Actress and singer Maria Conchita Alonso says movie director Oliver Stone “got paid” to support the Venezuelan government, a dictatorship being infiltrated by foreign interests that ultimately pose a threat to the United States.
“It’s a dictatorship right now in Venezuela. And it’s a danger for the United States,” the outspoken Cuban-born, Venezuelan-raised star told “The Steve Malzberg Show” Wednesday on Newsmax TV.
“This is a war about the next-door neighbors of the United States. The Cubans are there. The Russians. The Iranians. The Chinese. Just now, in the past few days, planes full of soldiers from Cuba have been arriving in Venezuela. Chinese are also arriving in Venezuela.
“The final point of all this is, they want the United States. Why is that so hard to understand?”
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Alonso passionately described the personal tragedies unfolding in the streets of Venezuela.
“These students were tired of [the fact that] you can’t find food, you can’t find medicine, if you go out of your home to see your mom or take your kids to school, or whatever, your life is in danger,” she said.
“Every week, hundreds of people are killed by the huge crimes that exist now in Venezuela. Isn’t it better to just go out and do something and stop this once and for all? … The kids are out on the streets trying to save a country,” she said.
“And the students have no arms… I mean, they have nothing, and the military is infiltrated with a lot of Cubans and they’re… attacking with real bullets and with the other ones that do hurt you and open holes in your body but they’re not real ones.
“Four students have been killed, three students and one girl were killed…. A 17-year-old kid was run over by an SUV from someone from the pedevesa [the state-run oil and gas company], from the government. The kids are out on the streets trying to save a country, trying to tell the Cubans, ‘you get out of here.’”
Stone — whose films include “JFK,” “Natural Born Killers,” and “The Hand” — is producing a biopic on the life of the late Hugo Chavez and recently implied that student protests against the current regime aren’t legitimate.
“Venezuela is a democratically elected government. These people who keep protesting are sore losers,” he said in an interview.
Alonso, co-star of the Robin Williams flick “Moscow on the Hudson,” says Stone received funding from the Chavez government for film projects and therefore has remained sympathetic to the Venezuelan government.
“He got paid all the money [from the Chavez regime] and has to do this….
“And the same thing years ago, Danny Glover got paid, I don’t know how many millions… to make a movie about one of the first presidents from Haiti….
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.”
President Barack Obama on Thursday gave credit to Congress for relaxing restrictions on transferring detainees from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the custody of foreign governments but said lawmakers need to go further.
After signing the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2014, Obama noted that Congress retained regulations that prevent the transfer of prisoners to American soil, where they could be tried in federal court.
“The executive branch must have the authority to determine when and where to prosecute Guantanamo detainees,” Obama said in a signing statement released during his Hawaiian vacation.
Prosecuting alleged terrorists in U.S. federal court is “a legitimate, effective, and powerful tool in our efforts to protect the nation,” Obama said.
The United States also needs “flexibility, among other things, to act swiftly in conducting negotiations with foreign countries regarding the circumstances of detainee transfers,” Obama said.
The regulations could remain an obstacle to the administration’s years-long bid to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, where 158 detainees from various countries remain after years of detention without trial at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba. The prison has been condemned internationally.
While lawmakers of both political parties refused to yield on the ban against bringing prisoners to the United States, they were willing to relax rules for sending prisoners to their home countries.
Among the earlier restrictions was that the administration had to certify that the country where an inmate was being sent was not “facing a threat that is likely to substantially affect its ability to exercise control over the individual.” This had all but ruled out politically chaotic Yemen, which is home to the largest group of Guantanamo detainees.
Transfers had also been banned to countries that Washington designated “state sponsors of terrorism,” which made it difficult to move Syrian inmates. And prisoners in the past also could not be sent back to any country where previously released Guantanamo detainees had returned to “terrorist activity.”
Such rules will be lifted or significantly relaxed under the new law.
Even before the legislation was enacted, the administration had become more active in making transfers, sending two detainees each to Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Algeria.
HAVANA — Fidel Castro praised his brother, Cuban President Raul Castro, on Thursday for shaking hands with President Barack Obama at a memorial for Nelson Mandela, saying he demonstrated courtesy and dignity with the gesture.The elder Castro, in his first comment on the death of Mandela, touched on the handshake that made headlines around the world, at the end of a long column published in the Cuban media that praised Mandela and reviewed Cuba’s role in ending apartheid.
“I congratulate Comrade Raul for his brilliant performance [at the memorial], and especially for his firmness and dignity when with a friendly but firm greeting to the head of government of the United States he said in English, ‘Mr. President, I am Castro’.”
The White House played down the handshake, saying it was unplanned and went no further than pleasantries.
Still, the meeting had resonance because U.S. relations with Cuba have undergone a surprise warming in recent months with several instances of cooperation instead of the usual hostile rhetoric.
Obama said last month in Miami that it may be time for the United States to revise its policies toward Cuba, against which it has had a trade embargo for more than half a century.
Obama questioned whether the policy that was put in place in 1961 remains an effective way of dealing with U.S. differences with the communist-ruled island nation.
Fidel Castro, 87, who was operated on in 2006 for intestinal bleeding and never fully recovered, handed over power to his brother, who is five years younger, in 2008.
Fidel Castro made no public comment on Mandela’s death at the time and was too old to attend last week’s ceremony in South Africa.
He has not been seen in public in months, though an official photo released on Monday showed him seated in a blue sweat suit talking with his biographer, Spanish writer Ignacio Ramonet, last week.
Fidel Castro was a leading voice against apartheid when some other world leaders were reluctant to speak out.
Mandela was deeply appreciative of Cuban support in the fight against apartheid — a conflict that included Cuban troops who fought and died in southern Angola.
Castro, in his Thursday column, complained that the roots and crimes of apartheid had been given short shrift in coverage of Mandela’s death, as were his beliefs.
“It’s a very real fact that Mandela was a complete man, profound revolutionary and radically socialist, who with great stoicism withstood 27 years of solitary confinement,” Castro said.
“I have never ceased to admire his honesty, modesty and enormous merit.”
Thamsanqa Jantjie’s wife Sizie took her husband for a check-up at the Sterkfontein Psychiatric hospital in Krugersdorp, which suggested he be admitted immediately, the Star reported.
“The past few days have been hard. We have been supportive because he might have had a breakdown,” she said.
Jantjie claims to have a long-history of mental disorders and on December 10 — the same day as the Mandela service — the interpreter was reportedly supposed to go to Sterkfontein for a check-up.However, the appointment was moved when he was offered to interpret at the memorial service held at FNB Stadium in Soweto, according to the Star.
Following the memorial service, Jantjie told various media outlets that his performance was sub-par due to a sudden attack of schizophrenia, which caused hallucinations.
“I saw angels falling on the stadium. I heard voices and lost concentration,” he said.
It was later found that Jantjie had been part of a mob which burnt two people to death 10 years ago — an allegation he denies — and that he had also faced rape, kidnapping, and theft charges, reported the Sydney Morning Herald.The South African government apologized to deaf people after the scandal. Last Wednesday, Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane said the government will investigate claims that Jantjie did not use actual sign language.
“There are 190 countries in the world, probably half of them, say, are run by dreadful people who do awful things to their citizens, who don’t have our Bill of Rights and our level of freedom. And so you’re left with a choice,” Henican told “The Steve Malzberg Show” on Newsmax TV.
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“You can insult them and turn your back and poke your finger in the eye or you can try to engage them,” Henican said.
In recent weeks, the United States hammered out a controversial nuclear disarmament deal with Iran and revealed it has had informal talks with Cuba.
The problem, Scarborough said, is what to do with prisoners after they are released. After previous attempts to transport the prisoners to allied countries were undercut by media reports, Scarborough maintained the prison is still open because “our allies know they can’t trust us.”
The U.S. general who opened the Guantanamo detention campsaid Thursday it was a mistake and should be shut down because “it validates every negative perception of the United States.””In retrospect, the entire detention and interrogation strategy was wrong,” Marine Major Gen. Michael Lehnert wrote in a column published in the Detroit Free Press.
Lehnert, now retired from the military and living in Michigan, was the first commander of the task force that opened the detention camp in January 2002 at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba.
He said the United States opened it “because we were legitimately angry and frightened” by the Sept. 11 hijacked plane attacks in 2001 and thought the captives sent there would provide “a treasure trove of information and intelligence.”
He quickly became convinced that most of them never should have been sent there because they had little intelligence value and there was insufficient evidence linking them to war crimes, he wrote.
“We squandered the goodwill of the world after we were attacked by our actions in Guantanamo, both in terms of detention and torture,” Lehnert wrote. “Our decision to keep Guantanamo open has helped our enemies because it validates every negative perception of the United States.”
But the proposal maintains an “unwise and unnecessary ban” on transferring any to the United States, Lehnert said.
“Still, this is a step forward toward closing our nation’s most notorious prison – a prison that should never have been opened,” he wrote.
The first detainees arrived on Jan. 11, 2002, one week after Lehnert was ordered to build the first 100 cells. The crude chain-link cages known as Camp X-Ray were used for about three and a half months and replaced by a series of more permanent prisons.
The United States has since held 779 men at the facility and 162 remain. Lehnert noted that many had been cleared for transfer by U.S. defense and intelligence agencies but were “stuck by politics.”
He said a handful should be transferred to the United States for prosecution or incarceration. He acknowledged the risk that some released detainees could go on to plan attacks against the United States, but said the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law trump that risk.
“It is time that the American people and our politicians accepted a level of risk in the defense of our constitutional values, just as our service men and women have gone into harm’s way time after time to defend our Constitution,” Lehnert wrote. “If we make a mockery of our values, it calls us to question what we are really fighting for.”
He added, “It is time to close Guantanamo. Our departure from Afghanistan is a perfect point in history to close the facility.”
Gonzalez became a household name in the late 1990s when as a 6-year-old Cuban boy he was found floating off the coast of Florida in an inner tube after his mother and others fleeing Cuba drowned trying to reach the U.S.
“But, despite that, Cuba, even with all its problems has progressed over the years,” Gonzalez added. “The progress we’ve made is all thanks to Cuba’s courage, our dignity, our continued fight for a more just model.”
Gonzalez, now 20 and a cadet at a Cuban military academy, echoed the communist mantra as he spoke to the network at the World Festival of Youth and Students – a left-wing conference that attracted more than 10,000 people from all over, CNN reported.
Gonzalez is expected to speak at the conference though he couldn’t say what topic he would tasked with discussing.
“My topic could range anywhere from the lifting of the unjust blockade on Cuba to the freedom of the ‘Cuban Five.’ The main reason we’re here is because we want a revolutionary progressive movement that leads to socialism,” he said.
The Cuban Five is a reference to the five Cuban intelligence agents convicted in 2001 of spying on U.S. military installations in South Florida, exile groups and politicians. They are regarded as heroes in Cuba.
After being rescued by U.S. officials from the waters off Florida’s coast in November of 1999, Gonzalez was subsequently returned to his father in Cuba in June 2000 after U.S. immigration officials ruled the boy should return to Cuba over the objections of his Miami relatives and other Cuban exiles.
When asked by CNN en Español how his life has been in Cuba since leaving Miami, Gonzalez said, “I haven’t suffered any consequences because of what happened. It has not affected me psychologically, but it has been hard for my family,” adding, “those were tough times.”
A handshake between U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuba’s Raul Castro stole the show at South Africa’s memorial for Nelson Mandela on Tuesday, a resonant tribute to a man who brought old enemies together and straddled ideological divides and eras.
The gesture will not exorcise the Cold War ghosts haunting the Florida Straits, but it would have delighted Mandela, who was nothing if not loyal to old revolutionary allies like Raul’s retired elder brother Fidel, who at 87 was too old to attend the memorial.
Had they been alive, Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would also have been at the Johannesburg stadium where world dignitaries joined tens of thousands of South Africans paying emotional homage.
During his long career and even in the final years before his death on Thursday, Mandela, 95, maintained unswerving loyalty to veteran revolutionaries shunned by the West such as Castro, Gadhafi and Arafat, who had supported his lifelong fight to overturn apartheid in South Africa.
After he became South Africa’s first black president in 1994, Mandela defended these political and personal allegiances, testily rejecting pressure to cut off ties with figures and regimes viewed as pariahs by many in the West.
“The enemies of the West are not my enemies and I’m not prepared to be dictated to at all by anybody,” Mandela said in 1996, defending invitations to Castro and Gadhafi to visit him.
“I’m not going to take advice as to who my friends should be,” he added, saying he was under pressure from at least one global power to break off ties with these anti-U.S. leaders.
The tsunami of tributes pouring in since his death has elevated the former African National Congress freedom fighter to the level of a modern-day saint, obscuring a historical truth some may find uncomfortable.
“We mustn’t forget he was really, and remained, a leftist militant radical cast in the mold of 1950s and ’60s Third World liberation,” said Stephen Ellis, an Africa expert and professor at the African Studies Centre in Leiden, the Netherlands.
He said Mandela and South Africa’s ANC imbibed deeply of the pro-Soviet and pro-Cuban ideological influences that drove liberation and independence movements in Africa in the late ’50s and early ’60s.
Reflections of this pan-African Third Worldism show up in South Africa’s foreign policy to this day.
“The ANC, in its foreign policy, still sees itself as fighting for the liberation of the Third World,” Ellis said.
At the time when Fidel Castro’s revolution was inspiring radicals and liberation groups in Africa and Latin America, Mandela’s arrest in 1962 and his jailing for sabotage and treason in 1964 locked him away from the world.
“He was in a deep freeze for 27 years,” said Ellis.
When Mandela walked free from prison in 1990, the Berlin Wall had fallen and the Soviet Union was on the way to disintegration. But his worldview, formed in an earlier time, still saw Castro, Gadhafi and Arafat as fellow freedom fighters struggling to forge a different world.
So while Western leaders like U.S. President Bill Clinton and Britain’s Tony Blair embraced Mandela as an uplifting icon of the post-Cold War planet—setting up the fuzzy modern celebrity cult that envelops his image—the South African made a point of honoring his and the ANC’s older allegiances.
He had signaled this clearly in 1991 when he paid a three-day visit to Cuba to thank Castro and the Caribbean island for its support in the fight against apartheid—a conflict which included Cuban troops who fought and died in southern Angola.
“Cuba is our friend,” he said emphatically, drawing applause in Havana but howls of outrage from anti-Castro Cuban-Americans in Miami who continue to view him with hostility.
“We are now being advised about Cuba by people who have supported the apartheid regime for the last 40 years,” Mandela said sarcastically then about the United States. Fidel Castro sent Mandela rum and cigars on his birthdays, even though the aging statesman did not smoke or drink hard liquor.
For Gadhafi, too, who was seen by many in the West as a crackpot dictator, Mandela maintained an unflinching loyalty to a man he called “brother leader” before he was killed during a Western-backed revolt two years ago.
Mandela played a crucial role in persuading Gadhafi to surrender two Libyan suspects in the bombing of PanAm flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988, which killed 270 people and led to United Nations sanctions against Libya.
He visited Libya in the face of stern U.S. criticism and even decorated Gadhafi with South Africa’s Order of Good Hope.
“Madiba had friends who were frowned upon, but you have to honor their relationship,” said Zelda la Grange, Mandela’s former personal assistant, calling him by his clan name.
“It was important to him even in later years to remain loyal to the people who supported him and the ANC,” she added.
That loyalty also extended initially to Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe; Zimbabwe was one of the states that Mandela first visited after his release from prison in 1990 to offer thanks for its support for the ANC’s liberation war.
But relations between two of the grand old men of Africa’s freedom struggle went sour once Mandela stepped down in 1999 after a single term in office while Mugabe, buffeted by falling support, economic crisis and popular anger over a costly intervention in a Congo war, hung on term after term.
Finally, even Mandela joined the criticism of Mugabe, lamenting “the tragic failure of leadership” in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe, present at Tuesday’s memorial, did not flinch from swiping at the halo of the global icon when he criticized Mandela in an interview in June for being “too saintly, too good” in the way he reached out to South Africa’s whites.
For many though, Obama’s hand to Castro on Tuesday will validate Mandela’s gift for “speaking with the enemy.”
“He shook hands with the apartheid enemy when everyone advised him not to,” said former aide la Grange.
“The way you approach a person determines how that person treats you,” she added. “If we just adopt that in our lives, it makes the world a better place.”