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Obama to Venezuela’s Maduro: Release Prisoners, Address Grievances.


President Barack Obama urged Venezuela Wednesday to release protesters detained in anti-government demonstrations that turned violent and address the “legitimate grievances” of its people.

Obama condemned violence that has marred two weeks of protests in the oil-rich country against the leftist government of President Nicolas Maduro, with four people killed so far.

Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, one of the main actors in the wave of protests, is due for a hearing at the prison where he is held on claims he incited the violence.

Scores of protesters have also been detained.

“Along with the Organization of American States, we call on the Venezuelan government to release protesters it has detained and engage in real dialogue,” Obama told reporters after a North American leaders summit in this Mexican city.

Speaking about unrest in Venezuela and Ukraine, Obama denounced the “unacceptable violence in those two countries which the United States strongly condemns.”

“In Venezuela, rather than trying to distract from its own failings by making up false accusations against diplomats from the United States, the government ought to focus on addressing the legitimate grievances of the Venezuelan people,” Obama said.

“All parties have an obligation to work together to restrain violence and restore calm.”

Venezuela’s relations with Washington, long strained under stalwart leftist leader Hugo Chavez, have remained sour and distrustful under Maduro, who has stuck closely to his predecessor’s policies.

About 100 supporters of jailed opposition leader Lopez rallied Wednesday outside a Caracas court where he had been due to hear charges blaming him for a deadly episode of violence.

Heavy security surrounded the Palace of Justice, blocking streets leading to the building, where the Harvard-educated economist had been scheduled to appear after spending the night in jail.

But his party said in a Twitter message that the hearing had been moved to a military jail. Lopez’s defense attorney Juan Carlos Gutiérrez said a court illegally ordered the change claiming it would protect Lopez’s life.

Lopez’s dramatic surrender to national guard troops at a protest rally Tuesday came after two weeks of protests in the oil-rich country against the leftist government of President Nicolas Maduro.

Maduro is under fire over what critics say is rampant crime, runaway inflation, high unemployment and other economic problems.

After three people were killed in street clashes on February 12, Maduro ordered Lopez’s arrest, blaming him for the violence.

Political scientist Angel Oropeza said the government was walking a tightrope.

“They may hold him for a few days. If they free him right away, it would be a sign of weakness,” said Oropeza, a political science professor at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas.

“But if they hold on to him for a long time, it could fuel the protests even more and the government would come under more international pressure,” he said.

Oropeza said that with the arrest, the only thing the government had achieved was to divert people’s attention away from Venezuela’s economic woes and “shift debate to an area it has always handled better — that of political confrontation.”

On Tuesday, Lopez told thousands of his supporters, all clad in white, that he hoped his arrest would highlight the “unjust justice” in Venezuela. He drew an explosion of cheers from the crowds.

Maduro, speaking to pro-government oil workers dressed in red in the western part of Caracas, countered that Lopez would have to “answer for his calls to sedition.”

Lopez, draped in a Venezuelan flag, suddenly emerged in the crowd on Tuesday on the Plaza Brion, climbing a statue of Cuban independence hero Jose Marti.

After delivering a brief message to his cheering supporters, who had defied a ban on the march, he surrendered to the National Guard.

“I present myself before an unjust justice, before a corrupt justice,” said Lopez.

“If my incarceration serves to wake up people… it will have been worth it.”

He calmly walked under escort to a National Guard vehicle as his supporters pressed around the vehicle, blocking its path.

Maduro’s government summoned its followers to rallies of its own in an area of downtown Caracas, amid fears of clashes with the opposition demonstrators.

The tensions generated by the protests have spilled into the international arena.

On Sunday, Maduro ordered the expulsion of three US diplomats, accusing them of meeting student leaders under the guise of offering them visas.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said that the United States was still mulling its options.

“I would repeat very strongly that the allegations against our diplomats by the Venezuelan government are baseless and false, and that right now, we are considering what actions to take,” Harf said.

© AFP 2014
Source: Newsmax.com

Luis Rosales: Time for World to Join Venezuela’s Fight for Democracy.


Everyone who believes in democracy, freedom and human rights today should be standing with Leopoldo López, the brave young opposition leader who is defying the growing radicalization of the ruling government in Venezuela.

López, a charismatic, Harvard-educated former mayor of Caracas’ Chacao district, has emerged as the face of the growing opposition to the leftist government of Nicolas Maduro, the successor to the late dictator Hugo Chavez. On Tuesday, López was arrested on what international human rights groups have called baseless charges for the deaths of three people killed in an anti-government demonstration earlier this month.

Although President Maduro has called him a fascist, Lopez is completely the opposite. He is an honest politician who really believes in democracy. He has devoted his life to helping his country stand up to the growing authoritarianism of Maduro. He has long been persecuted by a government that controls most of the country’s media and its corrupt judiciary.

From the beginning, when he was first elected mayor in 2000, Lopez challenged this repressive system. Chavez ordered judges to ban him from holding further office after saddling him with trumped up charges. The government consistently has used this method to eliminate popular opponents. As one of the three most popular political leaders in the country, Lopez stepped back and unselfishly endorsed another opposition candidate for president, Henrique Capriles, in order not to fracture the anti-Chavez opposition.

Chavez died in March, 2013. Maduro, a declared Marxist who many observers consider to be a puppet of Cuba’s Castro regime, succeeded him and was elected after a very controversial process fraught with charges of fraud. The opposition believed it was robbed. But the official apparatus, tightly controlled by the Chavistas, ignored the claims and stifled any official audit of the vote.

That was Maduro’s original sin, the first of many. His rule has been an unmitigated disaster. Venezuela, a global oil power, leads the South American continent in inflation. As the economy has collapsed, it also has taken the lead in other negative indicators like the rate of crime and domestic violence. And that is what feeds the growing opposition movement.

Over the last several weeks, millions have taken to the streets across the country to express their discontent. The government has responded by mobilizing its own armed mobs, backed by both the military and the police, to attack peaceful demonstrators. This, in turn, has divided the opposition.

Capriles leads a group that believes that change can be encouraged through dialogue and nonviolent demonstration. Lopez, however, believes that a repressive government must be challenged with strength when it attacks its own people. He believes that Maduro, like Lenin and Castro before him, is trying to create the conditions for a “proletarian dictatorship,” the first step toward totalitarian socialism.

The history of the last century is replete with nations that have succumbed to this tactic: Russia, the nations of Eastern Europe, Vietnam, Cambodia, North Korea and Cuba to name just a few.

In every case, when socialists took power, they immediately suspended individual liberties, freedom of press and private ownership to end what they considered an “outdated” capitalist and bourgeois systems. The new elites, backed by a massive, authoritarian bureaucracy, never saw any reason to reverse course. What emerged were single party states with either no elections or cruel parodies of them, without freedom, and heavily militarized at all levels of society.

This is the system that Leopoldo López fears will emerge in Venezuela if the people do not stand up and fight now. And it’s going to take democrats and human rights activists from all over the world to help him in his fight. There needs to be a push now to stop Maduro from repressing students and other demonstrators and force him to release Lopez before it’s too late.

We the people have to put international pressure on Maduro’s regime and push our democratic governments and elected representatives to do the same. And we need to do this now, not only for the sake of Lopez, but also for the future of Venezuela and Latin America.

Luis Rosales is a political strategist based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is the author of the new book, “Francis: A Pope for Our Times.”

© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

 

Venezuela’s Maduro Tightens Grip on Media.


CARACAS, Venezuela — As Gov. Henrique Capriles campaigned for president of Venezuela last April, he couldn’t venture more than a few steps without being hounded by dozens of sharp-elbowed cameramen and photographers. Nearly eight months later, the visibly thinner and exhausted opposition leader is accompanied by just a handful of journalists at what was supposed to be one of the final, electrifying opposition rallies ahead of this weekend’s mayoral elections.

Critics say the shrinking media coverage has been deliberate. Even while Venezuelans endure their toughest economic crisis in 15 years of socialist rule, the opposition has been largely knocked from public view by what they claim is a government-led campaign to intimidate media outlets that give airtime to the opposition and the nation’s mounting woes.

Between January and September, the number of attacks on journalists, cases of harassment and reports of censorship has risen 56 percent compared with the first nine months of 2012, according to a complaint filed by press freedom groups in October to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Even more damaging has been the sale of several media outlets once critical of the government to owners who more closely follow the official line.

Capriles calls it an “information blockade,” and warns that President Nicolas Maduro‘s alleged attempts to silence the opposition signal a more authoritarian style of rule to come unless resoundingly reject his policies at the ballot box this Sunday. The election for mayors and city councils is a dogfight in this deeply polarized country. It is also Maduro’s first electoral test since he defeated Capriles in April by a razor-thin margin following Hugo Chavez’s death from cancer.

“Without a doubt this is one of the toughest moments in our history to get our message out,” said Capriles, who has been crisscrossing the country stumping for opposition candidates.

Yet for all the opposition complaints, analysts say the government’s biggest trump card going into the vote isn’t its grip on the media but rather Maduro’s political instincts. Facing a steady decline in the polls, Maduro on Nov. 9 seized control of several retail outlets, arrested dozens of store managers and slashed prices on plasma TVs and fridges to strike a blow against opponents he accuses of waging an “economic war” against his government. The measures have led to a steady improvement in the president’s approval rating, said Luis Vicente Leon of Caracas-based pollster Datanalisis.

The most likely result from Sunday’s vote, Leon said, is the opposition winning in Caracas and other big cities while the government remains dominant in the countryside, giving each side a claim on victory.

“There’s an economic crisis in Venezuela but paradoxically who has best capitalized on it politically is the government that generated it,” said Leon. “They’ve combined rhetoric with action and, just as importantly, has managed to sell a narrative of who are the ones to blame for the economic troubles.”

The government denies it is threatening journalists or forcing its viewpoint, and attributes the decline in coverage of Capriles to the fact that voters and media bosses alike were turned off by his unsubstantiated claims of fraud following his defeat in the presidential race.

“There’s no campaign to make him invisible,” said Igor Molina, a high-ranking official at telecommunications regulator Conatel. “Perhaps it is just that the overexposure which he was accustomed to is gone.”

The most emblematic example of Venezuela’s rougher media landscape is the takeover of TV station Globovision.

When Chavez refused to renew the license of independent broadcaster RCTV in 2007, Globovision remained as the lone voice broadcasting criticism of the government. But after being fined $2 million last year for its coverage of the security forces’ violent quelling of a prison riot, the channel was sold in May to three local businessmen with no prior media experience. Many veteran journalists were immediately fired or quit, and the channel overnight stopped broadcasting opposition news conferences and rallies.

“This is a sophisticated strategy because you’re not closing down the company,” said Carlos Correa, of Espacio Publico, the nongovernmental organization behind the complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. “You’re simply asking someone you’re close to, or have business dealings with, to do a favor and buy a media company to neutralize its coverage.”

Globovision’s owners haven’t commented on their plans for the channel or the transaction. But last month the saga seemed to repeat itself when the editor of the country’s main business newspaper, El Mundo, was fired after publishing an article on the hemorrhaging of the central bank’s foreign currency reserves. Just a few weeks earlier, El Mundo’s owner Cadena Capriles, the country’s largest print media conglomerate, was purchased by a group of UK and Curacao-based investors. Cadena Capriles’ founding owners aren’t directly related to the politician who shares their last name.

In another episode with a chilling effect on coverage, Maduro in October publicly criticized newspaper Diario 2001 as “bandits” and called for it to be “punished” for publishing an article about gasoline shortages in Latin America’s largest oil exporter. Within days of the tongue-lashing, federal prosecutors opened an investigation.

The government is also targeting the opposition on the Internet, until now a largely untouched forum for government criticism. Last month it blocked access to dozens of websites used to track the black market value of the nation’s currency, which has plunged to 10 times its official 6.3-per-dollar value.

While coverage of the opposition is being curtailed, Maduro is making greater use of the airwaves. Data compiled by Andres Canizalez, a media researcher at Catholic University in Caracas, show the president has appeared on television an average of two hours a day, surpassing a mark left by his loquacious mentor Chavez, thanks to a law requiring radio and TV channels to interrupt normal programming to broadcast the president’s activities.

It’s not clear if the government tactics are actually persuading voters. While Capriles may be less visible, Venezuela’s economic problems are readily apparent in most supermarkets, where staples such as milk and toilet paper are harder to find and prices for other goods have skyrocketed in line with an official 54 percent inflation rate. The opposition is hopeful that such hardships will allow it to build on the 56 municipalities that it and dissident factions of Chavismo won in the last local elections in 2008.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: Newsmax.com

Venezuela Says Oil Installations Not Affected by Blackout.


Image: Venezuela Says Oil Installations Not Affected by Blackout

A crowd gathers outside a subway station during a blackout in Caracas on Dec. 2.

Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA said the OPEC nation’s oil installations were not affected by a power blackout that struck large parts of the country on Monday night.

Venezuela‘s refineries, heavy crude upgraders and other oil facilities are fed by separate generating plants, not the national grid. The blackout plunged the capital, Caracas, and other cities into darkness.

“The oil industry is working completely normally and guarantees the supply of fuel to the national and international market,” the company said in a statement.

A power blackout plunged the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, and other cities around the nation into darkness.

Venezuela has been suffering periodic electricity cuts around the country for several years, although the capital has been spared the worst problems.

In September, when a blackout hit several cities, President Nicolas Maduro said that his political opponents may have been behind the difficulty. He had the armed forces called out to help ensure security while power was restored.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: Newsmax.com

Venezuela’s Maduro: Workers See Chavez Apparition at Building Site.


Image: Venezuela's Maduro: Workers See Chavez Apparition at Building Site

CARACAS, VenezuelaVenezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said an image of his idol and predecessor, the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, has appeared miraculously in the wall of an underground construction site.

Since his death from cancer earlier this year, Chavez has taken on mythical proportions for supporters and Maduro has spoken of seeing his former mentor’s spirit several times, including in the shape of a bird.

In the latest incident, Maduro said Chavez’s face had briefly appeared to workers building a new subway line in Caracas in the middle of the night.

“My hair stands on end just telling you about it,” Maduro said on state TV late on Wednesday, showing a photo of a white-plaster wall with marks that appear like eyes and a nose.

“Who is that face? That gaze is the gaze of the fatherland that is everywhere around us, including in inexplicable phenomena,” added an awed Maduro, who won an April election to replace Chavez after his 14-year presidency.

Maduro’s reverence for Chavez plays well with government supporters, who treat the charismatic former leader’s memory with religious adoration. The 50-year-old Maduro, who mixes Catholic beliefs with a penchant for Asian spirituality, has been a devoted personal follower of Chavez since first meeting him at a jail in 1993.

Workers took the photo with a mobile phone during the image’s brief appearance, the president added.

“Just as it appeared, so it disappeared. So you see, what you say is right, Chavez is everywhere, we are Chavez, you are Chavez,” Maduro said during an event shown on live TV.

Stories of Chavez appearances, however, draw mockery from the roughly half of Venezuelans who do not support Maduro. Many of them regard him as a buffoon riding on Chavez’s image and causing embarrassment for Venezuela‘s international standing.

Both sides are gearing up for local elections in December that will be a major test of Maduro’s standing in the OPEC nation of 29 million people. Rampant violent crime and economic problems are the main issues taxing voters.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: NEWSmax.com

Maduro Seeks Decree Powers From Venezuela Lawmakers.


Image: Maduro Seeks Decree Powers From Venezuela Lawmakers

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro went to parliament on Tuesday to seek decree powers that he says are essential to tackle corruption and fix the economy but opponents view as proof he wants to rule as an autocrat.The National Assembly, where Maduro’s socialist government has a nearly two-thirds majority, will schedule a vote on the request next week and is widely expected to grant him the fast-track legislative powers in a revival of a measure used several times by his predecessor, Hugo Chavez.

Maduro, 50, says he needs the so-called Enabling Law for 12 months to toughen a crackdown on corruption in the South American OPEC nation as well as tackle economic problems that have become the main challenge of his young presidency.

“We’ve come to ask for decree powers that will give us a solid legal basis to act quickly and firmly against this badness, this sickness,” he told lawmakers after arriving to the cheers of supporters who lined streets around the assembly.

“If corruption continues and perpetuates the destructive logic of capitalism, there won’t be socialism here anymore. . . . Corruption must stop being a normal part of our political life,” Maduro said.

Only introducing “extremely severe” punishments for graft could put the country on the right path, he said, urging Venezuelans to reject corruption wherever it originated, in the opposition ranks or among his own “Chavista” supporters.

“It’s the same gangsterism, however it’s dressed up,” Maduro said.

Opposition leaders, however, suspect Maduro will try to use the special powers to attack them and to push through new laws that have nothing to do with the fight against graft.

In its latest annual index of perceptions of corruption, global watchdog Transparency International ranked Venezuela as the ninth most corrupt country in the world.

Having risen from a Caracas bus driver to Chavez’s vice president, Maduro won an April election to succeed him after his death from cancer.

Opponents mock Maduro as a poor imitation of Chavez, Venezuela’s leader of 14 years, arguing that he is ruining the country by continuing the same model of authoritarian leadership and failed leftist economic policies.

In a long speech that hailed the late Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara and quoted South American independence hero Simon Bolivar, Maduro said decree powers would let him “deepen, accelerate and fight until the end for a new political ethic, a new republican life, and a new society.”

ECONOMIC WAR

Though he has ordered no new state takeovers of businesses, the president has kept in place controversial Chavez-era currency controls and the black market price of dollars has soared to seven times higher than the official rate.

Inflation, a decades-old problem in Venezuela, is at an annual 45 percent, and the restricted access to dollars has fueled a shortage of imported goods ranging from toilet paper and motorcycle parts to communion wine.

Having repeatedly promised to ease the country’s complex currency controls to let a greater flow of dollars reach importers, Maduro may initially use decree powers to tinker with the complicated foreign exchange regime.

Maduro says Washington is helping the local opposition wage an “economic war” against Venezuela. Last week, he expelled three U.S. diplomats he accused of plotting with anti-government activists to damage the power grid and commit other sabotage.

The president likens the current accumulation of problems to the 2002-2003 period of Chavez’s rule, when there was a brief coup and an oil sector strike against him.

Chanting from the public gallery of the National Assembly, Maduro’s supporters interrupted his speech to sing “That’s how you govern!” and “With Chavez and Maduro, the people are safe!”

Opposition leaders, in a nation of 29 million people broadly split 50:50 between pro- and anti-government supporters, accuse Maduro of inventing excuses to cover up his own incompetence and the dysfunctional economy he inherited from Chavez.

“Maduro and his gang will be remembered as presiding over the most corrupt period in the history of Venezuela,” opposition leader Henrique Capriles said.

“This law that he wants is in order to distract the people from their problems. Decree powers will not help the government be successful.”

The last time Chavez was granted decree powers — in 2010 for 18 months — it caused a political uproar, despite his insistence that he needed them to deal with a national emergency caused by floods that made nearly 140,000 people homeless.

The late socialist leader passed nearly 200 laws by decree during his time in office, including legislation that allowed him to nationalize major oil projects and increase his influence in the Supreme Court.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: NEWSmax.com

Venezuela’s Maduro Cancels UN Speech Over New York Threats.


CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro canceled a trip to speak at the U.N. General Assembly’s annual gathering in New York because of what he called threats to his safety.

One of the alleged plots could have caused violence in New York and the other could have affected his physical safety, Maduro said in a national address carried on television and radio Wednesday.

“The clan, the mafia of Otto Reich and Roger Noriega once again had planned a crazy, terrible provocation that can’t be described in any other way,” Maduro said, referring to two former U.S. officials he frequently accuses of plots against Venezuela.

Maduro, who returned to Venezuela yesterday from a state visit to China, said he learned of the plots from “various sources” during a stopover in Vancouver and decided to return to Caracas.

The self-professed socialist accused the United States of inventing “thousands of excuses” for declining to authorize his transit through U.S. airspace over Puerto Rico last week.

The United States had information about the plots, Maduro said. The State Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I had to fulfill my maximum objective, to preserve my physical integrity, my life, and Venezuelan honor,” Maduro said.

The State Department said Sept. 20 that it granted Maduro’s request to pass through U.S. airspace en route to China from Venezuela after an “extraordinary effort” and that Venezuelan authorities had given one-day notice to use U.S. airspace instead of the required three days.

CUBAN AIRPLANE

Maduro said Wednesday that he traveled in a Cuban airplane because his presidential jet, manufactured by Airbus SAS, had problems after undergoing five months of maintenance in France. Venezuela is considering legal action against the European aviation company, Maduro said.

The State Department in March said claims by Venezuelan officials of U.S.-based plots to destabilize the South American country were “unsubstantiated and outlandish.”

Maduro, who won election in April after former President Hugo Chavez died in March, said in January that authorities uncovered a plot by opposition factions to assassinate him and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.

© Copyright 2013 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.
Source: NEWSmax.com

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