US pulls all staff from Venezuela as Maduro blames blackout on ‘demonic’ Trump plot

In a televised nationwide address, leader says White House ordered this attack and calls on public to mount active resistance

The United States has said it will withdraw all remaining diplomatic staff from Venezuela as Nicolás Maduro accused Donald Trump of masterminding a “demonic” plot to force him from power by crippling the country’s electricity system with an imperialist “electromagnetic attack”.

The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, announced the decision to vacate the US embassy in the crisis-stricken country’s capital, Caracas, late on Monday.

“This decision reflects the deteriorating situation in #Venezuela as well as the conclusion that the presence of US diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on US policy,” Pompeo tweeted.

Maduro’s political foes and many specialists believe the calamitous nationwide blackout that struck last Thursday – and has yet to be resolved – is the result of years of mismanagement, corruption and incompetence.

“We are in the middle of a catastrophe that is not the result of a hurricane, that is not the result of a tsunami,” Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader battling to topple Maduro, told CNN on Sunday. “It’s the product of the inefficiency, the incapability, the corruption of a regime that doesn’t care about the lives of Venezuelans.”

But in a televised nationwide address on Monday night Maduro pointed the finger of blame at the White House in what critics condemned as a cynical attempt to deflect criticism of his regime’s responsibility.

“The United States’ imperialist government ordered this attack,” Maduro claimed in his 35-minute speech, only his second significant intervention since the crisis began last week.

“They came with a strategy of war of the kind that only these criminals – who have been to war and have destroyed the people of Iraq, of Libya, of Afghanistan and of Syria – think up.”

Maduro alleged the US had conducted the attack – in league with “puppets and clowns” from the Venezuelan opposition – in order to create “a state of despair, of widespread want and of conflict” that would justify a foreign intervention and Venezuela’s military occupation.

But Maduro, who inherited Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution after his 2013 death, vowed that the supposed attack on Venezuela’s grid would be thwarted.

“Victory belongs to us,” he declared. “What you can be certain of is that sooner rather later, in the coming days, we will win this battle definitively … We will win – and we will do it for Venezuela. We will do it for our homeland. We will do it for you … we will do it because of our people’s right to happiness.”

Ominously, he called on Venezuelan citizens and on pro-government paramilitary gangs known as colectivos to resist the “imperialist” onslaught. “The time has come for active resistance,” he said.

Maduro has been fighting for political survival since January when Guaidó declared himself Venezuela’s legitimate leader and was swiftly recognised as interim president by dozens of western nations including the US and Britain.

Maduro’s many opponents – who blame him for a devastating economic collapse that has triggered the most severe migration crisis in recent Latin American history – ridicule his claims that the outage is part of a White House conspiracy.

Anna Ferrera, a student activist in Caracas, said: “They go around and around saying this was sabotage and how the US always sabotages things and the empire is going against Venezuela. But they haven’t given any [credible] explanation.”

“They always make up stories to explain the flaws of the system … this is outrageous,” added Ferrera, who said she feared many might accept Maduro’s version because the black out had knocked out communication systems across the country, giving his administration a monopoly on information.

Dimitris Pantoulas, a Caracas-based political analyst, said Maduro had appeared “worried, anxious and absolutely desperate” in his Monday night broadcast, suggesting the situation was dire.

“It is clear, from what he said, that the government does not control the situation (nobody does) and they do not have any plan or strategy,” Pantoulas tweeted.

Maduro – who gave no evidence for his claims – gave little hint that an end was in sight to a crisis that the opposition blames for at least 21 deaths and many fear could plunge the country into violence and turmoil.

“They will insist in their attacks,” Maduro said, calling on Venezuelans to respond with “nerves of steel”.

Speaking to CNN hours earlier, Guaidó said: “Venezuela has truly collapsed already … You can say with all responsibility that Venezuela has already collapsed.”

Read more: www.theguardian.com

El Salvador’s Nayib Bukele wins presidential election

(CNN)Nayib Bukele will be El Salvador’s next president after garnering the majority of votes in Sunday’s election, according to the country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE).

TSE said most of the votes, almost 90%, have been counted and Bukele won 54% of the vote.
The future of the gang and poverty-ridden country may have an impact on the flow of migrants — many of whom come from El Salvador — to the US-Mexico border.
Leaders of other Central American countries took to social media to congratulate Bukele.
Panama’s president, Juan Carlos Varela, wrote he will “work hand in hand with this sister nation,” and praised Bukele’s win after a “democratic and peaceful electoral feast.”
    Carlos Alvarado Quesada, the president of Costa Rica, also sent his congratulations vowing to deepen the country’s friendship with El Salvador as well as a “common agenda of values and purposes for our region.”
      Venezuela’s self-declared interim president, Juan Guaido also chimed in, calling the election day “exemplary.”
      “Our country is ready to realize soon a new stage of relations, based on collaboration and observation of the highest democratic values,” he wrote on Twitter.

      Read more: www.cnn.com

      Crab meat from Venezuela may be contaminated, FDA says

      (CNN)The US Food and Drug Administration is advising people to avoid eating fresh crab meat from Venezuela because of potential contamination by bacteria.

      Eight cases were reported in Maryland, two in Louisiana and one each in Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia, with four people requiring hospitalization, the news release said. People reported becoming ill between April 1 and July 3.
      “Most people infected with Vibrio parahaemolyticus develop diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, nausea, fever and stomach pain,” the FDA said. “Diarrhea tends to be watery and occasionally bloody.”
        People dining out or purchasing crab meat at a grocery should ask where the product came from, the FDA said. The crab meat is often found in plastic tubs and marked as “pre-cooked,” the FDA said.
        The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the crab meat looks and smells normal.
        Restaurants and groceries should dispose of any crab meat from Venezuela, the FDA said. If a consumer or a store doesn’t know the origin of the crab meat, they should throw it out, the CDC said.
        Children under age 5, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are most vulnerable, the FDA said.
        The FDA, the CDC and state and local agencies are investigating the outbreak.

        Read more: www.cnn.com

        $4 gas is nearly a reality for many Americans

        New York (CNN Business)US gasoline prices are becoming a real pain for motorists, particularly in the west.

        Four-dollar gas is the average in a couple of California counties. Many others are within a few cents of that mark, including San Francisco, where the average price is $3.98. The statewide average in California is up 20 cents a gallon, or 5%, to $3.83 in just the last week.
        The Midwest has also been hit by price spikes. The average price in Chicago has jumped 46 cents a gallon, or 16%, to $3.27 in the last month.
          Unplanned refinery maintenance at several locations is responsible for the sudden, and uneven, increases across the nation, said Tom Kloza, head of energy analysis for the Oil Price Information Service. Western states are particularly vulnerable to supply disruptions because they have less refining capacity than other locations across the United States.
          “The western half of the country hasn’t added any refining capacity this century,” said Kloza. “It’s been a cluster of difficulties but not disasters hurting supplies, particularly out in the West.”
          Kloza said $4-a-gallon gas will be common in California and perhaps in some other western states in the coming weeks. But most of the country could start to see some relief in gas prices soon as refineries along the Gulf Coast start to come back online from scheduled maintenance in the coming weeks.
          Crude oil prices have also played a role in the steady rise in gasoline prices, although gas prices increases have outpaced those in oil markets.
            US crude oil is up 51% since December 24. American sanctions on Iran and Venezuela and fighting in Libya have combined with a cutback on oil production by OPEC nations to drive up the price of oil.
            “Almost every day since the day after Christmas, both gas prices and oil prices have crept up,” said Kloza.

            Read more: www.cnn.com

            Three Venezuelan families – a photo essay

            Silvana Trevale left Venezuela in 2011 but has returned to document the ever worsening crisis that has deeply affected families of every economic status

            Venezuela, a country that once hoped for wealth and a bright future with its oil reserves and natural resources, is falling to pieces. It faces a humanitarian crisis where families struggle daily to find food, medicine and clean water as they live with collapsing public services. Many attend the ongoing protests, which are frequently violently repressed. Though I left my home in 2011 I have returned to Venezuela to document the ever-worsening crisis that has deeply affected families of every economic status.

            Residents

            A

            • Residents queue for two hours to purchase basic goods at their local supermarket. Right; a closed petrol station in Caracas

            Litter

            • Litter is scattered around the street after bin bags were opened by residents in El Llanito, Caracas

            As a young Venezuelan woman, my focus was to the youth of the country in relation to how the current crisis has harmedtheir past and present, and jeopardised their future. Three families with contrasting realities took part in the photo essay, allowing me into their homes so that I could gain an insight into their lives.

            Family

            • Family portrait: a girl with her father and mother at their home

            Firstly, I met an upper-class family, who asked to keep their identity anonymous for their own security. The youngest girl, who is a past contestant in the Miss Venezuela beauty pageant, has left the country to pursue her career as a model. Her brother and sister have been out of Venezuela for more than two years, working in their fields. The father said: “If they had told me, that at my age my children were going to leave because there were no opportunities, we would have left.”

            Graduation

            • Graduation portraits in the living room

            He works as a hotel manager while he witnesses the economy fall apart, constantly trying to maintain a balance in his job alongside spiralling inflation. He said in January: “The difficulty in obtaining foreign currency is what has affected us the most. In October, the black market dollar equalled 90 bolivars and is now at 2,500 bolivars.”

            Inflation hit 10,000,000% in 2019. The family’s mother expressed her distress regarding their safety, specifically with health insurance companies, as they cannot secure coverage if this is paid with bolivars. They suggested finding a plan paid in dollars or to keep a large number of dollars in cash in case of an accident.

            The

            • The Melean family, standing outside their home

            The Melean family are working hard to achieve their dreams. Estefferson, the oldest brother, is now living in Chicago and studying nursing. He is covering all of his expenses with a baseball scholarship. He returned for the holidays to visit his family and his hopes for the future are high. Estefferson said: “I can open the doors for my family, to move forward and get out of where we live, as I would like them to live in a better place in the future.” They live in El Valle in Caracas, at the bottom of a favela area that is not safe.

            Estefferson

            • Estefferson and Gerson’s coach points at the sky during baseball practice. ‘Aim high,’ he yells

            Estefferson

            Estefferson

            • Estefferson Melean holds his passport on his way back to Chicago to continue his studies

            The youngest brother, Gerson, is following the same dream. He is training to be signed by the Major League Baseball (MLB) organisation, while he continues his high school studies at the weekends. Sarai, the youngest sister, was completing her studies at the Andrés Bello Catholic University. However, she had to stop as the cost became too high for the family to cover.

            She said: “It’s tough to live with fear, knowing that for a pair of earrings, some shoes or a telephone they can kill you. The people are so desperate, they are so hungry.”

            Yesenia, their mother, works full time as a secretary, although she sometimes does not make it to her job across the city. With the current electricity blackouts, transportation is not working most days Public transport is not available because of the lack of spare parts and their high prices.

            Fermin

            • The Fermin family

            Lastly, the Fermin family lives in a small town called Mamporal, a 90-minute drive from Caracas. The mother has 11 children; however many of them have left the country or are residing in other states of Venezuela. Five of her children live at home with her and her husband, Felix. The oldest son living at home is Abraham, who is away during the week while he trains to join the military.

            The 15-year-old son, also called Felix, said: “I want to be an artist to help my mom.”. He spends his time drawing Catholic figures with the hope of becoming an artist one day. Carmen, the youngest girl, said: “My desire is to leave Venezuela, become a doctor and help my family.”

            Carlos

            • Carlos and Carmen at home

            Wanda, 17, was seven months pregnant with twins when I photographed her. She had been raped by a neighbour. Wanda has since given birth to two girls. The Fermin family struggle to feed themselves and the children are showing signs of malnutrition, as they often miss out on breakfast and dinner.

            Carlos, 14, who has not been able to learn how to read and write, said: “We have lacked food, for breakfast we have cassava or topocho [a variety of a plantain], only sometimes. We do not have lunch, when the Clap [Comité Local de Abastecimiento y Producción, or local committees for supply and production] bag arrives with pasta, maize flour and beans, we have dinner.”

            Read more: www.theguardian.com

            John Bolton: the man driving the US towards war … any war

            Donald Trumps national security consultant is stoking tensions with North Korea, Iran and Venezuela, in line with decades of taking the most hawkish posture on any given issue

            The US is now engaged in three major confrontations various regions of the world that have the potential to degrade into war. And in the driving seat on all three fronts is John Bolton, one of the most fervent believers in American military power ever to work in the White House.

            Donald Trump’s 70 -year-old national security consultant has been a fixture in US foreign policy over the past four decades, and has spent that time, whether in or out of government, mostly arguing for the most hawkish position on any issue put in front of him.

            ” He actually believes when America leadings, the world is a safer and better place- not just for us but for the world ,” said Mark Groombridge, who worked for Bolton for more than 10 years.

            Sign up for the US morning briefing

            In the Obama era, Bolton’s bristling walrus moustache was a near constant presence on tv, almost always Fox News, from where he would ventilate contempt and spleen on the Democratic administration.

            These days, Bolton looks considerably more cheerful, having reached the peak of the policymaking establishment that had once seemed out of his reach.

            Bolton seems to have played a key role in the collapse of the second Trump summit with Kim Jong-un in February, when he appeared to have drafted a maximalist listing of demands for all-or-nothing disarmament that was presented to the North Korean dictator in Hanoi. A year of diplomacy ground to a halt, and Kim, who had been expecting a more gradualist approach, has now started goading the US with a return to missile tests.

            In the standoff in Venezuela, Bolton was again centre stage, making himself the lead US voice for a failed effort at regime change in Venezuela in late April, producing a personal video appeal yell- in vain- on Nicolas Maduro’s top aides to defect. Behind the scenes he has urged a reluctant US Southern Command to come up with ever more aggressive solutions to Maduro’s hold on power.

            And in the fast-moving escalation of tensions with Iran, it is Bolton who has seized the initiative, spun military deployments in the Gulf that were already in the pipeline as confrontational steps against Tehran, and reportedly annoyed some in the Pentagon and intelligence agencies by putting a sensationalist spin on intelligence about Iranian military movements.

            Bolton is reported to have convened a deeply unusual meeting on Iran on 29 April , not in the White House, but at CIA headquarters. It was an echo of the buildup to the Iraq war, when Dick Cheney, George W Bush’s vice-president, did the same thing.

            It now appears likely that Iranian military preparations that the intelligence appeared to suggest, may have been contingencies in anticipation of a US attack– not an unrealistic expectation in view of Bolton’s record. In 2015, he savaged Obama’s diplomatic efforts and penned a now infamous commentary titled To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.

            John
            John Bolton in typically pugnacious mood, inveighing against Iran while US ambassador to the United Nations in 2006. Photograph: Justin Lane/ EPA

            Bolton grew up in a working-class Republican family in Baltimore, and his first political experience was as a volunteer in the doomed 1964 campaign of Barry Goldwater, a staunch conservative from Arizona.

            Bolton, who insured Goldwater as having been caricatured by the mainstream media, deepened his antipathy of liberal eastern upper-class at Yale University, where he arrived in 1966 on a scholarship. Unlike many of his fellow students, he fiercely supported the war effort in Vietnam, but not to the point of taking part himself. He avoided the draft by joining the Maryland national guard.

            He set his statute degree to use as a counseling in the Reagan administration, and in 2000 Bolton was one of the Republican lawyers flown into Florida to help tilt the deadlocked election in Bush’s favour.

            In Bush’s state department, Bolton went to work dismantling US diplomatic efforts. He joyfully described taking a ” hammer ” to the 1994 Agreed Framework deal with North Korea. It was already fraying but it had at least maintained Pyongyang’s plutonium production in check for seven years. The Bush team ruled out talks with the rogue regime, but, argued Christopher Hill, a former US lead negotiator, it has no such workable alternative.

            ” You would think John Bolton wanted to invade North Korea ,” Hill said.” I never assured him put on a helmet, pick up a firearm, so I’m not sure what he had in mind with that .”

            ” This is someone who does not have an interactive intellect. He has his perspective, its own position, and that’s the end of it ,” Hill added.

            In the run-up to the Iraq invasion, Bolton was serving as under-secretary for arms control in the state department. He was not attaining the policy, but he was enforcing it.

            In one telling episode, he was dispatched to The Hague to get rid of the director general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapon, a Brazilian diplomat called Jose Bustani, who had convinced Libya and Iraq to sign the Chemical Weapon Convention. That ought to have been undermined the lawsuit for war with Saddam Hussein, and Washington was furious, insisting Bustani had exceeded the framework of its mandate. Bolton arrived in the Netherlands in February 2002 with an ultimatum.

            ” He came to my office and said:’ You have 24 hours to quit, and this is the instruction from Mr Dick Cheney ,'” Bustani recalls. Bustani refused, pointing out he had only recently been elected for a second term with US support.” And then Bolton said: you better think it over, because we know where your children are .”

            Bustani’s two sons were working in New York at the time. Bustani was stunned and held his ground, but to no avail. The Bush administration convened a special conference of member states and ultimately forced Bustani out.

            Bolton has previously denied making the threat about his children.

            ” It was a very unhappy experience ,” Bustani said.” This human is different from anyone I have met in my life. He doesn’t allow for a dialogue. You don’t discuss anything with him. It’s just brute force, that’s all .”

            Bolton’s management style came back to haunt him when he applied for his next job, as US ambassador to the UN, in 2005. The Senate refused to confirm him, and Bush had to bypass Congress altogether, putting him in the post with a temporary appointment that ended in 2006.

            He spent his years outside government in high-paying tasks at the American Enterprise Institute, the premier conservative intellectual hub in Washington, as a Fox News pundit, and most notably a paid speaker for the cult-like Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organisation( MeK ), which was for many years categorised as a terrorist group by the US and EU.

            Bolton
            Bolton’ played Trump like a Stradivarius ‘, according to one former aide. Photograph: Saul Loeb/ AFP/ Getty Images

            It is that background that has convinced Tehran that Bolton is implacably set on forcible regime change. If there is to be an off-ramp on the road to war, and a return to dialogue it may require Trump to fire Bolton.

            Trump has joked with other officials and foreign leaders that Bolton wanted to get him into a war.” I actually temper John, which is pretty amazing ,” the president told reporters last Thursday.

            But there have been reports that the joke may be wearing thin and that Trump is growing concerned about future directions Bolton is leading him.

            ” John played Trump like a Stradivarius ,” Groombridge, Bolton’s former aide, said.” John understands and knows the president very well … He knows to keep it very simple.

            “[ But] I guess his influence has waned in the last month or so because he was, regrettably, in my opinion, factually wrong about the strength of opposition in Venezuela. And now you’ve got a number of people squabbling … about what’s going on with respect to Iran .”

            Groombridge added:” The problem is that we have a president who is so mercurial that you know he could wake up at four in the morning and simply randomly tweet: John is gone .”

            Read more: www.theguardian.com