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Posts tagged ‘Latin America’

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.


Senator Ekweremadu insists on no referendum on confab, despite Igbo leader’s stand.


Senator Ike Ekweremadu, a lawyer and politician is the Deputy Senate President and Chairman of Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution. Ekweremadu, who is representing Enugu West Senatorial District in the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly, in this interview, says it is critical to subject the National Conference to legislative process. The Deputy Senate President also speaks on the progress of work on the constitution amendment exercise, among other issues. TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE reports.What is your view on the issue of single term tenure?When the issue of single term tenure came up at the level of our committee, we were mindful of the political atmosphere. We also tried to draw inspiration from what happened in other jurisdictions, especially in Latin America in the 70s, where they had circumstances in which we found ourselves where the issue of transition from one administration was a major issue and was causing crisis within their region.So, they started to amend their constitution at that time to create a single term in each of those countries and it was for a transition period. This helped them to stabilise their democracy and now some of them are amending their constitution to go back to two terms of maybe four or five years. So, we thought it was something we can recommend to our country.Do you think Nigeria can benefit from it?If you look at what is going on in Nigeria now, all the core problems we are having in all the parties are based on the issue of succession. So, we believe strongly that, that matter can still be revisited. But I think some of the mistakes we made in our recommendations, was saying that the incumbent would not benefit from it and I think there was a kind of coalition of forces to defeat it. So, I believe that one of the ways to deal with the situation is for the stakeholders in the politics to come together. It could be a win-win situation for everybody. And I believe that the way it could work is now that people have been elected for four year.Now let everybody complete the four years tenure for which they were elected and then, through the doctrine of necessity, all sort of jurisprudential approach do some kind of transition of two years in which case those present occupiers like the president and state governors who are finishing their tenures, maybe, will now do another two years that would end in 2017.I hear that the complaint of some of those fighting the president is that if the president gets his second term when they are gone, he would start to chase them. So, if we all agree that, that is a way to solve the problem, after two years, both the president and those other governors will now exit and I believe that the fear would not be there and that would bring down the temperature of politics. Of course, we don’t have much problem with the legislative positions.We can go ahead and hold legislative election in 2015.

The advantage there will be that if we do the legislative election in 2015, and then do executive election in 2017, we will have two years gap for the INEC to have a breathing space to prepare well. You can see what is happening in Anambra now. So, INEC needs sufficient time to prepare for one election before the other. In America for instance, there is this two years separation and in fact in most countries, even in Senegal, and some places in Africa they have adopted that policy of separation legislative elections from executive elections.If we create a two year gap, it creates a situation where the country would not be engulfed in crisis in the process of conducting all the elections in one period. I think it is something that we need to reflect on and see if it is something that can help to resolve some of the challenges that we are having now and I do hope that if we are able to do that and we all agree to it, that it is going to solve even some of the security challenges because I do believe that some of the security problems we are having now are from the tension arising from politically charged atmosphere.So somehow, everybody will benefit from it; both the president, governors and all we need to do is to exercise some patience and give them two more years and they will all exit and we will start on a clean slate and be going forward. After that we can move to one term tenure that can be five years, six years or seven years depending on what we all agree upon.The cost of all these re-elections and all the problems that come with it would have been resolved and people will now know that if I am a president or a governor, I have a certain number of years and when I finish, I am not going to hunt the president or stop him from running again.Right now what is happening is that if the governor wants a re-election, he will do all kinds of things to stop the opposition and on the other hand some people will accuse the governor of all kinds of stupid things because he wants to have himself elected, so it causes all kinds of problems.Even the cost of the election itself, I don’t think that Nigeria can continue to sustain that. I know how much money we have spent on INEC and besides I know that politicians themselves spend a lot of money which most of them don’t ever declare. So, it is a huge cost to the country, but if we say let there be single term especially for the executive positions, some of these costs will have to be reduced.How then can we bring the matter back for discussion?Interestingly, we didn’t know that the president and executive would come up with the idea of National Dialogue. When we were doing the present constitution amendment we came up with the amendment of Section 9 of the constitution. Now, because I said the matter was defeated, it is under our processes. And for the matter to come up again, it must come in form of formal motion to bring about that.But because we are serving the people, we would be more than willing to do that if that is what the people of Nigeria desire. If there is a debate on it in conversation and Nigerians believes that the way we are going, we need to think along that line and be able to use it to resolve the existing political tension in this country, just as we did during the ill-health of our president, we would be more than willing as a national service to have a look into it and be able to reach a level of understanding in the National Assembly. So, we will be willing to discuss it provided that is exactly what the Nigerians want. But, for now, the matter was defeated in the Senate. If we are going to bring it about again, there must be another motion to resuscitate it.What is your view on the agitation for state police as part of the measures to be taken toward solving the security challenges in Nigeria?I have my personal position and an official position because I belong to an institution. The Senate at the level of the Committee on Constitution Amendment rejected suggestion for State Police and so we could not take it, even to the floor. And as a person, it is my job and my responsibility to present the report of the committee and I needed to explain to my colleagues why we made that recommendation. And the reason we gave was that though it has its advantages, Nigeria was not ripe for State Police and it was something for the future.That is the official position of the committee which I head. Now as an individual, I believe strongly that we can never resolve our security challenges in Nigeria as long as we are doing what we are doing now. Never! Even let us continue what we are doing, in five years if we meet again, it would be the same problem that we would be having. The reason is clear.No other country is doing what we are doing in term of policing. Most countries, especially the federation, have adopted what I call decentralised policing and indeed, the issue of State Police is even anachronistic. What is done now is multilevel policing or decentralised policing.You see, the security challenges have become very complicated, so you will have to bring a complicated process to address it. We cannot have a federal type of government and then adopt the unitary system of police and expect that to succeed. Even the white men, when they came to do the amalgamation, they knew that a centralised police cannot work in Nigeria.So, the type of police they set up was the Native Authority Police. That was the first type of police we had in Nigeria and it worked. They also introduced the prison, which were Native Authority based. It was later in the years, I think in 1936, that they decided to set up a Federal Police.So, the federal police and local government police co-existed together till 1966 when the army took over. Unfortunately, when the army took over, they set up a committee to review that type of police and they came to the conclusion that people were using it to intimidate political enemies. It was bound to happen because the white men did not bother to set up a structure that would regulate that kind of level of policing. There was nothing like Police Service Commission with clear guidelines on how to structure the Native Authority Police and to be able to determine what bounds they must stop.So, they were doing things the way they liked. But instead of the army finding a way to reform that arrangement and make sure there was a level of control or regulations, what they did was to throw away the baby with the bath water. They cancelled other levels of police and set up a central police system which we have now. What happened after that?First was armed robbery because armed robbers were now going about their business everywhere because they start posting policemen from Kano to Enugu, from Enugu to Calabar, from Calabar to Ibadan. So, they bring people who don’t know the terrain of the place.So, armed robbers take advantage of that. When the armed robbers have established their reign, kidnappers now joined them. Now there are terrorists and some ritualists are also coming into the crime business. The police we have now are not grounded; they don’t know the environment they are operating. Take for instance, you send a male Southerner, maybe a Christian to Sokoto and then, in the course of his beat, somebody commits a crime and he starts pursuing the person.Once he runs into a house he cannot go further if there is a woman living in that house because he is not allowed to enter because their religion does not allow him to see the woman. So, there are cultural differences that we have to respect and the only way we can do that is to get a policeman who is also part of the culture of the area; who respect the culture and also understand the environment and who lives there and as long as he is doing the police work, he knows everybody in the area.What they do in most countries is not state police, but decentralised policing or multi-level policing, which means that in Abuja for instance, we will have the federal police in Abuja and we will also have the Abuja Federal Capital Territory Police.Then, those of us who live in Apo, will have our own police and then the University of Abuja will have its own police and these are all well coordinated. So, if there is an offence in Apo for instance, the first police you will call is the policeman who lives on your street and the man appears there in the next second.If he thinks it is something that he cannot handle, then he will contacts his colleagues who live in other areas of Apo and if it becomes too much for them, they will call the FCT Police and if it is still too much for them, they will now call in the federal police and by the time you finish all these, they would have arrested the criminal.In America they commit crime everywhere and everyday as they commit here but the difference is that no matter where you go, they will find you because they are everywhere and they know what happens within the environment they operate.But in a situation where somebody has to leave a place where he lives in the course of posting, it would not allow to know the environment in which they are operating. Part of the job of the police is prosecution and also investigation. A policeman is investigating a crime and he is going to testify in Court A, in Lagos. And he is now transferred to Jalingo.Now, what happens to that case? That is the end of the matter. Then, the criminal goes free because the policeman cannot be coming from Jalingo to give evidence in Lagos. That is how criminals go away with the offence and that is how they increase the number of criminals in the society. That is why some of them in the prison will never come out in the name of awaiting trial because of the type of police we arrange. It is so sad that we are not seeing all these.Is the National Assembly going to debate the recommendations of the National Dialogue?Legislative process is a time consuming process and it is meticulous. The product of a legislative process is expected to endure for a very long time and that is why it is painstaking. So, if it is brought to parliament it has to go through the whole process because people’s lives are involved and there is no legislation more important than the constitution.So, if some people come together and agree on a constitution and bring it to the parliament, we have to look at it line by line, to make sure that everything is right because after all, they are the duly elected representatives of the people.There may not be fundamental changes to it, but they are going to be subjected to debate because several heads are better than one. It is critical that it should be subjected to legislative process and when that happens we would be assured that the whole process has been completed. There is no way you can sit down in Abuja, bring some people together, they craft a constitution together and it becomes law. It doesn’t happen anywhere in the world.Assuming we had a military regime, it is possible that you can bring people, set up a Constituent Assembly because there is no parliament and so they can agree on whatever they want to be the constitution. But not where you have an institution recognised by the constitution as the ultimate legislative body and you go and duplicate that institution by bringing another set of people by asking them to go and do a constitution.You are asking for anarchy. We hope that those who will come for the national dialogue will realise this, and know that nobody can escape the necessity of sending the outcome to the National Assembly and even to the State assemblies so that it will go through the whole hog in accordance with the law.What is your view on creation of new states?We have never said that it is impossible. What we have consistently said is that it is very difficult and I still maintain that it is difficult. Because a situation where you have to generate certain signatures and then bring it to the National Assembly, which will then deliberate on it and then send it to the Independent National Electoral Commission for referendum within the area that wants to be a state and after that you will now send it to all the states of the federation irrespective of where the demand is coming from.If you are requesting for a state in Cross River, you will have to send it to Sokoto and when they finish, in those State Houses of Assembly, you will bring it back to the National Assembly to vote and it is only when it passes through that it now becomes a state. If that is not difficult, I wonder then what is difficult.We are not saying that it is impossible, but we encourage people to try the process, let’s see how far that they can go. Under our processes, for the matter to come up again, it has to come through a formal motion. But because we are serving the people we will be more than willing to do that if that is what Nigerians desire.

Source: Radio Biafra.

Russia Works to End US Arms Dominance in Latin America.

In an unprecedented move, Brazil may buy an advanced air defense missile system from Russia, breaking Western defense firms’ longstanding dominance in Latin Americathe International Business Times reported Tuesday.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who arrived in Rio de Janeiro Monday for meetings with senior Brazilian officials, is spearheading Moscow’s efforts to bolster military collaboration between the two countries.
Moscow wants to sell Brasilia its Pansir-S1 and Igla air-defense missile systems, which could be used to enhance safety during next year’s World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The potential Brazilian deal is estimated to be worth $1 billion, according to a report in Pravda. Russia also hopes to sell 110 BTR-80A and T-90 tanks worth another $1 billion to Peru, which Shoigu is scheduled to visit later this week.
Moscow has long had its sights on expanded military sales to Latin America, the International Business Times added.While the Venezuelan government remains the Kremlin’s top ally in the South America, the country has plunged into an economic crisis since the death of President Hugo Chávez on March 5.
Venezuela’s weak economy has made it impossible for Chavez’s successor, President Nicolás Maduro, to sign new weapon-sales agreements with Russia.All the contracts signed under Chávez have been executed, including the sale of Sukhoi SU-30 fighter jets, the most advanced warplanes today in the Western Hemisphere outside of the United States.
Moscow’s attempt to enter the Latin American defense market could be bad news for the Boeing Corp. The firm had hoped to reach a $4 billion agreement to sell F-18 Super Hornets to Brazil.
However, the Global Post reported last month that the deal could be stalled in the wake of news that the National Security Agency had been spying on Brazilian institutions; on President Dilma Rousseff herself, and on the state-owned oil company Petrobras.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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Dissident Catholic Priests Push for Church Reforms.

VIENNA — A new international network of reformist Roman Catholic priests is pushing to give lay people a bigger role in a Church that Pope Francis wants to bring closer to grassroots members.

Speaking as dissidents from six countries met in Austria on Friday for the first time, clergyman Helmut Schueller said the Church should draw on people in local parishes that are under threat of vanishing as the ranks of the priesthood dwindle.

The outspoken views of Schueller, head of a group of Austrian priests who openly challenge Church positions on taboo topics such as priestly celibacy and ordaining women, drew a rebuke last year from Pope Benedict, who resigned in February.

Church liberals are now placing their hopes in his successor Pope Francis, the first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years and the first ever from Latin America.

Urgent: Will Jesus Ever Return? Some Are Wondering 

“We want to address the most burning issue: the future of the communities. We want to be there for them, and their future is in danger from the shortage of priests,” Schueller, 61, said in a telephone interview from the western town of Bregenz.

Francis is focusing on top-down change like reforming the Curia, or central administration, which is accused of being dysfunctional and riven with infighting that is blamed for much of the turmoil that plagued Benedict’s papacy.

The Church has also seen its global reputation badly tarnished by child sex abuse and financial scandals and has suffered steep declines in church attendance, especially in its historic heartlands in Europe.

The vast majority of Roman Catholics engage with the Church in their parishes, so big problems loom if its web of faith communities at the local level is broken.


Schueller’s group enjoys broad support in Austria for its pledge to break Church rules by giving communion to Protestants and allowing divorced Catholics who remarry.

His plans to build an international network has drawn representatives of around 3,500 priests in Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Australia, and the United States to Bregenz.

Schueller is pushing for new forms of parish leadership that promote men and women from within the community at a time when the Church struggles to find enough priests for every parish.

“I think there has to be an important change in the hierarchical structure,” he said.

Reformist Austrian Catholics have long challenged the conservative policies championed by Benedict, creating protest movements and advocating changes the Vatican firmly rejects.

Now that Francis has adopted a more tolerant tone, the time is ripe to press for liberalization, Schueller said.

“We have to work more towards him from the grassroots to strengthen and [put into] practice these changes. The mood at the moment is problematic. Lots of Catholic priests limit themselves to watching what the Pope will say and do,” he said.

Schueller said he did not even rule out that Francis might one day depart from the Church’s traditional stance that only men can be ordained since Jesus picked only men as his apostles.

Urgent: Will Jesus Ever Return? Some Are Wondering 

“[Francis] said in a very matter of fact way that the door [to women priests] is closed. That makes many conclusions possible. A door can be opened again, it is not sealed off,” he said, but conceded such a big cultural change would take time.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Fugitive Snowden’s Father Flies to Russia; Hopes to See Son.

MOSCOW — Former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden‘s father arrived in Moscow on Thursday and said he hoped to see his son, who was granted asylum in Russia after he leaked details of government surveillance programs and fled the United States.

Speaking to journalists at a Moscow airport, Lon Snowden said he had had no direct contact with Edward Snowden but that he felt “extreme gratitude that my son is safe and secure and he’s free.”

The younger Snowden, 30, is wanted in the United States on espionage charges, and Russia’s decision to grant him temporary asylum after he spent more than five weeks holed up at a Moscow airport has inflamed already tense bilateral relations.

Russian authorities and the Russian lawyer who is assisting Snowden, Anatoly Kucherena, have not disclosed his location. Snowden had apparently been trying to reach Latin America, and his asylum in Russia can be extended annually.

“I am not sure my son will be returning to the U.S. again. That’s his decision, he is an adult,” Lon Snowden said. “I am his father, I love my son and. . . . I certainly hope I will have an opportunity to see my son.

“I really have no idea what his intentions are,” he said, but added that his understanding was that Snowden had not been involved in the publication of any information since he arrived in Russia and was “simply trying to remain healthy and safe.”

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.


Latin American Expert: Rise of Leftist Governments Killing Democracy.

Latin American expert Luis Fleischman told Newsmax Friday that the rise of leftist governments is leading to a deterioration of democracy in South and Central America.

He also warned that alliances between these governments and Iran could result in Iran placing nuclear weapons in the Western Hemisphere — within easy range of the United States.

Story continues below.


Fleischman is an adjunct professor of sociology and political science at Florida Atlantic University Honors College and the editor of “The Americas Report.” He is also an adviser to the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy and the author of the new book “Latin America in the Post-Chavez Era.”

“There are certain areas in Latin America where democracy is flourishing. Take for instance Brazil, Chile, Uruguay,” he said in an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV on Friday.

“But on the other hand, there are places such as Venezuela and the alliances Venezuela has made with other countries such as Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Ecuador, and obviously Cuba, where democracy deteriorates.

“The Bolivian revolution is a new type of socialist revolution,” he continued. “One of the main characteristic is the state actually overruns civil society. The power of the executive overruns the legislative powers and the judiciary. This model is being imitated by a number of countries in Latin America, not only those who made alliances with Hugo Chavez, but also with countries such as Argentina. The president of Argentina admires Hugo Chavez and admires his style of government, which by the way continues after his death.”

Hugo Chavez pursued alliances with the drug cartels, with the Iranians, and with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Fleischman pointed out.

“The alliance with drug cartels is very dangerous,” he says “What they are doing, besides intoxicating our society with drugs, is bribing and destroying the institutions of the state — the bureaucracy, the police, etc.

“Countries in Latin America are experiencing anarchy as a result of the presence of the drug cartels. Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, all these countries are experiencing anarchy.”

The lack of government control in some areas could make them havens for terrorists. But even more disturbing, the leftist governments’ ties with Iran are growing, Fleischman warned.

“The danger of the alliance with Iran is clear,” he said.

“The best friends of Iran, after Syria, are Venezuela and its allies. So what happens if Iran develops a nuclear weapon? They can place nuclear missiles on Latin American soil and that could be a very serious danger to U.S. security because it enables Iran [to launch missiles] right here in our backyard.”

Regarding China’s relationship with Latin America, Fleischman said the Chinese have economic interests and “a political agenda” as well.

“They resent the fact that the United States has influence in their backyard,” he told Newsmax. “We have strong relations with South Korea, with the Vietnamese, with Japan, and they resent that.

“Therefore the Chinese are looking to increase their political power in our own backyard. That means they will tend to increase their alliances with these anti-American liars led by Venezuela.”

Other countries in the Western Hemisphere have reacted to the anti-democratic movement in parts of Latin America by “basically looking the other way,” according to Fleischman.

“The Organization of American States has a charter that protects democracy. They basically endorse the idea that if one country is violating democracy they have every right to intervene in that country and demand that they restore democracy — not intervene military but demand that they restore democracy,” he added.

“They have not done it with the Bolivian revolution, with Venezuela, and with its allies. They have ignored the violations of democracy so this is a lack of leadership on the part of Brazil and also the United States,” he said.

Asked if American influence in Latin America is diminishing, Fleischman said, “It shouldn’t because the United States is still the main trade partner of the majority of the countries, even though the Chinese are gaining ground. The United States used to be the largest partner of Brazil in trade, and today China is.

“Yet the United States has adopted a foreign policy of basically trying not to interfere in Latin American internal affairs, up to the point that they have not even properly demanded the restoration of democracy or the implementation of the OAS charter with regard to democracy.”

Turning to Egypt, Fleischman says the Muslim Brotherhood, the liberals, and the military have all played a “terrible hand” following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

“I do not think that Egypt is going to fall into anarchy like Syria,” he added. “But the Muslim Brotherhood is going to bring al-Qaida in and that is going to be a serious, serious problem.

“The United States should have had a planned policy toward Egypt after the transition to democracy in the post-Mubarak era. And our foreign policy at this time is let’s try not to be involved. We have enough problems here domestically. We don’t need to be involved in every region in the world,” he said.

“So they dropped the ball on Egypt and now we have a problem.”

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Jim Meyers and Kathleen Walter

Iran Is Recruiting Young Adults From Latin America.

Iran is recruiting young adults from Latin America, including foreign students for special study inside Iran, direct outreach to countries through the construction of mosques and cultural centers, and a new cable network that broadcasts Iranian programming in Spanish.
In some cases, Iranian officials have sought to enlist Latin Americans for espionage and hacking operations targeting systems, U.S. and Latin American law-enforcement and intelligence officials told The Washington Post.
A report issued in May by an Argentinean prosecutor cited evidence of “local clandestine intelligence networks” organized by Iran in several South American countries. The document accused Tehran of using religious and cultural programs as cover for a “capability to provide logistic, economic and operative support to terrorist attacks decided by the Islamic regime.”
Singled out in the report is an Iranian cleric and government official Mohsen Rabbani, who runs several programs in Iran for Latin American students, according to the Post..

A former cultural attaché in Buenos Aires, Rabbani was accused by Argentina of aiding the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in that city that killed 85 people, the country’s deadliest terrorist attack.

Rabbani helped start Iran’s largest Spanish-language website and was instrumental in launching HispanTV, a cable network that broadcasts Iranian programs and commentary in Spanish.

Rabbani would boast in a 2011 interview of having shattered “the American myth” by helping drive Latin American opinion away from the West and towards Iran’s vision of revolutionary Islam. An estimated 1,000 students have undergone training, supervised mostly by Rabbani, since 2007.

Carlos, a Mexican recruited into the program, knew nothing about Rabbani, his ideology, or his alleged involvement in terrorism when he met Iran’s top diplomat in Mexico at a party two years ago.

Within months, he had a plane ticket and a scholarship to attend the Oriental Thought Cultural Institute in Qom, where Rabbani serves as director.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Joel Himelfarb

Pope Francis: ‘We Have Forgotten the Language of Simplicity’.

Pope Francis issued blunt, soul-searching criticism Saturday of the Brazilian church’s failure to stem the “exodus” of Catholics to evangelical congregations, challenging the region’s bishops to be closer to the people to understand their problems and persuade them that Catholicism isn’t “barren, fruitless soil.”

In the longest and most important speech of his four-month pontificate, Francis drove home a message he has emphasized throughout his first international trip to World Youth Day: the need for Catholics, lay and religious, to shake up the status quo, get out of their stuffy sacristies and reach the faithful on the margins of society or risk losing them to rival churches.

Francis took a direct swipe at the “intellectual” message of the church that so characterized the pontificate of his predecessor, Benedict XVI. He said ordinary Catholics simply don’t understand such lofty ideas and need to hear the simpler message of love, forgiveness and mercy that is at the core of the Catholic faith.

“At times we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people,” he said. “Without the grammar of simplicity, the church loses the very conditions which make it possible to fish for God in the deep waters of his mystery.”

In a speech outlining the kind of church he wants, Francis asked bishops to reflect on why hundreds of thousands of Catholics have left for Protestant and Pentecostal congregations that have grown exponentially in recent decades, particularly in Brazil’s slums or favelas, where their charismatic message and nuts-and-bolts advice have been welcomed by the poor.

According to census data, the number of Catholics in Brazil dipped from 125 million in 2000 to 123 million in 2010, with the church’s share of the total population dropping from 74 percent to 65 percent. During the same time period, the number of evangelical Protestants and Pentecostals skyrocketed from 26 million to 42 million, increasing from 15 percent to 22 percent of the population in 2010.

Francis offered a breathtakingly blunt list of explanations for the “exodus.”

“Perhaps the church appeared too weak, perhaps too distant from their needs, perhaps too poor to respond to their concerns, perhaps too cold, perhaps too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas,” he said. “Perhaps the world seems to have made the church a relic of the past, unfit for new questions. Perhaps the church could speak to people in their infancy but not to those come of age.”

At the same time, he dismissed as empty the allure of rival congregations promising “lofty, more powerful and faster” solutions.

Francis asked if the church today can still “warm the hearts” of its faithful, with priests who take time to listen to their problems and remain close to them. He said he wants a church that acts like a “mother” who not only gives birth to her children but cares for them and holds their hand.

“We need a church capable of rediscovering the maternal womb of mercy,” he said. “Without mercy, we have little chance nowadays of becoming part of a world of ‘wounded’ persons in need of understanding, forgiveness and love.”

“We need a church able to dialogue with those disciples who … are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of generating meaning.”

The Vatican said Francis read the five-page speech in its entirety to the 300 or so bishops gathered for lunch in the auditorium of the Rio archbishop’s residence, and noted that the talk was both the longest and most important to date of Francis’ pontificate. He will issue a similarly lengthy and important speech on Sunday to the bishops of Latin America before heading back to Rome after the conclusion of World Youth day, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.

Despite Francis’ critical assessment of the state of the church in Brazil, the pope’s reception in Rio has shown that he at least can still draw a crowd. Copacabana beach’s 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) of white sand was nearly half full by Saturday afternoon with young people gathering for the Catholic youth festival’s final vigil Saturday night before Sunday’s morning Mass. During a ceremony Friday night, Brazilian media estimated that 1.5 million people were on hand, filling up only a fraction of the beach.

The Argentine pope began his day with a Mass in Rio’s beehive-like modern cathedral where he exhorted 1,000 bishops from around the world to go out and find the faithful, a more diplomatic expression of the direct, off-the-cuff instructions he delivered to young Argentine pilgrims on Thursday. In those remarks, he urged the youngsters to make a “mess” in their dioceses and shake things up, even at the expense of confrontation with their bishops and priests.

“We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities when so many people are waiting for the Gospel!” Francis said in his homily Saturday. “It’s not enough simply to open the door in welcome, but we must go out through that door to seek and meet the people.”

Francis himself is imposing a shake-up in the Vatican’s staid and dysfunctional bureaucracy, setting in motion a reform plan and investigations into misdeeds at the scandal-plagued Vatican bank and other administrative offices.

Francis’ target audience is the poor and the marginalized — the people that history’s first pope from Latin America has highlighted on this first trip of his pontificate. He has visited one of Rio’s most violent slum areas, met with juvenile offenders and drug addicts and welcomed in a place of honor 35 trash recyclers from his native Argentina.

“Let us courageously look to pastoral needs, beginning with the outskirts, with those who are farthest away, with those who do not usually go to church,” he said Saturday. “They too are invited to the table of the Lord.”

He carried that message to a meeting with Brazil’s political, economic and intellectual elite, urging them to look out for the poorest and use their leadership positions to work for the common good. He also called for greater dialogue between generations, religions and peoples during the speech at Rio’s grand municipal theater, where he was welcomed with a standing ovation and shouts of “Francisco” and “Viva o Papa!” (Long live the pope).

On a few occasions, he looked up at the gilded theater boxes almost in awe from the stage and seemed positively charmed when a few dozen young students of the theater’s ballet school, all with their hair in buns, sat down around him. At the end of the event, the little ballerinas swarmed around Francis, and he gave each one a kiss on the forehead.

Also receiving papal embraces were a handful of Brazilian Indians, dressed in their traditional, bare-bellied garb who lined up to kiss his ring. One man gave Francis a feathered headdress, which he gamely wore for a few moments.

Several of the Indians were from Amazon tribes, where indigenous peoples have been locked in battles over land that has been designated as an Indian reserve but that farmers and ranchers illegally invade for timber and to graze cattle.

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

‘Slum Pope’ Tells Slum Residents Not to Lose Hope.

Image: 'Slum Pope' Tells Slum Residents Not to Lose Hope

People greet Pope Francis, center, as he visits the Varginha slum in Rio de Janeiro. (AP)

Pope Francis, dubbed the “slum pope” for his work with the poor, received a rapturous welcome Thursday from one of Rio’s most violent shantytowns and demanded the world’s wealthy end the injustices that have left the poor on the margins of society. He received an even more frenzied welcome as he opened World Youth Day in a far different setting: Rio’s upscale Copacabana Beach.

Amid the stench of raw sewage and the shrieks of residents, Francis made his way through the Varginha shantytown, part of a region so violent it’s known as the Gaza Strip. The 76-year-old Argentine seemed entirely at home, wading into the cheering crowds, kissing residents young and old and telling them the Roman Catholic Church was on their side.

It was a message aimed at reversing the decline in the numbers of Catholics in most of Latin America, with many poor worshippers leaving the church for Pentecostal and evangelical congregations. Those churches have taken up a huge presence in favelas, or shantytowns such as Varginha, attracting souls with nuts-and-bolts advice on how to improve their lives.

“No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world!” Francis told a crowd of thousands who braved a cold rain and stood in a muddy soccer field to welcome him. “No amount of peace-building will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins or excludes a part of itself.”

Francis’ open-air car was mobbed on a few occasions as he headed into Varginha’s heavily policed, shack-lined streets, but he never seemed in danger. He was showered with gifts as he walked down one of the slum’s main drags without an umbrella to shield him from the rain. A well-wisher gave him a paper lei to hang around his neck and he held up another offering – a scarf from his favorite soccer team, Buenos Aires’ San Lorenzo.

“Events like this, with the pope and all the local media, get everyone so excited,” said Antonieta de Souza Costa, a 56-year-old vendor and resident of Varginha. “I think this visit is going to bring people back to the Catholic Church.”

It was one of the highlights of Francis’ weeklong trip to Brazil, his first as pope and one seemingly tailor-made for the first pontiff from the Americas. Later Thursday, he traveled in an open-sided popemobile through a massive crowd in the pouring rain to a welcoming ceremony on Copacabana beach. His arrival helped open World Youth Day and was his first official event with the hundreds of thousands of young people who have flocked to a rain-soaked Rio for the Catholic festival.

Cheering pilgrims from 175 nations lined the beachfront drive to catch a glimpse of Francis, with many jogging along with the vehicle behind police barricades. The car stopped several times for Francis to kiss babies – and take a sip of his beloved mate, the traditional Argentine tea served in a gourd with a straw, that was handed up to him by someone in the crowd.

In an indication of the havoc wreaked by four days of steady showers, organizers made an almost unheard-of change in the festival’s agenda, moving the Saturday vigil and climactic Sunday Mass to Copacabana Beach from a rural area 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the city center. The terrain of the area, Guaratiba, had turned into a massive field of mud, making the overnight camping plans of pilgrims untenable.

The news was welcome to John White, a 57-year-old chaperone from the Albany, New York, diocese who attended the past five World Youth Days and complained that organization in Rio was lacking.

“I’m super relieved. That place is a mud pit and I was concerned about the kid’s health and that they might catch hypothermia,” he said. “That’s great news. I just wish the organizers would have told us.”

Francis added a last-minute tweak of his own to his busy schedule, meeting with pilgrims from his native Argentina at Rio’s cathedral Thursday afternoon.

He told the thousands of youngsters, with an estimated 30,000 Argentines registered, to get out into the streets and spread their faith, saying a church that doesn’t go out and preach simply becomes an NGO, or non-governmental organization.

“And the church cannot be an NGO!” he said to wild applause.

Francis’ visit to the Varginha slum followed in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II who visited two such favelas during a 1980 trip to Brazil and Mother Teresa who visited Varginha itself in 1972. Her Missionaries of Charity order has kept a presence in the shantytown ever since.

Like Mother Teresa, Francis brought his own personal history to the visit: As archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio frequently preached in the poverty-wracked slums of his native city, putting into action his belief that the Catholic Church must go to the farthest peripheries to preach and not sit back and wait for the most marginalized to come to Sunday Mass.

Addressing Varginha’s residents, Francis acknowledged that young people in particular have a sensitivity toward injustice.

“You are often disappointed by facts that speak of corruption on the part of people who put their own interests before the common good,” Francis told the crowd. “To you and all, I repeat: Never yield to discouragement, do not lose trust, do not allow your hope to be extinguished. Situations can change, people can change.”

It was a clear reference to the violent protests that paralyzed parts of the country in recent weeks as Brazilians furious over rampant corruption and inefficiency within the country’s political class took to the streets.

Francis blasted what he said was a “culture of selfishness and individualism” that permeates society today, demanding that those with money and power share their wealth and resources to fight hunger and poverty.

“It is certainly necessary to give bread to the hungry — this is an act of justice. But there is also a deeper hunger, the hunger for a happiness that only God can satisfy,” he said.

The Varginha slum butts up against what until about six months ago was the largest “cracolandia” — crackland — in Brazil, where hundreds of crack cocaine users gathered under a train overpass and used the drug openly night and day. Crumbling brittle shacks still give the area a bombed-out feeling.

Neighbors said local authorities had been busy in recent days with a flurry of last-minute spruce-ups that included repairing cracked and uneven sidewalks and trimming long-dead limbs from the exuberant tropical vegetation. Security was tight: In addition to the police helicopters, sharpshooters perched atop buildings, metal barricades held the ecstatic crowd at bay on the street and police officers were posted every 5 feet (2 meters).

Francis prayed before a replica of Brazil’s patron saint, the Virgin of Aparecida, and met with a family in their squat yellow home.

“He gave each of us a rosary, he took photos with everyone and embraced each one,” said Diego Rodrigues, a 26-year-old friend of the da Penha family who received the papal visit. “I think everyone but the pope was speechless!”

Police invaded the slum in January and pushed out a heavily armed drug gang known as the Red Command, then set up a permanent police post in the area, which had seen virtually no government presence for decades.

The citywide program started in 2008 to secure Rio de Janeiro before it hosts the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Olympics.
© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Pope Attacks Legalized Drugs in Latin America.

Pope Francis made an emotional plea Wednesday for Roman Catholics to shun materialism in the first public Mass of his initial international trip as pontiff, then met with drug addicts and denounced the “dealers of death” who fuel their suffering.

On his first full day of activities in Brazil, Francis traveled from one of the most important shrines in Latin America, Our Lady of Aparecida, to what he called a “shrine of human suffering” — a hospital in Rio de Janeiro that treats substance abusers.

Both encounters had a common theme that the humble pope has stressed during his young papacy: a denunciation of the “ephemeral idols” of money and power and a need for the Catholic Church to focus on the poor and outcasts of society.

Francis started his day traveling to Aparecida, where thousands packed into the huge Basilica of the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in an agricultural region of verdant fields between Rio and Sao Paolo. Tens of thousands more braved a cold rain outside to catch a glimpse of the first pope from the Americas returning to a shrine of great meaning to the continent and to Francis himself.

Before the Mass, Francis stood in silent prayer in front of the 15-inch statue of the Virgin of Aparecida, the “Black Mary,” his eyes tearing up as he breathed heavily. He later carried a replica of it in his arms, visibly moved at the gift he had been given. Francis has entrusted his papacy to the Virgin Mary and, like many Catholics in Latin America, places great importance in devotion to Mary.

After his Mass, the pope blessed the tens of thousands gathered outside the basilica and announced that he would return to Aparecida in 2017, the year that marks the 300th anniversary of a fisherman finding the Black Mary statue in a nearby river.

Back in Rio, Francis arrived in a closed car at the simple white and yellow St. Francis of Assisi hospital — named for Francis’ namesake, the 13th century friar who renounced a wealthy, dissolute lifestyle to embrace a life of poverty and simplicity. The pope bounded out of the car into a cold rain, not waiting for an umbrella, and greeted a group of people in wheelchairs and well-wishers.

Before the pope spoke, former drug addicts stood up and told their stories — and received an embrace from the pope who listened intently.

The pope then blasted the “dealers of death” who sell drugs and said that the “scourge of drug-trafficking, that favors violence and sows the seeds of suffering and death, requires of society as a whole an act of courage.”

“A reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction will not be achieved by a liberalization of drug use, as is currently being proposed in various parts of Latin America,” the pontiff said. “Rather, it is necessary to confront the problems underlying the use of these drugs, by promoting greater justice, educating young people in the values that build up life in society, accompanying those in difficulty and giving them hope for the future.”

The rejection of drug legalization ideas raised by some leaders in this region was an unusually political call from Francis, who has tended to steer clear of making pronouncements on touchy issues. He has instead let local bishops speak out themselves.

During his homily in Aparecida, Francis urged Catholics to keep their values of faith, generosity and fraternity.

“It is true that nowadays, to some extent, everyone, including our young people, feels attracted by the many idols which take the place of God and appear to offer hope: money, success, power, pleasure,” he said. “Often a growing sense of loneliness and emptiness in the hearts of many people leads them to seek satisfaction in these ephemeral idols.”

The church is struggling in Latin America to keep Catholics from straying to evangelical and Pentecostal churches that often promise help in finding material wealth, an alluring attraction in a poverty-wracked continent. Francis’ top priority as pope has been to reach out to the world’s poor and inspire Catholic leaders to go to slums and other peripheries to preach.

It was no coincidence, then, that the first major event of his first foreign trip as pope was a Mass in Aparecida. The shrine, which draws 11 million pilgrims a year, hosted a critical 2007 meeting of Latin American bishops who, under the guidance of then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, drafted a mission statement on how to reinvigorate the faith on the continent.

“I’ve seen people in my own congregation leave because the evangelicals offer them something new and exciting, and the Catholic Church was seen as kind of old and stuffy,” Marcia Cecilia de Souza, owner of a private school in the southern state of Santa Catarina, said as she searched for newspaper to stuff into her soaked leather boots. “Francis is such an inspiration, so humble and giving, I think he’s going to bring people back into the fold.”

Unlike the scenes of chaos that greeted Francis upon his Monday arrival in Rio, when a mob of faithful swarmed his motorcade from the airport, the security situation in Aparecida was far more controlled. Chest-high barriers kept people far from his car. Soldiers in camouflage, emergency crews in raincoats and other uniformed security forces stood guard along his route while his bodyguards walked along the side of his vehicle.

Not all were pleased with the increased security.

“They put up a Berlin Wall between us and the pope and we couldn’t get anywhere near him. You could tell he wanted to get close to us, but the police really insisted on this separation,” said Joao Franklin, from Minas Gerais state. “I felt really excluded by all these barriers and don’t see the need for them.”

Nacilda de Oliveira Silva, a maid perched at the front of the crowd, was barely tall enough to see over the metal barrier.

“I have been up for almost 24 hours, most of that time on my feet and in the rain and the cold. But I don’t feel any pain. I feel bathed in God’s glory, and that’s because of the pope. For me, it’s the same thing as seeing Jesus pass by. That’s how moved I feel.”

Francis is in Brazil for World Youth Day, a church event that brings together young Catholics from around the world roughly every three years. Approximately 350,000 young pilgrims signed up to officially take part in the events.

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

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