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of APRIL  2017

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April 30, 2017
 

VENEZUELA GOVERNMENT FORMALLY WITHDRAWS FROM THE ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES
 

      Washington, d.c.   --  The Venezuelan government formally notified on Friday the Organization of American States that it is withdrawing from the 34-member group, though under OAS rules the exit won’t take effect until 2019. Venezuelan envoy Carmen Velasquez came to the body’s Washington headquarters to deliver a letter renouncing the 1948 charter founding the OAS, the first step toward withdrawal. Caracas decided to leave the organization after Wednesday’s vote by a majority of the members to convene a meeting of foreign ministers to discuss the political crisis in Venezuela, despite the adamant opposition of the Venezuelan government.

     Venezuela has been critical of the OAS since 1999, when the late Hugo Chavez became president and began turning the oil-rich Andean nation to the left, a policy continued by successor Nicolas Maduro. For nearly a decade, Caracas-friendly governments in Latin America prevented the OAS from taking official stands on internal matters in Venezuela. But with the coming to power of the right in countries such as Argentina and Brazil, the organization has become increasingly assertive in regard to Venezuela.

      The current OAS secretary-general, Luis Almagro,  has called for the invocation of the Democratic Charter – which includes the possibility of sanctions – in response to the increasing acrimony between government and opposition in Venezuela. Until now, no member-state has ever sought to withdraw from the OAS. The organization’s rules mandate a two-year exit process, during which time the departing member retains all of the rights and obligations of OAS membership. Those obligations include respecting representative democracy, human rights, the separation of powers, and freedom of expression. The Venezuelan opposition and its allies abroad accuse the Maduro government of being anti-democratic and oppressive.

COMPLYING WITH ORDERS FROM CUBA, VENEZUELA'S DEFENSE MINISTER, VLADIMIR PADRINO, ARRIVES IN MOSCOW WHILE MADURO REGIME TOTTERS IN FACE OF PRO-DEMOCRACY

        MOSCOW, RUSSIA -
Vladimir Padrino, Venezuela’s Defense Minister, arrived today in Moscow as the Maduro regime faces an existential threat from massive protests. Venezuela’s Defense Minister Arrives in Moscow: The Chavista regime in Venezuela is now facing the most formidable challenge to its survival since the initially successful but ultimately failed coup d’état against former strongman Hugo Chávez in 2002. As millions of citizens take to the streets of Caracas and other Venezuelan cities to demand the end of socialist Nicolás Maduro’s dictatorship, as they have been doing since last week, the international press has almost unanimously called for a return to liberal democracy and an end to the government’s despicable repression against peaceful protesters.

     The arrival in Moscow of Vladimir Padrino, Maduro’s Defense Minister, who announced in a video that he would meet his Russian counterpart, Sergey Kuzhugetovich Shoygu, at a conference of international defense. “I have come (to Moscow) upon the orders of President Nicolás Maduro,” Padrino said in the video. He added: “I bring a very interesting, a very important point (to the conference), which is NATO’s projection in Latin America, its consequences and risks.” Beyond the excuse of the conference, why is Maduro’s Defense Minister, the man who “pulls the strings of power behind the scenes” in Venezuela IS visiting Moscow precisely when massive citizen protests are posing an existential threat to the Chavista regime.

    The answer may have to do with what is perhaps the least analyzed aspect of the Venezuelan crisis: the geostrategic implications of a failed state in Venezuela from the point of view of the world’s great powers. There certainly has been a shift in Washington’s attitude toward the Venezuelan regime since Donald Trump arrived at the White President Trump has thrown the Obama strategy out of his blacked-out Mar-a-Lago window. As President Elect, Trump encouraged the opposition to the Cuban dictatorship by denouncing Fidel Castro as a “brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades.” Castro’s legacy, Trump stated, “is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.” In a single paragraph, Trump utterly discarded all of Obama’s wishy-washiness toward the Cuban regime, which even included an official visit to the island.

RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT TO HELP CUBA MODERNIZE ITS DEFENSE INDUSTRY

 
 
    MOSCOW, RUSSIA --  --
Anatoly Punchuk, deputy director of the Federal Technical Cooperation Service of Russia, announced that Russia is aiding its longtime ally with the “modernization of the defense industry of Cuba.” Russian aid to the Cuban armed forces follows an agreement signed by both parties in 2016. “We signed an agreement last year, the work is done,” he said, but gave no further details. The bilateral cooperation agreement in the area of defense was signed on December 9 in the framework of the meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission for Economic-Commercial and Scientific-Technical Cooperation of Cuba and Russia.

     According to the information offered by Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian-Cuban military cooperation program, Dmitri Rogozin, the agreement runs the gamut “from civilian technologies to military, from high technologies to simple things.” The Russian official explained that the agreement also includes “advice on implementing a program of planning for the development of the Armed Forces and all the logistics related to the technical maintenance of their military equipment.” Punchuk also noted that other Latin American countries are interested in Russian aid to modernize their military-industrial complex. Curiously, the Cuban media has made no public mention of the Russian aid.

     Rogozin further clarified that the aid does not entail sales of military equipment, noting that the Cuban military already possesses an extensive arsenal of Soviet-era military material, and emphasizing that the Russian government will be focusing on helping the island nation to maintain its existing stockpile. Last year Cuba hosted a conference on military hardware, in which several Russian companies participated. A longtime ally of the Soviet Union, Cuba suffered greatly in the wake of the empire’s 1991 collapse. The Soviet Union had a longstanding policy of propping up the Castro regime through paying high prices for the island’s large sugar output. Vladimir Putin has sought to rekindle the relationship between the two nations as he seeks to expand Russian geopolitical influence in Latin America.

April 29, 2017

VENEZUELA'S MADURO NEEDS PARLIAMENT'S OK TO LEAVE OAS, LAWMAKERS SAYS
 

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --  The chairman of the Foreign Policy Committee in the Venezuelan National Assembly, opposition lawmaker Luis Florido, said on Thursday that President Nicolas Maduro needs the approval of the legislature to be able to withdraw from the Organization of American States. The Venezuelan leader “cannot decide unilaterally on Venezuela’s exit from the (OAS), given that that is a decision involving the state and, as such, it must have the approval of the National Assembly,” said Florido, according to a parliamentary press release.

    The lawmaker also said that for his country to be able to leave the international body “Article 23 of the Constitution must be modified” and, he added, the way to do that is via an amendment, a reform or “by a national constituent assembly.” “Thus, the request made by Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez (to withdraw from the body) is absolutely invalid,” he said. Article 23 establishes that “the treaties, pacts and conventions relating to human rights, signed and ratified by Venezuela, have constitutional rank and prevail in the internal order insofar as they contain rules about their enjoyment and exercise more favorable to those established in this Constitution and in the laws of the Republic.”

    The article also says that such treaties “are immediately and directly applicable by the courts and other organs of the Public Branch” of government. According to the text of the press release, at the next parliamentary session lawmakers will debate a pact to reject Venezuela’s withdrawal from the OAS “considering that it does the country no good and it is not legal to leave this entity that seeks to safeguard the fulfillment of democracy” in the South American nation. Rodriguez said on Wednesday that Caracas will withdraw from the OAS after the members of the body voted to hold a foreign ministers meeting to discuss the country’s crisis without getting Venezuela’s approval. The prospective withdrawal is, in Maduro’s judgment, a “gigantic step in breaking with imperial interventionism.”

HENRIQUE CAPRILES CALLED MADURO "GENOCIDAL" AND BLAMED HIM FOR THE 30 DEATHS DURING PROTESTS

        CARACAS, VENEZUELA -
The opposition governor and two-time presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles, said Thursday that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is a "genocide" and blamed him for the deaths that have occurred in the country in recent days in the framework of a Wave of anti-government protests. "From now on whenever I refer to this man (Maduro) I will call him what he is: genocide. He is already on the list of genocides in the history of the world," said Capriles at the end of a Mobilization in the Chacao municipality, in the east of Caracas.

     The opposition said that Maduro "has ordered to exterminate practically the Venezuelan people to support himself in power" and denounced that in the country it has also "been ordered the massacre of the people" during the demonstrations. Some of these protests have become violent and have resulted in at least 30 deaths and hundreds of injuries and more than 1,000 detainees. "The people will continue in the street until we have a democratic solution ... the more repression, the more firmness," the governor continued after admitting that he does not know "how much longer people will remain" in the streets, After 30 days of protests in Caracas and throughout the country.

   Capriles reiterated that in Venezuela the Executive executed a "coup d'état", closing "all democratic windows against hunger and the shortage of medicines." On the other hand, he referred to the government's decision to withdraw from the Organization of American States (OAS), a process formally initiated on Thursday that could take about 24 months. "First Maduro will leave the country before Venezuela leaves the OAS, to leave the OAS the constitution has to be changed, it has to pass first through the Venezuelan people ... we will not become the second Cuba of America," he emphasized.

US NAVY ALMIRAL HARRY B. HARRIS, JR. SAID THE CRISIS IS THE WORST HE HAS EVER SEEN

 
 
    WASHINGTON, D.C. --  --
Speaking out yesterday, Admiral Harry B Harris Jr, Commander of US Pacific Command, said that the current crisis in the Korean Peninsula is the worst he has seen since he began serving 39 years ago. War with North Korea takes a step closer. He added that the US must assume that Kim Jong Un is intending on launching nuclear attacks on America. Speaking to Fox News, the commander said: ‘Kim Jong Un is making progress and all nations need to take this seriously because their missiles point in all directions. The North Korean crisis is the worst I’ve ever seen.’

     The senior US Navy officer spoke to the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday. He said that the US must assume that Kim Jong Un is intending on launching nuclear attacks. He said that he recognized that there were multiple possible threats. Adding that these included the possibility of ISIS being pushed into the Pacific theater area from the Middle East. However, he said that the most urgent threat at the moment is North Korea. He said: ‘If left unchecked, they will match the capability of his hostile rhetoric.’ Harris said that North Korea are ‘vigorously’ pursuing the capacity to bomb the US, South Korea and Australia.

      According to Fox, Harris declined to compare the current situation to that of the Cuban Missile Crisis decades ago. However, he said he has ‘no doubt’ that the country intends to develop nuclear missiles that could be aimed toward South Korea and the US. Luxury Fyre Fest music festival ends in total chaos and branded a scam Despite stating that the crisis is the worse he had seen, Harris said he has confidence in US defense plans. Adding that President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary Mattis have made it clear that ‘all options are on the table.’ He said: ‘We want to bring Kim Jong Un to his senses – not to his knees.’

April 28, 2017

SON OF VENEZUELA OMBUDSMAN ASKS HIS FATHER TO "STOP THE INJUSTICE WHICH HAS SUNK VENEZUELA"
 

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --  The son of Venezuela's rights ombudsman, Tarek William Saab, has called on his father to "stop the injustice which has sunk Venezuela". In a video posted on YouTube, Yibram Saab read out a letter to his father in which he condemned "the brutal repression by the country's security forces" of opposition protests. He posted the video after a student was killed at an anti-government march. Yibram Saab says in an online video that he experienced police repression during an anti-government a protest Wednesday.

     Reading prepared remarks he asked his father to show bravery and help restore the constitutional order broken by the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the opposition-controlled congress’ last vestiges of power. Ombudsman Tarek William Saab has the power to initiate impeachment investigations against high-court magistrates. But he’s shown staunch support for Maduro. Almost 30 people have been killed in protest-related violence since 1 April. Under the Venezuelan constitution, the ombudsman's office probes complaints against the government and is independent of the executive, legislative and judicial powers. But opposition leaders have accused ombudsman Tarek William Saab of siding with the government of President Maduro.

     The video in which his son openly condemns the security forces was widely picked up by opposition websites. Speaking directly into the camera, Yibram Saab referred to the latest person to be killed in anti-government protests. "Juan Pablo Pernalete, a 20-year-old university student, was killed through the terrible and inhumane use of teargas when he was hit [by a teargas canister] in the chest," he said. "That could've been me!" Yibram Saab said neither he nor his younger sister had been threatened and that he was speaking out "freely". "I'm doing this motivated by the principles and values which my dad taught me, which I'm grateful for." In the video, the younger Saab says: “DAD, YOU HAVE THE POWER TO PUT AN END TO THE INJUSTICE.”

OAS OKS MEETING TO DISCUSS VENEZUELA CRISIS, CARACAS SAYS IT WILL LEAVE THE ORGANIZATION

         WASHINGTON, D.C. -
The Organization of American States on Wednesday approved a plan to call a meeting of member states' foreign ministers to discuss the Venezuelan political crisis. After the vote, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez announced that Caracas on Thursday will begin the procedure of leaving the OAS after the international body voted to hold the meeting without her country's approval. "Tomorrow (on Thursday), as the president, Nicolas Maduro, indicated, we will present the letter of resignation to the Organization of American States and begin a procedure that will take 24 months," said Rodriguez from the Miraflores presidential palace in remarks broadcast by state-run VTV television.

     Voting in favor of the proposal were 19 nations: Guyana, Bahamas, St. Lucia, Argentina, Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the United States, Honduras, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay Voting against the measure were: Venezuela, Antigua & Barbuda, Bolivia, Dominica, Ecuador, Haiti, Nicaragua, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Vincent & the Grenadines and Suriname. Abstaining were Belize, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Trinidad & Tobago, while Grenada was absent from the session

       Venezuela had threatened to withdraw from the OAS if the foreign ministers' meeting were to be held, a process that would take two years during which all of Caracas' pending debts to the international body - amounting to some $8.7 million, at last tally - would need to be paid. It has not yet been specified where or when the meeting will take place and the only thing approved in the vote on Wednesday was that it would be held Venezuela's envoy to the OAS, Samuel Moncada, rejected Wednesday's vote and - before the vote was taken - he reiterated the threat made on Tuesday by Rodriguez, who said that Caracas would leave the organization if the foreign ministers' meeting were to be held.

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT URGES VENEZUELA TO HOLD ELECTIONS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE

 
 
    BRUSSELS, SWITZERLAND--  --
The European Parliament on Thursday urged the Venezuelan government to schedule free and transparent elections in the country as soon as possible. With a margin of 450 in favor, 35 against and 100 abstentions, the EP adopted a resolution condemning what was termed the continued violation of constitutional order in Venezuela, urging President Nicolas Maduro to restore democratic order and free political prisoners. In a press release, the EP said: "there can be no durable peaceful solution for Venezuela in the long term if there are political prisoners."

      It urged the Venezuelan government "to present an electoral calendar allowing free and transparent electoral processes and to stop side-lining opposition leaders by depriving them of their political rights." The EP was placing the spotlight on Caracas after the Venezuela Supreme Court Mar. 29 ruling to strip legislative powers from the opposition-controlled national assembly. A U-turn on the decision failed to quell a public backlash which evolved into huge opposition protests.

    Demonstrators and political opponents were accusing Maduro of becoming a dictator, while Maduro has decried the unrest_ in which over 20 people have been killed_ as an attempted coup d'etat. Lawmakers at the EP expressed their serious concern for what they perceived as the grave deterioration of democracy, human rights in a climate of increasing political and social instability. The EP said it strongly condemned the "brutal repression" being carried out by Venezuelan security forces and militias against the peaceful processes. It also urged the Maduro's government to allow entry for an EP delegation to Venezuela and to facilitate international aid deliveries for vulnerable people in the country.

April 27, 2017

NAVY DESTROYER HAS CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH IRAN VESSEL IN PERSIAN GULF
 

      WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- A U.S. Navy destroyer had another close encounter with an Iranian Revolutionary Guard "fast attack craft" in the Persian Gulf Monday. Two U.S. officials tell Fox News that the Iranian ship came within 1,000 yards of the guided missile destroyer USS Mahan with its weapons manned. The officials said the Mahan altered course to avoid the Iranian warship, sounded the danger signal, fired flares and manned its own weapons. The Iranian ship did not come closer than 1,000 yards and no warning shots were fired.

      "Coming inbound at a high rate of speed like that and manning weapons, despite clear warnings from the ship, is obviously provocative behavior," said one American official in describing the Iranian actions. In January, USS Mahan fired warning shots at four Iranian vessels near the Strait of Hormuz. In that incident, the Mahan tried to order the boats to stop via bridge-to-bridge radio communication, but the vessels didn’t respond, prompting the destroyer to fire three warning shots with a .50 caliber machine gun.

     According to the U.S. military, Iran harassed U.S. Navy warships through "unprofessional" interactions at least 35 times in 2016, a jump of more than 50 percent from the previous year. Among the most notable incidents from that period: In late November, an Iranian small boat in the Strait of Hormuz trained a machine gun on a U.S. Navy helicopter; U.S. warships have been targeted by rebels in Yemen who are being supplied and supported by Iran; In September, Iran threatened to shoot down Navy aircraft it said was encroaching on its airspace; In early September, seven Iranian boats harassed a U.S. Navy ship in the Persian Gulf.

VENEZUELA THREATENS TO EXIT OAS AS PRESSURE ON MADURO MOUNTS

         CARACAS, VENEZUELA -
Venezuela is threatening to pull out of the Organization of American States as the socialist government's response to political unrest that has been blamed for 26 deaths in recent weeks draws rebuke from the hemisphere's major powers. Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said on state TV late Tuesday that she had been instructed by President Nicolas Maduro to initiate the country's withdrawal from the Washington-based OAS if the region's foreign ministers hold a meeting on the country's crisis without his administration's backing.

       Her comments came hours before envoys to the OAS were scheduled to meet Wednesday to debate a proposal by Mexico, Brazil, the U.S. and 13 other nations to convene a special meeting of foreign ministers to discuss Venezuela's "situation." "We're not going to continue allowing legal and institutional violations that are arbitrary and surpass any moral, ethical and licit boundary that nations in this regional organization should respect," Rodriguez said. Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have flooded the streets over the last month to demand an end to Maduro's presidency. The protests have frequently ended in violent confrontations with security forces, which have used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds, and there also have clashes with pro-government groups.

     The unrest shows no sign of slowing down. Another demonstration was called for midday Wednesday in which Maduro's opponents planned to try again to march downtown to deliver a message to the nation's ombudsman, whose job is to stand up for citizens' rights but who the opposition has tagged the "defender of the dictator."Venezuela's chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Diaz, on Tuesday put a spotlight on the extent of the violence, saying more than 400 people had been injured and nearly 1,300 detained since the protests began in response to a Supreme Court ruling last month that stripped the opposition-controlled congress of much of its powers.In an unusual move, Ortega Diaz broke with the government in the immediate days after the decision to denounce it as a "rupture" of the constitutional order.

NORTH KOREA THREATENS TO STRIKE BACK AGAINST US AIRCRAFT CARRIER

 
 
    PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA--  --
North Korea will strengthen its auto-defense nuclear measures to counter USS Carl Vinson, the aircraft carrier that the United States had dispatched toward the Korean peninsula, local media reported on Monday. In an article published by state newspaper Rodong, Pyongyang said the US is mistaken if it thinks it can browbeat North Korea with such actions. The article warned North Korea’s armed forces will counter any such provocations by the enemy with an all-out nuclear war.

     “Steadfast are the Korean army and people’s will and resolve to annihilate the invaders and totally round off the showdown with the US by bolstering up their nuclear deterrent for self-defense in every way,” it added. The USS Carl Vinson and its attack fleet are currently conducting joint military drills with Japanese troops in the Pacific Ocean, and are scheduled to reach the Korean peninsula by the end of this week. Two weeks ago, Washington had announced that it had sent its carrier to the peninsula – in response to a missile test by Pyongyang in early April.

    However, the fleet was actually participating in military drills with Australia at that very moment, which was confirmed by the White House on April 20. Meanwhile, amid escalating tension in the region, North Korea is set to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the North Korean People’s Army on Tuesday and experts fear the country is preparing for another arms test to mark the date. Recent satellite photos of North Korea’s nuclear trial center in Punggye-ri, in northeastern part of the country, allegedly showed the preparations of a new test.

April 26, 2017

OAS WILL DEBATE TODAY WHETHER TO CALL FOREIGN MINISTERS FOR THE CRISIS IN VENEZUELA
 

      WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- The Permanent Council of the OAS will debate Wednesday if it summons the foreign ministers of the continent for the "Consideration of the draft resolution convening a Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs" on the situation in Venezuela. The Hemispheric body announced on Tuesday that the session was requested by Argentina, Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the United States, Honduras, Jamaica, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.

    The OAS will hold the special session a day after Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz reported that 26 people have been killed and 437 injured in street protests this month in the Caribbean nation against the government of President Nicolás Maduro. The OAS Permanent Council adopted at the beginning of the month a resolution according to which the constitutional order has been violated in Venezuela.

     The resolution included an explicit reference to a meeting of foreign ministers of the continent, or General Assembly, required by the Inter-American Democratic Charter as a preliminary step to a possible suspension of a member state where there has been an alteration of the constitutional order that seriously affects its democratic order. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro promises to suspend Venezuela from the continental body unless Maduro holds general elections as soon as possible. The Inter-American Democratic Charter, which sets the democratic standards agreed by the countries of the Hemisphere in 2001, stipulates that a country can be suspended only if it is approved by 24 of the 34 member states of the OAS.

26 DEAD, 157 INJURED AND 1,289 DETAINED AT DEMONSTRATIONS IN VENEZUELA

         CARACAS, VENEZUELA -
The Venezuelan Public Ministry on Monday reported that 26 people died in protests in Venezuela during the opposition demonstrations. The Public Ministry said in a statement that Merida government official Jesus Sulbaran, 42, and Renzo Rodriguez Roda, 54, died in separate incidents yesterday in which seven other people were reportedly wounded. “According to preliminary information, Sulbaran was near the Campo Elias viaduct on 16th Avenue (in Merida) when he was shot in the neck, presumably from nearly residences. In addition, six other people were wounded,” said the ministry.

    The ministry went on to say that Rodriguez Roda was hit in the chest by gunfire near the City Hall in the municipality of Bolivar in Barinas. Merida Gov. Alexis Ramirez said that Sulbaran and the injured people “are workers” in his office “who were massacred there at the sit-in the right staged where they are taking away the right to the free movement of the people of Merida.” Ombudsman Tarek William Saab earlier had told private Globovision television that Sulbaran had been at a “peaceful gathering of government supporters” when a “rain of shots” were fired from a nearby house, killing him. Saab said that one of the wounded, Luis Alberto Marquez, a government transport worker, was shot in the head and “seriously injured” and is currently fighting for his life in the emergency room at the Los Andes University Hospital.

     He also formally asked the appropriate authorities to “begin investigations” to “clear up the deeds and punish” those responsible for the violence. Saab went on to urge that these “criminal acts” be punished in an “exemplary manner,” adding that such deeds seek “to create instability in the nation.” Meanwhile, opposition Merida Mayor Carlos Garcia said on Twitter that “they confirm one dead and 5 wounded by gunfire ... Enough of the violence!” He added that “government groups,” about whom he was not more specific, “were outfitted with flags and t-shirts” by the Primero Justicia party. Meanwhile, opposition leader Henrique Capriles, a two-time presidential candidate and the current governor of Miranda state, said in a Twitter message of his own that he has information “about other Venezuelans murdered by paramilitary groups in Merida and Barinas,” along with several people injured.

AFGHAN DEFENSE MINISTER AND ARMY CHIEF RESIGNED AFTER ATTACK ON MILITARY BASE

 
 
    KABUL, AFGHANISTAN--  --
Afghan Defense Minister Abdullah Habibi and chief of staff of the Afghan National Army, Qadam Shah Shahim, resigned Monday following an attack on a military base. The attack in Mazar-e-Sharif on Friday had killed 138 soldiers and was one of the deadliest attacks against the country’s armed forces since 2001. “President Ghani accepted the resignations of the Minister of Defense and Chief of Army Staff after the attack on the army base,” director of government media and information center, Sediq Sediqqi, tweeted Monday.

     The presidential palace, too, confirmed on Twitter the resignations of both with immediate effect. The two leaders resigned by choice, Ghani’s spokesperson Dawa Khan Menapal told EFE, who confirmed that the decision was a fall out of the attack in Mazar-e-Sharif three days ago that was claimed by the Taliban. The attack, which lasted six hours, began shortly after noon, when the insurgents had infiltrated the base in military vehicles and dressed in military uniforms and targeted soldiers leaving a mosque following Friday prayers.

     After penetrating the base, one of the insurgents had blew himself up, while the others had continued with the assault. With at least 138 casualties, this is the worst attack on the Afghan Army since NATO ended its combat mission in Afghanistan in January 2015 after gradually handing back control to local security forces. The Afghan government has been losing ground to the Taliban since the end of the NATO military mission and currently controls only 57 percent of the country, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) of the US Congress. According to SIGAR, between January and November 2016 at least 6,785 Afghan security force members and 11,777 others were injured as the conflict escalated.
 

April 25, 2017

US AND CHINA INTENSIFY PRESSURE ON NORTH KOREA
 

      WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- Tensions are again flaring up between the United States and North Korea as concerns grow that the communist state will celebrate another important national holiday with a nuclear test or an intercontinental ballistic missile. On the eve of the 85th anniversary of the founding of the (North) Korean People’s Army, there are reports of renewed activity at the North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site, although analysts caution it is unclear whether a test is imminent. Meanwhile, two Japanese destroyers joined a military exercise with the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group that is en route to the Korean peninsula region. South Korea said on Monday it was in talks with Washington about holding its own joint drills with the U.S. naval strike force.

    In early April, U.S. officials sent out confusing messages that the Carl Vinson group was heading toward Korea in advance of the April 15 birthday of North Korea founder Kim Il-sung, which is often celebrated with a provocative weapons test. Instead of a nuclear test, Pyongyang held a military parade and attempted a mid-range missile test that failed. And the aircraft carrier was, until last week, actually in the Indian Ocean, where it was engaged in training exercises with Australia. North Korea Sunday responded defiantly to the renewed U.S. military show of force, saying it is “combat-ready to sink a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with a single strike,” in a commentary in the North's ruling Workers' Party Rodong Sinmun newspaper.

    The Global Times editorial also warned it would not militarily intervene if the U.S. conducted a preemptive strike against a North Korean nuclear facility. “Beijing should oppose the move by diplomatic channels rather than get involved through military actions,” the editorial stated. However, the editorial also said China would get involved militarily if South Korean and U.S. troops cross over the inter-Korean border and try to topple the North Korean regime. South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Duk-haeng Monday said the Chinese Communist Party Newspaper editorial, while not official policy, reflects that Beijing is taking a more assertive role in trying to restrain its ally in Pyongyang.

LILIAN TINTORI DENOUNCES A MONTH OF ISOLATION OF LEOPOLDO LOPEZ

         CARACAS, VENEZUELA -
The human rights activist, Lilian Tintori de Lopez and Antonieta Mendoza de López, again denounced the prohibition of the family visit to the Venezuelan leader and Prisoner of Conscience, Leopoldo López In Ramo Verde, due to a punishment imposed "without justification and violation of their human rights", which according to Tintori, does not allow the entry of lawyers for a month exactly. "I have not seen Leopoldo for a month. For a month we have come to Ramo Verde his relatives and lawyers and we deny entry.

    Today I am at the door of the military prison of Ramo Verde and they do not let me come to see him either, "said Tintori. Tintori called on national and international bodies to "stop unjustly punishing Leopoldo" and denounced that they do not let him call his children. "They took away the family call that is their right, this is a systematic violation of their rights and a severe treatment of torture against them." Also said that "we will not move from here until we see Leopoldo, he is a prisoner of conscience, he is unjustly imprisoned and also kept isolated." López is imprisoned for three years and two months in Ramo Verde, a military prison located almost an hour away from the city of Caracas.

He was considered a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International, an organization that recently issued a World Urgent Action, denouncing their isolation and violation of their fundamental rights. His relatives have denounced on several occasions solitary confinement and claim that "they do not want Leopoldo to communicate with Venezuelans." López would have called for "to continue fighting with force and faith for a free and democratic Venezuela" in the activities of street called during the month of April, reason why Tintori assured that "Maduro wants to avoid that the Venezuelans know how proud it is Leopoldo of all his Venezuelan brothers who have raised their voices peacefully for the freedom of Venezuela "said this afternoon that "here in Ramo Verde I start the sit-in.

FORMER COLOMBIAN PRESIDENT URIBE AFFIRMS THAT IT IS TIME TO "REMOVE THE TYRANNY IN VENEZUELA"
 
 
    BOGOTA, COLOMBIA  --
In a video released today, former president of Colombia Alvaro Uribe, who led the campaign against the peace accords in Colombia, called for the overthrow of the government of Venezuela. "It is necessary to remove the tyranny in Venezuela," adding, "The Venezuelan tyranny has eliminated democracy and massacred citizens," said the current senator. Earlier in the day, Uribe posted on Twitter that he would be making an announcement on the need for intervention in Venezuela. In a clear attempt to encourage foreign intervention, Uribe claimed, "This has the same gravity of the chemical weapons that Syria uses against its citizens," and asked, "How long will the international community allow this massacre to continue in Venezuela? It is time to remove the tyranny."

    Uribe is an outspoken representative of the hardline faction opposing dialogue and reconciliation with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army in Colombia. Frequently criticizing President Juan Manuel Santos for seeking rapprochement with both groups, Uribe favors head-on military confrontation with the rebels. Uribe accused the Venezuelan government of protecting what he calls the "terrorists" from the FARC and the ELN, lamenting that the international community has "reacted late against the political prisoners in Venezuela."

    The former president tied to death squads and drug cartels is calling for foreign armed forces to invade Venezuela. He said on Friday that any foreign country should conduct a military intervention in Venezuela to overthrow the government of President Nicolas Maduro. He affirms that “The army … the armed forces have to protect the opposition … or let’s think … just think … which country is willing to put their armed forces to protect the (Venezuelan) opposition? Be careful … tyranny does not listen … They (Venezuelan government) have to be confronted with all of our energy,” Uribe said. The former leaders argue that the government of president Maduro is maintaining “a discourse of institutional conflict” and “developing actions of political persecution against members of the National Assembly and opposition leaders.”

April 24, 2017

NORTH KOREA SAYS READY TO STRIKE U.S. AIRCRAFT CARRIER
 

      PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA  -- North Korea said on Sunday it was ready to sink a U.S. aircraft carrier to demonstrate its military might, as two Japanese navy ships joined a U.S. carrier group for exercises in the western Pacific. U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to sail to waters off the Korean peninsula in response to rising tension over the North's nuclear and missile tests, and its threats to attack the United States and its Asian allies. The United States has not specified where the carrier strike group is as it approaches the area. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday it would arrive "within days" but gave no other details.

     "Our revolutionary forces are combat-ready to sink a U.S. nuclear powered aircraft carrier with a single strike," the Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the North's ruling Workers' Party, said in a commentary. The paper likened the aircraft carrier to a "gross animal" and said a strike on it would be "an actual example to show our military's force". The commentary was carried on page three of the newspaper, after a two-page feature about leader Kim Jong Un inspecting a pig farm. North Korea will mark the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People's Army on Tuesday. It has in the past marked important anniversaries with tests of its weapons.

     North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests, two of them last year, and is working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the United States. It has also carried out a series of ballistic missile tests in defiance of United Nations sanctions. North Korea's growing nuclear and missile threat is perhaps the most serious security challenge confronting Trump. He has vowed to prevent the North from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile and has said all options are on the table, including a military strike. North Korea says its nuclear program is for self-defense and has warned the United States of a nuclear attack in response to any aggression. It has also threatened to lay waste to South Korea and Japan.

US CARRIER HEADING FOR KOREA TRAINS WITH JAPANESE DESTROYERS

         WASHINGTON, D.C.  --
 U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, approaches Busan port in Busan, South Korea, to participate in an annual joint military exercise called Foal Eagle between South Korea and the United States. The American aircraft carrier heading toward the Korean peninsula is conducting a joint exercise with Japanese naval ships in the Philippine Sea. A U.S. The American aircraft carrier heading toward the Korean Peninsula began joint exercises Sunday with Japanese naval ships in the Philippine Sea.

      Two Japanese destroyers joined the USS Carl Vinson and two other U.S. warships as they continued their journey north in the western Pacific Ocean, the U.S. Navy said in a statement. The Vinson had canceled a scheduled visit to Australia to divert toward North Korea in a show of force, though it still conducted a curtailed training exercise with Australia before doing so. Tensions are elevated on the Korean Peninsula, with the Trump administration saying that all options are on the table, and indications that North Korea may be preparing to test a nuclear weapon or long-range missile.

     Two Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers left Sasebo port in southern Japan on Friday to join the Vinson strike group. The U.S. group also includes a guided-missile cruiser and a guided-missile destroyer. The Navy called the exercise "routine" and said it is designed to improve combined maritime response and defense capabilities, as well as joint maneuvering proficiency. The Vinson group has conducted three previous bilateral exercises with the Japanese navy since leaving San Diego on Jan. 5 for a western Pacific deployment. The most recent one was in March.

VENEZUELA DEMANDS COLOMBIA RETURN 3 MILITARY DESERTERS
 
 
    CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --
Venezuela's foreign minister has demanded that Colombia return three military officers who have sought political asylum in the neighboring country. The apparent desertion comes amid weeks of violent protests against the administration of President Nicholas Maduro, with at least 22 people dead as a result of the turmoil.. The military desertions are believed to be the first since Maduro came to power in 2013 and could indicate weakening support for the embattled President within the armed forces, according to observers.

     Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez told the state-run VTV network Saturday that three National Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela lieutenants had deserted in late March and later requested political asylum in Colombia. Rodriguez said she asked her Colombian counterpart María Ángela Holguín and Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas that the three officers be returned to their country. "Political asylum is not granted to military officers or deserters who openly called in video for a coup d'état against President Maduro," Rodriguez told the network. There was no immediate reaction from Colombian authorities.

     Rodriguez may have been referring to a widely circulated video on social media in which three lieutenants said they no longer recognize Maduro as President and commander in chief and warn of a possible civil war. Diosdado Cabello, a National Assembly deputy and member of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, said last week that a group of military officers were conspiring against Maduro. Venezuelan army lieutenants Alejandro Michael Sánchez, Ángel David Mogollón Medina and José Rodríguez Contreras have declared themselves in rebellion against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. "In Venezuela the peaceful means have been exhausted to try to restore democracy and institutionality. And a dangerous cycle of violence has begun that could trigger a civil war, a situation we consider unacceptable, "said the three lieutenants of the army.

April 23, 2017

VENEZUELA DEATH TOLL SOARS TO 21 IN WEEKS OF PROTESTS
 

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA   -- The death toll in three weeks of violence at anti-government protests in Venezuela jumped to 21 people on Saturday (Apr 22) after a night of clashes and pillaging left 12 people dead in Caracas. Riot police and pro-government vigilantes fought running battles with protesters demanding the ouster of President Nicolas Maduro on the capital's east, west and south sides, witnesses said. "It was like a war," said 33-year-old construction worker Carlos Yanez, a resident of the southwestern district of El Valle. "The police were firing tear gas, armed civilians were shooting guns at buildings. My family and I threw ourselves to the floor. It was horrible," he told AFP.

    Eleven people were killed in the neighborhood, according to officials. Eight of them were reportedly electrocuted while trying to loot a bakery amid the chaos. The rest were shot. The opposition accuses the government of sending gangs of armed thugs to attack them. Videos shot by El Valle residents showed people throwing bottles and other objects out their windows at the gunmen in the streets below, shouting "Murderers!" At one point, street protesters hurling Molotov cocktails managed to set fire to one of the armored police trucks firing tear gas at them, lighting up the night sky.

    Fifty-four people, including newborn babies, were evacuated from a maternity hospital in the neighbourhood. There were conflicting explanations about the reason. The government said "armed gangs hired by the opposition" had attacked the hospital. The opposition rejected the allegation, saying the children had to be evacuated because of tear gas fired by Maduro's "dictatorship." There was a heavy security presence Friday in the capital, as residents and workers cleaned up the destruction left by the clashes and looting. Groups of hungry people, including children, scavenged for food amid the wreckage in El Valle. The two sides looked set to spend the day regrouping after massive protests Wednesday and Thursday erupted into unrest in the flashpoint western city of San Cristobal and several other cities.

NICOLAS MADURO: COLOMBIA IS A FAILED STATE AND PLANNING FARC MASSACRE

         CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --
Diplomatic relations between Colombia and Venezuela hit rock bottom again on Thursday with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accusing Bogota of planning a “massacre of FARC leaders.” Maduro responded fiercely to his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos, who earlier that day repeated an earlier claim that the Venezuelan government’s “Bolivarian Revolution has failed.” “Colombia is a failed state,” Maduro responded at a party rally in the capital Caracas, where he said he would “reveal the whole truth about the peace process.”

    “They are preparing a massacre of the FARC leaders who signed peace,” Maduro claimed. The accusation touches an extremely sensitive nerve with the guerrillas, who have negotiated extreme security measures after a 1985 intent to enter politics ended in the assassinations of thousands of leftist activists in the 1980s and 1990s. According to Maduro, Venezuela has taken in 5.6 million Colombians “fleeing from war, from paramilitaries, from the oligarchy, from hunger, from the lack of opportunities, from unemployment. They censor me in Colombia when I tell this truth.” Venezuela has been embroiled in mass protests after years of political polarization, a worsening economic crisis, deteriorating public security and an increasingly autocratic government.

    Santos has tried hard to stay out of Venezuelan affairs despite numerous occasions in which Maduro partly blamed Colombia for his country’s deteriorating crisis. For years, Venezuela supported peace talks between the Colombian government and Marxist FARC guerrillas, who have long expressed to be ideologically aligned with the government in Caracas. After Venezuela’s National Assembly was temporarily stripped of its powers earlier this month, Santos joined other Latin American leaders in condemning the Supreme Court move and recalled Colombia’s ambassador. Apart from the massacre planning allegations, Maduro said Bogota had rejected Venezuelan aid for Mocoa, a southern Colombian town that was partly destroyed in floods and mudslides earlier this month.

BRAZIL CONDEMNS VENEZUELA GOVERNMENT FOR VIOLENT REPRESSION AGAINST OPPOSITION
 
 
     RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL  --
Brazil condemned the Venezuelan authorities on Thursday for their violent repression of the opposition demonstrations, which left at least 3 dead and 62 wounded, and directly pointed to the Venezuelan government as the main responsible for such violence. “The Brazilian government condemns the Venezuelan authorities’ violent repression against yesterday’s demonstrations in defense of the restoration of democratic freedoms,” the Brazilian Foreign Ministry said in a statement released on Thursday, adding that it is “deeply” sorry for the deaths.

    For the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “the primary responsibility for violence lies with the Venezuelan Government, for treating freedom of expression and opinion as a threat and for encouraging armed action against demonstrators.” Tens of thousands of people demonstrated Wednesday both against and in favor of President Nicolas Maduro’s government. According to data from the Public Ministry, during the protests in the metropolitan area of Caracas and in 14 other states, 3 people died, 62 were injured and 312 were arrested.

    Yesterday victims were a 23-year-old woman who was shot while passing a place close to an opposition rally in Tachira state, a 17-year-old boy who was shot in the head while passing one of the rallies in Caracas, and a police officer of the Bolivarian National Guard who was killed by a sniper in the capital. Brazil reiterated in their statement its “exhortation to the Venezuelan government to act with moderation in order to generate the conditions for peace and dialogue.” The Brazilian government also urged its Venezuelan counterpart to respect the electoral calendar and to immediately fix the date for regional elections, as well as “to restore fundamental rights and freedoms, recognize and guarantee the independence of the powers and free all political prisoners.”

April 22, 2017

HENRIQUE CAPRILES REPORTED THAT LAST NIGHT IN CARACAS THERE WERE 12 KILLED AND 20 BUSINESSES WERE "LOOTED"
 

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA   -- Henrique Capriles, gave an assessment of the irregular events that occurred on Thursday night in Caracas and Miranda, where 12 people were killed. "Yesterday morning, the murder of Melvin Guaitán, a neighbor of the neighborhood of July 5, was recorded in the municipality of Sucre. We ask for an investigation to determine those responsible and brought before the justice, "he said through the social network Periscope. He also reported that they handle unofficial figures of what happened in El Valle parish in Caracas. "There is talk of the death of ten people as a result of a situation that was generated yesterday that we rejected and condemned."

     At least three people were killed Wednesday when violent clashes marred what opposition leaders in Venezuela had billed as a massive march on a national holiday commemorating the start of the troubled country's independence struggle against Spain. Hours after the start of competing marches by the opposition as well as supporters of embattled President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's public ministry said it had launched an investigation into the shooting of a 17-year-old man who was struck in the head an hour into the march in Caracas. The teenager, later identified as Carlos Moreno, died while undergoing surgery, a hospital representative told CNN.

     Moreno's sister, Alejandra, said Carlos studied economics at Venezuelan Central University in Caracas. Instead of joining the marches, she said, he was on the way to play soccer. Video posted on social media showed a young man on the ground in the San Bernardino neighborhood -- a pool of blood near his head -- surrounded by marchers. A woman is heard yelling, "They've killed him." The ministry later said it was also investigating the Wednesday afternoon shooting death of Paola Andreina Ramírez Gómez, 23, in plaza San Carlos in San Cristóbal, Tachira stat Jorban Contreras, a paramedic and director of the civil protection unit in Tachira, said the woman lost a lot of blood and was already dead from a gunshot wound to her chest when she arrived.

EUROPEAN UNION URGES VENEZUELA TO 'DE-ESCALATE' DEADLY PROTEST TENSIONS

    GENEVA, SWITZERLAND --
The European Union on Thursday called for calm in Venezuela after "highly regrettable" deaths during protests against the government of the oil-rich country. The 28-nation bloc also called for an investigation to identify those responsible for the violence, as opponents vowed to hold fresh rallies to oust President Nicolas Maduro. "We call on all Venezuelans to come together to de-escalate the situation and find democratic solutions in the framework of the constitution," EU foreign affairs spokeswoman Nabila Massrali told AFP.

     The Group also called on Thursday for a de-escalation of tensions in Venezuela and urged authorities to investigate the fatalities and acts of violence that occurred during the mass anti-government rallies. Three people were killed, dozens injured and hundreds arrested in Venezuela on Wednesday as thousands of opposition protesters took to the streets against President Nicolas Maduro. All those concerned, including members of the security forces, have the responsibility to act within the rules of law and respect human rights, a spokesperson for the EU external

     "Only peaceful and constructive engagement can halt the deterioration of the situation in Venezuela and build better prospects for its people." A 17-year-old boy and a 23-year-old woman died after being shot during the protests on Wednesday, while a soldier outside Caracas was also said to have been killed, bringing to eight the number of dead this month in a mounting political crisis. Massrali added: "The acts of violence during the demonstrations in Venezuela on 19 April are highly regrettable. We are saddened by the deaths of a man and a woman and concerned at the reports of numerous persons injured." The statement did not mention the soldier. "All concerned, including members of the security forces, have a responsibility to act in full compliance with the rule of law and human rights," the spokeswoman said.

GENERAL MOTORS SAYS VENEZUELA HAS SEIZED ITS CAR PLANT
 
 
     WASHINGTON, D.C.  --
General Motors says it will immediately halt operations in Venezuela after its plant in the country was unexpectedly seized by authorities. GM (GM) described the takeover as an "illegal judicial seizure of its assets." The automaker said the seizure showed a "total disregard" of its legal rights. It said that authorities had removed assets including cars from company facilities. "[GM] strongly rejects the arbitrary measures taken by the authorities and will vigorously take all legal actions, within and outside of Venezuela, to defend its rights," it said in a statement.

      Authorities in Venezuela, which is mired in a severe economic crisis, did not respond to requests for comment. It was not immediately clear why authorities seized the GM plant. Huge swaths of Venezuela's economy have been nationalized in the years since former President Hugo Chavez rose to power. Under Chavez, who took office in 1999, the state took control of private oil, telecommunications, energy and cement businesses. President Nicolas Maduro has continued the tradition, while blaming the United States and its companies for Venezuela's economic and political problems.

      "Government decision making is increasingly incoherent. It's difficult to understand the rationale," said Nicolas Watson, head of Latin American research at Teneo Intelligence. Automakers in the country have struggled because they've been unable to access U.S. dollars to import parts, said Watson. The GM plant in Valencia employs nearly 2,700 workers, but stopped producing cars in 2015 and has only been selling spare parts since then, a company spokesperson said. GM said it would make "separation payments" to its workers. Venezuela is in crisis mode: The country's economy shrank by 18% in 2016 -- its third consecutive year of recession. Unemployment is set to surpass 25%, and its people have suffered from widespread shortages of food and medicine.

April 21, 2017

AS VENEZUELA STARVES, CITGO GAVE $500,000 TO PRESIDENT TRUMP INAUGURATION
 

      WASHINGTON, D.C.   --Citgo, the U.S. subsidiary of Venezuela's state owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), donated half-a-million dollars for President Donald J. Trump's Inauguration, newly released U.S. Federal Election Committee filings show. According to the FEC filing, Citgo’s $500,000 contribution came on December 22 -- one day after the Latin American Herald Tribune broke the story that Venezuela had mortgaged 49.9% of Citgo to Russia's Rosneft for $1.5 billion.  LAHT editor Russ Dallen testified before Congress last month on the transaction, and last week U.S. Senate leaders joined House leaders in calling for a U.S. government Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) review of Venezuela's Citgo deal with Russia's Rosneft.

      Rosneft is on the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned company list as a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and seizure of Crimea. U.S. companies are forbidden from doing business with Rosneft as a result. Rosneft head Igor Sechin, a long-time associate and former aide to Russia President Vladimir Putin, is also on the sanction list. Venezuela has also been declared a National Security threat by the President for the last three years in a row. Aside from the fact that Venezuela is reeling from shortages of everything from food to medicine, the half-a-million dollar donation appears to be unusual for Citgo, which didn’t contribute to U.S. presidential inaugurations in 2005, 2009 or 2013.

     According to the 510 page filing (see below), Citgo's contribution was among the largest from fossil-fuel companies -- which in all donated almost $3.6 million to the inaugural fund. Corporations, barred by federal law from donating to campaigns, can underwrite the costs of inaugural festivities. Citgo's contribution helped propel Trump’s inaugural fundraising to a new record of $106.7 million -- double the record set in Obama's first inauguration. Citgo's CEO at the time of the contribution was Nelson Martinez who in January was appointed Venezuela's Minister of Oil and Mining. Citgo is currently being sued in multi-billion dollar suits for "fraudulently transferring" assets out of the US to avoid judgments from gold miner Crystallex and oil major ConocoPhillips.

US WARNS VENEZUELAN OFFICIALS WILL BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR CRIMINAL REPRESSION

    WASHINGTON, D.C. --
Venezuela has been witness in recent weeks to ongoing social protests, ever since the Supreme Court demonstrated its lack of independence from the Executive Branch through a continuing series of court decisions against the members of the freely-elected National Assembly. Thus far, seven demonstrators have been killed, with hundreds arrested. There have been credible accounts of use of torture by SEBIN and CICPC. More demonstrations are called for the coming days, in particular for Wednesday, April 20.

     We call again upon the Government of Venezuela to fulfill the commitments it made as part of the Vatican-backed Dialogue process last Fall: to hold prompt elections; to respect the constitution and the National Assembly; to provide for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners; and, to tend to the humanitarian needs of the Venezuelan people. We echo the joint call made April 17 by 11 Latin American governments on the government of Venezuela to immediately take these steps to permit a prompt solution to the grave crisis affecting all Venezuelans, and increasingly, the region.

     We again urge demonstrators to express themselves non-violently. We deplore the use of violence against unarmed protestors. In particular, we deplore the use of colectivos – armed bands under the political control of PSUV party leaders – to repress protestors while the security forces responsible for maintaining public order idly stand by. We also again remind the public forces – members of the Police, the Army and the National Guard – as well as members of the judiciary, of their legal and constitutional responsibilities to protect, not prevent, peaceful demonstrations. Those responsible for the criminal repression of peaceful democratic activity, for the undermining of democratic institutions and practices, and for gross violations of human rights, will be held individually accountable for their actions by the Venezuelan people and their institutions, as well as by the international community.

COLOMBIA DENOUNCED VENEZUELA MILITARIZATION BEFORE UNITED NATIONS
 
 
     BOGOTA, COLOMBIA  --
Colombia’s president on Wednesday accused his Venezuelan counterpart of further militarizing the civilian population and said he had asked his foreign minister to convey those concerns to the United Nations. “I asked the foreign minister to urge the UN secretary-general to pay attention to the worrying militarization of Venezuelan society,” Juan Manuel Santos wrote on Twitter. Colombia and Venezuela share a 2,219-kilometer (1,380-mile) land border, making the political and socio-economic crisis in the neighboring country – which is politically polarized and racked by sky-high inflation and food and medicine shortages – a matter of particular concern for authorities in Bogota.

     Santos’ administration has been closely following recent developments in Venezuela, where competing street demonstrations by opponents and supporters of President Nicolas Maduro have been called for Wednesday. Santos on Tuesday expressed serious concern over Maduro’s announcement the day before of a plan to expand the number of civilian members of armed militias by 500,000. Earlier this week, 11 Latin American governments issued a joint statement lamenting the deaths of six people in recent protests in Venezuela and calling for Maduro’s administration to guarantee people’s right to peacefully demonstrate and urgently set dates for elections to help resolve the crisis.

     Venezuela’s government slammed that communique as interference in its internal affairs and accused those nations of violating international law due to their alleged support for outside intervention and violent vandalism by government opponents. “Venezuela rejects the rude interference of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said Monday.
This month, Venezuela’s opposition has been protesting, among other things, a Supreme Court ruling handed down in late March that stripped the opposition-controlled National Assembly of its remaining authority, although that decision was later partially annulled.

April 20, 2017

HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF VENEZUELANS MARCHED AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT OF NICOLAS MADURO
 

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA --Hundreds of thousands of opponents of Nicolas Maduro flooded the streets of Caracas amid confusion and tear gas Wednesday for what they've dubbed the "mother of all marches" against the embattled socialist leader. Clashes between protesters, police and government supporters started early. Shortly after the march kicked off, state security forces fired tear gas at some pockets of protesters. Opposition leaders also said a young man was shot in the head at a protest and rushed to the hospital where he died a few minutes later. . Journalists waited outside the clinic for reports on his condition.

     The protesters converged from 26 different points spread across the capital to attempt to march downtown to the Ombudsman's office. It's a route tens of thousands of angry protesters have attempted a half-dozen times in the past few weeks only to find their progress blocked by armored vehicles and a curtain of tear gas and rubber bullets fired by riot police officers. At least six deaths have been blamed on the strong-armed response to protests that were triggered by the government-stacked Supreme Court's decision three weeks ago to strip the opposition-controlled congress of its last remaining powers after a year-long power battle.

     That move was later reversed amid overwhelming international rebuke and even a rare instance of public dissent in the normally disciplined ruling elite. But it had the added effect of energizing Venezuela's fractious opposition, which had been struggling to channel growing disgust with Maduro over widespread food shortages, triple-digit inflation and rampant crime. With its momentum renewed, the opposition is now pushing for Maduro's removal and the release of scores of political prisoners. The government last year abruptly postponed regional elections the opposition was heavily favored to win and cut off a petition drive to force a referendum seeking Maduro's removal before elections late next year.

AS VENEZUELA GIRDS FOR MASSIVE DEMONSTRATIONS, NICOLAS MADURO ACCUSES US OF TRYING TO OVERTHROW HIS GOVERNMENT

    CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
With Venezuela’s capital girding for massive demonstrations Wednesday, Nicolás Maduro is accusing the United States of trying to overthrow his leftist government. In an address from the national palace in Caracas Tuesday evening, Maduro complained of “a State Department push” to “provoke an imperialist intervention” in the South American country, with pro- and anti-government demonstrations as a backdrop. Venezuela’s opposition is organized “the mother of all marches” to protest Maduro’s administration, and the Venezuelan leader rallied his supporters to turn out for a counter-march.

     The U.S. State Department on Tuesday issued a statement warning that the “international community” would join in any response to the “criminal repression of peaceful democratic activity...” The statement, put out by spokesman Mark C. Toner, urged nonviolent demonstrations. “We deplore the use of violence against unarmed protestors,” it said. Using the abbreviation for the ruling United Socialist Party, it particularly warned against using “colectivos – armed bands under the political control of PSUV party leaders – to repress protestors while the security forces … idly stand by.”

     Security forces and members of the judiciary, the statement continued, have “legal and constitutional responsibilities to protect, not prevent, peaceful demonstrations.” Maduro rejected the statement, saying the State Department in essence had announced a coup against Venezuela. “Whoever wants to see the script written to generate violence, death … read the statement. There is the plan,” he said. At least six people (including one today) have been killed in over two weeks of protests, with security forces firing rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons.

SEBASTIAN PIÑEDA: VENEZUELA HAS BECOME A DICTATORSHIP LIKE CUBA
 
 
     SANTIAGO, CHILE  --
Former Chilean President Sebastian Piñera, who on Monday met with Rosa Maria Paya, the daughter of late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, said that Venezuela has transformed itself into a dictatorship just like Cuba. “Cuba continues to be a dictatorship and Venezuela has become one,” said Piñera, who governed from 2010-2014 and is running for president once again in the November election. He said that not even the new relationship launched by the United States with Cuba in July 2015 “has changed that situation.”

     “Once more, we want to raise our voice and ask the Chilean government and all the democratic governments of the Americas to use all instruments to defend freedom, human rights, democracy and the state of law in Cuba and in Venezuela because they are not being respected,” he emphasized. The former leader said that the situation in Cuba called upon all who want to defend freedoms, democracy and human rights around the world to take action. Meanwhile, Paya said that “it’s an honor to be here” in Chile and thanked the former president for his “commitment to the cause of freedom throughout the region.”

     “You have taken up the torch with us, in our demands for the right to decide for the Cuban people,” said the activist dissident. Paya said that “we ... request that a plebiscite be held in Cuba whereby also Cubans can decide their future, as Chileans did and which was the door to the democratic transition” in the South American country. The Cuban dissident is making a Latin American tour seeking political and social support for a popular plebiscite in her country. Oswaldo Paya died in a road accident in Cuba in July 2012 along with another Cuban dissident, Harold Cepero, an incident that his family claims was an assassination orchestrated by the Havana regime.

April 19, 2017

ELEVEN LATIN AMERICAN NATIONS REPUDIATE  DEATHS OF 6 DEMONSTRATORS IN VENEZUELA
 

      BOGOTA, COLOMBIA --The governments of 11 Latin American nations repudiated on Monday the deaths of six people in the recent anti-government protests in Venezuela and called for avoiding “any violent action” on the day of demonstrations called for later this week, the Colombian Foreign Ministry announced.

    “We express our profound regret and rejection of the deaths of six citizens within the framework of the days of protests that took place in Venezuela in recent days, and we express our solidarity and condolences to their relatives,” the group of countries said in their joint statement released in Bogota. Signing the declaration were the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. The group of nations also called on the government of Nicolas Maduro to “guarantee the right to peaceful demonstration, as the Venezuelan Constitution sets forth” and “prevent any act of violence against the demonstrators.”

    The group also called upon the opposition to “exercise your right to demonstrate with responsibility, thus achieving a peaceful day where the people express themselves calmly.” The opposition MUD alliance called a day of anti-government protests in Venezuela for Wednesday to protest what it says is a “coup d’etat” and a “rupture of the constitutional thread.” Meanwhile, the first vice president of the governing PSUV party, Diosdado Cabello, announced for Wednesday the convening of an “historic march” by pro-government forces at which some 60,000 people are expected.

VENEZUELA'S MADURO TELLS MILITIA TO SEIZE POWER IF HE IS DEPOSED

    CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced that he was increasing the nation's militia paramilitary force to half-a-million and instructed members to seize power in the oil-rich nation in case he is unseated. "If the right wing attempts a coup d'etat, go out and seize power," the embattled President said Monday. "I have approved the plan for Defense Minister Padrino Lopez to expand our militia to 500,000 men and equip each of them, including a rifle." The militia does not have Constitutional standing, as a move by the late Hugo Chavez, Maduro's mentor and predecessor, to have Venezuela's Magna Carta amended to provide that force was rejected in 2007.

     During the televised proceedings marking the seventh anniversary of the creation of the militia Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino read an oath of allegiance to Maduro, a first in democratic Venezuelan history. After Padrino read his unprecedented oath, Maduro spoke again, reiterating that the militia must come out and seize power if "any form of coup" is used to unseat him, and asked of all of the present more "union" and less "treason". "It is not the time of treason," Maduro repeated several times. Venezuela is convulsing in the midst of a humanitarian crisis peppered with violent street demonstrations that have so far resulted in 6 dead and some 500 arrested.

     The increasingly loathed Maduro has a popularity rate of around 9%, as under his rule the country began experiencing severe food and medicine shortages, hyper-inflation and one of the world's highest homicide rates. The Attorney General's Office broke ranks with the Maduro administration three weeks ago, when it said that a maneuver by the Supreme Court to usurp the functions of the National Assembly was tantamount to a coup d'état. The Court partly backtracked in the wake of the international outcry, but then the government slapped a political ban on opposition leader Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski. Violent protests denouncing the coup started April 4th and the government has been unable to stop them, in spite of using both heavy-handed repression and the promise to hold long-delayed state and municipal elections, widely seen as an opportunity for the opposition to broaden its power base.

NICOLAS MADURO TO PROVIDE A RIFLE TO EACH ONE OF HIS 500,000 LOYALISTS AMID PEAKING TENSION
 
 
     CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --
The Bolivarian militias were first created by the late Hugo Chavez to assist the armed forces in the defense of his "revolution." Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said he will expand the number of civilians involved in armed militias, providing guns to as many as 500,000 loyalists. The announcement came as Maduro's opponents are gearing up for what they pledge will be the largest rally yet to press for elections and a host of other demands Wednesday.

     The current unrest is the strongest the country has seen since 2014, when protests left dozens dead. (EFE). The Bolivarian militias, currently at approximately 100,000, were created by the late Hugo Chavez to assist the armed forces in the defense of his revolution from external and domestic attacks. Speaking to thousands of militia members dressed in beige uniforms gathered in front of the presidential palace, Maduro said that vision remains relevant as Venezuela continues to face "imperialist aggression."

     "A gun for every militiaman!" he cried. Maduro's government claims foreign-backed opposition leaders are fomenting violence in an attempt to remove him from power. The opposition denies that assertion, saying it is Maduro himself who is responsible for Venezuela's woes, including triple-digit inflation, rising crime and food shortages. They also blame Maduro for ordering security forces to use tear gas against protesters and failing to stop pro-government armed groups from attacking demonstrators.

April 18, 2017

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE WARNS NORTH KOREA NOT TO TEST US RESOLVE
 

      SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA --Referencing recent U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Afghanistan, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence Monday issued a strong warning to North Korea that President Donald Trump will use military force if needed to deal with the Kim Jong Un government’s escalating nuclear threat. “Just in the last two weeks the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria, in Afghanistan. North Korea would do well not to test his resolve,” said Pence said. The vice president is visiting South Korea at the start of a four-nation Asia tour to reinforce the U.S. commitment to allies in this increasingly volatile region and build international support for increasing pressure on the North to end its nuclear and ballistic missile development programs.

    During a press conference in Seoul Monday with South Korea's acting president, Hwang Kyo-ahn, Pence stressed the “unshakable” U.S. commitment to defend its longstanding ally and cooperate on all decisions regarding regional security.  “We will continue to closely consult with South Korea and your leadership as we make decisions moving forward,” he said. Many in South Korea have grown concerned that the U.S. might take unilateral military action against North Korea that could plunge the region into war. In his remarks, the acting South Korean president stressed the need to increase economic sanctions against the North and did not address the issue of military force.

    U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, left, speaks as South Korea's acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn listens during a joint news conference after their meeting in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, April 17, 2017. “We share the understanding of the gravity and urgency of the North Korean nuclear and missile threat, and agreed to double our efforts to change North Korea’s strategic calculations by further tightening the global network of pressure on North Korea,” said Hwang. Also on Sunday, U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster seemed to walk back the threat of a U.S. military strike against North Korea, at least for now. "It's time for us to undertake all actions we can, short of a military option, to try to resolve this peacefully," he said on the ABC News network’s This Week program. "We are working together with our allies and partners and with the Chinese leadership to develop a range of options."

SOME 180 CUBAN DOCTORS AWAIT US VISA IN COLOMBIA AFTER DEFECTING IN VENEZUELA

     BOGOTA, COLOMBIA --
About 180 Cubans who were part of the medical missions that the country has in Venezuela, are waiting in Bogotá, where they arrived after defecting in the neighboring country, in the hope that the United States will grant them a visa. The problem of Cubans multiplied last January 12 when the government of former President Barack Obama suspended the "Cuban Medical Professional Parole" (CMPP or Parole), a special program of US visas for Cuban medical personnel who deserted missions abroad.

     There are over 100 Cuban doctors and other medical professionals who abandoned their posts in Venezuela and were in transit to the U.S. embassy in Bogotá when the parole program was abruptly ended. They say they cannot return to Cuba and they face deportation if they remain in Colombia. The only reason they risked deserting was to apply for the now defunct program. The government of Cuba has said it will accept Cuban doctors and reincorporate them into the national health system. But, those stranded in Colombia insist this is not true. They say desertion is considered treason in the communist island. Those who defect are punished, medical degrees are revoked, and society scorns them.

    Sending doctors and other medical professionals to countries like Venezuela, Brazil, and Bolivia on "misiones internacionalistas" is an important source of revenue for the communist island. In 2014, it totaled $8 billion - though recently they have scaled back on their operations in Venezuela because of the economic crisis. Raúl Castro applauded the end of the CMPP. The government always said the program robbed the island of professionals they had educated. But according to health care workers, the "missions' are equivalent to indentured servitude. They are pressured to meet a quota of patients per day, their accommodations are meager and they are paid a small fraction of what the Cuban government receives for their services. They say the parole program was their only way out.

THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE DETAINED FOR PROTESTING AGAINST NICOLAS MADURO GOES UP TO 538, REPORTS PENAL FORUM

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --
Since April 4, when peaceful protests against President Nicolás Maduro began, security forces have carried out 538 arrests, according to the Venezuelan Penal Forum. As of Monday, 241 people have being detained, 32 of them have been formally deprived of their freecom, wrote the director of Penal Forum, Alfredo Romero in his Twitter account. The NGO also noted that there have been multiple instances of torture and cruel treatment of persons under arrest, several of whom have been or are being held incommunicado. In addition, at least 200 people have been injured in the protests, according to estimates by Congressman José Manuel Olivares. Several injuries were caused by shotguns from the security forces; 6 had died.

    However, the Chavistas have minimized the numbers denounced and discarded the claims of the opposition, whom they call "golpistas" and even "terrorists". This Sunday, First Justice deputies said they had reported to the United Nations "torture" against the Sanchez brothers.. "After they were arrested and tortured, Alejandro Sánchez denounced the opposition I a video filmed by the military). He was hanged by his arm for 48 hours, they sprayed gasoline on his jacket," Tomás Guanipa told reporters, adding that the youths were threatened with death if they did not cooperate. Then, the brothers accused “the opposition leaders as terrorist. That is why they reported that leaders of “Primero Justicia” were conspiring to overthrow the government with violent actions."

    The people six killed during the demonstrations were identified as Jairo Johan Ortiz Bustamante (6 April, Miranda), Daniel Alejandro Queliz Araca (10 April, Carabobo), Miguel Antonio Colmenares (11 April, Lara), Bryan Principal , Lara, aged 14), Gruseny Antonio Canelón (13 April, Lara). All the victims had gunshot wounds, El Nacional reported. To the list adds the policeman Yey Amaro, who was arriving at his residence in Lara when he decided to intervene in a protest that occurred in that zone "to try to mediate", when it was run over and killed by a military vehicle. The government and the opposition crossed accusations for the responsibility of this death. On Monday, Maduro announced that the Armed Forces will be deployed in the streets across the country starting Monday, two days before a large opposition demonstration, to defend its "honor" and pay homage to the civil militia.

April 17, 2017

NORTH KOREA MISSILE TEST: LATEST LAUNCH 'BLEW UP ALMOST IMMEDIATELY'
 

      PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA -- A North Korean missile fired from the east coast of the country Sunday “blew up almost immediately,” officials said. The U.S. Pacific Command said the missile, which came near the city of Sinpo, “blew up almost immediately,” but the type of missile was still being assessed. The failure came one day after Pyongyang celebrated one of the biggest propaganda events of the year – the 105th birthday of the late North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather. The failed launch also comes ahead of Vice President Pence’s arrival in Seoul, South Korea for talks about how to handle Kim’s regime. Pence had been in contact with President Trump about the test.

     Trump did not release a statement on the launch. Defense Secretary Mattis said. Trump and his military team "are aware of North Korea's most recent unsuccessful missile launch. The president has no further comment." Washington and Seoul were trying to determine what North Korea exactly launched. North Korea regularly fires short-range missiles, but it is also developing mid-range and long-range missiles meant to target U.S. troops in Asia and, eventually, the U.S. mainland. North Korea is thought to have a small arsenal of atomic bombs and an impressive array of short- and medium-range missiles. Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have quickly risen over the last week as the U.S. and South Korean conduct it is largest-ever war games and while the USS Carl Vinson steams toward waters off the coast.

     Another missile test from Sinpo failed earlier this month, when the rocket spun out of control and plunged into the ocean. That launch came shortly before Trump's first meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. China is North Korea's only major ally. The extended-range Scud missile in that earlier launch suffered an in-flight failure and fell into the sea off North Korea's east coast, according to U.S. imagery and assessments. Despite Sunday's failure, the North's previous claim to have used "standardized" warheads has led to worries that it was making headway in its push to develop small and sophisticated warheads to be topped on long-range missiles. United States, South Korea and other countries have vowed to apply more pressure on the North, but so far nothing has worked to stop Pyongyang's nuclear program.

DONALD TRUMP: CHINA, US WORKING ON  'NORTH KOREA PROBLEM"

     WASHINGTON, D.C.  --
President Donald Trump asserted on Sunday that China was working with the United States on "the North Korea problem," and his vice president told American and South Korea service members that the North's latest "provocation," a failed missile launch shortly before his arrival in Seoul, laid bare the risks they face. While the North did not conduct a nuclear test, the specter of a potential escalated U.S. response trailed Pence as he began a 10-day trip to Asia amid increasing tensions and heated rhetoric. Trump's national security adviser cited Trump's recent decision to order missile strikes in Syria after a chemical attack blamed on the Assad government as a sign that the president "is clearly comfortable making tough decisions."

     But at the same time, H.R. McMaster said, "it's time for us to undertake all actions we can, short of a military option, to try to resolve this peacefully." In a broadcast interview that aired on Sunday, McMaster said the U.S. would rely on its allies as well as on Chinese leadership to resolve the issues with North Korea. "I mean, North Korea is very vulnerable to pressure from the Chinese," McMaster said on ABC's "This Week." The bottom line, McMaster said, is to stop the North's weapons development and make the Korean Peninsula nuclear-free: "It's clear that the president is determined not to allow this kind of capability to threaten the United States. And our president will take action that is in the best interest of the American people."

     After a two-month policy review, officials settled on a policy dubbed "maximum pressure and engagement," U.S. officials said Friday. The administration's immediate emphasis, the officials said, will be on increasing pressure on Pyongyang with the help of Beijing. Pence will be tasked with explaining the policy in meetings with leaders in South Korea and Japan at the start of his trip, which will also include stops in Indonesia and Australia. He will also aim to reassure allies in South Korea and Japan that the U.S. will take appropriate steps to defend them against North Korean aggression. A White House foreign policy adviser traveling with Pence said no U.S. response to the missile launch was expected because there was no need for the U.S. to reinforce the failure. The adviser spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the administration's initial understanding of the launch.

MESSAGE FROM FORMER COLOMBIAN PRESIDENT ALVARO URIBE TO US AUTHORITIES AND CONGRESS

       BOGOTA, COLOMBIA --
Former Colombian president and current senator, Alvaro Uribe, reiterated his criticism of the government of President Juan Manuel Santos for the peace process with the FARC, the increase of illicit crops, the political eligibility of the guerrillas and also Criticized Venezuela. Uribe, who founded the Centro Democrático party, sent a letter to the US Congress in which he reiterates his criticism of Venezuela because, according to him, Nicolas Maduro has protected the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army ELN).

     According to Uribe’s message, the FARC has designed its own justice. Judges will be appointed by people permissive with terrorism and akin to FARC’s alleged ideology. FARC’s kingpins and their aides have been granted impunity and political eligibility in the case of any crime. Atrocious crimes, such as child recruitment and abuses on women, will remain in impunity. There is some restriction of freedom for the ringleaders. These sanctions are inadequate, they lack incarceration, and are inapplicable because those who are guilty will enjoy simultaneous eligibility for Congress or any other political post.

     Uribe strongly states that “We cannot separate the case of Venezuela from our risky situation. Chavez and Maduro have been the supporters of terrorism in our country. The two largest organizations, FARC and ELN, have been protected in Venezuela, and with large presence in this country, they kidnap, extort, threaten and attack its citizens. Venezuela needs to remove Maduro and his regime and to adopt the rule of law with a strong private sector to overcome poverty. Maduro supports himself upon corruption, narco trafficking, the military, war planes, civilians with guns provided by the regime (Colectivos), and repression. They apply the Cuban version of dialogue as a way to scale up repression.

April 16, 2017

VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION DENIES THAT PROTESTS WILL STOP IF THERE ARE REGIONAL ELECTIONS
 

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- The first vice-president of the National Assembly of Venezuela (AN, Parliament), opposition candidate Freddy Guevara, denied on Saturday that the opposition has negotiations with the government of President Nicolás Maduro to abandon the protests in the streets if the regional elections are held, until Now postponed. In a press conference of the opposition Democratic Mesa de Muda (MUD), Guevara said that if the elections of governors and mayors that were postponed since last year by the Electoral Power, this would be a "conquest", but he emphasized that it does not imply that "the coup d'état has been resolved".

     "One of the tools that the government wants to use to demobilize the opposition is to sow mistrust between us and has begun to spread the thesis that (...) if they call the regional all we go to our homes and forget, nothing more and nothing less, that there is a coup in Venezuela. That's absurd! "He said. He further explained that the opposition will leave the streets only when "the powers are returned to the National Assembly, that all political prisoners are released, that the humanitarian channel is opened and ... that all elections are scheduled." "It's about doing everything, it's not one thing or the other ... The only reason we would have to demobilize the streets is for the Constitution to be restored and this goes through these elements," emphasized the deputy, militant of the Will Popular Party (VP), founded by the imprisoned opponent Leopoldo López.

     The opposition has called in recent weeks for Venezuelans to demonstrate in the streets in rejection of what they consider a "coup d'état" perpetrated by seven judges of the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) that issued sentences in which they stripped the National Assembly of all its functions. Although these sentences were partially suppressed, the opposition majority in Parliament insists on carrying out a process of removal of these magistrates, and this requires the approval of the Citizen Power - presided over by the ombudsman - to continue. Despite the fact that opposition mobilizations have been prevented from reaching the Ombudsman's office and, in general, towards the center of Caracas, where the public authorities are concerned, the opposition says that it will continue to protest and continue to call for street activities until " The restitution of constitutional order is completed".

NORTH KOREA POSTPONES NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN WITH US

     PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA  --  
North Korea did not go through with a possible nuclear test Saturday, after the United States demonstrated a credible threat of military force in the region and China increased economic restrictions against its economically dependent ally. Instead North Korean leader Kim Jong Un presided over a military parade to celebrate the April 15 birthday of his country's founding leader the late Kim Il Sung, the country’s most important holiday known as the Day of the Sun. “Kim Jong Un had planned a fight with the U.S., but decided to give up the plan,” said North Korea defector and analyst Ahn Chan-il with the World Institute for North Korean Studies.

    Expectations of an imminent North Korean nuclear test grew this week based on reports of recent activity at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site and Pyongyang’s pattern of conducting provocative military tests to coincide with the birthday of the nation’s founding leader. Since January 2016, Pyongyang has acted with little restraint, conducting two nuclear tests and attempting numerous medium- and long-range ballistic missile launches. This year Kim Jong Un indicated that his nation is in the final testing phase of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could potentially hit the U.S. mainland.

     U.S. President Donald Trump, however, has placed a high priority on preventing North Korea from developing a credible long-range nuclear ballistic missile capability that could directly threaten U.S. national security. The U.S. Pacific Command this week sent the USS Carl Vinson nuclear-powered aircraft carrier naval formation that includes guided missile destroyers and aircraft squadrons to the region. And last week’s U.S. airstrikes against Syria for using chemical weapons added credibility to statements made by the Trump administration that it is prepared to take military action against North Korea as well. Following the Syrian strike, North Korea’s KCNA news agency said the Trump administration, “has entered the path of open threat and blackmail.”

ODEBRECHT CONFESSES MILLIONAIRE BRIBES TO LULA AND DILMA ROUSSEFF

       BRASILIA, BRAZIL --
Brazilian businessman Marcelo Odebrecht former president of the constructor Odebrecht declared on Monday before the federal judge Sérgio Moro that Lula is actually the beneficiary of the investigations [19459109] Payments discovered in the accounting books of the company under the name of "friend." The Lula Institute issued a statement in which it rejected the accusations and said that the former president would not comment on any statement under secrecy in the Justice. This is the first statement of the executive to the Justice after having reached an agreement to reveal the plot of corruption around the state oil company Petrobras in exchange for having a reduction in the sentence. Although her testimony is under stealth, it was leaked to the media.

     According to information, Odebrecht assured that the money was delivered to Lula, president of Brazil between 2003 and 2010, in payments made between 2012 and 2013. The businessman also explained that he made several payments to the Lula Institute, which directs the former president, for the purchase of a land in which a building was to be built in which the entity would have its headquarters. In addition, it would also have delivered 50 million reais (about 16 million dollars) for the 2010 election campaign of Dilma Rousseff, Lula's political goddaughter and his successor in office (2011-May 2016), through Then Minister of Finance, Guido Mantega. Odebrecht stated that other names that appeared in the accounting book of the group, such as "post-Italian" and "Italian", were Guido Mantega and Antonio Palocci respectively.

     Palocci, who was minister with Lula and Rousseff, was the government's main interlocutor with the Odebrecht group, according to the entrepreneur, and was replaced in the role by Mantega. Odebrecht testified on Monday against Palocci, accused of using its influence in the government to favor the interests of the construction company Odebrecht, the largest in Brazil, and which would have received 128 million reals (40 million dollars). After hearing the allegations, the Lula Institute issued a statement rejecting the accusations and said that the exmandatario would not comment on any secrecy statement in the Justice "selectively filtered and illegally." Odebrecht was sentenced to 19 years in prison in one of the processes linked to the great network of corruption in Petrobras, in which the construction company that he directed is one of the most dotted by diversions. According to police investigations reported by the press, the Odebrecht group caused damages worth 5.864 billion reais (about $ 810 million).

April 15, 2017

PRESIDENT TRUMP: IF CHINA DOESN'T DEAL WITH NORTH KOREA, WE WILL
 

      WASHINGTON, D.C.  --Asked if he would consider a "grand bargain" in which China pressured Pyongyang in return for a guarantee that the US would later remove troops from the Korean peninsula, the newspaper quoted Trump as saying: "Well, if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you." It is not clear whether Trump's comments will move China, which has taken steps to increase economic pressure on Pyongyang but has long been unwilling to do anything that may destabilise the North and send millions of refugees across their border. It is also unclear what the US might do on its own to deflect North Korea from the expansion of its nuclear capabilities and from the development of missiles with ever-longer ranges and the capacity to deliver atomic warheads.

    Trump's national security aides have completed a review of US options to try to curb North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes that includes economic and military measures but leans more towards sanctions and increased pressure on Beijing to rein in its reclusive neighbour, a US official said. Although the option of pre-emptive military strikes on North Korea is not off the table, the review prioritises less-risky steps and "de-emphasises direct military action", the official added, saying it was not immediately known if the National Security Council recommendations had made their way to Trump. Robert Kelly, an associate Professor of Political Science at Pusan National University, South Korea, told Al Jazeera that some people predict the US might in some way attack North Korea.

     "Most people assume it could be some kind of an air strike. Ground options would certainly spark a major war, I don't think that is what the Trump people want. It is hard to see what naval action could happen, so I presume the Trump people mean air strikes, drones, bombings and things like that, but the North Koreans have been preparing for an American air strike for decades - the US bombed North Korea heavily during the war. Any air strike would not be pinpoint or surgical or short it would probably take several days, if not weeks. "The North Korean military might feel compelled to respond. The North Korean military's prestige in the system and its access to the North Korean budget - which is very small - is all predicative in its ability to protect the state, so there will be a lot of pressure inside North Korea to do something if the campaign dragged on," Kelly said.

US DROPPED 'MOTHER OF ALL BOMBS' IN CLOSE COORDINATION WITH AFGHAN FORCES: KABUL

     KABUL, AFGHANISTAN  --  
The government of Afghanistan today said that the US forces dropped the "mother of all bombs" in eastern Afghanistan in close coordination with Afghan forces. According to Khaama Press, the Office of the President, ARG Palace, said that the strike was carried out to target the hideouts of Islamic State terror group. At least 83 IS militants were killed when the US military dropped a massive GBU-43, a non-nuclear, 10-tonne missile powered by a wave of air pressure, on an IS hideout in Achin district of Nangarhar province on Thursday, Kabul's Ministry of Defence announced. "Precautions were taken to avoid civilian casualties with this airstrike," President Ashraf Ghani said on Twitter.

    A large amount of ammunition and weapons were also destroyed in the airstrike, said an official. The statement said that the Afghanistan forces will continue their fight to eliminate terrorism and to maintain peace and stability in the country and around the world as they are on the frontline against various terrorist groups. The US Forces in Afghanistan in a statement said: "At 7.32 p.m. (local time) Thursday, US Forces-Afghanistan conducted a strike on an ISIS tunnel complex in Achin district, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, as part of ongoing efforts to defeat the terror group in Afghanistan in 2017."

     The commadner of the US forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson said: "As ISIS's losses have mounted, they are using IEDs, bunkers and tunnels to thicken their defence. This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintian the momentum of our offensive against the group." US President Donald Trump called the bombing "another successful job." It was the third major military action his administration took in recent months, following a military raid in Yemen that left some civilians and a US Marine dead, and last week's surprise strike on a Syrian airfield. The US dropped the massive GBU-43 bomb, the largest non-nuclear bomb it has ever used in combat, in eastern Afghanistan. The top US military commander in Afghanistan has defended the decision to use the "mother of all bombs" on an ISIS stronghold and denied that it was influenced by outside events.

RUSSIA, IRAN AND SYRIA ISSUE WARNING TO US: NO MORE BOMBINGS

       MOSCOW, RUSSIA --
Russia, Syria and Iran strongly warned the United States Friday against launching new strikes on Syria and called for an international probe into last week's chemical attack there. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who hosted his Iranian and Syrian counterparts at a trilateral meeting in Moscow, denounced last week's U.S. attack on Syria as a "flagrant violation" of international law and warned that any further such action would entail "grave consequences not only for regional but global security."

     Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said the meeting sent a "strong message" to Washington. Iran's Mohammad Javad Zarif emphasized that the participants warned that any unilateral action by the U.S. is unacceptable. The U.S. has blamed the Syrian government for launching a deadly chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun that killed over 80 people on April 4, and responded by striking a Syrian air base. Russia has alleged that the victims were killed by toxic agents released from a rebel chemical arsenal and warned against putting the blame on Damascus until an independent inquiry has been conducted.

     Moscow vetoed a Western draft U.N. resolution Wednesday, saying it failed to mention the need to inspect the area of the attack. Lavrov on Friday accused the U.S. and its allies of what he described as attempts to stymie an international probe into the attack. He expressed strong skepticism about a preliminary investigation conducted by the U.N. chemical weapons watchdog, saying that its experts have failed to visit the site and it has remained unclear to Russia where the samples have been taken and how they have been analyzed. In Russia's view, the probe conducted by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons should be widened to include experts from many nations, he said.

April 14, 2017

US SENATE JOINS HOUSE IN CALL FOR REVIEW OF VENEZUELA PDSVA DEAL WITH RUSSIA'S ROSNEFT OVER CITGO
 

      WASHINGTON, D.C.  --Six prominent Senate leaders have now joined House Foreign Affairs leaders in calling upon U.S. Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin -- as head of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a panel comprised of cabinet-level officials charged with assessing such transactions for threats to national security -- to review the review the Russian government controlled Rosneft's transaction for half of Citgo in the U.S.A. “Over the course of the last year, Russia has escalated its attacks on the United States in various ways including cyber campaigns intended to sow distrust of our democratic institutions and violating arms control agreements,” the senators wrote to Secretary Mnuchin. “Russia has also expressed strong opposition to existing sanctions.

     As such, we are extremely concerned that Rosneft’s control of a major U.S. energy supplier could pose a grave threat to American energy security, impact the flow and price of gasoline for American consumers, and expose critical U.S. infrastructure to national security threats.” In December LAHT discovered and publicized that PdVSA had mortgaged 49.9% of CITGO as collateral for a loan it took last year from Rosneft. Rosneft could also hold other PdVSA debt that would give it a majority stake in CITGO. Rosneft, a majority Russian government-owned oil company run by a former deputy of Russian President Vladimir Putin, loaned Venezuela $1.5 billion for the 49.9% share of Citgo in the U.S. (just under the majority change of control that would have to be reported).

    Venezuela’s current economic crisis is undermining PdVSA’s financial stability, increasing the possibility of default. CITGO operates a notable portion of the nation’s energy infrastructure with 48 petroleum product terminals in 20 states, three refineries in Texas, Louisiana and Illinois, three fully-owned Texas pipelines, and six partially-owned pipelines. Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, one of the signers of the letter, expressed his concern, as his state of New Jersey has within it the Citgo Trembley Point facility in Linde. We cannot let that happen here in the United States,” Democratic Senator Menendez of New Jersey said. “We cannot give Putin any opening to affect the flow of oil or toy with Americans’ prices at the pump. And we cannot play Russian roulette with America’s energy infrastructure. The risk to our national security and our economy is not one I’m willing to take.”

US FORCES DROP MASSIVE NON-NUCLEAR BOMB CALLED 'MOTHER OF ALL BOMBS' IN AFGHANISTAN 

     WASHINGTON, D.C. --  
U.S. forces have dropped what is known as the "mother of all bombs" in Afghanistan. The device is the largest non-nuclear device in the Air Force arsenal, Fox News' Jennifer Griffin reported. It was dropped in Nangarhar Province, an eastern area near the Pakistan border. It's the first time the 21,000-pound ordnance has been used in combat, said Griffin. The device, developed in 2003 by the U.S. Air Force, is called the M.O.A.B, short for Massive Ordnance Air Blast. It's often referred to as the "mother of all bombs." The attack was launched in an area where a U.S. Green Beret was killed Saturday by small-arms fire while operating against ISIS targets.

     Officials told Fox News it was dropped out of a C-130 cargo plane and targeted ISIS tunnel networks. U.S. Central Command said in a statement: "As ISIS-K's losses have mounted, they are using IEDs, bunkers and tunnels to thicken their defense," said General John W. Nicholson, Commander, U.S. Forces - Afghanistan. "This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive against ISIS-K." ISIS-K refers to the branch of the Islamic State that operates in Pakistan, Afghanistan & Uzbekistan. Griffin described the MOAB as a "concussive weapon" which does not penetrate the ground, but can destroy tunnels and a large surface area.

     The Nangarhar region is extremely mountainous and has long been a base of operations for terrorist groups like al Qaeda and the Haqqani Network. Usama bin Laden hid out in the Tora Bora region of Nangarhar following the 9/11 terror attacks. Griffin said Defense Secretary James Mattis is at the Pentagon and was meeting this morning with the Turkish defense minister. She emphasized the geopolitical message that the United States is sending by using this weapon at this time. Griffin pointed out that North Korea is reportedly preparing a sixth nuclear test, despite objections from the U.S. and China. It also comes just one week after 59 U.S. missiles targeted a Syrian air base in response to a chemical attack against civilians by the Assad regime. U.S. officials have also said they suspect Russia may be helping the Taliban in Afghanistan.

TEAR GAS FROM THE VENEZUELAN SKY

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA --
Videos released through online channels and social media have shown National Guard officers beating unarmed protesters and air-dropping tear gas from helicopters over the crowd. NBC News reported one of the canisters reached a local hospital, where dozens of people were receiving treatment. Venezuela ombudsman Tarek William Saab tweeted: "We reject the method of throwing harmful objects from the sky to disperse protest. There could have been fatal victims." In a recorded video statement Monday, Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro spoke against the "repression" and called on the "regime" to allow for peaceful protests.

     He accused the government of "throwing expired tear gas bombs and far more dangerous than normal canisters, and even using a helicopter to throw them indiscriminately on top of demonstrators." "Day after day, the repression worsens in Venezuela," Almagro said. "It is authoritarian to repress protesters who call for democracy." News outlets including AFP have shown protesters and so-called "black bloc" groups, who wear black clothing and masks, lighting trash and tires on fire in busy intersections and throwing improvised Molotov cocktails at the soldiers. One clip showed a group disarming a guard on a motorcycle of his rifle and throwing it off an overpass.

    At a news conference Wednesday, leaders of Venezuela's Catholic Church reiterated the call for calm, particularly from pro-government militia groups known as "colectivos." "The government cannot continue to protect these groups that are acting illegally," Caracas Archbishop Jorge Urosa Savino said. A few hours later, CNN en Español reported, an altercation broke out during the pre-Easter Mass for the Nazarene of St. Paul in Caracas' Santa Teresa Basilica. Images shared on social media showed a group of men trying to attack Urosa. Members of the congregation stopped them, and they were detained by police. As Easter approaches, opposition leaders have issued a new call for protests. The next one is scheduled to take place Thursday, and opposition leaders hope to gather hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country.

April 13, 2017

VENEZUELA'S MADURO JEERED BY CROWD AS UNREST GROWS
 

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --Angry Venezuelans threw objects at President Nicolas Maduro during a rally on Tuesday, as protests mount against the unpopular leftist leader amid a brutal economic crisis and what critics say is his lurch into dictatorship. State television footage showed a crowd mobbing the vehicle that Maduro was standing on as he waved goodbye at the end of a military event in San Felix, in the south-eastern state of Bolivar. Amid the commotion, people threw objects at Maduro, who was wearing a traditional Venezuelan suit and a yellow-blue-red presidential sash, while his bodyguards scrambled. The state broadcaster then halted transmission.

     In a separate video shared on social media, voices yelling “Damn you!” were heard as the vehicle apparently transporting Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, tried to make its way through the crowd. Five males, aged 15, 17, 18, 19 and 20, were arrested for throwing “sharp objects” against Maduro’s vehicle, according to a report by a local National Guard division seen by Reuters on Tuesday night. Further details were not immediately available. The Information Ministry did not respond to a request for information, although Socialist Party officials tweeted that Maduro had been received by a cheering crowd in San Felix.

    However, the opposition, which has been protesting in the last two weeks to demand early elections, pounced on the incident as evidence that Maduro is deeply despised amid food shortages and spiraling inflation. “The DICTATOR only needs to leave Miraflores (presidential palace) to see how the people repudiate him!” opposition lawmaker Francisco Sucre, from the state of Bolivar, said on Twitter amid a flurry of commentary on social media. “They cannot give a standing ovation to the man responsible for the worst humanitarian crisis in our history!” Sucre added. The incident drew immediate parallels with last year, when authorities briefly rounded up more than 30 people on Margarita island for heckling Maduro, a rare sight given that the president’s appearances typically are carefully choreographed and show only cheering supporters wearing red shirts.

OAS SECRETARY GENERAL CALLS ON VENEZUELAN REGIME TO IMMEDIATELY HALT REPRESSION 

     WASHINGTON, D.C. --  
The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, today urged the Government of Venezuela to halt the use of violence and other tools of repression against opposition demonstrators who are peacefully protesting in defense of democracy and the rule of law in the country. Three demonstrator killed and dozens wounded and detained is the initial tally from the repression yesterday, which seeks to quiet the clamor for free elections, the only way out for a country devastated by political crisis and looting. The protests on Thursday led to more people injured and detained, "in a completely arbitrary and indiscriminate fashion, as another show of authoritarianism," as well as the killing of 19-year-old Jairo Ortiz. "

    This crime must call for democracy in the country, for justice, and for overcoming the shame of the cowardice of his murderers," said the Secretary General. Secretary General Almagro also made reference to the responsibility of the military at this time. "This is an authoritarianism that hides behind the armed forces that, far from acting as the forces of order, act as the forces of repression and terror. It is an authoritarianism that, in its escalation of hatred and shame, also infects the armed forces with hatred and shame. This self-described civic-military regime is responsible not only for the loss of democracy and for the critical food situation in Venezuela, it is also responsible for inciting hatred through repression," he said.

    "Peaceful protest and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly are universal rights that any government, especially democratic governments, must respect," he said, adding: "This again reveals that there is no rule of law in Venezuela and that human rights are methodically violated." In his most recent report to the Permanent Council on the situation in Venezuela, the Secretary General revealed the systematic repression and criminalization of opposition voices and civil society groups, as well as the arbitrary detention and excessive use of force against peaceful protests by the Venezuelan authoritarian regime. "The use of state security forces to suppress demonstrations in favor of constitutional rights and democratic principles is absolutely unacceptable and takes us back to the darkest moments in the history of our countries," he added. "We do not want to see martyrs resulting from state-led violence added to the dramatic situation of Venezuela."

THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS CARL VINSON TRANSITS THE PACIFIC OCEAN

       WASHINGTON, D.C.  --
US sends aircraft carrier strike group to Korean peninsula amid mounting fears over Kim Jong-un nuclear threat.  A US Navy aircraft carrier is being sent towards the Korean peninsula, amid growing concerns over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme. The 100,000-ton USS Carl Vinson and its support ships will sail to the western Pacific Ocean, a US official said. It comes after North Korea tested a liquid-fuelled Scud missile which only travelled a fraction of its range earlier this month.

     On Saturday, President Donald Trump and South Korea’s leader, acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn, spoke by phone. The White House said the two agreed to stay in close contact about North Korea and other issues. The strike group will make its way from Singapore toward the Korean peninsula, according to the official, who was not authorised to speak to the media and requested anonymity. “We feel the increased presence is necessary,” they said, citing North Korea’s worrisome behaviour. In a statement late on Saturday, the US Navy’s Third Fleet said the strike group had been directed to sail north, but it did not specify the destination. The military vessels will operate in the western Pacific rather than making previously planned port visits to Australia, it added.

    This year North Korean officials, including dictator Kim Jong-un, have repeatedly indicated an intercontinental ballistic missile test or something similar could be coming, possibly as soon as 15 April, the 105th birthday of North Korea’s founding president and celebrated annually as “the Day of the Sun”. Earlier this week President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Florida, where Trump pressed his counterpart to do more to curb North Korea’s nuclear programme. Mr Trump’s national security aides have completed a review of US options on that front. These include economic and military measures but lean more toward sanctions and increased pressure on Beijing to rein in its reclusive neighbour. Although the option of pre-emptive military strikes on North Korea is not off the table, the review prioritises less-risky steps and de-emphasises direct military action.

April 12, 2017

USA CALLS ON PRESIDENT NICOLAS MADURO TO STOP SILENCING THE OPPOSITION
 

      WASHINGTON, D.C.  --Through a statement issued by the State Department, the US views with concern the situation in Venezuela as well as the actions of the government of President Nicolás Maduro, aimed at silencing the voice of the opposition, specifically referring to the disqualification during 15 years, of the governor of Miranda, Henrique Capriles.

    The present administration of the US remained in constant observation regarding the demonstrations of the past weekend. "We observe the public demonstrations and we echo the demands of the Venezuelan people for quick elections, respect for the constitution and the National Assembly," said the State Department. They also called for "freedom for all political prisoners" and urged demonstrators to express themselves in a non-violent manner and for government security forces to protect peaceful protests and not to repress them.

     "Freedom of assembly is a universal human right that the Venezuelan authorities must respect. We strongly support the consensus of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, which affirms that it is essential that the Venezuelan Government guarantee the full restoration of the democratic order, "he said. In the statement, the State Department invited President Nicolás Maduro to reconsider the decision to prohibit Henrique Capriles from participating in national political life. The USA also called for ensuring that Venezuelans can exercise their right to elect their representatives in free and fair elections, in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution and in harmony with international laws, including the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

US EXPRESSES 'CONSTERNATION' OVER DISQUALIFICATION OF OPPOSITION LEADER HENRIQUE CAPRILES IN VENEZUELA 

     WASHINGTON, D.C. --  
The US State Department urged Nicolás Maduro's government in Venezuela to reconsider the disqualification of Enrique Capriles's opposition leader, expressing "dismay at the actions of the Maduro government to prohibit the governor of the state of Miranda, A member of the Venezuelan political opposition, democratically elected and previously presidential candidate, participated in the country's public life for 15 years. "

    "We urge President Maduro to reconsider the decision to exclude Capriles and to ensure that Venezuelans can exercise their right to elect their representatives in free and fair elections, in accordance with the provisions of the Venezuelan constitution and international instruments, including Inter-American Democratic Charter," the communication says. In another official communiqué issued bythe Department’s acting spokesman, Mark Toner, the State Department notes that "we are mindful of the most crowded public demonstration throughout the year that took place last Saturday, as well as the protests this Tuesday." "We strongly support the consensus attained in the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, which maintains that it is essential that the Government of Venezuela ensure the full restoration of democratic order."

      "We reiterate the demands of the Venezuelan people to hold elections without delay, respect the Constitution and the National Assembly, and release political prisoners," the United States Department of State emphasizes. "We urge protesters to express themselves without resorting to violence and call on government security forces to protect peaceful protests, not to prevent them. Freedom of assembly is a universal human right that must be respected by the Venezuelan authorities. "" We strongly support the consensus in the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, which maintains that it is essential that the Government of Venezuela ensure full restoration Of the democratic order."

SECRETARY REX TILLERSON SAYS RUSSIA MUST CHOOSE BETWEEN 'UNREELIABLE' ASSAD AND THE US, ALLIES

       WASHINGTON, D.C.  --
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has issued Russia with an ultimatum, saying it must side with the United States and likeminded countries or embrace Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iran and the militant group Hezbollah. The statement came after a meeting of Group of Seven (G7) foreign ministers in Italy, following last week's apparent chemical weapons attack by Syrian government forces. It also came just hours before Tillerson arrived in Moscow on the first official trip to Russia by a member of US President Donald Trump's Cabinet.

     Tillerson said it was unclear whether Russia had failed to take seriously its obligation to rid Syria of chemical weapons, or had merely been incompetent. But he said the distinction did not "much matter to the dead". "We cannot let this happen again ... we want to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people," he told reporters shortly before leaving for Moscow. "Russia can be a part of that future and play an important role, or Russia can maintain its alliance with this group, which we believe is not going to serve Russia's interests longer term." In a response, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow would tolerate Western criticism of its role in Syria, but he hoped that attitudes would eventually soften.

     When asked by a reporter if he expected more US missile strikes on Syria, Putin said: "We have information that a similar provocation is being prepared ... in other parts of Syria including in the southern Damascus suburbs where they are planning to again plant some substance and accuse the Syrian authorities of using [chemical weapons]," he said. He did not offer any proof for that assertion. On his visit to Moscow, Mr Tillerson plans to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Putin's spokesman said there were no scheduled plans for the President to meet Tillerson, but Russian media have cited unnamed sources as saying such a meeting will happen.

April 11, 2017

WATCH OUT NICOLAS!  --  SECRETARY TILLERSON VOWS NEW COMMITMENT TO PROTECT CIVILIANS WORLDWIDE
 

      WASHINGTON, D.C.  --U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, looking to rally world leaders in support of last week's U.S. missile attack on Syria, Monday promised a new U.S. commitment to facing the world's aggressors who attack their citizens. Tillerson joined other G-7 foreign ministers meeting in Italy in laying a wreath at a Tuscan village where Nazis massacred more than 500 civilians during World War II. He alluded to the American retaliatory airstrikes in Syria after Damascus launched a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of people and sickened hundreds more. "We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world," Tillerson said. "This place will serve as an inspiration to us all."

     The top U.S. diplomat, meeting for the first time with other leaders from the world's major advanced economies, is looking for support for the U.S. military action before heading to Russia later in the week for talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about Moscow's continuing support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson described Assad as "toxic," saying it was "time for [Russian President] Vladimir Putin to face the truth about the tyrant he is propping up." Ahead of the formal G-7 meetings, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told Tillerson that Tokyo supports the United States in its effort to "deter the spread and use of chemical weapons."

     Before flying to Moscow, Tillerson also plans to meet Tuesday with counterparts from Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates about the U.S. response to the Syrian chemical weapons attack. Aside from the six-year-old Syrian civil war and Russia's alliance with Assad, the G-7 foreign ministers also face other daunting issues, including the threat of North Korea's nuclear weapons development program and Moscow's support of pro-Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine waging battles with the Kyiv government. The leaders of the G-7 countries - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the U.S. - are gathering for their own summit in Italy in May; but, the foreign ministers meeting Monday and Tuesday are laying the groundwork for those talks, with a priority on their collective efforts to oust Islamic State fighters from Syria and Iraq.

OAS, BRAZIL DEMAND "LEGITIMATE GOVERNMENT" FOR VENEZUELA 

     BRASILIA, BRAZIL --   --
 The secretary-general of the OAS on Monday visited Brazil's foreign minister, with whom he agreed that for reasons of regional stability, Venezuela needs a legitimate government that is democratically elected. OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro again decried, this time in Brasilia, the state to which Venezuela has fallen, "a country affected by an economic, social and political crisis the likes of which has possibly never been seen," he said.

     The only way out, Almagro said, was to "let the true sovereign be heard, which is the people," and allow them to express themselves through elections. "The way out of a political crisis is with elections," the Uruguayan head of the OAS said in full agreement with Brazilian Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes, who added that it is "urgent" that Venezuela "establish an electoral calendar" that begins with the gubernatorial elections that have been held up since last year. Almagro said that Venezuelan democracy is threatened by "the existence of political prisoners, a humanitarian crisis affecting everyone, the non-separation of powers...and the criminalization of protests in a brutal and aggressive way."

    According to the secretary-general, the persistence of such dismal problems means that in Venezuela "practically every article of the OAS Democratic Charter has been violated," so that it is essential "that the country be 'redemocratized." He also urged the Nicolas Maduro administration to "acknowledge the commitment to democracy of the Venezuelan people who go out in the streets to demand elections" and not to promote a coup d'etat. The Brazilian foreign minister agreed with all that Almagro said, while adding that OAS member-nations "can and must contribute to the return of democratic normalcy" to Venezuela.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: SYRIA CHEMICAL ATTACK DUE TO RUSSIAN FAILURE

       WASHINGTON, D.C.  -- 
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Sunday in an interview that last week’s chemical attack in Syria was due to Russia’s “failure” to guarantee the destruction of the chemical arsenal controlled by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. “The result of (Russia’s) failure has led to the killing of more children and innocents,” Tillerson said in an interview with CBS.

     The secretary of state said that he had no proof that Russia participated in the chemical attack last Tuesday on a town controlled by the Syrian rebels in Idlib province, a strike that led the US to retaliate by firing 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Syrian regime airbase from which the attack was launched. The Pentagon is investigating the possibility that the Russians knew beforehand about the Syrian intention to bomb civilians with chemical weapons. Tillerson said that in 2013 Russia had offered “certain assurances” and was the “guarantor of the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, stockpiles.”

    In 2014, the US finalized the destruction of what it thought was the Syrian government’s entire chemical arsenal, which had been turned over to Washington with Russian mediation after another chemical attack killed more than 1,400 people, but for which Assad refused to take responsibility. “Russia has failed in that commitment,” said Tillerson, who will travel to Lucca, Italy, on Sunday to participate on Monday and Tuesday in the G7 ministerial meeting prior to the heads of government summit in May. On Wednesday, Tillerson will arrive in Moscow to hold what will be the first high-level meetings with the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Tillerson also said that Russia will not respond to the US bombardment of the Syrian airfield, since its troops – allies of Assad – were not the target of the cruise missile attack, which was carried out in a “very deliberate, very proportional, ... and very targeted strike.”

April 10, 2017

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL URGED CLARIFICATION O RED GAS COMPONENTS USED BY SECURITY FORCES AGAINST OPPOSITION DEMONSTRATIONS ON SATURDAY
 

      WASHINGTON, D.C.  -- Amnesty International urged clarification of the components of the red tear gas used by state security forces against the opposition demonstration on Saturday April 8 at Libertador Avenue. The organization said they are still receiving warnings about the use of this chemical. Protesters and opposition leaders denounced the use of this "unknown" gas, which could have greater toxicity. Venezuelan opposition leader David Smolansky reported that "The Red Gas" used by the National Guard on Saturday against opponents contains a chemical for people to decompensate, vomit and even lose their sight. "

     Demonstrators initially concentrated on Eliza Street in Chacao, on Avenida Francisco de Miranda. From there they tried to move to the Ombudsman's Office, but again officials of the Bolivarian National Police (PNB) and the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) attacked the demonstrators with tear gas, pellets and whales and prevented them from reaching their destination. Amnesty International has insisted that the Venezuelan State must guarantee the right to freedom of expression and to demonstrate peacefully.

     "It is urgent that the Venezuelan authorities guarantee the right to freedom of expression and immediately stop the excessive use of force against those who exercise their right to demonstrate peacefully. Instead of using its resources to stubbornly persecute and repress those who think differently, the Venezuelan government should be concentrating its efforts on solving the humanitarian crisis that worsens day by day, "said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International Director for the Americas . The NGO reiterates its deep concern at all these developments, especially by the various calls by some state officials for the use of firearms against demonstrators who are critical of the government. Last week, during another peaceful demonstration, an student named Jairo Ortiz was killed by a police officer.

ARGENTINA'S MACRI SAYS MERCOSUR COULD PERMANENTLY EXPEL VENEZUELA 

     BERLIN, GERMANY   --
The Argentine president Mauricio Macri  denounced TODAY FROM GERMANY the "human rights violations" that are being lived in Venezuela and said that if they continue "the proposal of Argentina is going to be the expulsion" of the Mercosur country, a group in which Has been suspended since last December. Macri recalled that members of the bloc - Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay - have urged Venezuela, which "clearly does not qualify as a democracy," to ensure the Separation of powers, release of "political prisoners" and respect the electoral calendar.

     Mauricio Macri said that Venezuela could be permanently expelled from the South American trade bloc Mercosur if its government does not change its behavior. Macri toughened his previous calls for Venezuela to respect democracy and went beyond the message of other bloc members as opposition protesters and security officers clashed in Caracas last Saturday. "If there is not a dramatic, absolute change in behavior, there is nothing left but the definitive expulsion of Venezuela from Mercosur," Macri said. "There has to be an electoral calendar, the political prisoners have to be released and there has to be a clear demonstration of respect for the separation of powers," he added.

     In December, Venezuela was suspended from Mercosur, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Argentina holds the temporary presidency of the bloc. At the end of last month, foreign ministers from the four countries signed a joint statement calling on the Venezuelan government to respect human rights and democratic institutions. Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra told reporters the separation of powers in Venezuela was still not functioning after the Supreme Court overturned its decision to annul Congress.

THE VENEZUELAN GOVERNMENT REBUTS REMARKS FROM THE US SOUTHERN COMMAND

       CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- 
The Venezuelan government refused on Friday the remarks made recently by Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, the commander of the United States Southern Command in his report to the Senate Armed Services Committee. In a joint notice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense argued that Tidd’s presentation is part of meddling in Venezuela’s internal affairs, aimed at creating uncertainty and instability in the country, AVN cited. "Venezuela faces significant instability in the coming year due to widespread food, and medicine shortages; continued political uncertainty; and a worsening economic situation," said Admiral Kurt W. Tidd. "The growing humanitarian crisis in Venezuela could eventually compel a regional response," the top officer remarked.

     The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry strongly asserted, "We are alerting the international community that a plan is under way to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Venezuela, in contravention of the Charter of the United Nations and its principles and purposes. The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela categorically rejects and protests the concepts issued by Admiral Kurt Tidd, Chief of the Southern Command of the United States of America, which signify an aggression against Venezuela, under the false doctrine of regional collective security.

     On Thursday, April 6, 2017, Admiral Kurt Tidd stated that: "... the growing humanitarian crisis in Venezuela could end up demanding a response at the regional level." This statement, whose purpose is to create uncertainty and instability in the country, is part of the interventionist concert of the group of governments that harass and harass Venezuela by constructing false assumptions accompanied by media operations and procedural fraud in the framework of the Organization of The American States (OAS). It is, therefore, nothing new. It is exactly the same script that has been repeated by the regional spokesmen and executors of the intervention plan against Venezuela to justify their greedy claims on our resources, and seriously threatening the peace of our homeland, ends the statement issued by the Venezuelan government.

April 9, 2017

US SENATE CONFIRMS TRUMP'S SUPREME COURT NOMINEE
 

      WASHINGTON, D.C.  -- The United States Senate voted Friday to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. Neil Gorsuch – the replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative icon who died suddenly in February 2016 – was confirmed by a vote of 54-45 after Republican senators changed the upper house’s rules to overcome a procedural hurdle. The federal appellate court judge from Colorado was confirmed after Republicans, who hold a slight majority in the upper house, opted for the so-called “nuclear option” to overcome determined Democratic opposition to the nominee.

     Because the GOP lacked the 60 votes needed to end debate on the Senate floor (invoke cloture), Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday raised a point of order stating that a successful cloture vote under Rule 22 requires a mere simple majority for Supreme Court nominees. A party-line vote approved the change and a final cloture motion then passed by a margin of 55-45, thus ending a decades-old tradition of requiring 60 votes for a cloture vote on high-court nominees. The successful use of the nuclear option limited further debate on the Gorsuch nomination to 30 hours and paved the way for his confirmation on Friday.

     The action was an extension of a move carried out in 2013 by the then-Democratic majority, which successfully employed a similar point of order to end the filibuster for Cabinet and judicial nominations, although the 60-vote threshold was maintained then for cloture votes on Supreme Court nominees. Last year, McConnell and the Republicans refused even to hold hearings on President Barack Obama’s choice to succeed Scalia, federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland. Resentment of the GOP’s treatment of Garland was an element in Democrats’ determination to hold up the nomination of Gorsuch. Gorsuch’s confirmation restores the 5-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court that had existed prior to Scalia’s death.

HENRIQUE CAPRILES VOWS TO STAY GOVERNOR DESPITE DISQUALIFICATION 

     CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --
One of Venezuela’s top opposition leaders and governor of the central Venezuelan state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles Radonski, said on Friday that despite being disqualified by a comptroller’s office, he will continue exercising his duties and urged the citizens to use this decision as another reason to continue protests. Capriles told the media that he will continue being the governor until the people of Miranda elect a new one, adding that his aspiration to be the country’s president is not a secret to anyone.

     “We have a protest scheduled for Saturday, now there is one more reason (...) Let us defend our constitution, let us defend our country,” Capriles said while urging people that his disqualification should serve as another reason to continue protests against the government of President Nicolas Maduro. Earlier, Capriles had tweeted that he had been disqualified from holding any political position by the country’s comptroller’s office for a 15-year period and later accused Maduro of doing this so he can “choose the opposition in Venezuela.”

     According to the decision of the comptroller’s office, as told by Capriles to the local media, he accepted donations, gave out contracts without bidding and did not submit the budget bill on his governance in 2013. Capriles’ disqualification comes at a time of tense relations between the powers in Venezuela, especially between the legislation and the judiciary, and just a few weeks after the country’s opposition party Justice First announced that Capriles will be their presidential candidate, for the elections scheduled for the end of 2018.

ON SYRIA, U.S. WARNS WHEN U.N. FAILS, STATES 'COMPELLED TO ACT'

        UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK   -- 
UNITED NATIONS U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley warned on Wednesday during a U.N. Security Council meeting that countries could be "compelled to act" individually if the world body does not take collective action after a deadly poison gas attack in Syria. Western countries blamed President Bashar al-Assad's armed forces for the attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in a rebel-held area of northern Syria hit by government air strikes. Syria's government denied responsibility. The council is considering a draft resolution condemning the attack but Russia opposes it. British U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said negotiations were continuing on the text but a vote was unlikely on Wednesday.

     "Assad, Russia and Iran have no interest in peace," Haley told the 15-member Security Council. "The illegitimate Syrian government, led by a man with no conscience, has committed untold atrocities against his people. "When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action," said Haley. She did not signal what sort of action could be taken.The gas attack killed at least 70 people, many of them children.
 

     In February, Syrian ally Russia, backed by China, cast its seventh veto to protect Assad's government from council action, blocking a bid by Western powers to impose sanctions over accusations of chemical weapons attacks. Deputy Russian U.N. Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov told the council that former U.S. President Barack Obama's 2012 threat of military action if a "red line" was crossed and chemical weapons were used in Syria had provoked such attacks. "That decision served as a starting point for future provocations by terrorists and extremist structures with the use of chemical weapons, they sought to discredit the official Damascus regime and to create a pretext for the use of military force against a sovereign state," Safronkov said.

April 8, 2017

COLLEGE STUDENT JAIRO ORTIZ KILLED BY A BOLIVARIAN POLICE OFFICER DURING VENEZUELA PROTEST
 

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- A college student has been shot dead BYT A POLLICE OFFICER during a protest outside Venezuela's capital city. Jairo Ortiz was killed during a late Thursday night protest in the city of Carrizal, just outside Caracas. The protest was part of a week of unrest that has followed a Supreme Court ruling nullifying congress. That decision was walked back. But the economically embattled country has since seen near-daily protests by people calling for new elections.

    The local mayor's office said Ortiz was a 19-year-old student at a local university. He is the first person to be killed in this round of protests. Similar anti-government protests in 2014 left dozens dead. This week's protests claimed their first victim Thursday night. College student Jairo Ortiz was shot dead by an unknown assailant during a protest in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Caracas. Ortiz was a 19-year-old law student at a local university and had been planning to move to Colombia this summer, according to local news reports.

     The state prosecutor's office said it would investigate the death. The protests were touched off by a Supreme Court ruling in late March nullifying congress. That decision was walked back amid fierce domestic and international criticism, but opposition leaders say it revealed the government's authoritarian nature. The opposition has been calling for immediate elections. With both Capriles and Lopez now out of action, it's unclear who the leading candidate in such an election would be. Speaking at a press conference Thursday night about rumors that the government was trying to shackle him politically, Capriles was defiant and called another protest for Saturday.

VENEZUELA OPPOSITION LEADER HENRIQUE CAPRILES BANNED FROM RUNNING FOR OFFICE FOR 15 YEARS

     CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --
Leading Venezuela opposition leader Henrique Capriles announced Friday that he has been banned from running for office for 15 years. He said on his Twitter account Friday that he had just been notified of the decision. There was no immediate comment from the government. Capriles is the most recognizable of the leaders behind the protest movement that has been roiling the embattled country this week. He is the governor of Miranda State and lost a hard-fought presidential election to Hugo Chavez in 2012. X

     The following year, was again the opposition's presidential candidate, and lost to current president Nicolas Maduro by a small margin. Among the opposition, he's considered the more moderate of leaders, having criticized a wave of protests in 2014 that led to scores of deaths. Leopoldo Lopez, the leader of those protests, has been held in prison for the past three years after having been sentenced on what are widely seen as trumped up charges of inciting political unrest. The most recent wave of protests claimed its first victim Thursday night. College student Jairo Ortiz was shot dead by an unknown assailant during a protest outside Venezuela's capital city.

     Authorities have been investigating Capriles since the beginning of the year for what they say are a half dozen administrative irregularities, including taking suspicious donations from abroad. Capriles is the most recognizable of the leaders behind the protest movement that has been roiling the embattled country this week. He is the governor of Miranda State and lost a hard-fought presidential election to Hugo Chavez in 2012. The following year, was again the opposition's presidential candidate, and lost to current president Nicolas Maduro by the slimmest of margins. Among the opposition, he's considered the more moderate of leaders, having criticized a wave of protests in 2014 that led to scores of deaths.

US CONGRESS CALLS FOR INVESTIGATION OF  VENEZUELA'S PDVSA - RUSSIA'S ROSNEFT DEAL OVER CITGO IN USA

        WASHINGTON, D.C.   -- 
After an investigation by the Latin American Herald Tribune and testimony by LAHT editor Russ Dallen before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 28, Chairman Jeff Duncan and Ranking Member Albio Sires of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere today called on the U.S. Department of the Treasury to give immediate attention to a potential threat to critical U.S. energy infrastructure as a result of a recent asset transfer between Venezuela’s PDVSA and Russia’s Rosneft of PDVSA’s U.S.-based subsidiary Citgo.

     “The United States has a clear national interest in achieving energy independence," said Chairman Duncan, of the bipartisan call for a CFIUS investigation. "The recent loan agreement between Russia and Venezuela involving Citgo refineries, pipelines, and terminals presents a clear threat to U.S. energy security." "Given the uncertain economic and political situation in Venezuela, I am deeply concerned that a future default by Venezuela could result in Russian ownership of Citgo. This would give Russia clear control over the sixth-largest refinery in our country, the ability to impact gas prices for the American people, and a strategic advantage over U.S. freedom of action globally.

    Russia has made no secret of its ambitions to thwart the U.S., and it is using countries in the Western Hemisphere to accomplish its objectives." "I urge CFIUS to review this recent transaction and take necessary action to protect our nation’s energy infrastructure.” CFIUS is the multi-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, made up of the Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Justice, Secretary of Homeland Security, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, Secretary of Energy, the US. Trade Representative and the head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. CFIUS is tasked with reviewing any transaction that could result in control of a U.S. business by a foreign person in order to determine its effect on the national security of the U.S.A.

April 7, 2017

SOUTHCOM COMMANDER WARNS CONGRESS OF GROWING HUMANITARIAN  CRISIS IN VENEZUELA
 

      WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The admiral in charge of the U.S. Southern Command testified at Congress Thursday that while the region is “stable,” the situation in Venezuela is worsening and could trigger a humanitarian crisis requiring regional intervention.“The enormous economic instability that’s taking place in Venezuela affects the entire region,” Adm. Kurt Tidd told the Senate Armed Services Committee. Both China and Russia “have significant economic involvement” in Venezuela, he added, and “it would be difficult to imagine that they would not look to take advantage of further instability in that country.”

     The admiral was talking about Venezuela as he delivered his annual “Posture Report,” a combination update on activities, request for resources and briefing on regional political and social stresses in the territory that stretches south of the border through Latin America and the Caribbean, minus Mexico. He said the region was not immune to “extremist networks, like ISIS, which are radicalizing and recruiting individuals” — and pointed to the attack in San Bernardino, California, as proof that “the reality is, ISIS is present here in the Western Hemisphere.” He did not say there were actually card-carrying ISIS members in his area of responsibility but said, “We know there is a presence of radicalized individuals to whom the ISIS message is very appealing.”

    At the Pentagon later in the day he told reporters that the concern was “ISIS or ISIS-inspired or ISIS-affiliated extremists ... that follow the Sunni path.” Asked if Southcom had detected “operational-type cells,” Tidd replied that ISIS was encouraging would-be followers to stay at home globally. “The direction to them is to conduct attacks. They have not yet.” His written testimony declared: “Overall the region is stable, although the gap between public expectations and government performance manifests itself in social protests, most often against corruption and mismanagement of public resources. He later elaborated that a regional response would be along the lines of “diplomatic activities” that the Organization of American States is engaged in.

VECCHIO TO GENERAL VLADIMIR PADRINO: IT STILL TIME TO RESTORE THE CONSTITUTIONAL THREAD"

     WASHINGTON, D.C.  --
The political coordinator of Popular responded to the messages that the general in chief of the Venezuelan armed forces sent by Twitter referring to the Organization of American States. Vladimir Padrino Lopez, repudiation and indignation has our people against a corrupt dictatorship that has put Venezuela into hunger and misery, wrote Vecchio on Twitter. Carlos Vecchio, political coordinator of Popular Voluntad, sent a message to the commander-in-chief of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB), Vladimir Padrino López, stating that he still has time to reestablish the constitutional order in the country, urging him "not to miss the train".

    "Vladimir Padrino López, I remind you that the FANB must restore constitutional order, dictatorships always happen, it's still on time, do not miss the train," wrote Vecchio in his Twitter account. The Minister of People's Power for Defense congratulated Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez on his Twitter account for her participation in the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS), which began with a series of tweets from the general that Vecchio answered immediately. Congratulations to Chancellor Delcy Rodriguez for the brilliant defense of our sovereignty in the OAS. We insist: Venezuela is independent! "General Padrino wrote to Delcy.

    The political coordinator of Popular Will also questioned the knowledge of Padrino Lopez regarding the organization of American States' conduct of business , which does not respond to the indtructions of the Secretary General: "Vladimir Padrino López, ignorance or Cuban propaganda, you obviate that the decision in the OAS was taken by a majority of countries and not by Luis Almagro. " However, the general in chief of the FANB continued to assure that secretary Almagro has to resign due to the "road he is taking which will destroy the organization and it will lead to its disintegration and also for ethical reasons". The opposition leader responded to Padrino López by assuring that Nicolás Maduro is the one who has taken Venezuela and the region to the disintegration, adding that the Venezuelan president is the one who must resign. "Vladimir Padrino López, most of the countries in the region consider that there has been a rupture of the constitutional order. Nicolas Maduro is alone today," Vecchio said.

SPAIN ASKS VENEZUELA TO RESPECT ELECTIONS SET FORTH IM  THE CONSTITUTION

        MADRID, SPAIN   -- 
The Vice-President of the Spanish Government, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, advocated on Wednesday reconciliation in Venezuela “consistent” with the rule of law; otherwise, there will no democracy, she said. Sáenz de Santamaría referred to the ongoing political standoff in Venezuela during a talk with reporters at the Spanish Parliament.

     The senior officer embraced the Spanish government involvement in Venezuela’s case, after denouncing the systematic violation of human rights, the existence of political prisoners and the “serious socioeconomic deterioration” in Venezuela. She also backed a paper proposed by the Spanish Socialist Party of Workers (PSOE) urging Venezuelan authorities to “observe an electoral schedule that allows holding transparent elections.”

     At the same time, the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) passed by majority a paper produced by a group of Member States, acting as “co-sponsors,” pointing to “serious unconstitutional alteration of the democratic order.” The paper was brought forward by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, United States, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru. As many as 17 out of the 21 Member States voted for, whereas the remaining four abstained. The document requires the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to reestablish the full authority of the National Assembly.

April 6, 2017

OAS SECRETARY GENERAL CONDEMNS REPRESSION OF PEACEFUL DEMONSTRATIONS 
 

      WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, today condemned the use of tear gas, gunfire, rubber bullets and repression against peaceful demonstrations in Venezuela. What happened today in Caracas, Almagro said, "leads me to condemn in the strongest terms the brutal repression carried out by the Government of Venezuela against demonstrators in the streets of the Venezuelan capital."

    The demonstration, which took place under the protection of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of protest, in favor of the removal of the judges of the Supreme Court of Justice, was violently suppressed by the Bolivarian National Police, which was joined by civilian forces in the service of the authoritarian regime installed in Caracas. This new violation constitutes yet another violation of the civil and political rights of the population, while at the same time violating the right to life and physical integrity of the Venezuelan opposition.

    "It is absolutely unacceptable that the authoritarian lawlessness that has led the Venezuelan government to abandon democracy through a self-imposed coup d'etat, and to place itself outside the Inter-American constitutional legality, has once again turned itself against its own people in repression," he said. "As Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS)," said Almagro, "I am once again obliged to demand that the Venezuelan government immediately stop violating the rule of law, reestablish democracy, recognize the civil and political liberties of the people, and immediately end this repression."

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO SAYS "TRUMP WILL TREAT CUBA LIKE THE DICTATORSHIP IT IS"

     WASHINGTON, D.C.  --
Senator Marco Rubio assured that he has spoken about Cuba with President Trump on three occasions and that they are working on the issue “behind closed doors.” After President Donald Trump’s administration formally announced that he will review current United States policy towards Cuba, none of the president’s advisers appear to have been briefed on the subject. If there is anyone who has discussed the topic with Trump, it is Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

      “We have been reviewing all these issues with the president and his team, trying to take the right steps at the right time. I am sure that President Trump will treat Cuba as the dictatorship it is, and that our future policy will reflect the fact that it is not the the United States’ national interest to do business with the Cuban armed forces.” In an interview with Cuban journalist Oscar Haza, Rubio said that he has already spoken to the US president about the issue on three occasions and that he and his team “have been working behind the scenes on Cuban policy. There have been more public statements about Venezuela lately, simply because of all the activity related to the OAS.”

    However, the Republican senator did not say whether or not he has received guarantees from Trump’s government about the expected changes in policies towards Cuba. Marco Rubio’s participation on the issue during the Trump administration has been significant and the Cuban government has taken note, so much so that he has been bashed by the state-owned newspaper Granma because of his participation in shaping Venezuelan policy. He has been subject to nearly as many attacks in that forum as President Trump. Senator Rubio, who recently won reelection to another six year term, is of Cuban heritage, and is popular with south Florida’s large Cuban community, which tends to back the GOP.

NATIONAL ASSEMBLY APPROVES ACTIVATION OF THE PROCEDURE TO REMOVE MAGISTRATES FROM THE TSJ

         CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --
The deputies attending the National Assembly carried out the debate for the activation of the process of removal of the Judges of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) for their responsibility in breaking the constitutional order. At the beginning of the discussion, the deputy Juan Miguel Matheus was the first to take the floor from the podium and said that "Nicolás Maduro is the intellectual author of the coup d'etat and the seven magistrates “express” the material authors." He said that "they are afraid that the dignity of the TSJ will recover because they want to keep it prostrate to the regime". "Magistrates can be removed when they act for political activism and bias, just as they do with Maduro," he said.

    Although the Great Patriotic Pole was not present during the beginning and development of the first item of the agenda in the National Assembly, representatives of Victor Clark, Héctor Rodríguez, Haiman El Troudi and others were present at this point. For his part, Deputy Luis Emilio Rondón, insisted that "the problem is at the top of the administration of justice in the country, which is already precarious. Article 263 of the Constitution establishes the requirements to be a Magistrate. They do not comply with them and the president also has a medical record." He stressed that "we will not shake hands to remove these Magistrates who have no Curriculum but contract with the Government."

    At the end of Rondón's intervention, Deputy Popular Volunteer Juan Guaidó continued, in addition to make a call to the Venezuelan people to accompany him in street actions, he emphasized that "the magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of the TSJ are public officials illegally designated as they respond directly to the Executive and his orders ". Then, Deputy Carlos Prosperi, reiterated what his predecessors said in the order of expositions, stating that "above constitutional rupture, we remain in line with the Constitution and Article 265 that gives power to the removal of magistrates." After the debate, the AN secretary, José Ignacio Guédez read the document, and unanimously approved the agreement to activate the process of removal of the TSJ Magistrates for breach of constitutional order.  that group, its female members are among those preparing to start a new life.

April 5, 2017

ARGENTINE PRESIDENT MAURICIO MACRI AFFIRMS THAT IN VENEZUELA THERE "IS NOT DEMOCRACY" 
 

      BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA   --  Argentine President Mauricio Macri said on Monday that what is occurring in Venezuela there “is not democracy” and that “human rights are not being respected” there. He spoke in connection with the political crisis sparked by that country’s Supreme Court decision, later annulled, to take over legislative functions from the opposition Parliament. “I ask the Congress of the (Argentine) nation to meet as soon as possible and for each (lawmaker) to express what he thinks about what’s occurring in Venezuela. For me, that is not democracy.

     For me, human rights are not being respected there,” the president said during an event at the Casa Rosada, the presidential residence. Shortly before his remarks, Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra had also commented on the matter to La Red radio, saying that if Venezuela does not comply with the measures requested by Mercosur on the weekend, after an urgent meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers, the link between Venezuela and bloc – comprised of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay – will be reviewed. Among those conditions is for Caracas to set an electoral schedule, release “political prisoners” and guarantee the separation of powers.

Nevertheless, Malcorra once again emphasized that the start of the process to implement the bloc’s democratic clause, launched with the joint declaration by the foreign ministers last Saturday, does not mean the immediate expulsion of Venezuela from Mercosur, although that country’s rights within the bloc have been suspended since December 2016. Malcorra said that in Venezuela there is a clear involvement of the executive branch in the judiciary, and the judiciary in the legislative branch, a situation that shows that the country’s democratic institutions are functioning in a “deficient” manner. The Venezuelan political crisis was aggravated in recent days after that country’s high court on March 30 decided to assume the duties of the National Assembly, which is controlled by the opposition.

COLOMBIA'S MILITARY HAS KILLED TEN MEMBERS OF THE ELN, THE SECOND BIGGEST REBEL GROUP IN THE COUNTRY

     BOGOTA, COLOMBIA  --
DefenSe Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said on Monday that an aerial bombardment had targeted an ELN group in the north-east of Colombia. Armed Forces Commander Juan Pablo Rodriguez told journalists that the strike was a significant blow to the rebels.

      “Clearly, this result, as the minister has said, allows us to neutralise the criminal capacity of this front, which was a special group formed by the ELN and which was dedicated not only to attacking the civilian population in the area but also to attacking energy infrastructure, notably the Cano Limon Covenas oil installation,” he said.

     Unlike Colombia’s larger rebel group FARC, no peace deal has been signed with the 2,000- strong ELN. Founded by radical Catholic priests and inspired by Cuba’s 1959 revolution, it has extorted, bombed oil and electricity facilities and kidnapped hundreds of people over its 52 years of existence. Women were also a significant presence in the FARC. Now that peace has been signed with that group, its female members are among those preparing to start a new life.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT! PRESIDENT TRUMP ADMINISTRATION CONTINUES TO ISSUE OFAC AUTHORIZING BUSINESS WITH RAUL CASTRO DICTATORSHIP

         WASHINGTON, D.C.   --
Although the Trump administration’s Cuba policy review has not been completed, a U.S.-based broadcast and video facilities company has received a license to operate on the island and to contract with a Cuban state enterprise. The license granted to Cuba International Network by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control allows the company to contract with Cuban government-operated radio and television enterprise known by the Spanish acronym RTV and authorizes all transactions to provide U.S. and international customers with recording equipment and trained Cuban staff.

      “As a broadcaster, we have been closely watching current changes in Cuba and if there is going to be a market. The companies we work with, all wanted to go to Cuba to produce products,” the founder and CEO of CIN, Barry H. Pasternak, told el Nuevo Herald. Currently, the company offers “from a one-camera commercial shoot up to virtually any event,” through collaborations with major producers such as Gearhouse Broadcast and PRG. The company, with offices in Miami, obtained the license on March 20, after waiting more than a year in a process that began in December 2015 under the administration of former President Barack Obama. T

     The company is authorized to shoot on the island but is still waiting for Cuban government permits to have its own facility on the island. Pasternak said he did not know why the process had taken so long but that he was “happy to see that the government feels that we are trying to benefit the United States. We are Americans. We want to support an industry that has never filmed in Cuba, an untouched country, and many people want to see the country.” “We did not put up the wall; the embargo is out of our area. Our job is to make movies, to produce quality content. We are not a political company,” said Pasternak, who has more than 35 years of experience in broadcasting in the Caribbean region. CIN is a project dating back to 1992.

April 4, 2017

OAS  PASSES RESOLUTION URGING VENEZUELA TO RESTORE DEMOCRATIC ORDER
 

      WASHINGTON, D.C. --  The Organization of American States on Monday approved "by a majority" a declaration stating that there is a "serious unconstitutional alteration of the democratic order" in Venezuela and demanding that the Nicolas Maduro government restore "the full authority" of the National Assembly, where the opposition holds a majority. The text was approved by 17 of the 21 states present in the meeting hall, with abstentions by only four nations: the Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Belize and El Salvador. Voting for the declaration were Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, the United States, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru.

    The text was not submitted to a vote, but rather simply approved by a majority of the states present, the Permanent Council's interim president, Honduran Ambassador Leonidas Rosa Bautista, said. Not present in the chamber at the time of the resolution's presentation and debate were the envoys from Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua, who left the session after denouncing it as "illegal" and an "institutional coup d'etat," given that it was held despite the fact that Bolivia, which holds the rotating OAS presidency, had ended it earlier in the day. The resolution, the firmest text so far approved by the OAS against the Maduro government, includes the possibility that "insofar as necessary," the body will undertake additional diplomatic moves to foster normalization and the restoration of full democratic institutions in Venezuela, including convening a ministerial meeting.

    The Council said that "it is essential that the government of Venezuela ensure the full restoration of the democratic order." The signatory nations urged Venezuela to "act in the coming days to guarantee the separation and independence of the constitutional powers and restore the full authority of the National Assembly," according to the reading of the test by Peruvian Ambassador Ana Rosa Valdivieso. Earlier, the Bolivian and Venezuelan ambassadors had interrupted the session discussing the Venezuelan situation just after it started, calling it "illegal" and a "coup d'etat." Bolivian envoy Diego Pary, who is the interim president of the OAS Permanent Council, said that "a friendly country" (Honduras) was assuming the Council presidency "illegally" and in a manner resembling a "coup d'etat." Pary left the meeting hall visibly angry after his remarks, but remaining behind was Venezuelan Ambassador Samuel Moncada, who said that he considered the session "a coup d'etat."

COLOMBIA FLOOD: 283 KILLED AND OVER 200 WOUNDED AFTER RIVERS OVERFLOW, TOPPLING HOMES

     CARACAS, VENEZUELA  --
The search continued Sunday for loved ones in a small city in southern Colombia after heavy rains sent floodwaters, mud and debris surging through homes, killing at least 207 and leaving many injured or missing. The streets of Mocoa were covered in thick sand, mud and tree limbs from the rivers and forest that surround the city. A lack of drinking water and power forced authorities to suspend the search and rescue effort during the night.

     President Juan Manuel Santos, who has declared Mocoa a disaster area, said Sundaythat at least 207 were killed but that the death toll was changing "every moment." Authorities said another 200 people, many of them children, were injured and just as many were unaccounted for amid the destruction. Throughout the city, people dug through the ruins, salvaging what they could of their possessions and looking for the missing. Dozens of people were in the door of a hospital looking for family members who were not on the list of those confirmed injured or dead. Others frantically knocked on the doors of neighbors, hoping to find someone with information about their relatives. Search and rescue teams also combed the rubble for signs of life.

     "People went to their houses and found nothing but the floor," said Gilma Diaz, a 42-year-old woman from another town who came in search of a cousin. The devastation was triggered by intense rains in that caused the rivers that surround Mocoa, a city of about 40,000 tucked between mountains near Colombia's southern border with Ecuador. Muddy water and debris quickly surged through the city's streets, toppling homes, ripping trees from their roots, lifting cars and trucks and carrying them downstream. Many didn't have enough time when the floods struck before dawn to climb on top of their roofs or seek refuge on higher ground.

ST. PETERSBURG SUBWAY BLAST: ONE ATTACKER BELIEVED TO HAVE PLANTED TWO  BOMBS

         ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA   --
 One person was believed to be behind the deadly attack in the subway in St. Petersburg, Russia, planting two bombs, one of which exploded, state media reported Monday. At least 11 people were killed and some 45 others were wounded. Police initially believed a suicide bomber planted the device that exploded on a train, while a second person planted a separate device at a nearby station -- but investigators later said it appeared to be the work of one man, the Interfax news agency reported. Crews disabled the second device before it could explode.

     Both bombs were filled with shrapnel, according to Sky News. The unexploded device was rigged with up to 2.2 pounds of explosives, Interfax added. Russian President Vladimir Putin said investigators were looking into all possible causes. President Trump called it "absolutely a terrible thing," adding, "it's happening all over the world." The 2:20 p.m. explosion rocked the train between the Technology Institute station and the Sennaya Square station, Russia's National Anti-Terrorist Committee said. Photos and video from one station appeared to show wounded victims on the smoke-filled platform, and a train car with a door blown out. Frantic commuters reached out through the doors and windows, shouting, "Call an ambulance!" "We will look at all possible causes, terrorism as well as common crime."

     Nobody immediately claimed responsibility for the blast. The National Anti-Terrorism Committee reported late Monday an 11th person had died. "People were bleeding, their hair burned," a witness told Russia's Life News. "My girlfriend was in the next car that exploded. She said that he began to shake. When she came out, she saw that people were mutilated." Russian media, The Associated Press and other news agencies sent out a photo of a bearded man dressed in black, initially claiming he was wanted in connection with the blast. Interfax later reported that the man went to police to claim he was innocent. Trains and train stations have been common targets for terrorist attacks in Russia and throughout much of Europe, analysts point out.

April 3, 2017

VENEZUELA OPPOSITION ASSEMBLY WANTS TO REMOVE JUDGES FROM THE SUPREME COURT
 

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA --  Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly will seek to remove the Supreme Court judges behind a controversial and since-reversed ruling on the judiciary carrying out parliamentary duties, an opposition leader announced Sunday. The bid to boot the justices will be largely symbolic, as the South American country’s top court has ruled that the National Assembly is in contempt of the constitution for failing to properly remove three lawmakers accused of election fraud, rendering null any decisions it attempts to take.

     Nevertheless, the National Assembly, controlled by the opposition since December 2015, is set to debate the issue of the Supreme Court judges’ tenure early this week. “The necessary removal process of these judges is going to begin in the session in the National Assembly on Tuesday,” opposition lawmaker Juan Miguel Matheus said Sunday from the parliament in Caracas. The announcement comes after opposition supporters took to the streets Saturday in the capital city to protest against the government of President Nicolas Maduro and the Supreme Court decision, reversed the same day.

     The ruling handed down Wednesday in a case related to the creation of a joint enterprises through the Organic Law of Hydrocarbons had stated that, "as long as the disrespect and invalidity of the proceedings of the National Assembly persists, this Constitutional Chamber will ensure that the parliamentary powers are exercised directly by this Chamber or by the body it has in place to ensure the rule of law." The Supreme Court reversed and eliminated the provision on Saturday after calls from Maduro to review the decision.But despite being overturned, the ruling continues to be a flare already high-running political tensions in the country as opposition leaders call it a “coup.” As the opposition symbolically targets the Supreme Court judges, international condemnation in the Organization of American States continues to keep Maduro’s Venezuela in its sights.

THE PRESIDENT OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT: WE REITERATE OUR STRONG SOLIDARITY WITH THE VENEZUELAN CONGRESS AND SOCIETY

     BELGIUM, SWITZERLAND  --
The President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, sent a letter to the head of the National Assembly, Julio Borges, to reiterate his support for the National Assembly and against the "coup d'etat" perpetrated by Nicolas Maduro through the Supreme Court of Justice. In the letter, Tajani assured Borges that "from the European Parliament we will continue to be fully in solidarity with the Venezuelan Congress and society, and we will support their search for a peaceful and constitutional solution to the difficult political, economic and social situation of the country."

     The document also highlights the efforts of the National Assembly to uphold the fundamental values of democracy and conveys its recognition to Parliament as a "representative of the will of Venezuelan citizens and their plurality." This same week after the publication of the sentence that grants the parliamentary functions to the Constitutional Chamber of the TSJ, the president of the Europarlamento made a telephone call to the president of the AN. "Today is a very sad day for democracy in Latin America. We regret that Venezuela has taken a step against democracy.

    We demand respect for human rights and the principle of separation of powers, enshrined in the Constitution of Venezuela. A democracy respects its own Constitution, "Tajani said. "The rulings of the Supreme Court deprive the members of the National Assembly of their parliamentary immunity and, at the same time, assume the Legislative Power of the National Assembly and that is not democracy," he added. The president of the National Assembly, said that from the European Union will propose the creation of a committee of MEPs to visit Venezuela and learn more about the crisis that exists in the country.

51 NGOS CALL FOR THE RESIGNATION OF TSJ MAGISTRATES

         CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --
 Fifty-one NGOs called on Saturday for the "immediate resignation" of the judges of the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) in a joint statement. In the text they point out that the Rule of Law "is not solved by the amendment" of sentences, referring to the resignation of the Supreme to assume the constitutional functions of the Parliament that had been attributed. We demand "the immediate resignation of all judges of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice," as well as "the beginning of ex officio judicial procedure that allows the determination of the responsibilities that correspond to the judges of the Constitutional Chamber," states the communication.

     This request was made in rejection that the government treated as a controversy between powers the position of the attorney general, Luisa Ortega Diaz, who said that there was a "rupture of the constitutional order" with the Supreme Court's decision to attribute the powers of Parliament . Although the TSJ announced Saturday that it was resigning to assume the powers of the Parliament, after President Nicolas Maduro asked the maximum court to review the aforementioned sentence, the NGOs emphasize that the restitution of the rule of law "is not solved with amendments "Of sentences.

    The signatory organizations of the communiqué also request the repeal of the current State of Exception and "submission to the consideration of the National Assembly of any future decree on the matter", as well as the repeal of "all actions of the Constitutional Chamber." These associations also demand to "immediately retake the electoral timetable" and take the necessary measures to stop the increase of poverty in Venezuela, "which includes guaranteeing access to food and medicines for the entire population, without any discrimination". Finally, they ask the international community to keep their attention on Venezuela, since in their opinion the "coup d'état" is still in force. The text is subscribed, among other organizations, by Public Space, Access to Justice, Center for Action and Defense for Human Rights (CADEF), Human Rights Center of the Andrés Bello Catholic University and Center for Human Rights of the Metropolitan University

April 2, 2017

MERCOSUR DENOUNCES SYSTEMATIC INTERFERENCE OF THE TSJ IN VENEZUELA
 

      BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA --  Susana Malcorra, Foreign Minister of Argentina, read a joint statement from the Mercosur's foreign ministers. The foreign ministers of Mercosur member states today denounced in Buenos Aires the "systematic interference" of the Venezuelan High Court of Justice in the competencies of the National Assembly. "We are in a situation where clearly the separation of powers, the essence of democratic institutions, is not working," said Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra at a press conference held at the Palacio de San Martín in the presence of the ministers Of Foreign Affairs of Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

     She added that "the contempt intervention has been used systematically over time", although she acknowledged that "it is true that the Court has decided to take back" some of the points of the ruling by which Parliament has jurisdiction. Malcorra responded to questions from journalists after reading a joint statement by Mercosur foreign ministers urging the Venezuelan government to immediately take concrete steps to ensure effective separation of powers, respect for the rule of law, human rights and democratic institutions.

      The chancellor said that this request is the beginning of the process to apply the democracy clause of Mercosur although, as she repeatedly stated, that this does not mean that Venezuela is expelled from the bloc, but is first asked to fulfill their requests. Among them, he also highlighted the need to release political prisoners and, above all, to ensure that the timetable for both this year's governors and mayors elections is met, as well as "It is essential that democratic instruments be activated in time and Way to reach the goal of the Venezuelan people express themselves through the ballot box, "he said. The meeting was attended by four Mercosur foreign ministers: the Paraguayan, Eladio Loizaga; The Brazilian, Aloysio Nunes; The Uruguayan, Rodolfo Nin Novoa, and Malcorra herself, who acted as spokeswoman in her capacity as Foreign Minister of Argentina, president of Mercosur.

COUNTRIES OF UNASUR CONDEMN VENEZUELA'S SITUATION, CONSIDER THAT TSJ ATTEMPTED A COUP D'ETAT

     SANTIAGO, CHILE   --
Most of the countries of the South American alliance Unasur on Friday condemned the institutional situation of Venezuela and considered that the Supreme Court violated principles of democracy by assuming legislative functions that constitutionally pertain to the National Assembly. The critical communique is signed by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Uruguay, but not by Bolivia and Ecuador, also members of Unasur but of greater ideological affinity with the Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro.

     The official statement reads: The Governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Uruguay, member countries of the South American Union of Nations (UNASUR), condemn the situation created by a sentence of the Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela that affects the National Assembly of the country and the parliamentarians elected by popular vote in December 2015. The announcement that the Court will assume the powers of the Legislative Assembly, as well as a decision to limit the powers of the National Assembly and to restrict the parliamentary immunity of its members. Facts that violate the essential principles and values of representative democracy and the separation, independence and compliance of public powers, pillars of the rule of law.

     The countries of the region restate an urgent call for the Venezuelan Government to progress effectively in the implementation of concrete measures agreed with the opposition, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, to ensure the effective separation of powers and respect for the rule of law and human rights, as well as for democratic institutions. In reiterating our willingness to cooperate with the people and the Government of Venezuela in all that can contribute to a peaceful and definitive solution of their social, humanitarian and economic conflicts, we call for the early restoration of democratic order in that country for the good of all the brotherly people of Venezuela. We will continue to be aware of what is happening in Venezuela to take other appropriate political-institutional decisions.

VATICAN BACKS VENEZUELAN CATHOLIC CHURCH'S RESISTANCE TO NICOLAS MADURO REGIME

         CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --
 The Vatican supports the Venezuelan Catholic Church in its request to parishioners to “rebel in a peaceful and democratic way against the Chavez dictatorship” led by President Nicolas Maduro. Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, also Archbishop of Caracas, urged priests to share Sunday Mass messages that encourage Venezuelans to “not be intimidated” as well as “to eradicate the dictatorship the peaceful and democratic way.” The priests have been instructed to refute “economic war” propaganda the Chavista regime uses to explain the serious scarcity crisis that the country is experiencing.

    The Venezuelan Catholic Church said that during the 2015 legislative elections, Venezuelans “voted not to agree with the current government.” For this reason, the archbishop encouraged people “not to be intimidated” as well as “to put all their efforts together, stop the dictatorship and eradicate it the democratic way, in healthy peace, the peaceful way.” The priests also discussed the “millions of suffering Venezuelans” who demanded that Maduro’s dictatorship “need to solve the very serious food and drug crisis,” the cause of which is the “application of a misguided economic system and socialist totalitarianism that ascribes the State total control over the economy.”

     “Never before have so many Venezuelans had to find food in the garbage!” the Venezuelan Catholic Church’s message read on Sunday, in which it also questioned the dialogue between the government and the opposition “which was a source of hope for large sectors of the country” and that “regardless of the future of this dialogue, should have provided solutions to the current crisis. We must keep in mind that the people demand peace, personal security and social coexistence, and conditions that allow us to work and live in peace.” The issue of political prisoners was also mentioned, as they recalled the 126 political prisoners, including the founder of the People’s Voluntary Party, Leopoldo López, and Antonio Ledezma, founder of the opposition group Bravo Pueblo Alliance.

April 1st.,  2017

OAS SECRETARY GENERAL, LUIS ALMAGRO,  REQUESTS URGENT SESSION ON VENEZUELA
 

      CARACAS, VENEZUELA--   The Organization of American States' secretary-general, Luis Almagro, on Friday formally asked the office of the chair of the Permanent Council to convoke an urgent session on the situation in Venezuela under Article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The OAS chief is seeking to launch discussions on Article 20, which could lead to diplomatic action taken against Venezuela for "an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order in a member state." However, one obstacle for the session is that if the Council is not held this Friday, on Monday the presidency will be occupied by Bolivia, one of the great allies of Venezuela, that opposes the OAS to hold sessions on issues of Countries without their consent.

     The launching of any diplomatic initiatives against Venezuela would require the votes of at least 18 of the 35 members of the hemispheric body, while an eventual suspension of the country from the hemispheric body would require 24 votes (or a two-thirds majority). For now, the OAS countries critical of Venezuela regard that latter step to be a last resort and prefer to exhaust all diplomatic steps for resolving the crisis in an oil-rich country racked by a deep recession and sky-high inflation. Almagro's move on Friday comes a day after the Venezuelan National Assembly accused leftist President Nicolas Maduro of having staged a coup. It made that charge after the Venezuelan Supreme Court ruled late Wednesday that it would take over all duties of the legislature, which was found to be in contempt of a high-court decision barring the swearing-in of three lawmakers who had been accused by the ruling party of electoral fraud.

     Almagro says Venezuela's government is a dictatorship that has stripped the opposition-controlled legislature of its powers, jailed dozens of people for political reasons and barred the population from participating in the democratic process. That latter accusation refers to last year's ruling by Venezuela's National Electoral Council to block the opposition's effort to force a recall referendum that might have led to Maduro's ouster. On Friday, Venezuela's Foreign Ministry said the accusation that the assumption of the National Assembly's powers by the Supreme Court amounted to a government-led coup was false. It said in a statement that, on the contrary, proper legal measures had been adopted against a body that had openly defied the high court's decisions. Prior to the Supreme Court's ruling this week, the tribunal had already stripped the legislature of its budgetary authority.

SPAIN PM RAJOY URGES DEMOCRACY IN VENEZUELA AFTER COURT COUP

     MADRID, SPAIN     --
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy warned Friday that democracy could break down in Venezuela, joining other international leaders in condemning the country's Supreme Court seizing power from the opposition-led legislature. Widely branded a coup, the court's move tightened socialist President Nicolas Maduro's grip after more than a year in which he has been locked in a political struggle with the centre-right opposition. "If the separation of powers breaks down, democracy breaks down," Rajoy warned in a tweet.

     In a decision announced late Wednesday, Venezuela's Supreme Court -- whose judges have staunchly backed Maduro -- said it would directly assume parliamentary powers, accusing the National Assembly of being in contempt of court. The ruling strips Maduro's opponents in the legislature of what little grip they had over a key pillar of government. Critics said the move was an authoritarian turn for the South American oil-producing giant, where an economic crisis has caused food shortages, riots and an epidemic of violent crime.

     Regional powers Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Chile and others also warned it was a threat to democracy in Venezuela. Guatemala also denounced the court's action. But leftist-led Bolivia defended Maduro. The hardest line came from the secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, who echoed Maduro's opponents' claims of a "coup d'Etat." Meanwhile, the speaker of the National Assembly, Julio Borges, urged the army, which has thus far supported Maduro, to take a stand. Spain, the main intermediary between Latin America and the European Union, has been a host nation for many Venezuelans fleeing the political and economic crisis in their country. The conservatives in Spain openly support Venezuela's centre-right opposition, and Lilian Tintori, the wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, makes regularly trips to the country.

MERCOSUR CONVENES EMERGENCY MEETING, BY THE SITUATION IN VENEZUELA

         CARACAS, VENEZUELA   --
 The South American bloc Mercosur called Friday for an urgent meeting of its founding members to discuss possible solutions to the crisis in which he entered Venezuela after the Supreme Court assumed functions legislative. The meeting of foreign ministers of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay will be held on Saturday in Buenos Aires, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Argentina.

      The founding countries of Mercosur reiterated their unwavering support for the fundamental principles of the rule of Law and the preservation of democracy in the Latin american region”, said in a statement the Government of Argentina, which chairs the regional bloc.

     The Venezuelan Parliament was declared Thursday in rebellion and said that misjudge the rulings of the highest court of the country, which was awarded legislative powers and sparked the concern of several Governments of America and Europe in the face of what they considered a deterioration of the democratic order. On Friday, the Venezuelan opposition took to the streets to protest against the court’s ruling, while increasing the external pressure against the socialist Government of Nicolas Maduro.

 

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