Hardline Venezuela opposition leader Antonio Ledezma flees to Colombia

Former mayor of Caracas was under house arrest accused of coup plotting with Colombia saying Ledezma, 62, entered legally via Simn Bolvar bridge

The Venezuelan opposition leader Antonio Ledezma, who was detained in 2015 on allegations of coup-plotting but had been under house arrest in Caracas, has fled over the border to Colombia.

Colombian immigration authorities said on Friday that Ledezma entered the country legally after intersecting the Simon Bolivar bridge dividing the two countries.

Ledezma, 62, was the best-known detained opponent of President Nicolas Maduro’s government after Leopoldo Lopez, “whos also” under house arrest in Caracas.

He was removed as mayor of Caracas and detained in 2015 on charges of plotting to depose President Nicolas Maduro, after leading anti-government protests in 2014 that had contributed to months of violence and 43 deaths.

After a few months in jail he was released and placed under house arrest due to health issues.

Government officials taunted Ledezma as’ the vampire’ and at the time of his arrest accused him of having ties with violent hardliners and supporting dissident military officers plotting to topple the president via airstrikes.

” Therefore welcomed freedom !” tweeted the former Colombian president Andres Pastrana, who is close to Venezuela’s opposition.

Maria Corina Machado, another hardline opposition leader close to the former mayor, said Ledezma decided to leave because he was under threat after he recently transgressed with other members of the opposition and stridently condemned attempts at reinitiating a new round of dialogue with Maduro’s government.

” I was sure that Antonio Ledezma wouldn’t allow himself to become a hostage of totalitarianism ,” told Machado in a tweet.

Lawmakers from Ledezma’s Alliance for the Brave People political party were among a small group of legislators who this week decided to form their own parliamentary bloc to distinguish themselves from other opposition parties they consider too accommodating of Maduro.

The umbrella Democratic Unity opposition umbrella group this week sent representatives to the Dominican Republic to discuss the agenda for talks with Maduro’s government that are slated to begin in two weeks on the Caribbean island under the observation of six foreign governments.

Those talks go as Venezuela approaches hyperinflation and Maduro is struggling to stay current on the country’s foreign debt. This week, several ratings agencies and a finance industry group said Venezuela had defaulted on its foreign bonds after missing several payments.

Maduro is betting that talks with the opponent will help him get backing for a plan to restructure the country’s foreign debt.

Meanwhile, his foes want guarantees that presidential elections scheduled for next year will be fair and transparent after widespread international censure of vote rigging in recent gubernatorial elections that pro-government nominees swept despite widespread rejection of Maduro.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Trump administration will contribute to UN's $46M request to help Venezuelan refugees – McClatchy Washington Bureau


McClatchy Washington Bureau

Trump administration will contribute to UN's $46M request to help Venezuelan refugees
McClatchy Washington Bureau
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Inside the Networks of Sex Slaves, the Drug Trade, Colombian Cartels and Al Qaeda in Africa

CALABAR, Nigeria–When Moussa, a people smuggler from Niger, worked with jihadists from the so-called ” Islamic State in the Greater Sahara”( ISGS ), his task was to get inside Mali, pick up prospective migrants from the location the militants devoted to him, and take them across the border to an encampment in Niger–the border village of Tongo Tongo.

You may have heard of it. Tongo Tongo was mentioned in many recent news narratives because it was the same village where four American Green Berets were killed in an ambush last October. But long before that incident Tongo Tongo was known locally as a place where jihadists trafficked migrants bound for Libya and, the migrants hoped, for Europe.

Some were children who had served the jihadists for a long time. Others were people who each paid activists about 200,000 CFA ($ 320) to facilitate their crossing into Niger. Often these people carried wrapped parcels containing hard drugs, which they handed over to militants on their arrival in Tongo Tongo.

” It was mostly cocaine ,” said Moussa, who was born and raised in Tongo Tongo.” There was barely a period I didn &# x27; t return[ to the village] with a migrant impart narcotics .”

The migrants were mere brutes of onu, and not even what law enforcement officers call “mules” smuggling narcotics through airports. The migrants themselves were being smuggled, the women among them often becoming de facto sex slaves. They merely carried the dope for the jihadists’ convenience. But rarely has there been a more perfect example of the way terrorists and crooks blend together into one hybrid network.

Alain Bauer, one of the leading criminologists in France, has argued for years that distinguishing this hybrid threat is key to crushing it, but most governments get lost in the categories they make, with some researchers deployed to chase terrorists, others running after drug smugglers, and still others looking into the question of human trafficking.

As Bauer likes to set it,” Intelligence is about how you stored information. If your storage system is not the right fit, the crucial info gets lost, and the organizations of the system actually works to suppress what doesn’t fit rather than creating a place for it .”

What’s striking about the network that weaves its way through Tongo Tongo, furthermore, is the reach of the narcotics operations behind it. This hybrid brings together Colombia’s cartels and al Qaeda’s acolytes.

The drugs didn &# x27; t originate in Mali or anywhere else that ISIS activists operate in Western africa. They were brought from across the Atlantic into the tiny African nation of Guinea-Bissau by gangs operating from Latin America.

And this is not new.

Decades of political instability have contributed to high-level narcotic smuggling and lawlessness in Guinea-Bissau. An elected president has never stayed in office( PDF ) until the end of his tenure. Three were deposed and one was assassinated by soldiers. Three of the last five armed forces chiefs of staff were murdered and one was forced by a rival military officer to go on exile.

” When there is a problem in Guinea-Bissau, narcotic smuggling increases ,” said Moussa, who now drives commercially between Nigeria and Niger.

A decade ago, the United Nation told Guinea-Bissau was becoming a narco-state, as its high-level corruption and a near-total absence of the rule of law allowed drug gangs to use the country as a base for smuggling huge amounts of South American cocaine to Europe.

Another U.N. report indicated that at least 50 tons of cocaine from the Andean countries were transiting Guinea-Bissau and other West African countries every year, heading north, where they were worth nearly$ 2 billion on the street of European cities.

In 2012, citing another investigation by the United Nations, Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper said that about 50 Colombian” medication lords” were based in Guinea-Bissau, where they controlled the cocaine trade, transporting as much as 2,200 pounds of the substance into the country every night by air and more by sea.

Such numbers may be very highly exaggerated. The said article reported that” across the region, an estimated 50 tons of cocaine is transported through West Africa every year, mostly from Colombia and Venezuela .” That falls far short of the 365 metric tons implied by the amounts supposed to arrive nightly in Guinea-Bissau.

But whatever the exact number, the cocaine transhipment was, and remains, huge.

A number of the medication lords in Guinea-Bissau are known to have collaborated with armed groups in Latin America, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a group that, until its disarmament and reformation as a legal political party last year, was Colombia’s largest rebel group and designated a terrorist organization by the United States.

In November 2016, the Colombian government and FARC rebels signed a modified peace agreement that ended more than 50 years of conflict in the country. But not all members of FARC were in agreement, and another rebel group, the National Liberation Army( ELN ), and some right-wing Colombian paramilitary groups have an interest in keeping the flourishing trade alive , not only with the United States, but with Europe, through Africa.

According to Moussa, the smuggler from Niger, agents from the” Islamic State in the Greater Sahara” is working in Guinea-Bissau often negotiated with South American medication cartels including, FARC front-men, in the capital, Bissau, exploring ways for the jihadist group to transport cocaine to Europe, the mode of payment for transportation, and what quantity of the substance the group can keep for itself.

Moussa says that a given group of ISGS militants would typically take cocaine from Bissau to Senegal, then had it over to a different group to take to Mali, then have migrants carry it into Niger.

Cash payment from the Latin American cartels to ISGS for transportation of cocaine is only constructed in full once the substance reaches its final destination in Europe. A portion, though, is paid to cover logistics for movement through the sub-Saharan Africa and across the Mediterranean. The jihadists also get to keep a little portion of the medications.

” The bigger the cocaine shipment, the bigger the section the militants maintain. It is big business for them ,” told Moussa, who ceased smuggling migrants for ISGS jihadists in Niger after they accused him of stealing cocaine.

The ISGS was not a widely known group, at least by its name, until the attacks on American and Nigerien soldiers last October. The group founder, Adnan al-Sahrawi, was a commander in al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb( AQIM ), and was later among the jihadists that founded the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in Western africa( MUJWA ), formed in 2011 as an offshoot of AQIM.

In August 2013, MUJWA integrated within Mokhtar Belmokhtar &# x27; s al-Mulathameen group to sort al-Mourabitoun, and Sahrawi became its overall head not long after. He subsequently declared different groups &# x27; s allegiance to ISIS, but fell out with Belmokhtar who maintained that al-Mourabitoun was allied to al Qaeda. Sahrawi then left to form ISGS.

( French criminologist Alain Bauer cited Belmokhtar as a classic case in point of hybrid terror-criminality in 2013:” Belmokhtar is 99 percentage felon and 1 percent jihadi ,” told Bauer , noting that one of his activities, cigarette smuggling, had earned him the sobriquet” Mr. Marlboro .”)

Sahrawi, who now says he is loyal to ISIS, has been a drug kingpin since his time with Al Qaeda. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime( UNODC) revealed in its 2017 World Drug Report( PDF ) that” individual commandants” of MUJWA, which Sahrawi helped found,” seem at present to be directly involved in drug trafficking .”

” He has been dealing with FARC since he was with al-Qaeda ,” Moussa told of Sahrawi.” His followers boast about his record in drug trafficking .”

In December 2009, three Al Qaeda associates, Oumar Issa, Harouna Toure, and Idriss Abelrahman, were arrested in Ghana by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration( DEA) and flown to New York to face charges of conspiracy to perpetrate acts of narco-terrorism and conspiracy to offer material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

The DEA said the men” conspired to assist purported representatives of the FARC in transporting hundreds of kilograms of cocaine from West Africa through North Africa and ultimately into Spain .” The bureau found that” in a series of telephone calls and meetings with two confidential sources working with the DEA who claimed to represent the FARC, the defendants stated that they had a transportation route from Western africa through North Africa, and that Al Qaeda could provide protection for the cocaine along that road .”

In 2011, the DEA arrested five people in Liberia( PDF ) and charged them with narco-terrorism. They had agreed to store multi-ton shipments of heroin in Benin and then transport a portion of the medications to Ghana for transfer via commercial airplane to the United States for distribution. The medications were believed to be owned by the Taliban, which, like other Afghan groups, is heavily involved in the cultivation of opium and marketing of its derivatives.

Two years later, the Spanish news organization, Cadena Ser, reported that the DEA, in March 2013, apprehended two Colombians–one of whom was a member of FARC–along with three members of AQIM in Algeria on drug trafficking charges. The Colombians were alleged to have delivered in the previous year a shipment of cocaine in exchange for cash, and arms acquired in Libya following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. FARC collaborators negotiated with AQIM through a local jihadist group taking orders from the North African terror organization, according to the report.

” MUJWA was the main Al Qaeda affiliate that worked closely with medication cartels in Mali and Algeria, and you couldn &# x27; t mention the terror group without talking about Sahrawi ,” Christian Anozie, editor of Event Diary International, a West African news publishing, told The Daily Beast.” ISGS is largely made up of fighters who worked under Sahrawi at MUJWA, and that is why most West African governments still refer to ISGS as MUJWA .”

Most of the big narcotic deals involving terrorist organizations are struck in Guinea-Bissau. The main destination of the drugs that leave the tropical country is often Western european countries, but some transactions have involved shipping cocaine to the United States.

In 2013, Antonio Injai, head of Guinea-Bissau’s armed forces, was indicted by a federal grand jury in New York on cocaine and weapons-trafficking charges. The military chief told informants for the DEA, who had posed as rebels with FARC, that he was willing to store tons of cocaine and ship it to the United States. Injai also agreed to buy weapons for FARC.

Two weeks before Injai’s indictment, his close ally and former chief of the Guinea-Bissau Navy, Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto, was indicted on similar drug charges after being arrested by DEA spies in a stinging operation off the coast of West Africa.

” Cocaine smuggling slowed down in Guinea-Bissau after Na Tchuto’s arrest, as traffickers were scared the Americans would target more drug dealers ,” Anozie told.” But the narcotic trade picked up again, and has been helped by the political crisis that maintains rocking[ Guinea-Bissau ].”

The UNODC said last year( PDF ) that international drug traffickers have for many years” counted on the support of influential segments within the political and military apparatus” in Guinea-Bissau to trade narcotics. These traffickers have targeted a small number of senior officials in the governmental forces, police, customs and judiciary” with bribes in exchange for either passive or active supporting facilitating illegal activities .”

The same report notes that Boko Haram reportedly has ” helped drug traffickers to smuggle heroin and cocaine across Western africa .”

A report on narcotics smuggling in Guinea-Bissau published in the Guardian back in 2008 noted that the West African coast can be reached across the shortest transatlantic intersect from South America either by airplane from Colombia( with a refuelling stop in Brazil ), or by ship from Brazil or Venezuela.

The Guardian revealed that, at least in 2008, the barges departing South America traveled merely by night and remain motionless by day, contained within blue tarpaulins to avoid detecting from the air.

The drug barons and the jihadists are always finding ways to thwart their foes, and in Western africa they have discovered the best way to do that is to work together.

Read more: www.thedailybeast.com

The Latest: Venezuelans Revel at Peru President's Woes – U.S. News & World Report


U.S. News & World Report

The Latest: Venezuelans Revel at Peru President's Woes
U.S. News & World Report
One of socialist Venezuela's most powerful politicians has taken to Twitter to revel over the resignation of conservative Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. March 21, 2018, at 9:32 p.m.. March 21, 2018, at 9:32 p.m.. U.S. News & World Report
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Hundreds Of Children In Venezuela Are Starving To Death, Says New York Times Report

Children in Venezuela are suffering from and dying of acute malnutrition at a staggering rate, according to a report from The New York Times published Sunday.

The Hour spoke to physicians at 21 public hospitals across the country, who say there have been approximately 2,800 cases of child malnutrition and nearly 400 deaths due to the condition in the last year.

The oil-rich South American country has been enveloped in a political and economic crisis for more than a year, resulting in soaring inflation and a shortage of food, medicine and other basic necessities. Venezuela first entered into a recession in 2014.

The result of a five-month investigation, the Times’ interactive report includes firsthand accounts of several families who’d lost months-old children after being unable to find baby formula.

“Sometimes they die in your arms only from dehydration, ” Dr. Milagros Hernandez, a doctor who works at a children’s hospital in the northern city of Barquisimeto, told the newspaper.

Hernandez said she saw a spike in malnourished patients by the end of 2016.

“But in 2017 the increase in malnourished patients has been terrible, ” she added .~ ATAGEND “Children arrive with the same weight and height of a newborn.”

The Times also examined other symptoms of the country’s crisis: malnutrition among adults, infants joining violent street gangs as a result of a lack of food at home, and women trying sterilization after it became too difficult to properly care for small children in the country’s current state.

Rising mortality rates in Venezuela constructed headlines in May, after then-Health Minister Antonieta Caporale’s department released the government’s first health statistics in two years.

The data presented infant mortality had increased by 30 percentage and maternal mortality by 65 percent. Malaria lawsuits had also skyrocketed. Caporale was abruptly fired days later.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose was taking steps to consolidate political power during 2017 triggered several countrywide demoes, has refused to accept humanitarian aid as millions of Venezuelans face starvation and a lack of basic necessities.

Read The New York Times’ full interactive report on Venezuela here.

Read more: www.huffingtonpost.com

Venezuelan protesters burn tyres at statue in Chavez birthplace – Reuters


McClatchy Washington Bureau

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Finland is the happiest country in the world, says UN report

Finland has overtaken Norway to become the happiest nation on ground, according to a UN report.

The 2018 World Happiness Report also charts the steady deterioration of the US as the world’s largest economy grapples with a crisis of obesity, substance abuse and depression.

The study uncovers the US has slipped to 18 th place, five places down on 2016. The top four places are taken by Nordic nations, with Finland followed by Norway, Denmark and Iceland.

Burundi in east Africa, scarred by bouts of ethnic cleansing, civil wars and coup attempts, is the unhappiest place in the world. Strikingly, there are five other nations- Rwanda, Yemen, Tanzania, South Sudan and the Central African Republic- which report happiness levels below that of even Syria.

For the first time the UN also examined the happiness levels of immigrants in each country, and procured Finland also scored highest.

” Finland has vaulted from fifth place to the top of the rankings this year ,” said the report’s writers, although they noted that the other three Nordic countries( plus Switzerland) have almost interchangeable ratings.

The report, an annual publication from the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, said all the Nordic countries scored highly on income, healthy life expectancy, social supporting, freedom, trust and generosity. The rankings are based on Gallup polls of self-reported wellbeing, as well as perceptions of corruption, generosity and freedom.

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The UN placing is the latest accolade for Finland, a country of five. 5 million people that only 150 years ago suffered Europe’s last naturally caused famine. The country has been ranked the most stable, the safest and best governed country in the world. It is also among the least corrupt and the most socially progressive. Its police are the world’s most trusted and its banks the soundest.

” That Finland is the top scorer is remarkable ,” said Meik Wiking of the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark.” GDP per capita in Finland is lower than its neighbouring Nordic countries and is much lower than that of the US. The Finns are good at converting wealth into wellbeing.

” In the Nordic countries in general, we pay some of the highest taxes in the world, but there is wide public is supportive of that because people ensure them as investments in quality of life for all. Free healthcare and university education goes a long way when it is necessary to happiness. In the Nordic countries, Bernie Sanders is not viewed as progressive- he is just common sense ,” added Wiking, referring to the leftwing US politician who galvanised the Democrat primaries in the 2016 general elections.

In Britain, figures from the Office for National Statistics indicate people have become happier in recent years. But the UN ranking places the UK in a lowly 19 th place, the same as last year but behind Germany, Canada and Australia, although ahead of France and Spain.

The UN report dedicates a special chapter to why the US, once towards the top of happiness table, has slipped down the league despite having among the highest income per capita.

” America’s subjective wellbeing is being systematically was destroyed by three interrelated epidemic diseases , notably obesity, substance abuse( especially opioid addiction) and depression ,” told Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University in New York, and one of the report’s authors.

Despite African countries get the worst happiness scores, one west African nation has bucked the trend. Togo went bottom in 2015 but was the biggest improver in the 2018 report, rising 18 places. Latvians and Bulgarians are also reporting higher levels of happiness.

Venezuela recorded the biggest fall in happiness, outstripping even Syria, although in absolute terms it remains a mid-ranking country. The report notes that Latin American countries generally scored more highly than their GDP per capita indicates, especially in contrast to fast-growing east Asian countries.

Latin America is renowned for corruption, high violence and crime rates, unequal distribution of income and widespread poverty, yet has consistently scored relatively highly in the happiness report. The writers attributed this to” the abundance of family warmth and other supportive social relationships frequently sidelined in favour of an emphasis on income measures in the development discourse “.

Meanwhile, the greatest human migration in history- the hundreds of millions of people who have moved from the Chinese countryside into cities- has not advanced happiness at all, the report saw.

” Even seven-and-a-half years after migrating to urban areas, migrants from rural areas are on average less happy than they might have been had they remained at home ,” according to John Knight of the Oxford Chinese Economy Programme at the University of Oxford and one of the contributors to the UN report.

Top 10 happiest countries, 2018

( 2017 ranking in brackets)

1. Finland( 5)

2. Norway( 1)

3. Denmark( 2)

4. Iceland( 3)

5. Switzerland( 4)

6. Netherlands( 6)

7. Canada( 7)

8. New Zealand ( 8)

9. Sweden( 10)

10. Australia( 9)

The 10 unhappiest countries, 2018

( 2017 ranking in brackets)

147. Malawi( 136)

148. Haiti( 145)

149. Liberia( 148)

150. Syria( 152)

151. Rwanda( 151)

152. Yemen( 146)

153. Tanzania( 153)

154. South Sudan( 147)

155. Central African Republic( 155)

156. Burundi( 154)

Read more: www.theguardian.com