Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"The exit from this disaster, the exit of this group of people who have kidnapped the future of Venezuelans is in your hands. Let's fight..." | Venezuelan opposition leader to face murder, terrorism charges | CNN cameras taken at gunpoint

Jailed Venezuela protest leader urges Maduro's 'exit'

CARACAS Wed Feb 19, 2014 9:27am EST
Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez is escorted by national guards before handing himself over in Caracas February 18, 2014. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez is escorted by national guards before handing himself over in Caracas February 18, 2014.


(Reuters) - Imprisoned protest leader Leopoldo Lopez urged supporters to keep fighting for the departure of Venezuela's socialist government, even as he was due in court on Wednesday accused of fomenting unrest that has killed at least four people.
Lopez, a 42-year-old Harvard-educated economist, surrendered to troops on Tuesday after spearheading three weeks of often rowdy demonstrations around Venezuela that have turned into the biggest challenge yet to President Nicolas Maduro.
"Today more than ever, our cause has to be the exit of this government," Lopez said, sitting next to his wife in a pre-recorded video to be released if he was arrested. (
"The exit from this disaster, the exit of this group of people who have kidnapped the future of Venezuelans is in your hands. Let's fight. I will be doing so."
The protests and the violence around them have left three people shot dead, another run over by a car during a demonstration, and scores of arrests and injuries.
Many Caracas residents banged pots and pans overnight in a traditional form of protest, while some protesters burned tires and clashed with police in the capital and some other parts of the nation. The western Andean cities of Tachira and Merida have been especially volatile.
The protesters are calling for Maduro's resignation over issues ranging from inflation and violent crime to corruption and product shortages.
Maduro, who was narrowly elected last year to replace Hugo Chavez after his death from cancer, says Lopez and others in league with the U.S. government are seeking a coup against him.
Street protests were the backdrop to a short-lived ouster of Chavez for 36 hours in 2002, before military loyalists and supporters helped bring him back.
Though tens of thousands joined Lopez on the streets when he turned himself in on Tuesday, the protests so far have mainly been much smaller than the wave of demonstrations a decade ago.
There is no evidence the military, which was the decisive factor in the 2002 overthrow, may turn against Maduro now.
Lopez was being held on Wednesday at the Ramo Verde jail in Caracas, and was due at a first court hearing mid-morning. Supporters planned to gather outside the tribunal, where he could face charges including murder and terrorism.
In an intriguing twist to the drama, Maduro said his powerful Congress head Diosdado Cabello, seen by many Venezuelans as a potential rival to the president, personally negotiated Lopez's surrender via his parents.
Cabello even helped drive him to custody in his own car given the risks to Lopez's life from extremists, Maduro said.
Venezuela's highly traded and volatile bonds have seen prices fall to near 18-month lows on the unrest.
Yields are on average 15 percentage points higher than comparable U.S. Treasury bills, by far the highest borrowing cost of any emerging market nation.
"The heightened social unrest further undermines already fragile investor sentiment," said Siobhan Morden, Latin American strategy head for New York-based Jefferies.
With local TV providing minimal live coverage of the street unrest or opposition leaders' news conferences, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have become the go-to media for many Venezuelans desperate for information on the crisis.
Detractors call Lopez a dangerous and self-serving hothead. He has frequently squabbled with fellow opposition leaders, and was involved in the 2002 coup, even helping arrest a minister.
"I've hardly been in office for 10 months and for 10 months this opposition has been plotting to kill me, topple me," Maduro said after his arrest. "For how long is the right wing going to hurt the nation?"
Though the majority of demonstrators have been peaceful, a radical fringe have been tossing stones at police, blocking roads and vandalizing buildings.
Rights groups say the police response has been disproportional, with some detainees tortured.
The unrest has not affected the country's oil industry, which is struggling from under-investment and operational problems that have left output stagnant for nearly a decade.
Chavez purged state oil company PDVSA of its dissident leadership in 2003 after a two-month industry shutdown meant to force him to resign, making it unlikely workers could attempt something similar against Maduro.
In a nation split largely down the middle on political lines, 'Chavistas' have stayed loyal to Maduro despite unflattering comparisons with his famously charismatic predecessor. Many Venezuelans fear the loss of popular, oil-funded welfare programs should the socialists lose power.

(Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago in Caracas Javier Farias in Tachira; Editing by Brian Ellsworth and Chizu Nomiyama)

Venezuelan opposition leader to face murder, terrorism charges

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Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez is set to appear in court Wednesday, a day after he turned himself in to authorities amid anti-government demonstrations in the country.

CNN cameras taken at gunpoint 

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Karl Penhaul explains how CNN's equipment was taken amidst anti-government demonstrations in Venezuela.
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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

In Historic Step, Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Bill is Introduced in U.S. Senate - Res. Comm. Pedro Pierluisi

In Historic Step, Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Bill is Introduced in U.S. Senate

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Washington, DC—Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi announced that an identical companion bill to H.R. 2000, the Puerto Rico Status Resolution Act, is being introduced today in the U.S. Senate, marking another historic step in Puerto Rico’s fight for equality. 
The bill is being introduced by Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which has jurisdiction over the issue of Puerto Rico’s political status.  Introduction of the bill sends a powerful message that the Senate, like the House of Representatives, recognizes the importance of the November 6, 2012 referendum in Puerto Rico, in which voters rejected the current territory status and favored statehood over any other status option.   
“Those of us who seek equality and justice through statehood understand that this struggle requires passion and determination, but that it also demands strategic thought and action.  The filing of a Senate companion bill to H.R. 2000 demonstrates that the momentum in favor of statehood continues to build.  We are closer than ever before to achieving our goal.  I thank pro-statehood leaders in Puerto Rico for their support and, in particular, I want to recognize the efforts that former Governor Carlos Romero Barceló has made in the U.S. Senate,” said Pierluisi. 
“In the House and now in the Senate, Martin Heinrich has proven himself to be a leader of courage and conviction.  Based on my meetings and conversations with Senator Heinrich, I understand that his perspective on the issue of Puerto Rico’s political status has been shaped by the obstacles that New Mexico confronted—and overcame—on its own journey to statehood.  I know that Senator Heinrich recognizes the inherent flaws of territory status and respects those who want Puerto Rico to become a full and equal member of the American family,” added the Resident Commissioner.               
For his part, Senator Heinrich said:  “In 2012, 54 percent of Puerto Ricans rejected their current relationship with the United States.  We have a responsibility to act on that referendum, and this step is critical in that effort.  My home state of New Mexico spent 66 years as a territory before gaining statehood in 1912—the longest of any state.  Puerto Rico has spent nearly 116 years as an American territory.  That’s long enough.  The debate over Puerto Rico’s status needs to be settled once and for all so that its people can focus on fostering a more prosperous future.”
The Resident Commissioner also expressed his gratitude to Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who is an original cosponsor of Senator Heinrich’s bill.  Senator Wyden, the outgoing chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, presided over a Committee hearing on the November 2012 plebiscite last August.  He will now become the chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Finance, and will remain a member of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.    
Senator Wyden has recognized that the current territory status was rejected by the people of Puerto Rico and should not be an option in any future vote designed to resolve Puerto Rico’s status.  Senator Wyden, along with Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, has also stated clearly that status proposals like “enhanced commonwealth” are impossible.  During the Committee hearing in August, Wyden said:  “There is no disputing that a majority of the voters in Puerto Rico  . . .  have clearly expressed their opposition to continuing the current territorial status. . . . The current relationship undermines the United States’ moral standing in the world.  For a nation founded on the principles of democracy and the consent of the governed, how much longer can America allow a condition to persist in which nearly four million U.S. citizens do not have a vote in the government that makes the national laws which affect their daily lives? That is the question.”
Recently, the Majority Leader in the Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada, confirmed his support for statehood for Puerto Rico, demonstrating the progress that statehood has made in the highest reaches of the federal government.  
The Senate bill being introduced today is identical to the House bill that Pierluisi introduced in May 2013, which is cosponsored by 130 Members of Congress from both political parties.  The bill responds to the aspirations expressed by the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico in the November 2012 referendum.  The bill outlines the rights and responsibilities of statehood and provides for a federally-sponsored vote on the territory’s admission as a state.  If a majority of voters affirm that they want Puerto Rico to become a state, the bill requires the President to transmit legislation to Congress to admit Puerto Rico as a state after a reasonable transition period.  The bill also expresses Congress’s commitment to act on that legislation. 
“Puerto Rico is confronting the worst economic and fiscal crisis in its history, with all three credit rating agencies having downgraded our bonds to junk status.  Residents of Puerto Rico are leaving in unprecedented numbers for the states in search of the quality of life they deserve as American citizens.  Those who remain on the island face high unemployment, high crime and other challenges.  The people of Puerto Rico comprehend that this crisis is structural in nature, rooted in the unequal and undemocratic treatment that Puerto Rico receives because it is a territory.  The truth is undeniable:  Puerto Rico has remarkable potential; but to fulfill it, we must change our status,” said Pierluisi.
The introduction of a Senate companion to H.R. 2000 follows closely on the heels of another major milestone in the statehood movement.  In January, President Obama signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, which includes $2.5 million for the first federally-sponsored status vote in Puerto Rico’s history.  The law requires the vote to be held among one or more options that would “resolve” Puerto Rico’s ultimate status and that are consistent with U.S. law and public policy.
Recently, the Resident Commissioner wrote to President Obama, urging his Administration to take an “active and assertive role” in structuring the vote that will be held pursuant to the appropriation.  Specifically, Pierluisi proposed that the federally-sponsored vote be configured as a vote on Puerto Rico’s admission as a state, precisely as H.R. 2000 prescribes.
“H.R. 2000 provides a blueprint for how the vote conducted pursuant to the recently-enacted appropriation should be structured.  The introduction of a Senate companion bill to H.R. 2000 confirms that the next step should be a vote in Puerto Rico on the territory’s admission as a state.  All that remains is for Governor García Padilla and the Puerto Rico Legislative Assembly to prove that they are not afraid of democracy by scheduling this vote,” said the Resident Commissioner.     
Finally, Pierluisi thanked the pro-statehood organization Igualdad (Equality) for its steadfast support and for its efforts to advance the statehood cause in Washington.
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CNE – Centro Para Una Nueva Economía – Center for a New Economy

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NUEVA YORK – A los estadounidenses les gusta pensar en su país como una tierra de oportunidades, opinión que otros en buena medida comparten. Pero aunque es fácil pensar ejemplos de estadounidenses que subieron a la cima por sus propios medios, lo que en verdad cuenta son las estadísticas: ¿hasta qué punto las oportunidades que tendrá una persona a lo largo de su vida dependen de los ingresos y la educación de sus padres?
En la actualidad, estas cifras muestran que el sueño americano es un mito. Hoy hay menos igualdad de oportunidades en Estados Unidos que en Europa (y de hecho, menos que en cualquier país industrial avanzado del que tengamos datos).
Esta es una de las razones por las que Estados Unidos tiene el nivel de desigualdad más alto de cualquiera de los países avanzados. Y la distancia que lo separa de los demás no deja de crecer. Durante la “recuperación” de 2009 y 2010, el 1% de los estadounidenses con mayores ingresos se quedó con el 93% del aumento de la renta. Otros indicadores de desigualdad (como la riqueza, la salud y la expectativa de vida) son tan malos o incluso peores. Hay una clara tendencia a la concentración de ingresos y riqueza en la cima, al vaciamiento de las capas medias y a un aumento de la pobreza en el fondo.
Sería distinto si los altos ingresos de los que están arriba se debieran a que contribuyeron más a la sociedad. Pero la Gran Recesión demostró que no es así: hasta los banqueros que dejaron a la economía mundial y a sus propias empresas al borde de la ruina recibieron jugosas bonificaciones.
Si examinamos más de cerca la cima de la pirámide encontraremos allí sobreabundancia de buscadores de rentas: hay quienes obtuvieron su riqueza ejerciendo el monopolio del poder; otros son directores ejecutivos que aprovecharon deficiencias de las estructuras de gobierno corporativas para quedarse con una cuota excesiva de la ganancia de las empresas; y hay todavía otros que usaron sus conexiones políticas para sacar partido de la generosidad del Estado, ya sea cobrándole demasiado por lo que compra (medicamentos) o pagándole demasiado poco por lo que vende (permisos para explotación de minerales).
Asimismo, parte de la riqueza de los financistas proviene de la explotación de los pobres, por medio de préstamos predatorios y prácticas abusivas con el uso de tarjetas de crédito. En estos casos, los que están arriba se enriquecen directamente de los bolsillos de los que están abajo.
Tal vez no sería tan malo si hubiera aunque sea un grano de verdad en la teoría del derrame: la peculiar idea de que enriquecer a los de arriba redunda en beneficio de todos. Pero hoy la mayoría de los estadounidenses se encuentran peor (con menos ingresos reales ajustados por la inflación) que una década y media atrás en 1997. Todos los beneficios del crecimiento fluyeron hacia la cima.
Los defensores de la desigualdad estadounidense argumentan que los pobres y los que están en el medio no tienen por qué quejarse: puede ser que la porción de torta con la que se están quedando sea menor que antes, pero gracias a los aportes de los ricos y superricos, la torta está creciendo tanto que en realidad el tamaño de la tajada es mayor. Pero una vez más, los datos contradicen de plano este supuesto. De hecho, Estados Unidos creció mucho más rápido durante las décadas que siguieron a la Segunda Guerra Mundial, cuando el crecimiento era conjunto, que después de 1980, cuando comenzó a ser divergente.
Esto no debería sorprender a quien comprenda cuál es el origen de la desigualdad. La búsqueda de rentas distorsiona la economía. Por supuesto que las fuerzas del mercado también influyen, pero los mercados dependen de la política; y en Estados Unidos, con su sistema cuasicorrupto de financiación de campañas y el ir y venir de personas que un día ocupan un cargo público y al otro están en una empresa privada, y viceversa, la política depende del dinero.
Por ejemplo, cuando la legislación de quiebra privilegia los derivados financieros por encima de todo, pero no permite la extinción de las deudas estudiantiles (por más deficiente que haya sido la educación recibida por los deudores), es una legislación que enriquece a los banqueros y empobrece a muchos de los que están abajo. Y en un país donde el dinero puede más que la democracia, no es de extrañar la frecuencia con que se aprueban esas leyes.
Pero el aumento de la desigualdad no es inevitable. Hay economías de mercado a las que les está yendo mejor, tanto en términos de crecimiento del PIB como de elevación de los niveles de vida de la mayoría de sus ciudadanos. Algunas incluso están reduciendo las desigualdades.
Estados Unidos paga un alto precio por seguir yendo en la otra dirección. La desigualdad reduce el crecimiento y la eficiencia. La falta de oportunidades implica que el activo más valioso con que cuenta la economía (su gente) no se emplea a pleno. Muchos de los que están en el fondo, o incluso en el medio, no pueden concretar todo su potencial, porque los ricos, que necesitan pocos servicios públicos y temen que un gobierno fuerte redistribuya los ingresos, usan su influencia política para reducir impuestos y recortar el gasto público. Esto lleva a una subinversión en infraestructura, educación y tecnología, que frena los motores del crecimiento.
La Gran Recesión agravó la desigualdad, provocando recortes en gastos sociales básicos y un alto nivel de desempleo que presiona sobre los salarios a la baja. Por añadidura, tanto la Comisión de Expertos de las Naciones Unidas sobre las reformas del sistema monetario y financiero internacional, que investiga las causas de la Gran Recesión, como el Fondo Monetario han advertido que la desigualdad conduce a inestabilidad económica.
Pero, lo que es más importante, la desigualdad en Estados Unidos está corroyendo sus valores y su identidad. Cuando llega a semejantes extremos, no es sorprendente que sus efectos se manifiesten en todas las decisiones públicas, desde la política monetaria a la asignación del presupuesto. Estados Unidos se ha convertido en un país que en vez de “justicia para todos” ofrece favoritismo para los ricos y justicia para los que puedan pagársela: esto quedó demostrado durante la crisis de las ejecuciones hipotecarias, cuando los grandes bancos creyeron que además de demasiado grandes para quebrar, eran demasiado grandes para hacerse responsables.
Estados Unidos ya no puede considerarse la tierra de oportunidades que alguna vez fue. Pero no tenemos por qué resignarnos a esto: todavía no es demasiado tarde para restaurar el sueño americano.
Traducción: Esteban Flamini
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‘Commonwealth’ Leader Admits Statehood: Yes or No Would be “Valid” Status Choice

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The “Commonwealth” party’s leader on Federal affairs admitted that a “Statehood: Yes or No” vote in Puerto Rico would be “valid” just days before he said that the administration of “Commonwealth” party Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla would lobby against a U.S. Senate bill for such a vote introduced last week — and just days before the Governor’s Federal Affairs office headed by his brother began the lobbying.
“Commonwealth” party Secretary of Federal Affairs Jose Hernandez Mayoral also acknowledged in a broadcast interview that Congress and the President would be “obligated to respond” to a status choice in Puerto Rico that the Federal government had authorized. 
The statements were made days before two members of the Senate committee responsible for territory status issues, Energy and Natural Resources, sponsored a bill to require the President to submit a plan to transition the territory to statehood and to pledge the Congress to pass such a plan if Puerto Ricans vote for statehood a second time. 
The senators were Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Ron Wyden (D-OR). At the time, Wyden was the Committee’s Chairman but hours later he was named Chairman of the Senate’s Finance Committee.
The bill is identical to legislation sponsored by 130 members of the U.S. House of Representatives led by Puerto Rico’s representative to the Federal government, Pedro Pierluisi (D), who also heads the statehood party.
Hernandez’s brother Juan, Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, wrote every member of the Senate that the legislation is “an ill-conceived process that … lacks transparency” and “is a divisive and manipulative approach.” He did not explain the charges.
Since opponents of statehood could as easily vote against statehood as supporters could vote for it, Juan Hernandez also did not explain how a “Statehood: Yes or No” vote “keeps the majority of Puerto Ricans disenfranchised from the ballot.”
In fact, the “Commonwealth” party itself asked Congress to pass “Statehood: Yes or No” plebiscite legislation in a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in 2010 and a House Committee on Natural Resources hearing in 2009.
Although he admitted that a “Statehood: Yes or No” choice would be valid, older brother Jose said that the plebiscite should include all of Puerto Rico’s options as identified by President Obama’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status.  In addition to statehood, these are independence and nationhood in an association with the U.S. that either nation can end as well as the current territory status.
Puerto Ricans voted on these options in a plebiscite under local law in November 2012 that the Hernandez brothers and Garcia dispute.  The vote rejected the territory status that they urged votes for by 54% and chose statehood among the alternatives by 61.2%.  
Like the White House, the Heinrich-Wyden and House bills recognize the 2012 votes, but younger Hernandez brother Juan wrote that the legislation “ignores the will of the Puerto Rican people.”
Statehood would inject billions of dollars a year into Puerto Rico’s failing economy and Obama’s Task Force reported that “identifying the most effective means of assisting the Puerto Rican economy depends on resolving the ultimate question of status.”  But Juan Hernandez said in a news release that the bill “fails to address the pressing economic needs of the Commonwealth” and “shows how out of touch some members of Congress are” with these needs, presumably referring to all 132 members of Congress who have sponsored the legislation.
The bill would fit in with a Federal law enacted last month that provides funding for a status plebiscite on a status option or options that would “resolve” the question of the territory’s status and are found by the U.S. Department of Justice to not conflict with the Constitution and basic laws and policies of the U.S.
Juan Hernandez’s suggestion that the territory’s status question should not be resolved now  conflicted with Garcia’s last statement on the issue.  The Governor said just weeks ago that he would soon make a proposal that would both implement the new Federal plebiscite law and fulfill the “Commonwealth” party’s 2012 Platform.
The Platform promised to call a government assembly on the territory’s status if the Federal government did not act on the issue in 2013.  The new Federal plebiscite law was enacted just 17 days after the end of 2013.
Noting that his party prefers to have a second Puerto Rico status choice made through an  assembly, older brother Jose conceded in the interview that the Federal government expects the choice to be made by the people of Puerto Rico in a plebiscite.