Venezuela Explodes Into Violence, With Desperate Citizens Capturing Carnage on Their Cellphones

It was the scene everyone had waited for.

Juan Guaidó was standing in the street outside La Carlota military airbase, flanked by military that, for once, were there to protect him. By his side was Leopoldo López, founder of the Primero Justicia party and Venezuela’s most famous political prisoner, who had just been released by his military captors.

“This is the final phase of our operation to topple the usurper,” Guaidó said in an impromptu speech released on Twitter early Tuesday morning, but while he was speaking, all eyes were on López, a man many expected never to see alive in freedom again.

“Where is your guard?” a journalist yelled at Lopez, and just off camera a man’s smiling voice can be heard saying, “I’m right here.”

It was a clear sign that something had shifted, and that the promises made by the opposition and its leadership hadn’t been as empty as many Venezuelans had started to fear. For months, Guaidó had hinted at secret negotiations taking place between the opposition and the military, but with every week that passed without any noticeable change, the public support began to waver.

After that initial spark, massive clashes erupted throughout the day in and around Caracas, with paramilitary colectivos out en masse, shooting live rounds at protesters in the streets and military fighting military, creating chaos and uncertainty as to who is on which side.

In WhatsApp videos that The Daily Beast receives in real time from sources on the ground one can see police officers actively helping protesters, switching sides as fights break out outside a central shopping mall in Caracas, and colectivos shooting at both groups as they run for cover.

It is a war zone, only less structured, with no clear sides or definitive allies, and desperate citizens are capturing absolute carnage on their cellphones, filming armored vehicles running over protesters and paramilitaries beating down the uprising.

One of the main questions now is if a violent and bloody suppression of these protests would trigger a foreign intervention, but given the lack of support for such a drastic measure, that seems unlikely. Omar, one of the protesters The Daily Beast spoke to earlier Tuesday, said it would take a catastrophe to make the world react.

“I know it sounds cold, but I think that it would take a Tiananmen Square situation to get the U.S. or the E.U. to step into this mess.”
— Omar, protester on the streets of Caracas

“I know it sounds cold, but I think that it would take a Tiananmen Square situation to get the U.S. or the E.U. to step into this mess,” he said. “A lot of people have to die, and die publicly and violently, for the rest of us to be saved.”

As for the reactions from the outside world, they are currently following the expected lines. The European Union released a statement Tuesday urging restraint and calling for free elections, but there was no mention of whether it supported or rejected the opposition’s attempt to oust President Nicolás Maduro.

In the U.S., individual lawmakers have been, while moderate in their language, more clearly in support of Guaidó. Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated on Tuesday that “Guaidó is the lawful president,” and Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, placed the responsibility for an escalation with Maduro.

“The only person who can make this violent is Maduro, and the 20,000-30,000 human security agents who don’t belong in Venezuela and should be back in Cuba, and the criminal thugs that have been released from prisons to be used by Maduro against his people,” said Menendez. “Only he can make it violent.”

From within the Trump administration, the anti-Maduro rhetoric has been fiery from the start, with Secretary of Defense Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton leading the charge. In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, Pompeo claimed that the Venezuelan government was crumbling and that President Maduro himself had been preparing to flee to Cuba but was talked out of it by Russian advisors. Pompeo did not provide sources for this extraordinary claim.  

John Bolton spoke along similar lines when giving his comments on the escalation of the Venezuelan crisis, saying that former Maduro allies were ready to turn:

"We think it's still very important for key figures in the regime who have been talking to the opposition over these last three months to make good on their commitment to achieve the peaceful transfer of power."

While Maduro has yet to make a statement since the clashes broke out, Diosdado Cabello, the president of Venezuela’s Constitutional Assembly, has made several. In a radio address, he called upon all colectivos to prepare to defend Miraflores, the presidential palace, and to strike down anyone who tries to destroy the Bolivarian Revolution started by the late Hugo Chávez.

“This coup d’état has failed,” he said, but given that the government is now mobilizing military and paramilitary troops at Miraflores, that seems to be a slight exaggeration.

Although Tuesday night was largely quiet, the dangerous drama of coup and countercoup is expected to continue on Wednesday.

In many of his speeches, Guaidó has spoken about the march on Miraflores, but most have interpreted that as a metaphor, rather than a statement of facts. Such a walk would in all likelihood end in a bloodbath, at least before the bulk of the military has turned, and attempting such an undertaking prematurely could mean walking right into the hands of a much superior opponent, crushing the last hope of an exhausted and impoverished population.

—Sam Brodey contributed reporting from Washington, D.C.

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These Americans moved to the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington when diplomats fled

(CNN)About a mile from the White House, a group of American activists are sleeping on couches and inflatable mattresses inside the Venezuelan Embassy.

About two weeks ago, members from the anti-war group Code Pink arrived at the four-story brick building in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood. Most were only carrying a few clothes, blankets and their toothbrushes.
“We are not there for a party,” said Ariel Gold, the group’s national co-director. “We are there to protect the building.”
    The embassy staff recently left the building, weeks after Venezuelan opposition leaderand self-proclaimed interim President Juan Guaido challenged Maduro’s leadership with the support of the United States and dozens of other nations.
    Activists decided to move into the building, concerned that Guaido’s supporters would take over the embassy, fueling tensions between the US and Venezuelan governments, and eventually leading to military intervention.
    Medea Benjamin, one of the group’s founders, said Maduro’s diplomats allowed them to stay in the embassy and gave them key cards to access the building before leaving. She said the group mostly operates out of a conference room on the second floor.
    Photos taken inside the embassy show empty offices, a few desks filled with stacks of passport applications, boxes marked as “fake passports,” children’s toys and computers without hard drives.
    Most days, about 25 people discuss the political situation and take turns to clean the rooms surrounded by portraits of Maduro, the late former President Hugo Chávez and legendary leader Simon Bolivar. They cook veggie omelets or oatmeal for breakfast and have rice and beans for dinner.

    Some Venezuelans want them out

    Venezuelans in the United States have descended on the embassy over the past few days to protest against the American activists with loud bullhorns, and they’ve formed human chains to block the building’s entrances.
    As many of her relatives and friends took to the streets this week in Venezuela, Cynthia Cortes headed to her country’s embassy in Washington to answer Guaido’s call to protest.
    Cortes quickly joined other Venezuelans chanting the National Assembly leader’s name and waving her country’s yellow, blue and red flags, but it surprised her to see Americans occupying the embassy.
    “We’re doing our part from wherever we are around the world to bring light into the Venezuelan plight. And there’s invaders in our embassy that are not Venezuelans,” Cortes said.
    “This is the Venezuelan people for Venezuelan democracy; this is not about right or left in the world. I hope and I beg that people don’t use my country and the suffering of my people for their own personal flags that have nothing to do with what’s going on.”
    On Friday, Gold said her group had to use a rope to pull containers with food and medicine up a window on the second floor after Venezuelan protesters would not let the supplies be brought into the building.
    The US State Department said any unauthorized individuals on the property are considered trespassers.
    “The Venezuelan government, led by Interim President Juan Guaido, has legal authority over the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C.,” a State Department representative said in a statement.
    “We encourage the remaining unauthorized individuals to vacate the building and to conduct any future protest peacefully and through legal means.”
      But Benjamin said they have no plans to leave.
      “We think it’s important to protect the embassy,” she said, “until some kind of arrangement can be worked out between the US and the Venezuelan government.”

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      ‘Unbelievably disgraceful’: Lefty activist lectures anti-Maduro Venezuelan about why he shouldn’t want Trump’s help

      As the crisis in Venezuela continues, there have been protests at the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC. Code Pink is there — many apparently inside the embassy:

      Outside the embassy this week, there was an attempt to lecture an opponent of the Maduro regime why he should embrace the dictatorship and not be seeking any assistance from President Trump. It’s come to this:

      Just wow.

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      Unbelievable chutzpah.

      Anything to avoid admitting that socialism leads to misery.

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      While You Were Offline: Ted Cruz Wants the Space Force to Fight Space Pirates

      You know it's been a rough week when Britney Spears apparently withdraws from performing, Grumpy Cat dies, and a sparkly vampire turns into a bat—and those aren't even the worst stories out there. Elsewhere, the Mueller investigation is still in the news and investigators have finally determined the cause of California's deadly Camp Fire. (Short version: It was electrical transmission lines.) Oh, and the Trump administration is trying to undo birthright citizenship for the adopted children of LGBTQ couples. Already feel like you've missed a lot? While You Were Offline is here to help.

      Generation Offred

      What Happened: For anyone who cares about whether or not those with wombs have any level of control over their own bodies, last week was a rough one thanks to legislation in several states.

      What Really Happened: There's no way to sugarcoat this: The war over abortion has intensified beyond what most would have expected in the past couple of weeks, with new bills being signed into law that significantly limit the freedom of those with wombs in certain states. Two weeks ago, everyone's attention was on Georgia, and certain laws being made in that state—

      —but last week, it was Alabama that held everyone's attention, and for good reason.

      The Alabama Senate had originally intended to vote on its own controversial abortion restriction earlier in the month, only to have to postpone due to public protest. It's fair to say that the discussion, when it finally happened, was, shall we say, not had at the most learned level.

      Such exceptional thoughtfulness and care for the subject was followed by the vote itself.

      The result, which effectively outlawed abortion in the state, was shocking to many, including lawmakers outside of Alabama.

      Others vowed to take the fight against the new law as far as it can go—which may be what those behind it want.

      Hopes that the bill, although passed by the Senate, wouldn't go any further due to the deafening public outcry were quashed a day later, when Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed the bill into law.

      So far, so Handmaid’s Tale. (That may sound flip, but can we stop for a second to realize how stunning it is to be able to make that analogy so easily?) And it wasn't just Alabama restricting freedom of choice this week.

      Here's what the Missouri governor had to say about things.

      And here's what reality had to add.

      As the war on women's choice ramped up, a hashtag followed as those who have had abortions told their stories—or, in many cases, chose not to, for the most obvious reasons.

      The Takeaway: Please remember that, with Roe v. Wade still in effect, abortion remains a protected right across the United States.

      This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land, Especially When I Want to Use It to Make a Geopolitical Point and Ruin Your Livelihood

      What Happened: In an international landscape dominated by the idea of America First, some Americans might have to deal with coming in second (or third, or fourth) in order to … well, it's not entirely clear. Let President Trump get a win? Sorry, farmers.

      What Really Happened: Somehow, we've ended up back on the subject of tariffs and the US's seemingly inevitable trade war with China.

      In a move that broke with the tradition of simply pretending that everything the president wanted to do would work out easily and quickly in Americans' favor, the administration admitted that the trade war would have casualties, and started bolstering support for American farmers with a proposed $15 billion aid package. President Trump took to Twitter to explain the move.

      Experts disagreed with his reasoning, and not only because the president doesn't seem to know how tariffs actually work.

      Unfortunately, as the week went on, it became more and more apparent that farmers were seeing how badly they'll be affected by the president's plans—and were also beginning to see through Trump's promises that everything would be OK and speaking out about that. Given the crossover between areas in the US reliant on farming for the local economy and areas in the US where Trump support was at a premium in the last election, this could be a significant problem for the commander-in-chief. Unless, that is, you're living inside the president's head:

      The Takeaway: Of course, there are those who would still like to argue that all of this is part of a very sophisticated plan.

      The Iran Issue

      What Happened: Speaking of the Trump administration, did you know that the US might be facing war with Iran?

      What Really Happened: Toward the end of last week, reports started to surface that Iran was presenting an increased threat to US interests in the Middle East, in the wake of America withdrawing from the nuclear deal with the country negotiated by President Obama.

      As this week began, there were new reports—including one that the US was considering potential military action, prompting pushback from Iranian leaders, as well as reminders of previous US overreach in the region. But, even as the US was warning of increased tension, a leading British military figure made a somewhat surprising announcement at the start of the week.

      If that was surprising, what happened next only continued the trend as the Pentagon decided that it couldn't let that kind of commentary go unaddressed.

      As if any escalation was needed, the UK Ministry of Defense responded to the US response by defending its general.

      Watching this subtle back-and-forth was a surreal experience, but it was also a signifier of the Trump administration's attempt to regain control of the message as it tried to build support for future action against Iran.

      And, make no mistake, the Trump administration was clearly planning future action against Iran. The only question was, what kind of action? Many feared it would be a military exercise, especially with hardliner John Bolton as Trump's national security advisor.

      The immediate answer to that question may be as simple as, "The president thinks it would be good for him politically," but surely he's not that gullible, is he..? Perhaps so; by midweek, the seeming march to war continued.

      That didn't look good. On Thursday, the UK followed suit, despite its earlier comments.

      Other parties had also been making moves.

      Suffice to say, things are not looking good in the region. Not all hope was lost, though; President Trump publicly stated that he didn't want a war, while new reports started to appear suggesting pushback internally to the idea. It's a difficult, nervous time across the globe right now.

      The Takeaway: So what, exactly, is the plan here, anyway? Because it's beginning to look a lot like this:

      Whenever Possible, Please Remember to RSVP Your Subpoenas

      What Happened: Turns out, it’s really hard to claim that a case is closed when one of your friends keeps reminding people that not all of the witnesses have spoken up about what they saw.

      What Really Happened: Another story that took off last week was the fact that Donald Trump Jr. had been subpoenaed to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee, having previously failed to come in twice before. Understandably, the news was something that got a lot of attention, because it was the Republican president's son being subpoenaed by the Republican-held Senate to answer questions about a matter that the Republican leader of the Senate had, days earlier, declared "case closed." No wonder that stories of Republican in-fighting were quick to appear.

      While the matter might have been easily brought to a close by Trump Jr. simply answering the subpoena and answering the questions expected of him, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham offered some astonishing advice instead.

      Yes, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee was saying that a Senate-issued subpoena should just be ignored, essentially. If that sounded a little too easy, that's because, well, it was.

      Graham's advice caused such a firestorm, a new hashtag was created in response. Although, to be fair, this one might have had multiple reasons to appear, considering.

      Back to Don Jr., though. By midweek, the story surrounding the subpoena was becoming less about the subpoena and more about the GOP squabbles that accompanied it.

      Finally, everyone struck a deal, bringing the matter to a close.

      Now, how much of Donald Trump Jr.'s testimony—which will happen next month, unless he backs out again, setting this whole fight off one more time—will see him taking Graham's advice and pleading the Fifth? Wait and see.

      The Takeaway: So, who actually won in this standoff? It's not clear. Maybe we'll know by June.

      Ted Cruz Wants Space Force to Fight Space Pirates

      What Happened: Because last week wasn't just one long existential horror, we'll close on a moment of joy: Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) talking about just why we need Space Force in our lives.

      What Really Happened: Hey, remember Space Force? Ted Cruz does, and not because it's apparently going to be so much more expensive than anyone expected.

      It's fair to say, people on Twitter were impressed by this sudden intergalactic inspiration on behalf of the Texas senator.

      Still, at least one space-decision-maker was apparently paying attention.

      Sadly, Cruz was not amused by the coverage of his comments, which had already gone mainstream, as should be expected.

      All joking aside for the briefest of seconds, perhaps we should ask ourselves about Cruz's priorities here.

      The Takeaway: Perhaps we're being too hard on the senator, however. Maybe he knows something that we don't.

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      Cuban LGBT Activists Defy Government, Hold Unprecedented Indie Pride Parade

      HAVANA, May 11 (Reuters) – Cuban gay rights activists held an unauthorized independent pride parade in Havana on Saturday despite the Communist government warning against it and calling it subversive, an unprecedented show of civil society in the one-party state.

      More than a hundred Cubans chanting “long live a diverse Cuba” and carrying rainbow flags joyfully marched nearly one kilometer (0.6 mile) from Havana’s Central Park down to the seafront boulevard before being stopped by dozens of security officials.

      At least three activists were arrested by plainclothes policemen while others were ordered to disperse given the activity did not have an official permit.

      “This moment marks a before and an after for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community but also for Cuban civil society more generally,” said independent journalist and LGBT activist Maykel Gonzalez Vivero.

      “Social media is playing its role and civil society demonstrated it has strength, and can go out onto the streets if necessary, and from now on the government will have to take that into account.”

      This was the second march organized independently of state institutions – hitherto a rare occurrence in Cuba – in just over a month, although the previous one, in defense of animal rights, had received a permit from local authorities.

      Activists called for their own parade after the state-run National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) earlier this week abruptly canceled its 12th annual conga against homophobia – Cuba’s equivalent of gay pride.

      CENESEX, headed by Mariela Castro, the daughter of Communist Party leader Raul Castro, said in a statement that certain groups were planning to use the event to undermine the government, emboldened by the escalation of aggression by the Trump administration against Cuba and its leftist ally Venezuela.

      The United States has for decades financed often covert programs to promote democracy on the island and undermine the Communist government.

      But many LGBT activists said they felt the government was reacting more to pressure from evangelical churches, which have a growing following in Cuba and have campaigned against the expansion of gay rights.

      CENESEX denounced the alternative parade as a “provocation” and several activists say they received threats either anonymously on social media or from state security in person not to attend it – not that it stopped them.

      “This isn’t a political march, this is a celebration to give the LGBT community visibility,” said Myrna Rosa Padron Dickson.


      Activists promoted the march on social networks thanks to the expansion of the internet in Cuba in recent years that has more broadly seen increasing numbers of Cubans mobilize online over certain issues, sometimes apparently managing to influence policy.

      The government for example postponed the full implementation of a decree clamping down on the arts after an online campaign protesting the law, and stepped back on regulations governing the private sector after entrepreneurs and experts complained.

      So far, however, the government has retained tight control over physical public spaces, mostly restricting marches to expressions of support for the government, like the recent Labor Day parade.

      The conga in Havana was an exception that became a regular occurrence, and a reminder that the government, which once sent gays to work camps in the early days of Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, had made considerable advances in LGBT rights in recent years.

      The country guarantees rights such as free sex-change operations and forbids discrimination on the basis of sexuality, in a region where some countries still have anti-sodomy laws.

      Some LGBT activists say they felt the cancellation of the conga was a sign those rights are being eroded, possibly because a recent public consultation over a new constitution revealed that there was more opposition to the community than previously thought.

      Many Cubans expressed their opposition to a change in the draft constitution that would have explicitly opened the door to gay marriage.

      Evangelical churches also ran unprecedented campaigns against the change, which was eventually watered down. (Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Additional Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Marguerita Choy)

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      Desperately seeking collusion: Rosanna Arquette tired of feeling ‘terrorized’ under Trump’s ‘fascist regime’

      Well, it certainly appears that Rosanna Arquette has had enough of the current “fascist regime” in the U.S. — a regime that somehow isn’t quite fascist enough to stop her from speaking her mind:

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      Arquette’s been an actress for a long time, and she still has the flair for the dramatic!

      Just some suggestions to consider.

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      Preparing for a future of drone-filled skies

      The last few months have considered an escalating series of incidents in which the harmful elements of dronings have loomed large in the public eye. In April, rumors of a coup in Saudi Arabia flared after a recreational droning was shot down when flying into an unauthorized zone in the capital. August ensure a drone attack on the president of Venezuela. In late December, 10,000 flights carrying 140,000 passengers were grounded over the course of 36 hours at Gatwick Airport in the United Kingdom. In the months since, a number of airports, ranging from Dublin to Dubai, have experienced delays on account of drone activity. The Gatwick incident alone is estimated to have cost the aviation industry as much as $90 million.

      While these are spectacular incidents, they speak to the growing ubiquity of dronings. Perhaps even more telling than those events were the efforts that authorities put into air security for the Super Bowl. In the days leading up to the event, PBS reported a “deluge” of dronings despite a ban on their presence in the airspace around the stadium.

      These incidents underline the conclusion that mapping the skies — as well as policing them — is moving from the theoretical to the practical. Only as Google took the noise of the early internet and arranged it into something comprehensible and navigable, so we need to organize and understand the sky as dronings become a growing part of civilian life.

      Most of the instances I outlined above are “bad drone” problems — problems related to drones that might be hostile — but understanding what entities are up in the air is critical for “good drone” problems too. While dronings have risen to prominence primarily as threatening entities, they’ll soon be central in more benign contexts, from agriculture and weather forecasting to deliveries and urban planning. We could soon pass a tipping point: In early 2018, the Federal Aviation Authority( FAA) announced that their droning registry had topped 1 million drones for the first time. While most of those were owned by hobbyists, the agency expects commercial drone numbers to quadruple by 2022. At some phase, it’s going to be vital that we have systems for ensuring “good drones” don’t accident into each other.

      We need to organize and understand the sky.

      For comparison, the FAA reports that in the U.S. there are around 500 aircontrol towers coordinating 43,000 airplane flights a day, with up to 5,000 aircrafts in the sky at any one moment. Some 20,000 airway transportation system experts and air traffic controllers spend their professional lives keeping those 5,000 airplanes from bumping into each other. Consider, then, the effort and resources required to prevent potentially hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of concurrently airborne drones from colliding. This a big problem with real stakes.

      Countless companies have emerged in recent years to tackle the challenge of organizing this ecosystem. Significant investor capital has gone into different approaches to making sense of a sky filled with drones, from point-sensor solution providers such as Echodyne and Iris Automation to drone management systems such as Kittyhawk, AirMap and Unifly. “Bad drone” solutions ranging from lasers and ground-based bazookas to malware and enormous net shields have cropped up.

      The most exciting approach, however, is a unified one that addresses both “good drone” and “bad drone” challenges; one that maps well-intentioned drones and defends against nefarious ones. In this case, knowledge is the first step to understanding, which enables suitable action. In practice, that means we need to start with a firm data layer — typically learned through a radar detecting system. That data layer permits practitioners to determine what and where entities are in the air.

      With that data in hand, understanding the nature of those entities becomes possible — specifically, if they’re benign or malicious. That designation enables the final step: action. For benign drones, that entails routing them to the right destination or ensuring they don’t crash into other drones. In the case of malicious drones, action means mobilizing one of the exciting solutions we mentioned above — malware, lasers or even defensive dronings to neutralize the potential threat.

      A full-stack approach is helpful for formulating a seamless response, but the most important element is the data layer. It’s still early days in the mainstreaming of dronings, but there’s great value in get a headstart on creating the infrastructural and security framework for when that moment arrives. Gathering data now devotes us more of a baseline for drones in the future. It also allows new entrants to offer solutions on top of that foundation. Furthermore, there are strong positive externalities at work here: As with cellular networks 25 years ago, the decision of early adopters to adopt detection and defense systems benefits others who are slower to move. When Gatwick sets that infrastructure in place, Heathrow benefits.

      Ultimately, there are as many — if not more — reasons to get excited about solving the problem of drone-filled skies as there are reasons to be concerned about their negative implications. Creating the rails for what Goldman Sachs estimated will be a $100+ billion marketplace is a tremendous opportunity. The sooner we plan for the positive implications of drones in addition to their malicious potential, the better.

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