Thursday, February 27, 2014

Venezuela Accuses Intelligence Officers of Murdering 2 - NYTimes


National Bolivarian Intelligence Service, or Sebin - Google Search

Venezuela Accuses Intelligence Officers of Murdering 2

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CARACAS, Venezuela — Seven members of the intelligence service have been charged with murder in the shooting deaths of a demonstrator and a government supporter after a major protest march here, the authorities said on Wednesday.
The announcement of the charges appeared to contrast with repeated claims by top government officials that the political opposition was responsible for violence accompanying a wave of protests that has swept the country.
Yet the charges also appeared to be part of growing intrigue swirling around the intelligence service and possible maneuvers within the government of President Nicolás Maduro.
The national prosecutor’s office said in a statement that the seven members of the intelligence force, known as the National Bolivarian Intelligence Service, or Sebin, had been charged in the deaths on Feb. 12 of Bassil Da Costa, the protester, and Juan Montoya, the government supporter.
The statement said five of the intelligence officers were arrested on Monday, but it was not clear when they were formally charged. Two others were charged previously, it said.
All seven were being held in jail, as well as an eighth member of the service who was charged with lesser crimes.
The deaths of Mr. Da Costa and Mr. Montoya were the first of about a dozen associated with protests that began early this month and gained momentum after the killings.
The deaths occurred after a march through the center of Caracas that was called to protest the arrest of several students in earlier demonstrations. After the peaceful march, a few hundred young protesters threw rocks at the police, broke windows in a government building and burned several police vehicles.
The two men were shot during the chaos. Another protester was killed later that day when, according to witnesses, a man on a motorcycle fired on a group of demonstrators.
Mr. Maduro immediately blamed a prominent opposition leader, Leopoldo López, for the violence and ordered him arrested, saying that he had trained young people to spread violence during the protests as part of a conspiracy to topple his government. Mr. López turned himself in last week, and he was charged with inciting violence. He has denied the accusations and called for peaceful protests.
The protests, fueled by economic problems, high crime and dissatisfaction with the government’s socialist-inspired policies, continued on Wednesday. Government supporters also marched in several cities.
But the arrests announced on Wednesday appeared also to be linked to broader questions around the intelligence service.
Within days of the killings, Mr. Maduro announced that members of the service had disobeyed an order to stay off the streets during the protest. He also said that men in Sebin uniforms had been seen lurking around Mr. López’s home, although there was no order for them to go there, and he warned of a plot to murder Mr. López.
Soon after that, he reassigned the head of the service, who had been on the job only a few weeks. He also hinted that if members of the intelligence service had been present at the march, they might have been part of a conspiracy against the government.
All that has watchers of the conspiracy-minded Mr. Maduro alert to possible hidden meanings in the prosecutor’s moves.
“This is going to be a novel in installments,” said José Vicente Haro, a constitutional lawyer close to the opposition. “We get one chapter today, another the next day, another the next day and so on until we can decipher the answer to the mystery, in the best style of Agatha Christie.”
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Venezuela Gallup Survey Shows Venezuelans Suffering And See Lives Getting Worse

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Venezuela Opposition Protests Are Not Ukraine, Thanks To Maduro's Grip On Power

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — It is hard to find toilet paper or flour in oil-rich Venezuela these days and the country is plagued by some of the highest inflation, murder and kidnapping rates in the world. Clashes between protesters and security forces loyal to the president have left 16 dead, and a telegenic opposition leader has been thrown in jail.
But don't expect a Ukraine-style street revolution anytime soon in this South American nation, where the frequently outmaneuvered opposition hasn't united behind a single strategy or managed to broaden its appeal beyond the largely middle-class, educated followers it's had on its side all along. The man they are up against, President Nicolas Maduro, has a near-complete grip on the military, broadcast media and institutions from congress to the judiciary after 15 years of socialist rule.
That could change if the protests continue and unrest gets further out of hand. But for many Venezuelans, the opposition's two highest profile leaders, former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles and the jailed Leopoldo Lopez, are still viewed as part of an elite detached from the working class life.
For years the opposition has insisted the government is illegitimate rather than succeeding in building bridges across class lines, reinforcing perceptions that it hasn't evolved since it backed a failed 2002 coup against then President Hugo Chavez.
"The opposition is always convinced that it's a majority and therefore it thinks that the government wins elections by fraud," said David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America who spends part of the year conducting research in Caracas. But "it's a government that has considerable support."
Maduro's party handily won municipal elections in December that were seen as a referendum on his first year in office. An economic decline has accelerated since then, but he continues to funnel government resources into poor neighborhoods. While people there are suffering from the country's economic woes, they still feel little connection with the protesters they watch on television burning trash and setting up barricades in leafy neighborhoods that they could never aspire to live in.
On top of that, the two men leading the opposition haven't been able to agree on a strategy.
Capriles has come closest to expanding the base by reaching out to Chavez backers, promising to protect the revolution's social gains. That brought him within 225,000 votes of winning the election in April to choose a successor to the late Chavez.
But he's been pushed from that path by Lopez, leader of a smaller opposition party, who seized on this month's student-led protests to call even more people into the streets, a move that landed him in jail charged with arson and incitement. That has forced Capriles and other opposition figures to rally behind him.
Capriles conceded the demonstrations may have strengthened Maduro's hand in the short term by distracting Venezuelans from their daily frustrations and giving him a convenient scapegoat on which to blame a coming economic crisis caused by heavy-handed government policies.
Indeed, Maduro has trained state-run television cameras on the barricades of trash and furniture erected by the opposition.
"Now they want to blame me if there are shortages, but they are the ones who don't let through the trucks with rice, grains, milk and flour," Maduro said at a rally on Tuesday with employees of the state telephone company. "The rest of the country is like you all, working, studying."
To be sure, there are some signs that unrest is spreading to at least a few working-class neighborhoods around the country, even if most have remained calm despite the protests in tonier districts.
"How is it possible that there are food shortages, that my husband who worked (with an automotive company) ended up without a job?" said Adriana Suarez, a homemaker who banged a pot in protest Wednesday outside her house in a working-class neighborhood of Valencia, an industrial city about 170 kilometers west of Caracas with an opposition mayor.
She complained that the state supermarkets have food, but are only open to government supporters, while private ones have bare shelves.
While Chavez did some good things, the economic mess he left behind can't go on, she said. "We want a change."
That sentiment, and widespread expectations that the country's economic situation will only worsen in coming months, means there will be more opportunities for the opposition.
"These political protests have to connect with social concerns to build an organization that has strength and broad reach," Capriles said in an interview this week with The Associated Press. "Otherwise weariness will set in."
That more inclusive message, focused on the shared economic hardship and crime, was echoed this week by Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori, who has been leading protests in the capital in between visits with her jailed husband.
"These have been difficult times for everyone in Venezuela," Tintori said. "The working class, the middle class, the wealthy, we have all faced the same problems, the crime, the kidnapping, the food shortages ... It hits us all."
But Luis Vicente Leon, director of Caracas-based pollster Datanalisis, said the opposition hasn't convinced the poor that it's capable of governing in their interests.
"They (the poor) are not going to get out in the street to do anything if they don't feel there is an alternative (to the government)," Leon said.
Associated Press writers Joshua Goodman in Caracas and Ezequiel Abiu Lopez in Valencia contributed to this report.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Maduro sends mixed messages about U.S.-Venezuela relations

Published on Feb 25, 2014
The State Department expelled three Venezuelan officials from the U.S. after President Nicolas Maduro ordered three American diplomats leave his country. Now Maduro is proposing a new Venezuelan ambassador to the U.S. after years without an official representative. Meanwhile, 15 people have died in recent street clashes between protesters and police. Gwen Ifill talks to Girish Gupta of Reuters.

Latin America’s Next Revolutions - Latino Rebels: A country with a population smaller than Canada’s has more murders than the United States. Inflation exceeds 56%. Goods from toilet paper to sacramental wine have vanished from shops. A regime that calls itself ‘socialist’ has massively enriched the former president’s family and friends. Street lights dim at night because a country with some of the world’s largest energy reserves cannot provide enough electricity.

Latin America’s Next Revolutions

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Five days after Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro charged him with a list of things —“conspiring to commit a crime, arson of a public building, instigating a crime, severe injury, public intimidation, damage to public property, terrorism and homicide”— Leopoldo López emerged from hiding last Tuesday to lead thousands of anti-government protesters through the Chacaíto neighborhood in eastern Caracas, climbing a statue of José Martí to address his supporters.
“The options I had were to leave the country, and I will never leave Venezuela!” declared the 42-year-old former mayor-turned-enemy-of-the-state, who now finds himself in a contest for the leadership of the anti-Chavista movement with Henrique Capriles, the man who ran against Maduro in 2013.
López’s voice boomed at the crowd through a bullhorn, the yellow, blue and red of the Venezuelan flag draped over his shoulders, Martí’s outstretched hand seemingly guiding the people toward a freer future: “They want to jail Venezuelans who want peaceful, democratic change. … In the name of all the children of Venezuela, I swear that we will win, and we will have a Venezuela free and democratic!”
When the speech was over, the crowd cheered their leader as he climbed down from the statue and promptly turned himself in to armed members of the national guard.
It’s been a little over 20 years since the late Hugo Chávez’s failed coup attempt, and 15 years since his Bolivarian Revolution came to power in Venezuela, and yet some in Venezuela are again taking to the streets demanding the ouster of their democratically-elected president.
Hugo Chávez in 2003 (Foto: Victor Soares/ABr – hor-57)
They’re not opposed to many of the socioeconomic changes initiated by Chávez. They like that poverty has fallen dramatically and increased access to a decent education makes illiteracy practically nonexistent. And the government selling oil to the people at five cents a gallon means, as a staff writer at Forbes recently put it, “you can fill up an SUV for less than the price of a candy bar.”
What the protesters resent is the vast amount of authority exercised by the government, which has also failed to properly address the country’s economic and security issues. The current unofficial death count since the protests took a violent turn on February 12 is 11 people dead.
In the past few years Venezuela has seen its murder rate skyrocket to become the second-highest in the world. But rather than improving the existing civilian agencies so they could tackle the wave of violence and crime bearing down on Venezuela, Pres. Maduro took steps to turn the country into amilitarized police state.
While Venezuela sits on one of the largest oil reserves in the world —producing about 2.5 barrels a day, as much as Iraq— the Venezuelan economy is on the verge of collapse.
That’s because the government offers it to the people virtually free of charge, as well as supplying countries like Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and the Dominican Republic in exchange for doctors, black beans and IOUs.
As David Frum writes for CNN:
A country with a population smaller than Canada’s has more murders than the United States. Inflation exceeds 56%. Goods from toilet paper to sacramental wine have vanished from shops. A regime that calls itself ‘socialist’ has massively enriched the former president’s family and friends. Street lights dim at night because a country with some of the world’s largest energy reserves cannot provide enough electricity.
Corruption and economic mismanagement by the government, coupled with its charity at home and abroad and its anti-imperialist stance, has led to something freakish in South America: a failed state that’s still widely popular among its people.
The Beatles famously sang, “money can’t buy me love. They couldn’t say the same for oil in Venezuela.
Because the reforms brought about by the Bolivarian movement have done a lot to better the lives of the Venezuelan people, and because Maduro won the presidency last April in a seemingly fair election, some Americans on the left are warning the U.S. government not to side with the protesters in their effort to remove Maduro from office. But if George Bush had set the price of gasoline at $1.50, the GOP would control both chambers of Congress today and a Republican would be sitting behind the president’s desk.
It’s also definitely true that some people calling for the overthrow of the government aren’t looking to create the “free and democratic” Venezuela López described in his apologia. Wealthy elites who supported Capriles in last year’s election are likely salivating at the thought of transforming oil-rich Venezuela from a 21st-century socialist experiment and into a neoliberal oligarchy.
Though López and many of the other protesters may be fighting to make the government more responsive to the needs of the people, that doesn’t mean —at least I hope it doesn’t mean— they want to give up the goals of the Bolivarian Revolution. Their demands —a free and open Venezuela that returns to civilian policing and respects freedom of the press and the freedom to oppose the ruling party— are only the next step in establishing a truly socialist and democratic nation.
And speaking of next steps, the unrest boiling up in Venezuela must be worrying the Castro brothers, who are undoubtedly keeping a close eye on the events from Cuba. It must feel like staring into a crystal ball and seeing the future, though Cuban novelist Leonardo Padura seems sure that what’s happening in the streets of Caracas would never happen in Havana.
“The conditions [for protest] haven’t come about,” he said in an interview last week:
Here is the full quote:
The conditions haven’t been allowed to come about. There isn’t a political project in Cuba that could oppose the government. The dissident movement itself is divided and has been deeply penetrated by Cuban intelligence. Levels of violence in Cuban society have never been too high. The fact that things have never gone past a given point has, I think, prevented protests of this kind, even though there are people who are more or less unhappy. I believe the Cuban project resulted in a true revolution. In the 60s, a different society was created, and it enjoyed the support of the majority at the time. Perhaps it doesn’t enjoy the same levels of support and acceptance today, but it created its own legitimacy. That makes it different from Venezuela.
Of course, the reasons Padura gives for why massive protests will never break out on the island are the same reasons why they very well might.
The Castro regime has gone from being revolutionary back in the early days to being an old and wrinkly institution. It remains in power mainly for two reasons: because it’s old and, therefore, just the way things are; and because Fidel is still around to supply the system with his glow.
Plus the Bay of Pigs Invasion and a decades-long embargo allowed the Cuban government to create a foreign threat more menacing to the people than anything at home, like food shortages and a lack of basic freedoms. In fact, in the minds of many Cubans, the risk of a capitalist takeover actually legitimizes the sacrifice of such rights and excuses the government’s broad authority.
The Chávez glow and the failed coup attempt by right-wing elites in 2002 are what kept the Bolivarian movement going strong up until Chávez’s death last year. That’s why his handpicked successor, Maduro, chose to hold elections only a month afterward, to bank off of some of that glow.
Now that the glow’s gone, some in Venezuela are beginning to demand changes, which seems bound to happen in Cuba after the Castros, especially Fidel, finally croak. Like in Venezuela, I hope the people of Cuba don’t abandon the dreams of the revolution, delivered by the Castros and other Cuban hands so many years ago.
Hopefully Latin America’s next revolutions are simply fulfillments of the old ones.
Hector Luis Alamos, Jr. is a Chicago-based writer. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.
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US agents, Puerto Rico police seize cocaine haul

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La Reserva federal le pone el ojo a la Isla

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Indica que tendrá bajo examen la situación financiera del gobierno de Puerto Rico
WASHINGTON – Al divulgar hoy las minutas de su más reciente reunión, la Reserva Federal ha revelado que va a ponerle el ojo a la situación financiera de Puerto Rico.
En momentos en que pasaban revista a la volatilidad de los mercados emergentes y advertían que su efecto en los mercados de Estados Unidos había sido limitados, los participantes de la reunión coincidieron en mantener bajo examen nuevos desarrollos, incluida “la situación financiera del gobierno de Puerto Rico”.
La reunión de la Junta de Gobernadores de la Reserva Federal tuvo lugar los días 28 y 29 de enero, pero las minutas fueron publicadas esta tarde.
Mira la minuta de la reunión. En la página 14 hacen mención de Puerto Rico.