All posts by Gutset

At least 12 people dead after night of looting and violence in Venezuela

The Guardian

At least 12 people were killed overnight following looting and violence in Venezuela’s capital amid a spiraling political crisis, authorities in Caracas said Friday.

‘We are like a bomb’: food riots show Venezuela crisis has gone beyond politics

Most of the deaths took place in El Valle, a working class neighborhood near the city’s biggest military base where opposition leaders say 13 people were hit with an electrical current while trying to loot a bakery protected by an electric fence.

Two days of massive protests on the streets of Caracas against the government of Nicolás Maduro spilled into a violent night in several parts of the city, with residents in El Valle witnessing repetitive gunfire, street barricades set aflame and more than a dozen businesses looted. Amid the confusion, mothers and newborn children had to be evacuated from a maternity hospital named after the late leader Hugo Chávez when it was swamped with tear gas.

The Public Ministry said the violence left 11 people dead in El Valle, all men between the ages of 17 and 45. Another death was reported east of Caracas in El Sucre. Six others were injured.

Opposition leaders blamed the government for repressing protesters with tear gas but standing idly by as businesses were looted.

Vice-president Tareck El Aissami said the country was facing what he calls an “unconventional war” led by opposition groups working in concert with criminal gangs.

Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez pointed the finger at the opposition, saying armed groups controlled by them were responsible for the attack at the hospital.

Earlier Friday, officials reported that one of the dead was Mervins Guitian. The young Venezuelan man was fatally shot when he was returning home late from work on Thursday and got caught in the middle of late-night street clashes.

Vicente Paez, a local councilman, said Guitian was an employee of a Caracas-area city governed by an opposition mayor and didn’t join the protests. It wasn’t clear who shot him and there was no immediate comment from authorities.

Venezuelan social media was ablaze late into the night with grainy cellphone videos of light-armored vehicles plowing down dark streets to control pockets of protesters who set up burning barricades in several neighborhoods.

The opposition said they have no intention of pulling back on protests demanding new elections that were triggered when the government-stacked supreme court three weeks ago gutted congress of its last vestiges of power, a move that was later reversed amid a storm of international criticism.

Protesters are angry at what they see as a government that has essentially become a dictatorship responsible for triple-digit inflation, rising crime and food shortages.

“Twenty days of resistance and we feel newly born,” said opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara during an evening, outdoor press conference as residents looking out from balconies in an eastern Caracas neighborhood at the heart of the protest movement cheered loudly in support.

The next planned protest is Saturday, when opponents are being asked to dress in white and march silently to commemorate the victims of the demonstration. There’s also a sit-in to block major highways planned for Monday.

General Motors announced early Thursday that it was closing its operations in Venezuela after authorities seized its factory in the industrial city of Valencia, a move that could draw the Trump administration into the escalating chaos engulfing the nation.

A number of major Latin American governments, including Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, called on Venezuela to take steps to increase democratic order and halt the violence that has been swirling around the protests. Across the country, clashes have been intense as protests grow in size and fervor.

The supreme court ruling reinvigorated Venezuela’s fractious opposition, which had been struggling to channel growing disgust with Maduro over widespread food shortages, triple-digit inflation and rampant crime.

Opponents are pushing for Maduro’s removal through early elections and the release of dozens of political prisoners. The government last year abruptly postponed regional elections that the opposition was heavily favored to win and it cut off a petition drive aimed at forcing a referendum seeking Maduro’s removal before elections scheduled for late next year.

Cuban state-run media confirms gasoline shortage

Reuters

Cuban media on Friday confirmed a three-week-old shortage of premium gasoline that has left embassies, tourists and others scrambling for fuel, and said it was not clear when it would end.

The online edition of the Communist Youth daily, Juventud Rebelde, published a story from Escambray, a central Sancti Spiritus province newspaper, explaining measures taken to deal with the shortage.

“Irregularities in the delivery of this fuel which is not refined in Cuba … led to its substitution with regular gasoline,” the Escambray story said.

In Cuba, where the government rarely directly addresses controversial issues, such round-about-forms of confirmation and explanation are not unusual.

The newspaper quoted provincial directors of the state-run CIMEX Corp, which, along with the state oil monopoly, operates most service stations, as saying that four stations have been set aside in the province for diplomats, tourists and others to buy high-octane gasoline for cash, while others were selling what was left in inventory for cash and lower-quality fuel.

Cash-strapped Cuba depends on crisis-racked ally Venezuela, an OPEC member, for about 70 percent of its fuel needs, including oil for refining and re-exports.

But socialist Venezuela’s subsidized shipments have fallen by as much as 40 percent since 2014. Potential new suppliers usually want cash because of Cuba’s poor credit rating. Most Cubans who own cars, mainly vintage American and Soviet-era models, use lesser-quality fuel that can damage modern engines.

Some Cuban state workers are assigned cars and receive gasoline ration cards, including for premium gasoline if they drive modern state-owned vehicles.

For April, the state issued ration cards only for regular gasoline and sent out an internal memo, leaked to social media, announcing that there would be no deliveries of high octane gasoline and that inventories would go only to cash-paying customers while they lasted.

Miguel Romero, head of CIMEX’s service station division in Sancti Spiritus, said that after an initial period of confusion, cash sales for premium were normal, while sales to state workers with premium ration cards had dropped to nearly zero, reducing overall consumption of high octane gasoline by 60 percent.

The head of CIMEX in the province, Melvin Ruiz Nunez, said there was sufficient premium in stock to continue sales at the present pace through the beginning of May.

“I do not know if current restrictions will continue,” he said.

When U.S. Airstrikes Could Have Destroyed a Terrorist Regime, Freed a Nation and Altered History—The Bay of Pigs

Townhallby Humberto Fontova

“Where are the planes?!” kept crackling over U.S. Navy radios exactly 56 years ago this week. The U.S. Naval armada (22 ships including the Carrier Essex loaded with deadly Skyhawk jets.) was sitting 16 miles off the southern Cuban coast near an inlet known as Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs). The question — bellowed between blasts from a Soviet artillery and tank barrage landing around him — came from commander, Jose San Roman.

“Send planes or we can’t last!” San Roman kept pleading to the very fleet that escorted his men to the beachhead (and sat much closer to them than the U.S. destroyers Porter and Ross sat to the Syrian coast this week.) Meanwhile the Soviet artillery barrage intensified, the Soviet T-34 and Stalin tanks closed in, and San Roman’s casualties piled up.

By that date the terrorists who ran (and still run) Cuba had been operating terror-training camps for two years, had kidnapped, tortured and murdered dozens of American (to say nothing of tens of thousands of Cubans.) A year later they wantonly brought Western civilization a whisker from nuclear destruction. If foreign terrorists ever merited a MOAB, it was these– based 90 miles from U.S. shores.

Crazed by hunger and thirst the Cuban freedom-fighters had been shooting and reloading without sleep for three days. Many were hallucinating. By then many suspected they’d been abandoned by the Knights of Camelot.

Continue reading When U.S. Airstrikes Could Have Destroyed a Terrorist Regime, Freed a Nation and Altered History—The Bay of Pigs

Spirit Airlines Latest To Pull Out Of Cuba

Travel Pulse

Spirit Airlines became the fifth airline to either cut back or end service to Cuba when it announced it will discontinue flights from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International to Havana on May 31.
Spirit has had the service for just four months, ultimately learning – like other airlines – that demand for Cuba has fallen off coupled with initial high expectations by the airlines that Americans would embrace one of the last great travel frontiers.
The Obama administration restored diplomatic relations with Cuba two years ago and softened the travel restrictions to the island nation, leading to eight airlines chosen by the Department of Transportation to begin flying to Cuba last summer.
But after an initial surge, demand has waned.
Subsequently, American Airlines reduced service in November, Jet Blue announced it will switch to smaller aircraft next month and reduce the number of daily seats to Cuba, Silver Airways cut service altogether in March, and Frontier is eliminating its one route from Miami to Havana in June.
Spirit will offer once-daily service to Cuba from May 3 to May 24, and then twice-daily flights between May 25 and May 31. Passengers who booked flights after May 31 will receive a full refund.
“The costs of serving Havana continue to outweigh the demand for service,” Spirit said in a statement. “Due to overcapacity and the additional costs associated with flying to Cuba, we don’t find it sustainable to continue this service while maintaining our commitment to pass along ultra-low fares to our customers.”

Violence at parade highlights escalating Venezuela protests

CNN

It was meant to be a moment of celebration, the commemoration of one of the major milestones that led to Venezuela’s independence from its Spanish colonizers 200 years ago. Tuesday’s bicentennial festivities for the Battle of San Felix included a military parade and the inauguration of a new public square, which filled the streets of Ciudad Guayana.
As night fell, President Nicolas Maduro rode through the city in an open-top Jeep, waving at the crowd while wearing green military garb and the presidential sash. State-run broadcaster VTV showed a livestream of the event on national television.

Suddenly, President Maduro motioned to cover his head and his security team hopped on the hood of the Jeep. The live signal cut to the image of the newly unveiled statue of local hero Gen. Manuel Piar, but the microphone picked up audio of an agitated woman yelling “wait, wait — the President was hit.”
Within minutes, videos appeared on social media sites showing another angle. Maduro and his entourage had been pelted by what some identified as eggs and trash. In one video, the man filming can be heard yelling “damn you!” at the end.
While the scene was unusual, it wasn’t surprising. Since the beginning of April, massive protests have formed in the capital Caracas and other major cities calling for Maduro’s resignation and for the government to set a date for the delayed state elections. This comes as the country faces a crippling economic crisis, which has nearly bankrupted the oil giant and led to national shortages of food and medicine.
Bloody protests
At least four people have been killed and hundreds injured in the wave of violent protests that have rocked the country since April 1.
In the city of Valencia, 20-year-old student Daniel Alejandro Queliz died Monday when a bullet struck him in the neck during a protest.
Enrique Moreno, 19, said he was present at what he described as a “peaceful protest” and said he was “just a few meters away” from Queliz when police began to open fire.
“They (the police) wouldn’t stop shooting at us, so we decided to run into one of the nearby residential buildings to hide. I was able to run and, thank God, none of the bullets reached me,” Moreno said. “By the time Daniel started running, he had already been hit. I turned around and he asked me for help. I wanted to help, but the bullets kept flying. We tried to tell them a student had been hurt, but they kept shooting at us.”
The office of Venezuela’s attorney general said Wednesday that two of the officers involved in the incident have been arrested and are expected to face criminal charges.

Cuban migration at sea has plummeted since Obama ended ‘wet-foot, dry-foot’ policy, top Coast Guard officer says

The Washington Post

The Coast Guard’s top officer said Wednesday that the number of migrants intercepted at sea by his service off the coast of Florida has plummeted since January, largely a symptom of President Barack Obama ending the so-called wet-foot, dry-foot policy with Cuba a week before he left office.

Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, said the sea service has intercepted fewer than 100 migrants since the Jan. 12 announcement, after detaining more than 10,000 migrants off the coast of Florida in 2016. The policy generally allowed Cubans who made it to American soil to pursue legal residency but was eliminated following Obama’s decision to restore relations with Cuba for the first time since 1961.

The policy, established by President Bill Clinton, for years gave Cubans hope that if they could make the 90-mile trip by sea, they could become Americans. But many of them did so in makeshift craft that capsized or sunk, creating crises at sea. If they did not make it all the way to Florida, U.S. authorities typically detained and returned them to their homeland.

Zukunft said Obama’s decision has curtailed the number of dangerous situations the Coast Guard saw in the region, especially when migrants did something rash in an effort to make to the United States.

“I’m talking self-mutilation, self-inflicted gunshot wounds, very desperate measures so that they would be evacuated to a hospital in the United States and then be declared feet-dry and then paroled in the United States,” Zukunft said. “We would have interdictions where they would threaten to drown a baby if we were to stop them.”

The number of migrants spiked in anticipation of Obama changing the policy before he left office. Prior to his decision, the Coast Guard said it intercepted 3,376 migrants off the coast of Florida in fiscal 2014 and 2,094 in fiscal 2013. Of those 3,376 migrants, 2,059 came from Cuba, with people from Haiti and the Dominican Republican making up the bulk of the rest.

Guy W. Farmer: Venezuela is a socialist paradise

Guy W Farmer is a retired diplomat

Venezuela, a country where I lived and worked for seven years during my U.S. Foreign Service career, and where my beautiful daughter Maria was born, is on the brink of collapse, thanks to the pernicious effects of the late President Hugo Chavez’s socialist revolution.

When Col. Chavez took office in 1999 after leading a failed coup attempt in 1992 (for which he served two years in prison), he promised Venezuelans would soon be living in a socialist paradise. And now, four years after his death, a once-thriving South American democracy has become an international basket case. As Peruvian journalist Alvaro Vargas Llosa — the son of Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa — wrote earlier this month, “Four years after Chavez’s death, Venezuela’s descent into the abyss is one of the truly tragic events of the 21st century.” Well said!

Let’s examine the abyss into which Venezuela has fallen under the failed leadership of Chavez and his designated successor, Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver. Alvaro Vargas Llosa wrote Maduro has tried to turn the anniversary of Chavez’s death “into a mystical experience of sorts — and a dose of much-needed political oxygen.” That’s difficult to accomplish, however, “in a country with inflation predicted to run at 1,600 percent, an economic growth rate of negative ten percent, a painful shortage of basic stuff (including toilet paper), and the highest crime rate in the world.”

Other than that, socialism has been a big success in Venezuela. I’m amazed some American celebrities like left-wing filmmaker Oliver Stone and actor Sean Penn still champion Chavez’s failed revolution. If they still love it so much, they should move to Venezuela. I suppose they could live without toilet paper and basic foodstuffs like meat, but it wouldn’t be like their gilded, pampered lives in Hollywood.

When I arrived in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, for the first time in 1968, it was the “City of Eternal Spring” awash in petro-dollars thanks to its immense oil reserves. But when I left Venezuela for the second time in mid-1990 the nation was suffering from a downward economic spiral and Chavez was plotting an unsuccessful coup attempt. What a contrast from my early years in Caracas, when in 1969 I witnessed the first peaceful transition of power between competing Venezuelan political parties. That was a shining moment for the emerging democracies of Latin America.

Three-quarters of Venezuelans tell pollsters they repudiate their own government. Nevertheless, Maduro remains in power by bribing the military and because the democratic opposition is deeply divided. According to Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Maduro and the Venezuelan military are engaged in “a Mafia-style complicity in crime,” including drug trafficking. That became clear in February when the U.S. Justice Department imposed sanctions against Venezuelan Vice President Tareck el-Aissami and canceled his visa “for playing a significant role in international drug trafficking.” I rest my case.

Earlier this year a National Survey of Living Conditions conducted by three universities found 72 percent of Venezuelans lost an average of 19 pounds each in 2016, and the average shopper spent more than 35 hours per month waiting to buy groceries. Maduro’s response to a 2014 nationwide protest was to order his military and police to attack the protesters, 40 of whom were killed during several weeks of unrest. On and on it goes three years later.

I always have two questions about Third World countries in crisis: (1) Who has the guns? and (2) Who counts the votes? In Venezuela the answers are the same: President Nicolas Maduro. Good luck to the brave Venezuelans who are trying to remove him from office.

Cuba’s premium gas shortage leaves diplomats stuck

Newsweek

When they are not tending to international affairs, diplomats based in Havana can be found these days stewing in interminable lines at gas stations and concocting ways to increase the octane in fuel as Cuba’s premium gasoline shortage takes its toll.

Cuba sent around an internal memo last week advising that it would restrict sales of high-octane, so-called “special fuel,” in April. That is not an issue for most Cuban drivers, whose vintage American cars and Soviet-era Ladas use regular fuel.

But it is for the embassies that use modern cars whose engines could be damaged by the fuel at most Havana gas stations. So the diplomats are taking a leaf out of the book of Cubans, used to such shortages, and becoming resourceful.

Given the U.S. trade embargo, Cubans have for decades had to invent new ways to keep their cars on the road, replacing original engines with Russian ones and using homemade parts.

“I bought octane booster, and the embassy has bought lubricants, meant to help the motor deal with rubbish gasoline,” said one north European diplomat, who got a relative to bring the booster in his luggage given it is unavailable in Cuba.

“At the moment we are using the car that runs on diesel, so we can ‘survive’,” said an Eastern European diplomat.

Cuba has not announced the measure officially yet. According to the memo, “the special fuel remaining in stock at gas stations from April will only be sold in cash and to tourists until the inventory is depleted.”

“It’s very serious. I have already suspended a trip to Santiago de Cuba for fear of lack of gas,” said one Latin American diplomat, adding that it seemed like the problem would last. “Diplomats are very worried.”

Some embassies in Havana have people scouting out which stations still have some higher-octane fuel and are sending around regular updates to staff. One gas station worker said they were getting small deliveries of fuel each day still.

The embassies are also advising people to carpool or use the diplomatic shuttle.

Meanwhile the European Union has requested from the ministry of foreign affairs that one or more service centers be set aside for diplomats with special gas, according to a European diplomat.

Cuba has become increasingly reliant on its socialist ally Venezuela for refined oil products but the latter has faced its own fuel shortage in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, the Communist-ruled island cannot easily replace subsidized Venezuelan supplies as it is strapped for cash.

Although the memo referred to April, it is not clear how long the shortage will last. Cubans joke that once something disappears in Cuba, it is never to return, referring to products that have disappeared from their ration book like cigarettes, beef and condensed milk.

The Peugeot dealership in Havana has sent its clients lists of technical tips on how to protect their motors while using lower-grade gasoline, including more frequent maintenance and ensuring vehicles at running at optimum temperature before driving.

The shortage is also impacting others using modern cars such as taxi drivers, tourists and workers at joint ventures.

 

Venezuelans Take to the Streets after Chavista Court Eliminates Congress’ Legislative Powers

PanAmPost

Venezuelans are blocking highways and taking to the streets in response to an apparent Coup d’Etat.

Though Maduro’s regime arranged anti-riot measures in several Venezuelan cities, hundreds of Venezuelans turned out to express their opposition to the Supreme Court’s ruling that dissolved the powers of the country’s congress.

Caracas, Los Teques, Vargas, Carabobo and Anzoátegui are just some of the states where protests are taking place.

In Urbina, Caracas — a popular area that has traditionally been faithful to Chavez — is now flooded with protesters.

“No more dictatorship,” they are reportedly chanting. “We want freedom.”

During the protests, members of the student movement were pushed back from the main headquarters of the Supreme Court of Justice in Caracas and the Bolivarian National Guard reportedly detained two students.

Student Leader Hasler Iglesias said the students arrested are Andres Olivero and Rafael Alvarez from the Central University of Venezuela.

Cameraman for the TV channel Vivoplay, Andry Rincon, was detained for 30 minute.

Since protestors were not allowed to demonstrate at the TSJ, students went to the Palace of Justice. When they arrived, they were attacked, and three more protesters were arrested.

The opposition has called for protests in the country’s streets this Saturday as well.

“This is the time to stand up,” said President of the Parliament and Opposition Leader Julio Borges.

Also, the Popular Will party has urged Venezuelans to resume demonstrations in the street so as to “impose the will of the people.”

Even renowned singer Jose Ignacio Mendoza — also know as “Nacho” — said he is ready to travel to Venezuela “to take to the streets.”

“Should I ignore this and force myself to not care to avoid taking the risk that gangs turn on me?” He said. “Sorry, I do care. I’m ready to go to Venezuela to take the streets when the majority of Venezuelans decide. I’m not a politician. Beyond being an artist I’m a citizen demanding democracy.

The TSJ ruled in favor of Maduro’s administration, deciding that the opposition majority congress will be held in contempt and no longer be allowed to carry out its legislative duties.

The judicial ruling said that “as long as contempt and invalidity of the proceedings of the National Assembly persist, this Constitutional Chamber shall ensure that parliamentary powers are exercised directly by this Chamber or by the body that it deems suitable, to ensure the Rule of Law. ”