angrily to the news. The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) has announced it will meet in permanent session to convene a response. “The government is not sending out a message of strength. On the contrary, it is on the point of falling apart, and has no support, either in the polls or on the street,” said Jesús Torrealba, MUD’s secretary general.

    The CNE has also imposed strict limits on how the opposition can gather the 20% of votes (around four million) from the electoral register of each of Venezuela’s states, which is the second stage of activating the recall referendum. It has ruled that this process must take place between October 26 and October 28, between the hours of 8am and 12pm and again between 1pm and 4pm, with just 5,392 identity verification machines distributed at 1,356 polling stations. “Sadly, we will once again see people having to spend hours lining up, as we did when we collected the 1% of signatures to activate the first stage of the recall referendum,” said Luis Emilio Rondón, the only member of the opposition who sits on the CNE. The recall referendum is the equivalent of a popular no-confidence vote in Maduro

September  24, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C.-- -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. 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.


Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski says he has asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to help create a group of countries to support Venezuela amid a political and economic crisis that many fear will end up in bloodshed. “I spoke with Secretary Kerry about this yesterday, about establishing a group, because there will come a day when there's an overnight collapse, when there's blood in the streets, and no one will be ready,” Kuczynski said. He made the comment during a dialogue Thursday with Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald columnist Andrés Oppenheimer, held at the University of Miami as part of the Americas Conference series organized by the two newspapers.

    Kuczynski, who is on an official visit to the United States, added that a Venezuela support group should include Brazil. “I told Kerry that this can't be done if it doesn't include Brazil, which is the biggest country in South America. It has to be part of this,” Kuczynski said during the event, attended by about 200 people. “If there's support from Brazil, we could do something important.” Kuczynski also referred to the Venezuela crisis during his speech Tuesday to the U.N. General Assembly, saying that a domestic dialogue is required in that country to resolve its deep political and social rifts as well as its shortages of food and medicine.

    Kuczynski also said the Pacific Alliance — made up of Chile, Colombia, México and Perú — has achieved some “fundamentally political” advances. But he added that its members are developing countries that still must become modern nations. “In the last 100 years, we have kept our places, but have not excelled,” Kuczynski said. “Now we have to make the big leap forward. That will be much more difficult in 30 years, because by then we will have a much older demographic profile.” Many countries in the region have very young populations, he added, which makes it easier to make a needed leap forward.


Following meetings with political organizations making up the opposition political forces in Venezuela, the executive secretary of anti-government alliance Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) Jesús Torrealba reaffirmed that a recall vote against President Nicolás Maduro would take place in 2016. “What comes now is fight, citizens’ battle and civic courage to hold the recall vote” against the mandate of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, stressed Torrealba.

     The Venezuelan opposition alliance Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) informed that next Monday it would stage a nationwide activity to announce final actions to change the government of President Nicolás Maduro, following conditions recently announced by the National Electoral Council concerning a recall vote against Maduro’s term in office. The MUD executive secretary Jesús Torrealba deplored remarks made by Jorge Rodríguez, the mayor of Libertador municipality of Caracas, who claimed the referendum might not be held in 2017 because of a fraud in the signature collection.

     Torrealba further highlighted that political parties comprising the alliance met to exchange ideas and reach consensus. In that sense, they are to meet with social and institutional stockholders, and MUD representatives nationwide during the weekend to ultimately announce next Monday “the final route, the critical path of the Venezuelan people.” “The Electoral Power did not dare to deliver a press conference or to issue an official communiqué. Last night (Wednesday), the government admitted defeat,” the political leader underscored.

September  23, 2016

CARACAS, VENEZUELA --The opposition alliance Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) spoke out with regard to an announcement made by the National Electoral Council (CNE) about the activation of a recall vote to cut the term in office of President Nicolás Maduro Secretary Executive of anti-government alliance Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) Jesús Torrealba on Wednesday said the opposition would continue requesting relevant authorities to hold a recall vote against President Nicolás Maduro this year.

     His remarks came despite announcements made by the National Electoral Council (CNE) with regard to the recall vote, a move he has called a “lack of constitutionality.” “The Venezuelan people will defeat you (the government) with faith, signatures, votes, for the decision to change will not be thwarted by anyone,” Torrealba said. The MUD representative claimed that the alliance is holding regular meetings to define future actions over the Electoral Power’s announcements, and added that nationals would be briefed on relevant measures in the “next hours.”

    He termed “unconstitutional” the method (a press release) the CNE used to report on the date to gather 20% of signatures to set in motion the recall vote. “It is a shame. Venezuela has been waiting for CNE’ remarks that, in their words, were to be made on Tuesday (September) 13, then (on Friday) 16. Today is Wednesday (September 21) and they dare not face the people,” Torrealba stressed. For his part, Congress Speaker Henry Ramos Allup termed “inadmissible” the requirements set by the electoral authority. “If they think they will break the Venezuelans’ will to oust the worst president in the country’s history, they will not get away with it,” Ramos Allup told Colombia-based TV news channel NTN24.


Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski made clear he respects the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other States adding, however, that such norm cannot be against the international defense of democracy and human rights. During the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski highlighted his government commitment to democracy and human rights, thus calling the attention of the ongoing crisis in Venezuela.

     The Peruvian leader made it clear that although he observes the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other States, he added such norm “cannot or should not counter international defense of democracy and human rights.” “For me, it is a must to express our concern for the very critical political, economic and social situation that Venezuela is experiencing,” Kuczynski noted. He maintained that full effect of democracy “requires absolute respect for human rights and fundamental liberties, as well as due process; it also requires full assurances of the respect for the separation of powers and checks and balances.”

     However, “this situation has been impacted in Venezuela by the extreme violence, social and political confrontation (…) and by a severe shortage of both food and medicines,” the president stressed. For such reason, the Peruvian Head of State called for “an internal political dialogue to be initiated as soon as possible, without any conditions or restrictions in a context of full respect of the Constitution.” “Peru is available and quite willing to undertake all necessary efforts that may assist our Venezuelans friends to bring about a solution to their problems,” he concluded.


     BRASILIA, BRAZIL  --  --
Brazil's former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva must stand trial for corruption, a judge ruled Tuesday, after prosecutors accused the popular leftist of masterminding the large-scale plundering of state oil company Petrobras. The crusading judge behind the Petrobras investigation, Sergio Moro, accepted charges filed last week by prosecutors investigating Lula -- making him the highest-profile figure to face trial in a case that has taken down some of the country's most powerful business executives and politicians.

     "Given that there is sufficient evidence of (Lula's) responsibility... I accept the charges," Moro said in his decision. The charges allege that Lula, 70, received the equivalent of 3.7 million reais ($1.1 million) in bribes. Among the accusations are charges that the former union leader and his wife received a beachside apartment and upgrades to the property from a major construction company, OAS, which was one of the players in the Petrobras scheme. More broadly, prosecutors last week singled out Lula -- who was president during much of the time that Petrobras was being fleeced of billions of dollars -- as the scheme's "supreme commander."

     "I am sad because I just learned (Judge) Moro accepted the charge lodged, even though it is all a farce, a huge lie," the ex-president said from Brazil by videoconference to New York where his lawyers held a solidarity event for him. Lula, who presided over an economic boom from 2003 to 2011, will now go head to head with Moro for the first time. The crusading judge's anti-graft investigation, known as Operation Car Wash, has had explosive consequences in Brazil. It may now thwart Lula's hopes of a political comeback in the 2018 presidential election. It already played a part in ousting the leftist Workers' Party, which he co-founded.

September  22, 2016

UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK --The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro underscored that “denying, putting off or hindering” a recall vote “in any way is abuse of power and blatant impairment of the democratic system.” The political, social and economic crisis in Venezuela “has worsened” over the past months, stressed the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro during the Concordia Summit held this week in New York.

    Almagro added that Venezuela’s “democratic system is blocked, does not work; there are more political prisoners; the recall vote is delayed, and people are staging more protests as doors close.” The OAS top representative deemed it necessary to leave the crisis solution in the people’s hands, a move including a recall vote against the government of President Nicolás Maduro. “The (Venezuelan) government must stop ignoring (its people) and view the recall vote as a political solution. It is necessary to give the people their voices back so they can decide. Following a procedure set forth in the Constitution is not a coup d’état.

    Rather, denying, putting off or hampering this initiative in any way means abuse of power and patent impairment of the democratic system,” Almagro said during his speech. The diplomat claimed he has reiterated that “a government’s legitimacy needs people’s trust,” and recalled that back in 1999 late President Hugo Chávez regarded the recall vote as an option to ensure “participatory and leading democracy.” Almagro clarified that he “is against any sort of coup d’état in Venezuela.” “The solution to this crisis must be in the people’s hands; for this reason, we demand the holding of the recall vote in 2016,” he concluded.


The youngest victims of an economic disaster: Babies are left in cardboard boxes at cash-strapped hospital in Venezuela as the country spirals into financial abyss. The economic crisis in Venezuela is now so bad that doctors are using cardboard boxes instead of incubators to keep newborn babies. The photos of tiny sleeping children have caused outrage after they were posted online, and have shone a light on the desperate situation in the country.

     The shocking images, believed to have been taken by a medic in the northeastern state of Barcelona, show young babies in cardboard boxes instead of incubators. It is understood the images were taken by medical staff who wanted to remain anonymous. Experts say hospitals in the cash-strapped country, which is suffering from a shortage of food and fuel, are being starved of resources.  Douglas Leon, president of the Venezuelan Medical Federation (FMV), claimed some hospitals are working with just five percent of the medical equipment that they need.

    Some hospitals in Venezuela are working with just five per cent of the medical equipment they need, it has been claimed According to the Pharmaceutical Federation, the shortage of medicines is more than 80 percent and around 13,000 doctors, more than 20 percent of the medical staff in the country, have emigrated in the last four years because of the crisis in their sector and because of low salaries. The country's director of social security, Carlos Rotondaro, reacted angrily to the images, writing on Twitter: 'We do not justify the actions taken by a professional without the authorization of the management.' In June, a group of medical professionals went to the National Parliament in order to talk about the shortage of medicine in the country.


     WASHINGTON, D.C.  --  --
The United States blamed Russia on Monday for the attack on an humanitarian aid convoy in Syria and called on Moscow to demonstrate “quickly and in a significant way” that Russia is still committed to the U.S.-Russia ceasefire agreement in Syria. The U.S. government is certain that the attack was a “bombing” executed either by the Russians or the Syrian regime, which “raises very serious questions about whether the Russians can deliver their end of the arrangement,” a senior U.S. official told reporters.

     The source, who asked to remain anonymous, also added that the U.S. has evidence that the aid convoy was hit by an air strike. However, it was unclear whether the bombing was by the Russians or Syrian government but, in any case, the Russians have a responsibility not to carry out such attacks and prevent the Syrian government from launching them. “Our feeling is that what happened today has taken a heavy blow to our efforts to achieve peace in Syria,” the same U.S. official said.

     The UN also confirmed on Monday that there was an attack on a humanitarian convoy in the Urum al Kubra area, in western Aleppo, but said that the number of victims or those responsible for the attack are not yet confirmed. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the bomb killed at least 12 people, most of them aid truck drivers and one Syrian Red Crescent employee. The United States and Russia agreed on the terms of a ceasefire in Syria on Sept. 9, which then came into effect a week ago, and also agreed that if the ceasefire lasted for seven days, the U.S. and Russia would carry out joint air strikes against Islamic State and Nusra front fighters. However, after multiple ceasefire violations, Syria’s military on Monday declared an end to the week-long truce agreed by the U.S. and Russia.

September  21, 2016

UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK --President Mauricio Macri denied his government has softened its position on Venezuela yesterday, branding the country a “disaster” in an interview and that he “can’t understand” those there who “say they are practicing democracy. Speaking to British newspaper The Financial Times about his desire to rebalance the Argentine economy, Macri said the previous administration of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was “taking Argentina toward the same kind of problems that Venezuela is facing now,” referring to the food and medicine shortages and triple-digit inflation laying waste to Venezuela’s economy.

     “It’s a disaster,” the president said as he put the blame for the country’s economic crisis squarely on its institutional problems. “I can not understand how some people can say that in Venezuela democracy is practiced. That is not democracy,” Macri stated, adding that he continues to “fight” for a recall referendum to end the mandate of President Nicolás Maduro and well as for the “freedom of political prisoners” in the country.

    At the same time, Venezuelan opposition leader and governor of Miranda, Henrique Capriles, yesterday declared a food emergency in his state because, he said, the government’s economic policies have been “ill-advised.” “We are in an emergency ... it’s a horrific situation,” Capriles said in a press conference yesterday, where the governor presented journalists with the results of a study showing that 17.2 percent of respondents source their meals from “food waste discarded by commercial establishments,” while another 10.7 percent rely on the delivery of “CLAP bags,” food parcels distributed by the government. “What we have in Venezuela is the problem of lack of food, there is not enough food for the number of people who are in the country and this is solved by producing,” Capriles said.


Brazil's new president Michel Temer told the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday that the impeachment of his predecessor Dilma Rousseff was conducted with "absolute respect" for the country's Constitution and that confidence was returning to the economy. Temer, sworn in last month after the dismissal of Rousseff by Congress, said his task now was to restore economic growth and create work for millions of Brazilians who have lost their jobs in the worst recession since the 1930s. His U.N. appearance was part of his effort to restore confidence and attract investment.

     Rousseff's impeachment was carried out within the rules set by Congress and the Supreme Court, he said. "The process took place in absolute respect to the constitutional order." Late last month Brazil's Senate convicted Rousseff, the country's first woman president, of breaking budget rules, marking the end of 13 years of leftist Workers Party rule. Then vice president, Temer will serve out her term, which ends in 2018. Brazil's Senate has voted to remove President Dilma Rousseff from office for manipulating the budget. It puts an end to the 13 years in power of her left-wing Workers' Party. Ms Rousseff had denied the charges.

    Sixty-one senators voted in favour of her dismissal and 20 against, meeting the two-thirds majority needed to remove her from the presidency. Michel Temer has been sworn in as president and will serve out Ms Rousseff's term until 1 January 2019. The centre-right PMDB party politician had been serving as acting president during the impeachment proceedings. During his first cabinet meeting since the vote, Mr Temer said his inauguration marked a "new era". Temer is known as a quiet, calculating political deal maker unencumbered by ideology. He honed his craft over several years in Brazil's bare-knuckle lower house of Congress, where he was an ally to both centrist President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and leftist leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.


     HAVANA, CUBA  --  --
The President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Hassan Rouhani begins an official visit to Cuba on Monday. During his stay, the Iranian leader is scheduled to hold talks with President Raúl Castro. Rouhani arrived in Cuba from Venezuela, where he participated in the 17th Summit of Heads of States and Government of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). At the Non-Aligned Summit, Rouhani handed over the rotating presidency of the bloc –the world's second largest grouping after the United Nations-- to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro for a three-year mandate.

     Rouhani was received by the Cuban vice president of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Economy and Planning, Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz (L), on arrival at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. Rouhani hailed Cuba as a revolutionary country and a friend of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He made the remarks upon arrival at the airport. Noting that Iran and Cuba share a history of pressure by certain powers, Rouhani added that bolstering political and economic relations is on the agenda of talks with senior Cuban officials. Rouhani is set to meet with dictator Raul Castro and his older brother and predecessor Fidel. The two presidents are expected to sign a number of agreements in various fields, including trade and energy.

     Ahead of Cuba’s trip, the Iranian president delivered a speech at the 17th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) on the Venezuelan island of Margarita on Saturday. Rouhani handed over the movement’s rotating presidency to his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro. “At the current juncture, NAM member states more than ever require solidarity, convergence and coordination. The truth is that as a bloc that comprises about two-thirds of the United Nations members, we are an undeniable part of the solutions to the challenges facing today’s world,” he said at the time. After his one-day stay in Cuba, the Iranian president will travel to New York to deliver a speech at the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly.

September  20, 2016

 WASHINGTON, D.C. --The American President is scheduled to visit Peru with his family prior to leaving office in November of next year 2016 for the APEC Summit. As was scheduled nearly three years ago, Peru will be hosting the 2016 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leader’s Meeting next November.

      This event plans to bring the world’s leaders to the Peruvian capital of Lima to discuss investment, trade and business opportunities to strengthen relations among the member countries. Among the world leaders expected to attend is the United States President, Barack Obama according to Peruvian Ambassador to the United States Miguel Castilla, reports El Comercio.

     The American President is expected to visit Peru with his family before leaving his position at the White House in November 2016. He hasn’t made a visit to Peru since entering office in 2009. “President Obama has formally told us his intention is to visit Peru before his term ends and the time that he wanted to make this visit is within the framework of the APEC leaders’ summit, which will be in November in Lima in the coming year,” said Castilla from a meeting in Washington. The annual meeting of the APEC leaders will be held in Lima just after the general elections take place in the US in November of 2016.


The President of the Venezuelan National Assembly (AN) Henry Ramos Allup is positive that the four directors of the National Electoral Council “use any pretext to thwart, deny Venezuelans’ constitutional right” In Libertador Avenue, Caracas, near the headquarters of opposition Acción Democrática party, the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly (AN), Henry Ramos Allup, chided the National Electoral Council (CNE) for keeping silence around the specifics for the collection of 20% of signatures of registered voters to materialize a recall referendum against President Nicolás Maduro.

     The CNE directors “are committing a continued offence, as they use any pretext to frustrate, deny Venezuelans’ constitutional right.” He warned that should the CNE refrain from issuing an opinion on Friday, they would keep “pressurizing for them to make an announcement.” “’I do not want to’ is not an explanation” Henry Ramos Allup said that the march of Friday, in addition to the requirement for the date of collection of 20% of signatures, sought the CNE to define a sufficient number of fingerprinting machines, an exact date for the recall referendum, as well as the call for gubernatorial election.

     Furthermore, Ramos Allup paid attention to the absence of troops in the demonstration, only the deployment of the Bolivarian National Police (PNB), devoted to withhold the demonstration. “We have seen no national guards today. This is surely because the armed forces thought it over and do not wish to take on the cost of repression. There is much upset in the armed forces, first of all because they know that citizens seek a constitutional change,” he averred. In his view, the march of Friday was “quite a success,” despite the short notice. “The important thing here is that we called this march overnight and it is quite a success. Obviously, we are not to compare it with some more than one million people convened for September 1, where we had 20 days to organize the whole country,” he pointed out.


Negotiations for a trade and cooperation agreement between Mercosur and the European Union must continue and should not be overshadowed by political issues pointed out Paraguay's foreign minister Eladio Loizaga, following a motion by 15 Green Euro and United Left parliamentarians in Strasbourg to cancel discussions because of the “corruption contaminated” removal of Dilma Rousseff. “The initiative is clearly political and should not interfere with negotiations for an agreement which the two blocks started discussing in 1999”, Loizaga said

     “The initiative is clearly political and should not interfere with negotiations for an agreement which the two blocks started discussing in 1999” , added Loizaga. He pointed out that a majority of the European parliament, “as we have been informed” are committed for negotiations to continue. Loizaga recalled that the four founding members of Mercosur fully respect the institutional process in Brazil, implemented in the framework of the Constitution and the rule of the law with all guarantees. The minister also indicated that since Mercosur is currently with no pro tempore rotating presidency, it is under the helm of national coordinators named by each country, and “they are making sure that the block continues to function normally including the negotiations with the European Union”.

    From Montevideo, foreign minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa said that Uruguay is determined to overcome the current “paralysis of Mercosur”, triggered by the discrepancy over the Venezuelan presidency. “Our objective is to save Mercosur and we are implementing certain mechanisms such as national coordinators from the different country members, under supervision of foreign ministers, not necessarily to make decisions but to chart courses of action and above all ensure that the foreign agenda of Mercosur remains dynamic”. Another round of talks between EU and Mercosur representatives are scheduled to take place in October.

September  19, 2016

 WASHINGTON, D.C. --  AS YOU ponder the impact on political and economic freedom in Cuba of the Obama administration’s diplomatic opening to that Communist-ruled country, keep this figure in mind: $50. That’s how much every American visitor has to pay the Castro regime for a tourist visa each time he or she travels to the island, as the administration is aggressively enouraging people to do. Last year,160,000 people visited Cuba from the United States, which translates into $8 million, not chump change for the financially troubled regime. Those numbers are on course to double in 2016.

     We make this point to place the latest celebratory headlines about the renewal of scheduled air travel from the United States to Cuba in a broader perspective. If you think the president’s policy will “empower” the fledgling Cuban private sector, as opposed to the overbearing state, think again. Easy money from expensive visas is a relatively minor example of the regime’s so-far successful efforts to reap direct benefit from the new relationship with the United States. Even more important is the fact that the Cuban armed forces own the country’s dominant tourism companies, and those firms are expanding their role in anticipation of an American influx.

    As the Associated Press recently reported, the Cuban military has taken over a previously autonomous office that controlled Old Havana, a major tourist attraction, as well as a bank responsible for most of Cuba’s international financial transactions. Gaviota, a military-owned tourism company, is in the midst of what the AP calls “a hotel building spree,” which Cuba needs because its existing hotels lack sufficient capacity, by far, to accomodate hundreds of thousands of additional visitors from the United States. To date, Cuban private operators had been filling the gap by renting rooms in their homes. The military’s activities show that the regime has no intention of sharing the market with these cuentapropistas, as Cuban small businesses are known in Spanish. . If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s very much like the arrangement that once existed between Washington and the kleptocratic Batista regime Fidel Castro overthrew in 1959.


Crisis-hit Venezuela's economic and political problems are keeping world leaders away from a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement that was supposed to hit its full stride on Saturday. Only 12 heads of state have arrived for the two days of meetings taking place on the Caribbean island of Margarita, including the leaders of Iran, Cuba and Zimbabwe. More than 30 world leaders attended the last summit of the Cold War-era group, held in Iran in 2012. President Nicolas Maduro had touted the Non-Aligned Movement's 17th summit as an opportunity to increase international solidarity for his socialist government as the oil-dependent economy reels from widespread food shortages and triple digit inflation.

    But the scarce attendance after months of shuttle diplomacy handing out invitations is likely to embolden Maduro's opponents, who are pushing for a referendum to remove him from office before his term ends in 2019. They say the low turnout is a sign of Maduro's increasing isolation. Of those leaders present, more than half are Maduro's close ideological allies and recipients of oil subsidies in Latin America and Caribbean. The first leader to arrive was Zimbabwe's 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe, who was slow descending from his aircraft on Thursday but showed no hesitation addressing delegates Saturday with a stinging criticism of foreign military intervention in conflicts in the Middle East and northern Africa by a country or countries he did not name.

     The low turnout was even more remarkable because leaders are making their way to and from New York, a five-hour flight away, for the annual United Nations General Assembly. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who attended the last summit of the largest political group comprised of U.N. member nations, sent a video message. Maduro addressed the Non-Aligned gathering in a speech that laid out an 11-point agenda Venezuela will promote as the group's temporary president, including U.N. reform, support for Palestinians and a call for Puerto Rico's independence. He spoke defiantly about Venezuela's problems, blaming them on the country's foreign enemies.


North Korea’s top diplomat for U.S. affairs told The Associated Press on Thursday that Washington “crossed the red line” and effectively declared war by putting leader Kim Jong Un on its list of sanctioned individuals, and said a vicious showdown could erupt if the U.S. and South Korea hold annual war games as planned next month. Han Song Ryol, director-general of the U.S. affairs department at the North’s Foreign Ministry, said in an interview that recent U.S. actions have put the situation on the Korean Peninsula on a war footing.

     The United States and South Korea regularly conduct joint military exercises south of the Demilitarized Zone, and Pyongyang typically responds to them with tough talk and threats of retaliation. Han said North Korea believes the nature of the maneuvers has become openly aggressive because they reportedly now include training designed to prepare troops for the invasion of the North’s capital and “decapitation strikes” aimed at killing its top leadership. Han says designating Kim himself for sanctions was the final straw. “The Obama administration went so far to have the impudence to challenge the supreme dignity of the DPRK in order to get rid of its unfavorable position during the political and military showdown with the DPRK,” Han said, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

     “The United States has crossed the red line in our showdown,” he said. “We regard this thrice-cursed crime as a declaration of war.” Although North Korea had already been heavily sanctioned internationally for its nuclear weapons and long-range missile development programs, Washington’s announcement on July 6 was the first time Kim Jong Un has been personally sanctioned. Less than a week later, Pyongyang cut off its final official means of communications with Washington — known as the New York channel. Han said Pyongyang has made it clear that everything between the two must now be dealt with under “war law.”

September  18, 2016

 MIAMI, FLORIDA --  Donald Trump said Friday that he would reverse the deal President Barack Obama struck to reopen diplomatic relations and re-establish some trade with Cuba unless the Cuban regime meets his demands to restore political freedoms and free political prisoners. While Trump has said the US should have struck a better deal with Cuba, his new position was an apparent shift from his past statements that he supported the reopening of diplomatic relations after more than 50 years. Trump -- speaking in a state with a heavy Cuban voting bloc -- characterized Obama's deal as "one-sided" and benefiting "only the Castro regime."

     "But all of the concessions that Barack Obama has granted the Castro regime were done with executive order, which means the next president can reverse them. And that is what I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands," Trump said Friday. "Those demands will include religious and political freedom for the Cuban people and the freeing of political prisoners," Trump said. Trump's prepared remarks did not call for the "freeing of political prisoners," a hefty demand Trump apparently added on the fly. Cuba freed 53 political prisoners in January 2015 as part of its deal to reopen diplomatic relations with the United States.

     The two countries officially restored full diplomatic relations in July 2015, more than 50 years after the two countries cut diplomatic relations amid Cold War tensions. The US embargo on Cuba still remains officially in place, but Obama loosened a series of regulations to allow more US companies to sell their products in Cuba. Obama has also argued that the reopening would help make Cuba a freer society by helping open the country to the world. Asked in September 2015 about the opening with Cuba, Trump said, "I think it's fine." "I think it's fine. But we should have made a better deal. The concept of opening with Cuba --- 50 years is enough --- the concept of opening with Cuba is fine. I think we should have made a stronger deal," he told The Daily Caller.


          HAVANA, CUBA --
When American Airlines launched the first of an unprecedented 12 daily commercial flights from Miami to six cities in Cuba, the company rolled out the Cuban-American brass to mark the milestone at Miami International Airport. At a pre-flight ceremony, the executives evoked their emotional connection to the business at hand — winning the bid to fly the largest number of commercial flights to Cuba. “Today is historic not only for American Airlines, but also for Miami, the heart and soul of the Cuban-American community in the United States,” said Ralph Lopez, American vice president of Miami hub operations, before the Sept. 7 departure to the city of Cienfuegos on the southern coast of the island.

    Fernand Fernandez, American’s vice president of global marketing, spoke of the “pride and excitement” he felt. When doing business with Cuba, all those American Airlines employees of Cuban origin Fernandez heralded in his speech don’t have the same rights as their U.S.-born counterparts, or their Latin-American counterparts, or their counterparts born anywhere else in the world for that matter. The first “historic” flight to Varadero brought home the point. A Cuban-born crew member arrived without a Cuban passport — required for anyone born there who left the country after 1970, even as babies — and a brouhaha ensued with Cuban authorities on the ground. The crew member was not allowed entry, much less the required overnight rest stop after a crew member flies 12 hours.

     Now the Dallas-based airline, which makes its schedules far from Cuban politics in Texas, had to identify Cuban-American employees and take them off Cuba flights that required an overnight stay. “Please remember that those who are Cuban born should be removed with pay from Cuba flights until we can verify what requirements the Cuban government has for these crewmembers,” says an AA memo to managers that a source shared with me. The Cuban government’s long arm is cherry-picking the assignments of employees of an American company. “No crew member born in Cuba is allowed to enter Cuba unless they meet immigration requirements,” American spokeswoman Alexis Aran Coello confirmed. “That’s a Cuban government demand. That’s not something we’re saying. We are abiding by the laws of the Cuban government.” Cuba’s discriminatory rules also apply, of course, to the flight crews of JetBlue and Spirit, which also recently began commercial flights, and to the others that will soon follow them.


Throughout the afternoon, the Governor of the State of Miranda, Henrique Capriles, had been using his Twitter account to issue today opposition mobilization concepts, as well as the reverse run convened by the ruling party. He also referred to the Summit of the movement of non-aligned (Nam), which takes place in Margarita and which was attended by very few representatives of the member countries, as it has been published in other websites.

     Capriles was expressed his opinion on his last writing on Twitter: "Today Summit non-aligned, of 120 members have reached only 8 Presidents!" There are 20 ministers! Maduro and his loneliness! "." In a Tweet prior, the representative regional recalled that for this evening has been convened a cacerolazo at 8:00 pm. At the same time, the Venezuelan Government unveiled a statue of bronze, of more than three meters of the deceased President Hugo Chavez in Margarita, State new Esparta. The first president to show up for the event was Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe who landed on Thursday at Margarita Island airport.

     The Summit of Heads of State and Government officials slated for the weekend, after the meeting of foreign ministers and the round tables on economic, social and political affairs that began onTuesday. Venezuelan opposition leaders, including Capriles, blasted Mugabe’s presence, terming him as “a dictator who rules since 1987 a country that records hyper-inflation levels.” “No forum can be labeled as democratic with the presence of despot as Robert Mugabe,” Congress Speaker Henry Ramos Allup twitted. “Only a shameful government such as that of (Venezuelan President) Nicolás Maduro is capable of welcoming with honors a world shame, such as dictator Mugabe,” opposition Deputy Miguel Pizarro posted on the social network.

September  17, 2016

 CARACAS, VENEZUELA --  This is the fourth time the Executive Office renews the decree of state of exception and economic emergency nationwide in Venezuela. For the fourth consecutive time, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro extended the state of exception and economic emergency nationwide, in accordance with a provision issued in the Official Gazette No. 6,256, dated September 13, 2016.

    The move aims to “set special measures to create strategic policies helpful to reshape the country’s productive and financial system,” reads the document.
The 11-article decree authorizes the Executive Office to implement regulations, exceptional and temporary, in order to boost agro-food, production and distribution areas, as provided for in public policies.

    Likewise, the presidential decree allows designing and enforcing mechanisms for effective development of production, steady supply and fair distribution of food, raw materials, products and consumables from the domestic agro-business sector. The decree -originally intended to be effective for 120 days- was handed down on January 14 this year. It was extended in May and renewed in August.


          SHANGHAI, CHINA --
The proposed inter-oceanic railroad linking South America’s Atlantic coast with its Pacific shores via Brazil and Peru will cost around $60 billion, Peruvian Vice-President and Transport Minister Martin Vizcarra revealed Thursday. Of that amount, $3.5 billion would need to be invested in Peru and $2.5 billion in Brazil, he said. “The preliminary report says the corridor would exceed $60 billion; given these figures and other projects that could be more urgent, it has been decided to continue studying it,” said Vizcarra, who is accompanying President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski on his trip to China.

     The cost estimate was given by Chinese state railway construction firm China Railway Group, whose senior officials met Kuczynski in Beijing on Tuesday. During the meeting, the Peruvian president mentioned other priority infrastructure projects in Peru, such as the 450-kilometer-long commuter train network around its capital Lima. The Brazil-Peru Twin Ocean Railroad was proposed by China as a means of cutting the costs of transporting soybeans – which it imports from Brazil – to the Peruvian coast across a distance of 3,500km.

     Previous reports had estimated a cost of $10 billion, but this was revised sixfold since due to the complex regional topography. Vizcarra said that as the project was at a preliminary stage, it was currently unknown how much of the investment China was willing to supply. He noted that the project was of greater interest to Brazil so it could export its agricultural produce, while Peru was “just providing passage.” He did not rule out the project altogether but admitted “its priority has diminished.” Vizcarra noted there were suggestions for an alternative route further south involving a third country, Bolivia, which has shown great interest in trans-American infrastructure proposals.


Spanish former President Felipe González called “an arbitrary tyranny” the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro “In Venezuela there is not any dictatorship; there is a democracy (…) which is turning into something similar to an arbitrary tyranny, with the opposition requesting observance of the Bolivarian Constitution and the government refusing to do so,” said Spanish ex-President Felipe González.

     He added the South American nation was an example of governance crisis representative democracies are facing. During a conference in Chile, the Spanish politician stressed that the lack of political dialogue is the main reason of such crisis, not only in Venezuela but worldwide, AFP reported.

     In the case of Venezuela, González said talks must not serve “to buy time” or “try to shirk responsibilities to face problems that cannot wait.” “Talks must work to give answers to challenges in Venezuela,” he added in reference to Maduro’s attempts to hinder the holding of a recall vote against his mandate as requested by the opposition-controlled Congress.

September  16, 2016

 HAVANA, CUBA --  Guillermo "Coco" Farinas became one of Cuba's best-known dissidents by starving himself — launching two dozen hunger strikes demanding government concessions on human rights. He started his 25th strike in late July with the demand that President Raul Castro halt what Farinas called the worsening repression of dissidents since Cuba and the United States declared detente in December 2014. As the strike entered its second month, the dissident's backers claimed he was close to death. On Monday those worries evaporated. Farinas announced he was ending his protest because the European Parliament had just voted to link improved ties with Cuba and progress on human rights. Also on the table: naming Farinas a special parliamentary adviser on civil society on the island.

    The only problem: Not a word of it was true. The "Farinas Amendment" was the creation of a faked website that masqueraded as the blog of the European Parliament for nearly a week, issuing reports widely distributed by anti-Castro Spanish-language media including the U.S. government-funded Marti news network. "It's really weird," said Kristof Kleemann, the chief of staff for German member of parliament Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, whom the bogus site described as the sponsor of the "Farinas Amendment." ''Our people tell us that the website that published this article, that this website is a fake website." Farinas charged that the site was a dirty trick by the Cuban government aimed at fooling him into ending a protest that was drawing too much attention.

    There's no public evidence of a tie to the Cuban government or, indeed, anyone else. Because it was hosted on WordPress, a widely used blogging platform, the page's individual registration is impossible for the public to trace. "Creating this page was an act of espionage," Farinas said. "They were under pressure from the hunger strike and the possibility of my dying and they created a fake page so that I would stop." Farinas and his camp frequently speak directly with European diplomats based in Havana but did not check Monday's report with them before declaring an end to the strike, according to Jorge Luis Artiles, a dissident from the central city of Santa Clara who has served as Farinas' spokesman during much of the protest. Artiles said Farinas' camp had learned of the report in a call from backers in Miami. He declined to provide further details.


The executive secretary of the Unified Democratic Panel, JESUS TORREALBA,  gave on Wednesday specifics on rapprochement with the opposition, as requested by Venezuelan Vice-President Aristóbulo Istúriz and pro-government Deputy Elías Jaua. Torrealba is certain that the Venezuelan government “turned out to be an archipelago of groups.” T

    The executive secretary of the Unified Democratic Panel (MUD), Jesús Torrealba, went on Wednesday morning in his radio show “La fuerza es la union” (Union is strength) into particulars on the sponsors of a rapprochement with the opposition and the holding of two meetings without international mediators. In this regard, the Venezuelan opposition coalition issued on Tuesday evening a communiqué. Lavish in details, Torrealba asserted that two groups coexist inside the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro: those who are convinced of “nostalgia for Chávezism” and wish to grow stronger and regroup in the future and those who fear “to loose their impunities and their immunities” and boycott any possibility of dialogue.

    He added that during his remarks on Tuesday, Libertador mayor Jorge Rodríguez was not alluding to the MUD, even though many viewed it this way. “He was replying to a previous remark from (pro-government Deputy) Diosdado Cabello, because they left him like a guayabera shirt, because he is out of the whole move, because the very government took him out, not for us.” Torrealba is certain that the Venezuelan government “turned out to be an archipelago of groups.” In his view, in the aftermath of September 1 and 2, after the “Taking of Caracas” and the pot banging against Maduro in Villa Rosa, eastern Nueva Esparta state, Aristóbulo Istúriz and Elías Jaua reacted “asking for a dialogue between the government and the opposition."


Brazilian investigators on Wednesday charged former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva with money laundering and corruption, calling him the "maximum commander" of the mammoth graft scandal roiling Latin America's largest nation. While the charges against Silva were expected — police recommended them last month — the characterization of his role in the kickback scheme at state oil company Petrobras was stunning. The so-called Car Wash investigation the last two years has led to the jailing of dozens of businessmen and top politicians. While Silva, president between 2003 and 2010, has long been implicated, before Wednesday prosecutors had never said that he was anything more than a beneficiary.

    Silva was "the maximum commander of the corruption scheme identified as Car Wash" Deltan Dallagnol, head of the task force investigating, said during a televised news conference from the southern city of Curitiba. "We are not judging here who (Silva) is or was as a person, but what he did or didn't do to the people," Dallagnol said. Dallagnol put up diagrams that purported to show Silva's connection to various players in the kickback scheme going back more than a decade. He said prosecutors could show that Silva had met at key times with people involved in the scheme, such as Marcelo Odebrecht, the former president of the big Odebrecht construction company who has been jailed.

    Dallagnol alleged that Silva, who left the presidency with very high approval ratings, used a network of illegal campaign financing and kickbacks for political support in Congress. Silva's lawyer, Cristiano Zanin Martins, blasted Dallagnol, saying he had shown himself unfit for the job. "His political behavior is incompatible with the role of a federal prosecutor," said Martins. Despite a litany of accusations against Silva, there were only two actual charges: money laundering and corruption. Silva, his wife and five others were accused of illegally benefiting from renovations at a beachfront apartment in the coastal city of Guaruja in Sao Paulo state.

September  15, 2016

 ASUNCION, PARAGUAY --  The four original nations of South America’s Mercosur trading bloc announced Tuesday that they are giving Venezuela until Dec. 1 to comply with its commitments when it joined in 2012 that it would comply with all the group’s requirements. Brazil’s foreign minister tweeted that Venezuela would be suspended from the group if it failed to meet the deadline. The ultimatum was contained in a statement from Mercosur founders Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay that was released by the Foreign Ministry of Paraguay, where the group has its headquarters.

     The statement gave no details about the requirements that Venezuela had not met. But Paraguayan Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga recently said that among the things Venezuela needed to do was protect human rights and enact a law guaranteeing free movement of citizens of the member nations. He also said Venezuela was not allowing opposition groups to protest freely. On Twitter, Brazilian Foreign Minister Jose Serra said the group would suspend Venezuela as a member if the group’s demand is not met. He also said that the four countries agreed that Venezuela would not take over the bloc’s rotating presidency as scheduled and instead Mercosur will be presided over by a commission of one member each from the four founding states. Mercosur took in Venezuela as a member in an effort to link the region’s most powerful agricultural and energy markets.

     OAS Almagro endorses veto against Venezuela's Mercosur presidency. Luis Almagro, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), stressed that such move backs democratic rights and principles. Almagro backed the decision made by the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay to hold jointly the rotating presidency of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur). This move renders null and void Venezuela’s decision to head the trading union despite lack of consensus. According to a communiqué issued by the Brazilian Foreign Ministry, the Caribbean nation must expedite ratification of the bloc’s agreements by December 1 in order to avoid suspension. In that connection, Almagro twitted that Mercosur’s initiative complies with the democratic rights and principles.


Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs Delcy Rodríguez stressed that the decision made by the founding Member States of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) intends to destroy the economic bloc through “illegal maneuvers” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez rejected the announcement made by the founding Member States of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) that they are taking over the trading bloc’s rotating presidency until Venezuela ratifies a number of relevant treaties.

    Rodríguez twitted that the declaration of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay “breaches the organization’s legal framework,” adding these nations intend to destroy Mercosur “through illegal maneuvers mirroring political intolerance and bureaucrats’ despair.” Similarly, the official stated that the bloc’s decisions are taken by consensus, observing operating rules. In this sense, she added that Venezuela would not allow a breach of the treaties. She said the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry would take an official stance about the rules governing the performance of Venezuela and the rest of Mercosur Member States, as well as the actions to protect the bloc.

    All Mercosur members but Uruguay blocked Venezuela from assuming the rotating presidency in June, accusing the OPEC nation of failing to incorporate a joint economic accord and a commitment to protect human rights. Brazil's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that the ultimatum for Venezuela was meant to "preserve and strengthen Mercosur." The bickering over leadership has stalled Mercosur's everyday operations and trade negotiations with other countries, ultimately forcing Uruguay to accept a tougher stance against Venezuela, a Brazilian official familiar with the matter said.


Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has been accused by his opposition of militarizing the island of Margarita to host the17th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement. Maduro has spent about $120 million to host the 120-member group of countries amid a Venezuelan economic crisis. Photo courtesy of Prensa Presidencial Prior to the start of the summit, Maduro deployed 14,000 National Bolivarian Armed Forces troops, police and intelligence personnel to the island. Among security measures that will last until at least Sunday, the Venezuelan military has restricted flights, port access and closed beaches, restaurants and seafood shops.

    The main event of the summit will be held on Saturday when officials, including heads of state, will meet to discuss topics including peace and disarmament, according to Venezuela's Presidential Press. The Non-Aligned Movement was founded in Yugoslavia in 1961 as a group of nations not aligned officially with either the East or the West in the Cold War. Member countries include current NAM president Iran, Colombia, South Africa, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Jamaica and Belarus, the only European member. Opposition leaders in Venezuela accuse Maduro of unjustifiably spending about $120 million to host the summit while the country facing a serious economic crisis, with widespread shortages of food and basic goods.

     They have likened Maduro's measures on the island to an illegal militarization that is harming the local population reliant on tourism. "While the people are starving and struggling to buy medicine because there is none: What are we going to say to the patients who do not have medicines against cancer and the thousands that today are dying in hospitals?" National Assembly opposition member Luis Florido, who heads the unicameral parliament's Foreign Policy Committee, said Monday. "What of your money for medicines are you using for the Summit of the Non-Aligned? What do we tell the mothers who do not find food and whose children sleep without eating? Only in an inhuman Maduro regime is that able to cover reality."

September  14, 2016

 SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA -  Days after North Korea conducted its most powerful nuclear test yet, two U.S. bombers flew over South Korea in a display of force — a warning to Pyongyang and reassurance to Seoul. "U.S. and South Korean fighter jets escorted the bombers in their low-altitude flight over South Korea's Osan Air Base ... about an hour from the border between North and South Korea," NPR's Elise Hu reports. She says the supersonic B-1B Lancers are based in Guam.

     On Friday morning local time, North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test — the second such test this year. South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff estimated it was Korea's largest-ever nuclear test, Elise reports. The isolated nation has also conducted several other missile and rocket tests within the past year, at what Elise calls an "unprecedented rate." The tests have prompted international condemnation — again, and with little apparent consequence. Strengthened sanctions on Pyongyang haven't discouraged Kim Jong Un from building up a nuclear program. In fact, as Elise reported last week, international censure and sanctions "only seem to have strengthened" Kim's resolve.

    North Korea's worried neighbors, South Korea and Japan, have been calling for a stronger response, Elise says. Associated Press notes that flyovers by U.S. bombers are "fairly common" when tensions flare up on the Korean peninsula. Videos of such flyovers appear in North Korean propaganda as evidence of U.S. hostility, the AP notes. The wire service has more on the implications of North Korea's most recent nuclear test: "Nuclear expert Siegfried Hecker, who has regularly visited the North's nuclear facilities, estimates that the North may have enough nuclear fuel for about 20 bombs by the end of 2016 and the ability to add about seven new bombs a year.


 Venezuelan authorities have postponed announcing the dates for the final stage in the opposition-led push to call a referendum on removing embattled President Nicolas Maduro from power. According to the opposition, the National Electoral Council (CNE) pushed back from Tuesday to Friday a much-anticipated announcement on when the leftist president's opponents will be allowed to begin collecting the four million signatures needed to trigger a recall vote. The opposition coalition behind the recall campaign, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), must collect the signatures -- 20 percent of the electorate -- in just three days.

     It is the last step in a bureaucratic obstacle course to force a referendum, which MUD is racing to do by the end of the year. The CNE has said it is looking at late October for the petition process. The opposition says that is too late and accuses the authorities of stalling. MUD is racing to force a vote by January 10 -- the deadline to trigger new elections if Maduro loses. After that date, a "yes" vote would simply transfer power to his hand-picked vice president for the rest of his term, until 2019. Seeking leverage, the opposition has organized a series of protests. It estimates a million people took to the streets in the largest one, on September 1.
      Opposition leaders announced they would hold a new protest on the day of the CNE announcement, pushing back a protest previously scheduled for Wednesday in order to keep up the pressure. Political analysts warn the country risks unrest if a recall vote is not held by the end of the year. Maduro's opponents blame him for an economic meltdown marked by food shortages, riots and looting. The country is facing its third year of deep recession this year, with inflation set to top 700 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund. Eighty percent of Venezuelans want a change of government, according to the polling firm Datanalisis. Opposition says elections offer the sole path out of the crisis. "The only way to address the crisis is to speed up the electoral solution," said Torrealba. "That's why the date (for collecting signatures) has to be as soon as possible."


The XVII Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) begins today in Margarita Island, Nueva Esparta state. Venezuela will assume the presidency of the bloc to replace the Islamic Republic of Iran. The event being held in the Venetur hotel, will last six days, a period in which the attending diplomats will discuss regional integration in Africa and Latin America in today's multi-polar world.

     The agenda also includes discussions on the new international economic and information order, global security and human rights, under the slogan 'United by the Path of Peace'. In addition, member countries will reaffirm accession to its principles and purposes, will examine the situation in the Middle East and adopt a position regarding the US interference in the internal affairs of progressive nations of Latin America.

    The NAM will also persist in promoting reform of the UN Security Council and the establishment of a legal instrument to prevent attacks on facilities dedicated to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The Summit will take place in peace; details of discussion are not being reported, said the first vice president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Diosdado Cabello, during a press conference. On Monday, the Executive Vice President, Aristobulo Isturiz said that the Summit confirms the brotherhood of the Bolivarian Revolution. Among the countries of the region, only Cuba and Colombia have chaired the NAM.

September  13, 2016

 MANILA, PHILIPPINES -  President Rodrigo Duterte ratchets up his feud with the United States, ordering all American special forces out of the southern Philippines where they have been advising local troops battling Muslim extremists. U.S. forces advising the Philippine military against an Islamic insurgency are doing more harm than good and must leave, Philippine President Rodrigo Dutertesaid Monday. Duterte, who made international headlines last week by crudely insulting President Obama, said white Westerners are an inviting target for kidnap-for-ransom groups such as the militant Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines.

     Duterte blamed his government's ties to the West — and a grisly U.S. military operation that targeted Muslims more than 100 years ago — for fueling much of the unrest centered in the Mindanao island group. ”I do not want a rift with America, but they have to go," Duterte, who is from the Mindanao region, said during a speech in Manila. "Americans, they (insurgents) will really kill them." Duterte said he had planned to raise the issue last week when he and Obama attended the ASEAN Summit in Laos but did not do so "out of respect." He provided no timeline for a U.S. exit.

    In Washington, the White House said it had not received a formal request to remove U.S. military personnel, spokesman Josh Earnest said. He added that Duterte had a tendency to make “colorful comments,” the Associated Press reported. However, Duterte spokesman Ernesto Abella said the Philippine president's comments reflected the government's "new direction toward coursing an independent foreign policy." Abella also pointed to lasting resentment over the U.S military campaign in 1906 that led to the slaughter of hundreds of Muslims in the southern Philippines. Duterte has criticized the United States for failing to apologize for the bloodbath.


          TEHRAN, IRAN --
 Iran threatened to shoot down two US Navy surveillance aircraft flying close to Iranian territory in the Persian Gulf over the weekend, the latest in a series of recent provocations between Iran and the US military in the region, three US defense officials with knowledge of the incident told Fox News. On Sept. 10, a Navy P-8 Poseidon with a crew of nine and an EP-3 Eries with a crew of roughly 24, were flying a reconnaissance mission 13 miles off the coast of Iran, in the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman, according to officials.

     Iran’s territorial waters—like all nations--extend 12 miles into the sea, according to international maritime law. At some point during the flight, the Iranian military warned the two aircraft to change course or risk getting shot down. The US military planes ignored the warning and continued flying in international airspace, although close to Iranian territory, the officials told Fox. “We wanted to test the Iranian reaction,” one US official told Fox News when asked why the US jets were flying close to Iran.

    “It’s one thing to tell someone to get off your lawn, but we weren’t on their lawn,” the official continued. “Anytime you threaten to shoot someone down, it’s not considered professional.” The official said the Iranian behavior was characterized as “unprofessional.” Another official said the incident was not considered “unsafe” because there were no Iranian missile launchers in the area, according to the latest intelligence reports. The latest incident between the US military and Iran is just the latest in a series of confrontations in region.


Venezuelan Congress Speaker Henry Ramos Allup said he does not rule out the possibility to hold talks with the government, with the sole purpose of demanding the definition of the terms for a recall vote against the mandate of President Nicolás Maduro. “If we have to meet with some government representatives to demand the conditions for the recall vote, then we will do. All the possible avenues should be exhausted,” Ramos Allup underscored. In an interview with private radio station “Circuito Éxitos,” the official stated the opposition political forces do not rule out talks, not to reach a governance agreement, but to “ask the government to guarantee and accept the referendum this year.”

      Director of the National Electoral Council (CNE) Tania D’Amelio deplored “calls to violence” allegedly made by the Venezuelan opposition political forces. She rapped the political opposition group for insisting on putting pressure on the CNE. Following recent rallies nationwide to request the National Electoral Council (CNE) to release the electoral calendar 2016, CNE director Tania D’Amelio criticized the opposition alliance Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) for continuing calling the country to put pressure on the electoral authority.

     In this sense, D’Amelio claimed the CNE already informed on the dates to gather 20% of signatures of registered voters to activate a recall vote against the mandate of President Nicolás Maduro. The CNE director on Wednesday reported that the electoral board is preparing a proposal on how the signatures collection process will take place. She rejected “calls to violence” allegedly made by opposition leaders, adding that MUD is interrupting CNE’s work. “CNE will not change the electoral calendar,” she stressed.

September  12, 2016

 CARACAS, VENEZUELA -  In the words of Venezuelan Vice-President Aristóbulo Istúriz, the government is not interested in a recall referendum. Instead, “it devotes its constant attention to people’s nutrition, peace, labor, harvesting and settling the country problems.” “They (the opposition) mind about something else; how to overthrow us; how to sabotage the government; that is the opposition business. I am worried about mobilizing people, about the intelligence to work for us not to be toppled,” the senior official told El Universal. Shortly before traveling to central Carabobo state, along with Minister of Agriculture and Lands Wilmar Castro Soteldo, to report on the “Sowing 2016” program, Vice-President Istúriz said that the request for a recall referendum against President Nicolás Maduro “is a matter of schedule.”

     Therefore, in his view, “the opposition should have requested it on time.” “They know that the terms do not suffice to hold the referendum this year,” he admonished. Has the government pondered on the effects of not holding a recall referendum this same year, as requested by the opposition? We are not interested in a recall referendum. I need to take care of a date that ensures peace; this is what I want, to ensure living together, dialogue; this is my proposal. What is my interest? I wish the people to have food; I need to take care of crops, of the logistics to harvest it. They (the opposition) look after something else.

     In light of the agenda disclosed by the opposition coalition Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) for the next couple of weeks in the capital cities of all Venezuelan states to request the National Electoral Council (CNE) the day and time to collect 20% of signatures necessary for the recall referendum, Istúriz talked about the plans of ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) to counter the opposition acts. He said that the march called by the MUD last September 1 was just the first of demonstrations slated by the dissent in Caracas. In his opinion, the move forms part of a destabilization plan for a longer period throughout the nation. What does the government expect after the march of September 1? I think living together with different views is possible, and I hope that sectors of the opposition will realize it; otherwise, believing that everyone thinks the same way is stupid.


          HAVANA, CUBA --
 Nearly two years after presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced a thaw in relations, Cuba’s communist government is turning to foreign investors to boost renewable energy as it faces cutbacks in cheap oil imports from Venezuela. The government formed by Fidel Castro in 1959 and led by his brother, Raul, is pitching large wind and solar projects and biomass plants that run on sugar cane to foreign companies at conferences like one opening Thursday in Havana. The goal: Bring billions of dollars into sectors that until recently were controlled by state-run entities, and lift the amount of electricity produced by renewables to 24 percent by 2030 from 4 percent today.

     The shift is less about ideology than supply and demand. The island nation relies heavily on oil-burning power plants that run on subsidized imports from Venezuela. With an economic crisis in that country threatening those supplies, Cuban officials fear a return to the turbulence of the early 1990s when funding from the former Soviet Union began drying up. “It’s unprecedented for the government to be making an open presentation of this scale to international companies like this,” said Andrew MacDonald, director and vice president of Havana Energy, which is building biomass plants at sugar refineries. “This is a top priority for the Cuban government.”

     A decade-old initiative by Fidel Castro to improve energy efficiency and introduce renewable power has failed to reduce Cuba’s reliance on oil, natural gas and diesel fuel, which supply 95 percent of its electricity, according to a 2015 annual report from the government’s National Office of Statistics and Information. A new goal to add 2.1 gigawatts of capacity from biomass plants, wind farms, solar projects and hydroelectric generators will cost about $3.5 billion, according to government estimates. To get there, Cuba recently said it will allow foreign companies in some circumstances to own projects rather than requiring them to form joint ventures with state-owned companies. ”Cuba wants to open its frontiers,“said Jean-Claude Fernand Robert, general manager for renewables in Latin America for General Electric Co. ”The country still has a lot of work to do.“


The Migration Director of the Dominican Republic, Máximo William Muñoz Delgado, reported that the entry and exit of Venezuelans is being watched due to an unusual arrival of Venezuelan immigrants.

     Dominican authorities “are checking the entry and exit, the number of times they (Venezuelans) arrive and depart,” Muñoz Delgado answered when queried by reporters about the increasing presence of Venezuelans in the country streets, Efe quoted. “We are taking control,” Muñoz Delgado explained. However, he conceded to “have troubles” when admitting Venezuelans as they do not need a visa to enter the Dominican Republic. In the past weeks, the Dominican National Police has reported on the capture of several Venezuelans charged with theft and robbery.

    In recent weeks the Dominican national police reported the arrest of several Venezuelans accused of robberies and assaults in several parts of the country. Figures of the Dominican Central Bank indicates that in July, Venezuela was placed in the fourth position, with 4.262 national, among the nine Nations that contributed more tourists to the country, an important figure if it is taken into consideration that this nation was not listed in the same month of 2015.

September  11, 2016


       WASHINGTON, D.C. --     The September 11 attacks (also referred to as 9/11)[nb 1] were a series of four coordinated terrorist attacks by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda on the United States on the morning of September 11, 2001. The attacks killed 2,996 people and injured over 6,000 others and caused at least $10 billion in property and infrastructure damage[2][3] and $3 trillion in total costs.[4]

     Four passenger airliners operated by two major U.S. passenger air carriers (United Airlines and American Airlines)—all of which departed from airports on the northeastern United States bound for California—were hijacked by 19 al-Qaeda terrorists, losing one of their passports in the WTC area.[5] Two of the planes, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, were crashed into the North and South towers, respectively, of the World Trade Center complex in New York City. Within an hour and 42 minutes, both 110-story towers collapsed, with debris and the resulting fires causing partial or complete collapse of all other buildings in the World Trade Center complex, including the 47-story 7 World Trade Center tower, as well as significant damage to ten other large surrounding structures.

      A third plane,
American Airlines Flight 77, was crashed into the Pentagon (the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense) in Arlington County, Virginia, leading to a partial collapse of the building's western side. The fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, initially was steered toward Washington, D.C., but crashed into a field in Stonycreek Township near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after its passengers tried to overcome the hijackers. It was the deadliest incident for firefighters and law enforcement officers
[6] in the history of the United States, with 343 and 72 killed respectively.

September  10, 2016

  PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA -  North Korea confirmed its fifth nuclear test explosion early Friday, its largest yet. The provocation brought instant condemnation from the country's neighbors and a call from President Obama for "serious consequences." Pyongyang also said it has made strides that could bring it closer to mounting a warhead on one of its ballistic missiles and launching a long-distance nuclear strike. "We successfully conducted a nuclear explosion test to determine the power of [the] nuclear warhead," a female anchor announced on North Korea's state television. "We will continue to strengthen our nuclear capabilities to protect our sovereignty. We have now standardized and minimized nuclear warheads ... We can now produce small nuclear warheads any time we desire."

     South Korea's defense ministry said the yield of the blast is estimated to be 10 kilotons, the largest ever conducted by Pyongyang. Its first nuclear test in 2006 yielded less than one kiloton, and the country has been steadily increasing its atomic capacity ever since. The United States Geological Survey registered a magnitude 5.3 explosion "near the location where North Korea has detonated nuclear explosions in the past." "We are aware of seismic activity on the Korean Peninsula in the vicinity of a known North Korean nuclear test site," said National Security Council Spokesperson Ned Price. "We are monitoring and continuing to assess the situation in close coordination with our regional partners."

    "Today’s nuclear test by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, if confirmed, is its second this year and the fifth since 2006," said International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano. "This is in clear violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions and in complete disregard of the repeated demands of the international community. It is a deeply troubling and regrettable act." North Korea previously conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, 2013, and most recently in January 2016. South Korean President Park Geun-hye called the explosion an act of "fanatic recklessness." The White House said National Security Adviser Susan Rice briefed Obama on the incident.


          CARACAS, VENEZUELA. --
 Venezuelans marched in cities across the country on Wednesday to demand that authorities allow a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro to go forward this year. In Los Teques, capital of the opposition-governed state surrounding Caracas, hundreds of opponents banging on pots and carrying Venezuelan flags tried to march to the regional offices of the National Electoral Council but were blocked by a large group of pro-government supporters two blocks away shouting "they shall not pass, they shall not pass." A few dozen police in riot gear separated the two groups and the tense situation ended only when opponents sang the national anthem before withdrawing calmly.

      There were no marches in the capital Caracas, where hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets last week to clamor for Maduro's removal. Instead, leading opposition politicians held a 10-minute sit-down to draw attention to their demand that the National Electoral Council schedule the next phase in the complex recall process, in which opponents must collect almost 4 million signatures to force a simple yes-or-no vote on whether to cut short Maduro's term before it ends in 2019. "In Venezuela there's a virtual power vacuum," Jesus Torrealba, secretary general of the Democratic Unity opposition alliance, told a few dozen activists gathered in an eastern Caracas plaza. "The only serious, democratic way to confront this problem is to accelerate the construction of an electoral solution, which means early elections."

     Nearby, residents went about their daily business seemingly oblivious to the mounting political tensions. Alexander Madiego said he wants Maduro to leave office and participated in last week's march because the publicity company he works for installing billboards gave its employees the day off. He blames Maduro for triple digit inflation that has pulverized his salary, about $80 a month at the widely used black market rate. Still, reflecting the steep challenge the opposition faces turning widespread discontent into on-the-streets activism, he said he was too busy hunting for affordable groceries on his lunch hour to join the event a few meters (feet) away. "You protest and protest but everything stays the same and people grow disillusioned," said Madiego as he fielded a call from a friend telling him where he could buy some cheap rice.


 Paraguayan Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga on Thursday reasserted that his country is against Venezuela holding the temporary presidency of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur), arguing that the Caribbean nation has not embedded the economic bloc’s rules in its regulations nor has it ratified the Treaty of Asunción on human rights. The Member States of Mercosur —integrated by Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Venezuela— have a four-year deadline to implement the trading union’s rules.

     However, a recent report found that Venezuela has not made progress in this sense, nor has it signed the treaty on human rights promotion and protection struck in 2005 in Asunción, Loizaga said, according to an official communiqué. According to the alphabetical order, Mercosur’s rotating presidency for the second half of 2016 must be taken on by Venezuela, which last July decided to assume it automatically without a summit of the bloc’s Heads of State. This decision came after Uruguay announced its mandate had ended. Loizaga underscored that such meeting is necessary to transfer the presidency of the bloc, as it has been since its creation twenty-five years ago.

     At the same time, a debt owed by Paraguay to state-run oil company Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (Pdvsa) is “channeled,” reported on Thursday Eddie Jara, CEO of the Paraguayan state-owned company Petropar. “The problem right now is that Paraguay has been requested to pay the oil debt only for thinking otherwise; some countries contribute nothing to the Venezuelan State and their debt has been pardoned many a time; law is for everyone, nor for particular cases; this is what expects anybody who does not kneel down to the revolution. He who has eyes to see, let him see. Look at the pathetic case of Uruguay; it was forced by means of debt of Venezuela for dairy products,” he said. The debt was established under the Caracas Energy Agreement, signed in 2004 for supply of fuel oil to Petropar.

September  9, 2016

  CARACAS, VENEZUELA -  Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez on Wednesday asked the US government to respect the “sovereignty and independence” of her country and “abide by international rules.” Through her Twitter account, the official deplored US Vice-President Joseph Biden’s meddling in Venezuelan domestic affairs. Rodriguez, rejected the Wednesday the "insolence" of the Vice President of United States, Joe Biden, who said he backs the recall referendum proposes by the Venezuelan opposition to revoke the mandate of the President Nicolas Maduro.

     "The Republic Bolivarian of Venezuela rejects the insolence and interventionist statements made by the Vice President of the United States Joe Biden", the Chancellor said in a Twitter. She added that the U.S. Government "offended and assaulted" the Venezuelan people by "pretending to instruct and give orders to them". In this sense, she demanded that the Government of President Barack Obama " sticks its performance and standards to the norms internationally established and respect the rights of the Venezuelan people". The Minister of foreign relations of Venezuela believes that statements made by Biden "encourages violent individuals who could execute actions to disturb the peace and stability in Venezuela".

     Biden inaugurated the 20th Annual Conference of the Development Bank of America Latina-CAF in Washington, D.C. with a speech in which he urged leaders on the continent to take advantage of the "enormous potential" of the region. Biden’s harsher words during his speech were directed to the Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro which he accused of using "repressive tactics that violate his country’s own Constitution, and that violate the inter-American Democratic Letter". "Last week, more than a million Venezuelans gathered in Caracas to support the conduct of a constitutional presidential recall referendum." Their voices should not be ignored", Biden said. The Vice President emphasized that Venezuela "should allow a recall referendum before the end of the year and must respect the Constitution of Venezuela, and also release all its political prisoners".


          CARACAS, VENEZUELA. --
 Venezuela’s political opposition convened in front of the National Electoral Office building this Wednesday, September 7 to demand a release date for the referendum votes that could recall President Nicolás Maduro. However, they were met with military and police, who blocked the crowd from entering the building.

     MUD has been meeting since last week with the objective of organizing a way to put pressure on the government’s timetable for counting the referendum votes. Regional CNE buildings around the country have reportedly been granted police protection ahead of increased attempts to have the referendum votes counted. In the states of Sucre and Falcón, for example, pro-government forces were installed near government buildings this week, preventing people from passing. In Zulia, Lara, Táchira, Miranda and Carabobo, access points to the CNE buildings have reportedly been jammed and blocked in expectation of peaceful protests.

     The opposition has organized groups in 23 states in Venezuela that aim to confront various CNE branches. In Caracas, Lilian Tintori and Patricia de Ceballos — the wives of political prisoners Leopoldo López and Daniel Ceballos — were recently expelled from the CNE building for pushing officials. Gregorio Graterol, Falcón State Representative in the National Assembly, said members of the government had rocks thrown at them at the CNE building in Falcón this Wednesday. “We arrived to rocks and sticks,” Graterol wrote on Twitter, “and this is the peace the government has guaranteed.”


 Algeria is sending crude oil to Cuba for the  first time to help offset lower supplies from the island's closest ally,  Venezuela, where low prices have caused the steepest production decline  in more than a decade, sources with direct knowledge said on Wednesday. Algeria's state-owned Sonatrach plans to ship an 80,000-tonne cargo of  crude (some 515,000 barrels) to Cuba in October, the sources said, to  supplement Venezuelan crude supplies, which declined 40 percent in the  first half of 2016, according to Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA's  internal data.

     The cargo would be the OPEC member's first crude delivery to Cuba,  sources who monitor its exports said. There may be another cargo for  November or December loading, one said. Cuba and Algeria have maintained a close relationship in recent years. The island annually imports some $200 million to$300 million of oil products from the African country, including some purchases of naphtha. But Cuba relies almost exclusively on Venezuela, also an OPEC member, for its crude supplies through a 15-year-old assistance programme that Caracas has been struggling to maintain as power cuts, lack of investment and payment delays slash its oil output.

     Even though the collapse of global oil prices has undermined Venezuela's economy, PDVSA would be mediating the Algerian crude sale to Cuba's Cienfuegos refinery in which it holds a 49 percent stake, a trade source with knowledge of the deal said. PDVSA has been forced to find creative ways to supplement supplies to Cuba as volumes of its medium grades dwindle and Cuban refineries cannot process a larger volume of Venezuelan heavy and extra-heavy grades. In 2015, PDVSA sent 1.64 million barrels of Angola's Girassol and Russia's Urals crudes to Cuba after the oil was first discharged at its terminal in Curacao.

September  8, 2016

  MIAMI, FLORIDA -  US Vice President jOE Biden called for the release of Caracas Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma and opposition leader Leopoldo López. US Vice President Joseph Biden in Florida accused the Venezuelan government of "continuing to commit serious human rights violations" and "intimidating" and "silencing" opponents.

     Biden was also "deeply concerned" about the economic situation of the South American country. In his view, Venezuela is prey to "food shortages, lack of medicines and water, blackouts," and a "skyrocketing homicide rate," Efe reported. The US vice president made such remarks at a conference before local entrepreneurs at the University of Tampa, in western Florida, organized by the local Chamber of Commerce.

    During his speech, Biden highlighted that the new Venezuelan National Assembly does “represent the diversity of the political vision in the country."
Further, he condemned the fact that the Venezuelan government imprisons opponents "under inhumane conditions” and denies them access to due process. Biden specifically called for the release of Caracas Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma and opposition leader Leopoldo López. He said their release is “absolutely necessary.”


          WASHINGTON, D.C. --
 Lilian Tintori, the wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, appeared at the International Criminal Court (ICC) seated in The Hague to file charges against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro for lese humanity crimes, harassment and persecution against the dissent.

     The counsel for the defense of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, Juan Carlos Gutiérrez, said that the legal action includes not only a request for investigation into the reported events but avoiding them from occurring again. “We handed over a report where we recount all the tortures against political prisoners, the slaughter of Tumeremo (south Venezuela), the situation on the border, the violation of our human rights, relentless pursuit, harassment, persecution of opposition political parties or for thinking otherwise.

     All of that is documented and spelled out for the International Criminal Court for the purpose of investigation and justice administration in Venezuela,” Tintori said in a press release from political Voluntad Popular (People’s Will) party.
For his part, López’s attorney, Juan Carlos Gutiérrez, who travelled along with Tintori, underscored that the report submitted to the ICC aims at impeding new events of violation of fundamental rights and liberties. “We have come on behalf of all Venezuela’s victims, producing irreversible evidence of lese humanity crimes, which are under the competent jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.”


The three international mediators advocating dialogue between the Venezuelan government and opposition: former Presidents José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Leonel Fernández and Martín Torrijos, of Spain, the Dominican Republic and Panama, respectively, left Venezuela on Wednesday after a visit with a private agenda. They held a number of meetings that were not unveiled. On Monday, however, Rodríguez Zapatero said, on his arrival in Caracas, they would continue to work to “obtain results from dialogue."

     For his part, Fernández on Wednesday held a meeting with representatives of political and social institutions, the president of the Puente Venezuela political organization, Hiram Gaviria, told reporters. "We have been kindly invited by former Dominican President Leonel Fernández, who is one of the facilitators appointed by (the Union of South American Nations) Unasur to promote dialogue in Venezuela. We have voiced concern about the serious crisis facing our country," Gaviria noted.

     The three leaders returning to their home countries on Wednesday have paid visits to Venezuela for the last three months, sources close to them told EFE, adding that in the coming weeks the mediators would visit Venezuela frequently. The three former presidents are part of a taskforce of mediators appointed by Unasur to take part in government-opposition talks called by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, which have not materialized. Representatives from the higher education sector and the food industry also attended the meeting with Fernández. "We have told (Fernández) once again that this political and institutional crisis should result in Venezuelans expressing themselves freely in the polls, namely in a (presidential) recall vote," said Gaviria.

September  7, 2016

  CARACAS, VENEZUELA -  The former president of the Spanish government Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero arrived Tuesday to Venezuela, hours before it is carried out a mass rally called by the Venezuelan opposition to press for the recall referendum against the mandate of President Nicolas Maduro. Rodriguez Zapatero, who acts as mediator in Venezuela within the dialogue initiative led by Maduro and supported by the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), is in the Caribbean country, said sources close to their environment Efe, but so far the visit discreetly handled and its agenda is unknown.

    Efe could also find that the former president of Panama Martin Torrijos, who like Rodriguez Zapatero acts as a mediator to promote dialogue in Venezuela, is in Caracas. as for this visit Rodriguez Zapatero, the executive secretary of the alliance of opposition parties Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), Jesus Torrealba, he said this may be because “there is concern” by the international community in the face of opposition march next Thursday.

    “in the condition of limited democracy, traumatized, of Venezuela, this is a fact that causes concern,” he said Torrealba referring to this mobilization that has been seen by the Government of Maduro as a plan of insurrection. Rodriguez Zapatero leads the team of mediators sponsored by UNASUR which also involved Torrijos and former president of Republic Dominican Leonel Fernandez. last July, the Spanish president was in Venezuela to mobilize efforts for dialogue and last month managed to visit the prison near Caracas prisoner opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who meets a sentence of nearly 14 years in prison.


          CARACAS, VENEZUELA.  --
 Spanish ex-President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero returned to Venezuela after a short visit last week, exactly one day before the so-called “Taking of Caracas” staged by the country’s opposition political forces

    Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles once again lambasted the visit paid to Venezuela by Spanish ex-President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero questioning the European politician’s role as a mediator in potential government-opposition talks. “I would ask him (Rodríguez Zapatero) to brief on the reason of his visits, for if he is so concerned about the country’s situation, he would not have left (Venezuela) before the worldwide rally on September 1,” Capriles stressed, according to an official press release quoted by Efe.

    The governor added that the ex-president is “unqualified” to head a mediation group fostering dialogue between the Venezuelan government and opposition political forces. The Spanish diplomat returned to the Caribbean nation after a short visit last week, exactly one day before the so-called “Taking of Caracas” staged by the opposition to request the Electoral Power to set the date for the holding of a recall vote this year against President Nicolás Maduro.


       WASHINGTON, D.C. --
Seven Iranian fast attack boats harassed a U.S. Navy ship in the Middle East over the weekend, the Pentagon said Tuesday. The incident occurred Sunday in the central Persian Gulf, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters.

    During the encounter, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy fast attack craft approached the USS Firebolt when it was operating in international waters, Davis said. Three of the boats "maneuvered close to the ship, shadowing her course from a range of about 500 yards," Davis said. The boats eventually broke off, but one turned toward the Firebolt and came to a stop directly in front of the ship, he added.

    "This caused the Firebolt to have to maneuver to have to avoid collision. They came within about 100 yards of each other during the interaction. The Firebolt attempted multiple radio communications with the Iranians," Davis said. "This is another example of another unsafe and unprofessional interaction we've had with the [Iranian navy] in the Gulf." A defense official said there have been 31 such interactions with the Iranian navy so far this year. "This is clearly a pattern, and it's one we're not happy about, and we'd like to see this sort of behavior stop," Davis said

September  6, 2016

  CARACAS, VENEZUELA -  Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro told members of the SEBIN national intelligence service that they had to “put down” the “terrorists” of the “right wing” -- a code word for members of the opposition -- just days before the President was involved in a violent clash with opposition protesters. SEBIN director Gustavo Gonzalez tweeted the two minute-plus phone call in his account @GonzalezLSEBIN on August 26th. The tweet was still there Sunday morning. But it did not caught anybody’s eye until Friday night, when an angry mob in Margarita blocked the streets, blocking Maduro’s motorcade.

     The phone call is an important indication of the President's state of mind before the Margarita events. Human-rights NGOs reacted to the call Sunday, asking for an investigation. “Maduro needs to be investigated for encouraging police executions”, the NGO Provea stated. “By using terms such as 'put down' and 'neutralize', Maduro…encourages the carrying out of more pólice abuse”. The audio recording (Video Below) is from a congratulatory phone call Maduro apparently made to a class of graduating anti-terrorism special agents of SEBIN. SEBIN handles all political cases and has arrested more than 60 members of the opposition as part of a crackdown that began days before the massive September 1st march and has continued after the President was assaulted Friday night in Margarita during an official event.

     In the recording, a man that sounds like Maduro says: “Violence and terrorism must be struck before they even act…our greatest victory is a preemptive strike, neutralize them, de-configure them, disarm them, disarticulate them, put them down before the terrorists can act.” “And start getting those victories now,” the man in the recording urged graduating SEBIN agents. “In Venezuela terrorism has a first and last name, those parasitic groups from the right wing, selling out their country, that have allied themselves with criminal gangs of kidnappers and murderers…” Maduro ended the call by saying: “The right wing politicians are cowards and you have the training.


          CARACAS, VENEZUELA.  --
 A couple of days after Venezuela’s opposition pulled off one of the largest demonstrations in history demanding the ouster of President Nicolás Maduro, the embattled administration claimed the event a victory of its own. In a televised conference, Interior Minister Néstor Reverol said authorities had stopped an opposition plot to kill marchers and trigger a coup. The administration said it found four weapons, including a sniper rifle, explosives and fatigues in an encampment close to the presidential palace. The gear was “going to be used to selectively assassinate people in the Sept. 1 march,” Reverol said. The hopes were that the bloodshed would spark “a coup against our democracy,” he added.

     Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said the government’s actions had prevented “a massacre.” In a short video posted on Maduro’s Twitter feed, the government claimed that the plot was revealed after they re-imprisoned Daniel Ceballos. The former mayor of the restive border town of San Cristóbal, Ceballos has been in custody since 2014, and had been under house arrest since 2015. He was taken back to prison in the dead of night Aug. 27 in an action denounced by the U.S. government and human rights groups. The government has also arrested political activists Yon Goicoechea and Carlos Melo, and issued a warrant for Lester Toledo. The opposition on Friday said Delson Guárate, the mayor of Mario Briceño in Aragua state, had also been detained.

     Government critics claim that the administration is on a witch hunt and trying to take the focus off the nation’s tanking economy and its own unpopularity. “All of this backlash is to try to hide the powerful and peaceful demonstration of Venezuelans on the street,” said Miranda Gov. Henrique Capriles. “Change cannot be stopped.” The opposition claims that more than 1 million people participated in Thursday’s march, dubbed “the taking of Caracas,” and eyewitnesses and images suggest it was one of the largest in recent memory, estimated by Reuters and EFE in more than million. Maduro told supporters in a TV conference on Thursday that the opposition had barely rallied 30,000 people.


 North Korea fired three ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast on Monday, South Korea's military said, as the leaders of the Group of 20 major economies held a summit in China, the North's main diplomatic ally. The missiles were fired from a region south of the capital Pyongyang just after noon local time (0300 GMT) and flew about 1,000 km (600 miles), hitting Japan's air defense identification zone, the South's Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. "We are still analyzing details but this is a grave threat to our nation's security, and we express deep concern," the Japan Defence Ministry said in a statement.

    The missile launches were the latest in a series of launches by the isolated North this year in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, supported by China, that ban all ballistic missile-related activities by the North. Pyongyang rejects the ban as infringing its sovereign right to pursue a space program and self defense. A passenger watches a TV screen broadcasting a news report on North Korea firing three ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, September 5, 2016. Shortly after the missile launches, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met on the sidelines of the G20 summit and agreed to cooperate on monitoring the situation, a Japanese statement said.

     The South's military said the missiles were medium-range Rodong-class, launched as a show of force timed to coincide with the G20 summit. In 2014, the North fired two Rodong medium-range missiles just as Park and Abe were meeting U.S. President Barack Obama at the Hague to discuss responding to the North's arms program. The latest missiles were launched from a region called Hwangju and came just hours after the leaders of South Korea and China met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China. South Korea's Park told Chinese President Xi Jinping that the North's fourth nuclear test and its ballistic missile launches this year threatened regional peace and posed a challenge to South Korea's ties with China, Yonhap news agency reported earlier. During the meeting, Xi reaffirmed China's commitment to realizing the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, China's state news agency Xinhua reported on Monday.

September  5, 2016

  THE VATICAN, ITALY -  Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa a saint on Sunday, honoring the tiny nun who cared for the world's most destitute and holding her up as a model for a Catholic Church that goes to the peripheries to find poor, wounded souls. Applause erupted in St. Peter's Square even before Francis finished pronouncing the rite of canonization at the start of Mass, evidence of the admiration Mother Teresa enjoyed from Christians and non-Christians alike. For Francis, Mother Teresa put into action his ideal of the church as a merciful "field hospital" for the poorest of the poor, those suffering both material and spiritual poverty. By canonizing her during his Jubilee Year of Mercy, he in some ways is making her the icon of his entire pontificate.

     Hundreds of Missionaries of Charity sisters in their trademark blue-trimmed saris had front-row seats at the Mass, sitting under a searing hot sun and blue skies alongside 1,500 homeless people and 13 heads of state or government, including Queen Sofia of Spain. "Her heart, she gave it to the world," said Charlotte Samba, a 52-year-old mother of three who travelled with a church group from Gabon for the Mass. "Mercy, forgiveness, good works: It is the heart of a mother for the poor." While big, the crowds were not as large as the 300,000 who turned out for Mother Teresa's 2003 beatification, thanks in part to security fears in the wake of Islamic extremist attacks in Europe. Those fears prompted a huge, 3,000-strong law enforcement presence to secure the area around the Vatican and close the airspace above.

    Nevertheless, those on hand were jubilant to have made the journey — nuns, priests, volunteers, pilgrims and tourists clutching the coveted 100,000 tickets issued for the Mass. One group of 40 Indian nationals traveled from Macerata, Italy to honor a woman given India's highest civilian and humanitarian awards for her work in the slums of Kolkata. Another group of 100 drove from Kosovo toting a banner that read: "Mother Teresa: Pray for Us." While Francis is clearly keen to hold Mother Teresa up as a model for her joyful dedication to society's outcasts, he is also recognizing holiness in a nun who lived most of her adult life in spiritual agony sensing that God had abandoned her. According to correspondence that came to light after she died in 1997, Mother Teresa experienced what the church calls a "dark night of the soul" — a period of spiritual doubt, despair and loneliness that many of the great mystics experienced. In Mother Teresa's case, it lasted for nearly 50 years — an almost unheard of trial.


     WASHINGTON, D.C.  --
 The number of Cubans who have entered the U.S. has spiked dramatically since President Obama announced a renewal of ties with the island nation in late 2014, a Pew Research Center analysis of government data has found. The U.S. has since opened an embassy in Havana, a movesupported by a large majority of Americans, and public support is growing for ending the trade embargo with Cuba. Cubans seeking to enter the U.S. may receive different treatment than other immigrants under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966.

     Cubans hoping to live in the U.S. legally need only show up at a port of entry and pass an inspection, which includes a check of criminal and immigration history in the U.S. After a year in the country, they may apply for legal permanent residence. During the first 10 months of fiscal year 2016, 46,635 Cubans have entered the U.S. via ports of entry – already surpassing full fiscal year 2015’s total of 43,159, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data obtained through a public records request. Fiscal 2015 was a surge year and was up 78% over 2014, when 24,278 Cubans entered the U.S. And those 2014 numbers had already increased dramatically after the Cuban government lifted travel restrictions that year.

     These totals are significantly higher than in all of fiscal 2011, when 7,759 Cubans came into the U.S. The surge in the number of Cubans entering the country began in the months immediately following the president’s announcement. From January to March 2015, 9,900 Cubans entered the U.S., more than double the 4,746 who arrived during the same time period in 2014. The surge continued into fiscal 2016 and peaked in the first quarter (October to December 2015), when 16,444 Cubans entered the U.S., an increase of 78% compared with the same quarter of fiscal 2015. The number of Cubans entering the U.S. has ebbed somewhat since. Thousands of Cubans have migrated to the U.S. by land.


       MOSCOW, RUSSIA --
 At a recent event, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that a division of troops would be stationed in Chukotka, Russia's far-east region, just slightly more than 50 miles from Alaska.

     "There are plans to form a coastal defense division in 2018 on the Chukotka operational direction," said Shoigu. He said that the deployment was "to ensure control of the closed sea zones of the Kuril Islands and the Bering Strait, cover the routes of Pacific Fleet forces' deployment in the Far Eastern and Northern sea zones, and increase the combat viability of naval strategic nuclear forces."

     Japan and Russia dispute ownership of the northern Kuril Islands, where Russia plans to deploy missile-defense batteries. The Bering Strait is the narrow waterway that separates Alaska from Russia. Broadly, Russia has taken the lead in militarizing and exploring the Arctic region, as melting ice caps open up new shipping lanes between the East and West. In that context, the deployment of a division to the sparsely populated Chukotka region makes sense. In the past, Russia has bemoaned NATO and US troop deployments near to its borders. How the US will respond to this deployment remains to be seen.

September 4, 2016

  CARACAS, VENEZUELA -  Venezuelan law enforcement arrested Friday an opposition elected official, as the crackdown against those seeking to recall embattled President Nicolas Maduro continues. The “Taking of Caracas” by more than one million people (according to estimates by AP and Reuters) on September 1st asking that Maduro be sacked did nothing to deter a razzia that began over the weekend and which has, according to local NGO Foro Penal, resulted in the arrest of 60 opposition leaders.

     The backlash was perhaps unavoidable: Friday morning the mayor of the “Mario Briceno” municipality in Aragua state, Delson Guarate, was apprehended by the SEBIN national intelligence service after several failed capture attempts. Police broke into the mayor’s office and arrested him, fellow opposition politician David Smolansky tweeted. Maduro had to do something, say analysts, he has been shown up by the opposition, again, after a landslilde defeat in the December 6th legislative elections. His popularity is dropping non-stop, international pressure is mounting and the recall petition against him, instead of going away or dying down, is slowly but inexorably moving forward.

     “It was bigger than the one on April 11th 2002,” Leonardo Vivas, an analyst and scholar who has taught at several US universities, including Harvard said. The 2002 street demonstration was so massive it triggered a chain of events that toppled Chavez for 72 hours; however, the September 1st march was peaceful and Maduro is still sitting in the Miraflores Presidential Palace. Maduro clearly lost Caracas, a process that began “after the legislative elections,” Vivas said, and has clearly continued. “After this show of force and his increasing international isolation, he must be thinking his next steps through,” the scholar concluded.


 Oilfieldservices company Schlumberger has let go of workers and pulledout of projects as it cuts operations in crisis-stricken Venezuela, sparking worker protests and heightening worry overthe OPEC country's slumping oil output. Schlumberger in April said it would reduce activityin the South American OPEC nation, which accounted for less than5 percent of the company's consolidated revenue last year, dueto insufficient payments and no improvements on the horizon.

     As a result, employees working on projects ranging from theoil-rich Maracaibo Lake to the Orinoco Belt are being laid off,workers and a union leader said, an ominous sign for Venezuela'sslumping crude production and crumbling economy. "They're getting rid of almost all the workers becausethey're reducing operations and the contracts won't be renovatedbecause of debt owed by PDVSA," said a Schlumberger employee inVenezuela's eastern city of Maturin, asking to remain anonymousbecause he was not authorized to speak with media.

    Houston-based Schlumberger declined to comment.Caracas-based PDVSA did not respond to a request for comment. Ivan Freites, a union leader and fierce PDVSA critic, saidsome 600 workers are being fired in Zulia state, whose capitalis Maracaibo, and 2,000 workers are being let go nationally. While the exact number of laid-off workers was notimmediately clear, the dismissals could further stoke socialunrest as Venezuelans struggle to eat three meals a day amidworsening food shortages and triple-digit inflation. Some Schlumberger workers protested the layoffs in Maracaiboon Wednesday.


       SANTIAGO, CHILE  --
Chilean legislators claim Venezuela is going through a scenario of political and economic instability The Chamber of Deputies of Chile approved a bill under which they requested President Michelle Bachelet to call for the overturning of Venezuela's incumbency as pro tempore president of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur), "until both a real commitment with human rights and political and economic stability have been ascertained (in Venezuela)."

     The bill, promoted by Chilean opposition legislators, was passed with 57 votes in favor and 33 against, the press office of the Chamber of Deputies told AFP on Thursday. The document reads that the Caribbean nation "currently faces a situation of political and economic instability," adding that many organizations "have denounced human rights violations of hundreds of Venezuelans and lack of security in that nation."

     At the same time, Paraguayan foreign minister Eladio Loizaga said his country will not accept such presidency since “it's not a good message for Mercosur because we were not consulted, nor was Brazilian minister Jose Serra, and I am surprised by Uruguay and Argentina's attitude because we have excellent communication with both foreign ministries. I was further shocked that I should be informed about the apparent decision reading the media”. Earlier this week Susana Malcorra visited his Uruguayan peer in Montevideo, Rodolfo Nin Novoa and announced that the chair transfer to Venezuela would not take place because the Mercosur presidential summit which normally supports the ceremony, had been cancelled.

September 3, 2016

  CARACAS, VENEZUELA -   Venezuela’s opposition brought over a million people from around the country onto the streets of Caracas on Thursday to demand the scheduling of a referendum on recalling President Nicolas Maduro, while supporters of the leftist government staged a counter rally. Popular Will, the party of jailed opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez, said that more than a million people took part in the “Takeover of Caracas.” But the MUD opposition alliance, which organized the mobilization, declined to estimate the size of the turnout.

    MUD supporters, many dressed in white, marched down the main thoroughfares of Caracas behind opposition leaders that included National Assembly speaker Henry Ramos Allup, two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori. The protest ended with the reading of a manifesto announcing plans for additional demonstrations to demand an expedited plebiscite on removing Maduro. The MUD leadership also called for a nationwide “cacerolazo” – banging of pots and pans – at 8 p.m. Thursday to celebrate the success of the Takeover of Caracas.

     Meanwhile, a few thousands of partisans of the governing PSUV gathered in central Caracas in a show of support for Maduro and in “defense of peace,” as administration officials accused the MUD of plotting acts of violence. “Today we have defeated a coup attempt that tried to fill Venezuela and Caracas with violence, with death,” Maduro told supporters. He said the security forces this week captured 92 Colombian paramilitaries at an encampment north of Caracas, not far from Miraflores, the presidential palace. The MUD’s Ramos Allup “knew about all those plans,” Maduro said, accusing the congressional speaker of “fascistic” hate speech aimed at promoting violence. Maduro’s predecessor and political mentor, the late Hugo Chavez, was removed from office for 48 hours in April 2002 during an abortive coup that began during mass opposition protests in Caracas.


 Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro met in Plains, Georgia, Thursday to exchange ideas on matters relating to democracy and human rights in the region. They discussed possibilities of cooperation and agreed on some of the principal challenges facing the hemisphere. They congratulated the Venezuelan people who conducted a peaceful demonstration on September 1 in Caracas, which reaffirms the will of the people for a democratic resolution in connection with the recall referendum.

     They agreed on the need for the recall referendum (a constitutional right of the Venezuelan people) to be held in 2016. They agreed, too, that, it was incumbent upon the National Electoral Council to ensure that that expression of the will of the people takes place within the duly stipulated timeframes. On political prisoners, they jointly condemned the proven existence of political prisoners in Venezuela and demanded their immediate release. In the course of the meeting, they discussed possibilities of cooperation and agreed on some of the principal challenges facing the Hemisphere:

     The recall referendum - Former President Carter and Secretary General Almagro agreed on the need for the recall referendum (a constitutional right of the Venezuelan people) to be held in 2016. They agreed, too, that, it was incumbent upon the National Electoral Council (CNE) to ensure that that expression of the will of the people takes place within the duly stipulated timeframes. They jointly condemn the proven existence of political prisoners in Venezuela and demand their immediate release. In addition, both former President Carter and Secretary General Almagro pointed to the need of Venezuela to comply with the electoral timetable and called for much-needed democratic stability to be achieved in that country as soon as possible.


       MADRID, SPAIN --
Through a communiqué, the Spanish Foreign Ministry highlighted that Venezuelans showed once again that they “advocate a peaceful, electoral and constitutional way to solve the political crisis” Spanish gov't claims Venezuelans back recall vote.

      The Spanish government said that a march staged Thursday by the Venezuelan opposition in Caracas shows that people support a recall vote against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, and want the National Electoral Council (CNE) to adopt promptly the necessary measures to hold such election this year. Following the rally, the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday released a communiqué highlighting his government welcomed the fact that the event has taken place peacefully. “Venezuelan people have shown once more they advocate a peaceful, electoral and constitutional way to solve the political crisis,” the document reads.

     After the Spanish government statement, the Venezuelan Embassy to Spain deplored “meddling and biased remarks” made by the Spanish Foreign Ministry over an opposition-led demonstration on Thursday in favor of a recall vote against the mandate of President Nicolás Maduro. The Embassy issued a communiqué criticizing some Spanish media outlets for “partial” coverage including pictures of the event in front pages. In words of the Venezuelan diplomatic representation in Madrid, the opposition staged a rally nationwide, “which has been backed by a vast national and international campaign, without obstacles whatsoever.”

September 2, 2016

  CARACAS, VENEZUELA -  Opponents of President Nicolas Maduro flooded Venezuela's capital on Thursday in one of the biggest mass protests against socialist rule for more than a decade. Dressed in white and chanting "this government will fall," hundreds of thousands rallied across Caracas to demand a recall referendum against Maduro and decry a deep economic crisis in the South American OPEC nation. The opposition Democratic Unity coalition estimated at least 1 million people took part after protesters streamed into Caracas from the Amazon jungle to the western Andes.

    "We are going to bring down Maduro!" said Naty Gutierrez, 53, whose 75-mile (120 km) drive from Maracay into Caracas took three times longer than usual due to soldiers' roadblocks. "We are going to defeat hunger, crime, inflation and corruption. They've done nothing in 17 years. Their time is finished," she said, surrounded by thousands of people waving banners and national flags at one gathering point. The government, which mounted its own, smaller counter-protest, did not give numbers for the turnout.

    The opposition hoped its protests would prove they are the majority and heap pressure on Maduro and the national election board to allow a plebiscite on his rule, as allowed by the constitution half-way through a presidential term. But with the election board dragging its feet over the process and the government swearing the referendum will not happen this year, the opposition has no way to force it no matter how many people it brings onto the streets. The timing is all-important because if a plebiscite were held in 2017 and Maduro lost, his handpicked vice president would take over for the ruling Socialist Party, rather than triggering a new presidential election.


The former president of the Government, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has left Venezuela after a one-day visit and before the opposition mobilization to demand a recall referendum head of state, Nicolas Maduro, sources of the political environment. Zapatero, who acts as a mediator in the dialogue initiative between the opposition and the Venezuelan government sponsored by the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), he arrived Tuesday to the Caribbean country without that transcend details of his visit or the steps it has taken .

    He arrived in Venezuela, two days before the holding of a rally convened by MUD, the country’s opposition political forces, to put pressure on the government to accept a recall vote against the mandate of President Nicolás Maduro. The former Prime Minister heads the team of mediators led by Unasur which also involved the president of Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernandez and of Panama, Martin Torrijos, who was also yesterday in Venezuela. Concerning Rodríguez Zapatero’s visit, MUD Secretary General,) Jesús Torrealba, said that this initiative may be due to concerns on the part of the international community over the march scheduled for Thursday, September 1 in Caracas.

     Meantime, some journalists had received letters delivered by Venezuelan immigration authorities to inform them that they had to leave the country for “not meeting the requirements set out in Article 7 of the Law Aliens and Migration “. “We did sign a copy,” said one of the reporters. The reporters were transferred to a section of the airport from where they were place aboard a flight from the Colombian airline Avianca to Bogota .“ Asked about the possible reasons for their forced departure, Moreno said that although they had established “contacts” with the Ministry of Popular Power for Communication and Information of Venezuela, they never received the letters of accreditation as journalists.


Venezuela on Wednesday withdrew its ambassador from Brazil and froze ties with its southern neighbor in response to president Dilma Rousseff's removal from office. The leftist governments of Ecuador and Bolivia also recalled their top diplomats, with Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa calling the senate vote impeaching Rousseff "an apology for abuse and treason." Venezuela's foreign ministry condemned Rousseff's removal as a "parliamentary coup d'etat."

     Venezuela "has decided to definitively withdraw its ambassador in the Federal Republic of Brazil, and to freeze political and diplomatic relations with the government that emerged from this parliamentary coup," it said in a statement. Rousseff, 68, was convicted by 61 of 81 senators of illegally manipulating the national budget. The vote ended 13 years of leftist rule in Latin America's biggest economy, depriving Venezuela's socialist leaders of an important ally. It comes as Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro finds himself under mounting pressure to submit to a recall election amid a devastating economic crisis.

    The opposition has called for a massive march in Caracas on Thursday, raising the stakes in a volatile showdown. In Ecuador, president Correa took to Twitter to vent his anger about Brazil. "Never will we condone these practices, which recall the darkest hours of our America," Correa wrote, a reference to military dictatorships of the past. Ecuador's foreign ministry called Rousseff's removal "a flagrant subversion of the democratic order in Brazil." Bolivian president Evo Morales announced the recall of ambassador Jose Kim after threatening to do so Tuesday should Rousseff be removed from office.

September 1st., 2016

  CARACAS, VENEZUELA -  The General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS) warned against reports on “worsening of repression and human rights violations” in Venezuela. The OAS General Secretariat asked the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to allow demonstrations and avoid measures that may ignite violence and confrontation. The General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS) on Tuesday denounced what it has termed “worsening of repression and human rights violations” in Venezuela before the march convened by the opposition alliance Unified Democratic Panel (MUD) next Thursday.

     In this connection, the regional body warned that any abuse on the part of the government would be “unacceptable.” In a communiqué, the OAS General Secretariat, led by Uruguayan diplomat Luis Almagro, voiced concern over some events occurred days before a rally scheduled for September 1 by the Venezuelan democratic opposition. According to the document, there are attempts to “criminalize protest, disqualify political parties and criminalize the actions of deputies of the National Assembly and civil society activists.” “The General Secretariat shall blame the government for any victim,” that may result from the rally.

     The communiqué explains that the OAS has received complaints that show the recrudescence of the repression and of the violations of human rights. Its aim is to criminalize the protest. The government is threatening to disable the political parties and punish the members of the National Assembly for the activities conducted in the performance of their duties in defense of the civil society. The office of the Secretary General has urged the immediate cessation of the arbitrary measures and punishments which have, as a principal objective, the intimidation of opposition leaders and of the population in general.


President Dilma Rousseff was stripped of her office Wednesday in the culmination of a political crisis that has left Latin America’s largest nation adrift, with an economy in deep recession and a public sharply divided over the country’s future. Rousseff was impeached on arcane charges having to do with violating budget laws. But she was swept up in a tide of revulsion against Brazil’s political class as the once-flourishing economy contracted and political parties were tarred by a massive corruption scandal.

     Wednesday’s 61-to-20 Senate vote closed out an extraordinary 13-year rule by the leftist Workers’ Party, which boasted of lifting tens of millions of Brazilians out of poverty before the economy began to nosedive and its political fortunes soured. Rousseff was replaced by her former vice president and coalition partner, Michel Temer, who has been running Brazil as interim president since she was suspended to face the impeachment trial in May. He belongs to the more conservative Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, or PMDB, and is trying to introduce austerity measures to right the economy. But Temer is as unpopular as Rousseff, and whether he can muster the political support for such changes was unclear.

     Brazil's embattled president, Dilma Rousseff, is no longer the country's top politician. The judgment ends a a protracted process which began last December when the impeachment request got the green light in Brazil's lower house. Still, some Brazilians felt a sense of relief that the country had at last reached a decision on an impeachment process it began eight months ago. “The impeachment does not in any way resolve the political or economic crisis, but it gives us some hope, because for the first time in a long time, we will have a plan,” said Lucas de Aragão, director of Arko Advice, a political analysis firm in Brasilia. Rousseff’s removal marked the latest setback for Latin America’s left, which had been on the ascendancy just a few years ago in Argentina, Venezuela and other countries but has increasingly struggled amid a continent-wide economic slowdown and a series of corruption scandals.


       TEHRAN, IRAN --
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) sent four vessels to “harass” a U.S. warship near the Strait of Hormuz. A prim schoolmarm of a U.S. official called the Iranian action “unsafe and unprofessional.” In reality, there was nothing “unprofessional” about it. The incident wasn’t about seafaring conduct -- it was a clear act of war. The Iranian vessels harassed the USS Nitze, a destroyer, by “conducting a high speed intercept and closing within a short distance of Nitze, despite repeated warnings,” said the official.

      “The Iranian high rate of closure … created a dangerous, harassing situation that could have led to further escalation, including additional defensive measures by Nitze.” USS Nitze changed course to get away from the Iranian vessels, but Iran’s message was clear: it has been on a war footing against the United States since 1979, and continues to be. The Iran nuclear deal has only emboldened it. Iranian vessels now regularly confront U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf. The Obama administration has been deliberately hiding and downplaying these incidents.

     Think about the enormity of that: the White House is misleading Americans into thinking that Obama successfully achieved rapprochement with Iran. The details of Iran’s ongoing war activities against the United States are unknown to most Americans. For years, Iranian leaders have engaged in extremely bellicose rhetoric against the U.S. On February 11, 2014, the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Iranian Chief of Staff Hassan Firouzabadi boasted: Iran is prepared for the decisive war against the U.S. and the Zionist regime. … Iran has been making plans, conducting maneuvers, and preparing its forces for this battle for years now.



AUGUST  2016