As the world commemorates the United Nations’ International Day for Solidarity with Palestinians, it is important to remember that many countries in Latin America have been some of the most vocal supporters of Palestine and its people.
On several occasions Palestinian officials have expressed their gratitude to Latin American countries for their support, which at times is larger than support from neighboring Arab nations.
This support is translated through opening borders for Palestinian refugees and students, hosting high-level officials from Palestine as well as continually condemning the harsh treatment of Israel towards the Palestinian people through occupation, human rights violations, settlement construction and open discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Last year, Palestinian Ambassador to Caracas Linda Sobeh Ali speaking to Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro said: “You and the people of Latin America have shown us more support than some of our Arab brothers. Thank you.”
1 – Syrian and Palestinian refugees welcomed by Argentina
In September 2015, Argentina government announced that Syrian and Palestinian refugees were welcome into the country at a time when European nations were militarizing its borders to deter entry to thousands of people fleeing the war-torn country. Refugees would receive a two-year residence permit as soon as they arrive into the country.
2 – Latin America united in support for Palestinians during Israel’s war on Gaza
In August, Latin American leaders harshly condemned the Israeli government over its 50-day war against Gaza in summer 2014, including Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, and Evo Morales of Bolivia. Several countries in the region downgraded relations with Israel, while others recalled ambassadors.
3 – Venezuela hosts congress on Palestinian Right of Return April 2015
In April 2015 Venezuela hosted the first Latin American Congress of the Global Campaign to Return to Palestine, being held until Friday in the capital of Caracas. The campaign was founded two years ago as an effort to coordinate the work of Palestinian solidarity activists at a global level. It gives particular attention to demand for the right-of-return of Palestinians who were forcibly displaced by militant Zionists during the foundation of the state of Israel.
4 – Chile hosts PLO official in a 5-day visit to strengthen ties with Palestine
In August 2015, Palestinian Liberation Organization official Saeb Erekat took a five-day visit to Chile where he visited the Arab School in Santiago, met with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, the foreign minister, as well as representatives of the Jewish community in Chile. Chile is home to more than 400,000 Palestinians and Palestinian descendants.
5 – A ‘Song for Palestine’ solidarity event in Ecuador
In July 2014, social organizations of Ecuador convened on to present “A song for Palestine”, an expression of solidarity with the Palestinian people in the face of attacks by the Israeli Defense Force against the Palestinian people in Gaza.
World demand for gas is growing faster than any other energy source, and will grow by a third in the next 25 years, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The growing demand opens up great opportunities for increasing production and exports of gas. At the same time, it’s a major challenge, because there’s a need to dramatically accelerate the development of new deposits, modernize the refining capacities, expand gas transportation infrastructure, bring into operation additional pipelines and make new LNG routes”, said Putin at a Gas Exporting Countries Forum in Tehran on Monday.
According to Putin, Russia seeks to increase its gas output by 40 percent by 2035, reaching 885 billion cubic meters. One of the biggest tasks ahead of Russia is to boost the supplies of gas to China, India and other Asian countries from the current 6 percent to 30 percent, said Putin. Kremlin also intends to triple the LNG supplies. He added that Russia would be able to deal with all these tasks.
During his visit, Putin is meeting with Iranian leaders. He’s talked to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei about energy cooperation, Syria and other key issues. Putin’s also meeting Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani.
The U.S. National Security Agency accessed the internal communications of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela and acquired sensitive data it planned to exploit in order to spy on the company’s top officials, according to a highly classified NSA document that reveals the operation was carried out in concert with the U.S. embassy in Caracas.
The March 2011 document, labeled, “top secret,” and provided by former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden, is being reported on in an exclusive partnership between teleSUR and The Intercept.
Drafted by an NSA signals development analyst, the document explains that PDVSA’s network, already compromised by U.S. intelligence, was further infiltrated after an NSA review in late 2010 – during President Barack Obama’s first term, which would suggest he ordered or at least authorized the operation – “showed telltale signs that things were getting stagnant on the Venezuelan Energy target set.” Most intelligence “was coming from warranted collection,” which likely refers to communications that were intercepted as they passed across U.S. soil. According to the analyst, “what little was coming from other collectors,” or warrantless surveillance, “was pretty sparse.”
Beyond efforts to infiltrate Venezuela’s most important company, the leaked NSA document highlights the existence of a secretive joint operation between the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency operating out of the U.S. embassy in Caracas. A fortress-like building just a few kilometers from PDVSA headquarters, the embassy sits on the top of a hill that gives those inside a commanding view of the Venezuelan capital.
Last year, Der Spiegel published top-secret documents detailing the state-of-the-art surveillance equipment that the NSA and CIA deploy to embassies around the world. That intelligence on PDVSA had grown “stagnant” was concerning to the U.S. intelligence community for a number of reasons, which its powerful surveillance capabilities could help address.
“Venezuela has some of the largest oil and natural gas reserves in the world,” the NSA document states, with revenue from oil and gas accounting “for roughly one third of GDP” and “more than half of all government revenues.”
“To understand PDVSA,” the NSA analyst explains, “is to understand the economic heart of Venezuela.”
Increasing surveillance on the leadership of PDVSA, the most important company in a South American nation seen as hostile to U.S. corporate interests, was a priority for the undisclosed NSA division to which the analyst reported. “Plainly speaking,” the analyst writes, they “wanted PDVSA information at the highest possible levels of the corporation – namely, the president and members of the Board of Directors.”
Given a task, the analyst got to work and, with the help of “sheer luck,” found his task easier than expected.
It began simply enough: with a visit to PDVSA’s website, “where I clicked on ‘Leadership’ and wrote down the names of the principals who would become my target list.” From there, the analyst “dumped the names” into PINWALE, the NSA’s primary database of previously intercepted digital communications, automatically culled using a dictionary of search terms called “selectors.” It was an almost immediate success.
In addition to email traffic, the analyst came across over 10,000 employee contact profiles full of email addresses, phone numbers, and other useful targeting information, including the usernames and passwords for over 900 PDVSA employees. One profile the analyst found was for Rafael Ramirez, PDVSA’s president from 2004 to 2014 and Venezuela’s current envoy to the United Nations. A similar entry turned up for Luis Vierma, the company’s former vice president of exploration and production.
“Now, even my old eyes could see that these things were a goldmine,” the analyst wrote. The entries were full of “work, home, and cell phones, email addresses, LOTS!” This type of information, referred to internally as “selectors,” can then be “tasked” across the NSA’s wide array of surveillance tools so that any relevant communications will be saved.
According to the analyst, the man to whom he reported “was thrilled!” But “it is what happened next that really made our day.”
“As I was analyzing the metadata,” the analyst explains, “I clicked on the ‘From IP’ and noticed something peculiar,” all of the employee profile, “over 10,000 of them, came from the same IP!!!” That, the analyst determined, meant “I had been looking at internal PDVSA comms all this time!!! I fired off a few emails to F6 here and in Caracas, and they confirmed it!”
“Metadata” is a broad term that can include the phone numbers a target has dialed, the duration of the call and from where it was placed, as well as the Wi-Fi networks used to access the Internet, the websites visited and the times accessed. That information can then be used to identify the user.
F6 is the NSA code name for a joint operation with the CIA known as the Special Collection Service, based in Beltsville, Maryland – and with agents posing as diplomats in dozens of U.S. embassies around the world, including Caracas, Bogota and Brasilia.
In 2013, Der Spiegel reported that it was this unit of the U.S. intelligence bureaucracy that had installed, within the U.S. embassy in Berlin, “sophisticated listening devices with which they can intercept virtually every popular method of communication: cellular signals, wireless networks and satellite communication.” The article suggested this is likely how the U.S. tapped into German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.
SCS at the U.S. embassy in Caracas played an active role throughout the espionage activities described in the NSA document. “I have been coordinating with Caracas,” the NSA analyst states, “who have been surveying their environment and sticking the results into XKEYSCORE.”
XKEYSCORE, as reported by The Intercept, processes a continuous “flow of Internet traffic from fiber optic cables that make up the backbone of the world’s communication network,” storing the data for 72 hours on a “rolling buffer” and “sweep[ing] up countless people’s Internet searches, emails, documents, usernames and passwords.”
The NSA’s combined databases are, essentially, “a very ugly version of Google with half the world’s information in it,” explained Matthew Green, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute, in an email. “They’re capturing so much information from their cable taps, that even the NSA analysts don’t know what they’ve got,” he added, “an analyst has to occasionally step in and manually dig through the data” to see if the information they want has already been collected.
That is exactly what the NSA analyst did in the case of PDVSA, which turned up even more leads to expand their collection efforts.
“I have been lucky enough to find several juicy pdf documents in there,” the NSA analyst wrote, “one of which has just been made a report.”
That report, dated January 2011, suggests a familiarity with the finances of PDVSA beyond that which was public knowledge, noting a decline in the theft and loss of oil.
“In addition, I have discovered a string that carries user ID’s and their passwords, and have recovered over 900 unique user/password combinations” the analyst wrote, which he forwarded to the NSA’s elite hacking team, Targeted Access Operations, along with other useful information and a “targeting request to see if we can pwn this network and especially, the boxes of PDVSA’s leadership.”
“Pwn,” in this context, means to successfully hack and gain full access to a computer or network. “Pwning” a computer, or “box,” would allow the hacker to monitor a user’s every keystroke.
A History of US Interest in Venezuelan Affairs
PDVSA has long been a target of U.S. intelligence agencies and the subject of intense scrutiny from U.S. diplomats. A February 17, 2009, cable, sent from the U.S. ambassador in Caracas to Washington and obtained by WikiLeaks, shows that PDVSA employees, were probed during visa interviews about their company’s internal operations. The embassy was particularly interested in the PDVSA’s strategy concerning litigation over Venezuela’s 2007 nationalization of the Cerro Negro oil project – and billions of dollars in assets owned by U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil.
“According to a PDVSA employee interviewed following his visa renewal, PDVSA is aggressively preparing its international arbitration case against ExxonMobil,” the cable notes.
A year before, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters that the U.S. government “fully support the efforts of ExxonMobil to get a just and fair compensation package for their assets.” But, he added, “We are not involved in that dispute.”
ExxonMobil is also at the center of a border dispute between Guyana and Venezuela. In May 2015, the company announced it had made a “significant oil discovery” in an offshore location claimed by both countries. The U.S. ambassador to Guyana has offered support for that country’s claim.
More recently, the U.S. government has begun leaking information to media about allegations against top Venezuelan officials.
In October, The Wall Street Journal reported in a piece, “U.S. Investigates Venezuelan Oil Giant,” that “agents from the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies” had recently met to discuss “various PDVSA-related probes.” The “wide-ranging investigations” reportedly have to do with whether former PDVSA President Rafael Ramirez and other executives accepted bribes.
Leaked news of the investigations came less than two months before Dec. 6 parliamentary elections in Venezuela. Ramirez, for his part, has rejected the accusations, which he claims are part of a “new campaign that wants to claim from us the recovery and revolutionary transformation of PDVSA.” Thanks to Chavez, he added, Venezuela’s oil belongs to “the people.”
In its piece on the accusations against him, The Wall Street Journal notes that during Ramirez’s time in office PDVSA became “an arm of the late President Hugo Chavez’s socialist revolution,” with money made from the sale of petroleum used “to pay for housing, appliances and food for the poor.”
The former PDVSA president is not the only Venezuelan official to be accused of corruption by the U.S. government. In May 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice accused Diosdado Cabello, president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, of being involved in cocaine trafficking and money laundering. Former Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami, the former director of military intelligence, Hugo Carvajal, and Nestor Reverol, head of the National Guard, have also faced similar accusations from the U.S. government.
None of these accusations against high-ranking Venezuelan officials has led to any indictments.
The timing of the charges, made in the court of public opinion rather than a courthouse, has led some to believe there’s another motive.
“These people despise us,” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said in October. He and his supporters argue the goal of the U.S. government’s selective leaks is to undermine his party ahead of the upcoming elections, helping install a right-wing opposition seen as friendlier to U.S. interests. “They believe that we belong to them.”
Loose Standards for NSA Intelligence Sharing
Ulterior motives or not, by the NSA’s own admission the intelligence it gathers on foreign targets may be disseminated widely among U.S. officials who may have more than justice on their minds.
According to a guide issued by the NSA on January 12, 2015, the communications of non-U.S. persons may be captured in bulk and retained if they are said to contain information concerning a plot against the United States or evidence of, “Transnational criminal threats, including illicit finance and sanctions evasion.” Any intelligence that is gathered may then be passed on to other agencies, such as the DEA, if it “is related to a crime that has been, is being, or is about to be committed.”
Spying for the sole purpose of protecting the interests of a corporation is ostensibly not allowed, though there are exceptions that do allow for what might be termed economic espionage.
“The collection of foreign private commercial information or trade secrets is authorized only to protect nation the national security of the United States or its partners and allies,” the agency states. It is not supposed to collect such information “to afford a competitive advantage to U.S. companies and U.S. business sectors commercially.” However, “Certain economic purposes, such as identifying trade or sanctions violations or government influence or direction, shall not constitute competitive advantage.”
In May 2011, two months after the leaked document was published in NSA’s internal newsletter, the U.S. State Department announced it was imposing sanctions on PDVSA – a state-owned enterprise, or one that could be said to be subject to “government influence or direction” – for business it conducted with the Islamic Republic of Iran between December 2010 and March 2011. The department did not say how it obtained information about the transactions, allegedly worth US$50 million.
Intelligence gathered with one stated purpose can also serve another, and the NSA’s already liberal rules on the sharing of what it gathers can also be bent in times of perceived emergency.
“If, due to unanticipated or extraordinary circumstances, NSA determines that it must take action in apparent departure from these procedures to protect the national security of the United States, such action may be taken” – after either consulting other branches of the intelligence bureaucracy. “If there is insufficient time for approval,” however, it may unilaterally take action.
Beyond the obvious importance of oil, leaked diplomatic cables show PDVSA was also on the U.S. radar because of its importance to Venezuela’s left-wing government. In 2009, another diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks shows the U.S. embassy in Caracas viewed PDVSA as crucial to the political operations of long-time foe and former President Hugo Chavez. In April 2002, Chavez was briefly overthrown in a coup that, according to The New York Times, as many as 200 officials in the George W. Bush administration – briefed by the CIA – knew about days before it was carried out.
The Venezuelan government was not informed of the plot.
“Since the December 2002-February 2003 oil sector strike, PDVSA has put itself at the service of President Chavez’s Bolivarian revolution, funding everything from domestic programs to Chavez’s geopolitical endeavors,” the 2009 cable states.
Why might that be a problem, from the U.S. government’s perspective? Another missive from the U.S. embassy in Caracas, this one sent in 2010, sheds some light: Chavez “appears determined to shape the hemisphere according to his vision of ‘socialism in the 21st century,’” it states, “a vision that is almost the mirror image of what the United States seeks.”
There was a time when not so long ago when the U.S. had an ally in Venezuela, one that shared its vision for the hemisphere – and invited a U.S. firm run by former U.S. intelligence officials to directly administer its information technology operations.
Amid a push for privatization under former Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera, in January 1997 PDVSA decided to outsource its IT system to a joint a company called Information, Business and Technology, or INTESA – the product of a joint venture between the oil company, which owned a 40 percent share of the new corporation, and the major U.S.-based defense contractor Science Applications International Corporation, or SAIC, which controlled 60 percent.
SAIC has close, long-standing ties to the U.S. intelligence community. At the time of its dealings with Venezuela, the company’s director was retired Admiral Bobby Inman. Before coming to SAIC, Inman served as the U.S. Director of Naval Intelligence and Vice Director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. Inman also served as deputy director of the CIA and, from 1977 to 1981, as director of the NSA.
In his book, “Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government,” author Gregory Wilpert notes that Inman was far from the only former intelligence official working for SAIC in a leadership role. Joining him were two former U.S. Secretaries of Defense, William Perry and Melvin Laird, a former director of the CIA, John Deutsch, and a former head of both the CIA and the Defense Department, Robert Gates. The company that those men controlled, INTESA, was given the job of managing “all of PDVSA’s data processing needs.”
In 2002, Venezuela, now led by a government seeking to roll back the privatizations of its predecessor, chose not to renew SAIC’s contract for another five years, a decision the company protested to the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which insures the overseas investments of U.S. corporations. In 2004, the U.S. agency ruled that by canceling its contract with SAIC the Venezuelan government had “expropriated” the company’s investment.
However, before that ruling, and before its operations were reincorporated by PDVSA, the company that SAIC controlled, INTESA, played a key role in an opposition-led strike aimed at shutting down the Venezuelan oil industry. In December 2002, eight months after the failed coup attempt and the same month its contract was set to expire, INTESA, the Venezuelan Ministry of Communication and Information alleges, “exercised its ability to control our computers by paralyzing the charge, discharge, and storage of crude at different terminals within the national grid.” The government alleges INTESA, which possessed the codes needed to access those terminals, refused to allow non-striking PDVSA employees access to the company’s control systems.
“The result,” Wilpert noted, “was that PDVSA could not transfer its data processing to new systems, nor could it process its orders for invoices for oil shipments. PDVSA ended up having to process such things manually because passwords and the general computing infrastructure were unavailable, causing the strike to be much more damaging to the company than it would have been if the data processing had been in PDVSA’s hands.”
PDVSA’s IT operations would become a strictly internal affair soon thereafter, though one never truly free from the prying eyes of hostile outsiders.
The head of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, criticized irregularities in the arrest of two Venezuelans, calling it a kidnapping.
The president of the Venezuela’s National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, strongly criticized the actions of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that arrested two Venezuelan nationals in Haiti, classifying it as a kidnapping.
“I do not see it as a detention, really, a plane went to Haiti (from Venezuela), it was travelling with six people and two people were kidnapped, this is what I understand, because the process was totally irregular,” said Cabello Monday during an interview on Globovision.
Two Venezuelan men, Efrain Antonio Campo Flores and Francisco Flores de Freitas, were arrested in Haiti last Tuesday on drug trafficking conspiracy charges. They were subsequently extradited to the United States on Wednesday.
Some media outlets falsely claimed that 800 kilos of drugs were found on the plane, however Haitian government officials later denied the claim. A DEA official who participated in the arrest told CNN that the pair were arrested over allegations that they were in Haiti to finalize a deal to import that quantity of drugs to the United States.
The other 4 individuals traveling on the plane were released without charge and the plane was allowed to return to Venezuela.
Cabello questioned why the DEA would allow the plane, associated with alleged drug trafficking, to be released. That only two people were ultimately arrested led the president of the National Assembly to classify the detention as a kidnapping.
The two individuals arrested are said to be the nephews of Cilia Flores, the wife of Venezuelan President Maduro. However, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest could not confirm they were in fact connected to Venezuela’s first family.
After the two men were arrested, some international media reported on Friday that authorities raided a house and yacht in La Romana, Dominican Republic, that allegedly belonged to the Flores family.
However, the Dominican national drug control agency dismissed the claims as “speculation,” saying there was no official information to suggest the house and yacht were property of the Flores family. The Dominican anti-drug agency also confirmed that the raid happened the day before the two men were arrested, even though the event was only reported and linked to the family days later.
Tania Diaz, a candidate for the upcoming Venezuelan legislative elections for the ruling socialist party said the media coverage of the arrest was part of an orchestrated campaign to influence the country’s upcoming Dec. 6 elections. The two men arrested appeared in court in New York last Thursday and must appear again on Wednesday.
Venezuela’s government erected a statue, in central Caracas, in honor to Guaicaipuro, the Indigenous chief who led the resistance against the Spanish colonialism 500 years ago.
The sculpture replaced a Christopher Columbus statue that stood there for over a century, until it was torn down in 2004 by a popular movement led by supporters of then President Hugo Chavez.
The statue was unveiled in a ceremony headed by President Nicolas Maduro and attended by top officials of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela and dozens of Indigenous leaders.
Indigenous people represent about 1.5 percent of the total population of Venezuela, there are at least 26 nationalities, including the Ya̧nomamo, Pemon, Warao people, Baniwa people, Kali’na people, Motilone Bari, Ye’kuana, and Yaruro. In 2002, the South American nation began to celebrate October 12 as the Day of Indigenous Resistance.
Guaicaipuro is seen by Venezuelans as a symbol of the Indigenous resistance against the Spanish conquest, he is also well known because he formed a powerful coalition of different tribes which he led during part of the 16th Century against the Spanish troops in the central region of the country, specially in the Caracas valley.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, speaking at the UN Security Council as it discussed the situation in the Middle East and northern Africa, said that it was “concerning” that after decades, the UN was still talking about Palestine, and was not standing up to the attacks on Syria.
She condemned the “illegal occupation” of Palestine and stated that, “Venezuela is a country that has historically condemned terrorism.” If there is a two-state solution between Palestine and Israel, “it should be two states that are truly equal and sovereign, not where there is terrorism and discrimination … we have to put effort into making this happen. There is a situation where the Israeli state is promoting terrorism and violating Palestinian human rights,” she said.
Talking then about Syria, where the U.S. claims to be attacking the Islamic State, and where Russia has, after talks with the Syrian government, agreed to attack the Islamic State group, Rodriguez said, “Terrorist groups aren’t born spontaneously, we want to know who finances them … This is a multilateral organization that respects international law, or are we here hypocritically, not condemning unilateral interventions (such as that by the U.S). What is the cost in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan? What do we want today for Syria? The same?”
“Why are we here if we don’t plan to respect international law?” she said.
“In Venezuela we call for abandoning hypocrisy and for real willingness to combat terrorism, and that it not be used to support a certain leader. The UN should assume its leadership and apply international law against aggressions against people. Syria should have sovereignty” over what occurs in its territory,” she concluded.
Caracas – Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders lashed out at the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez this week in response to a Clinton super PAC email linking him the late socialist leader.
“Yesterday, one of Hillary Clinton’s most prominent Super PACs attacked our campaign pretty viciously,” the independent Vermont senator told his supporters in a campaign fundraising email.
“They suggested I’d be friendly with Middle East terrorist organizations, and even tried to link me to a dead communist dictator,” the email continued, referring to Venezuela’s three time democratically-elected former president Hugo Chávez.
The statement came in response to a email circulated on Monday by the pro-Hillary Clinton super Political Action Committee (PAC) Correct the Record, comparing Sanders to the newly elected head of Britain’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.
Following Sanders’ praise for the left-leaning Labour MP upon his victory this past Saturday, the Clinton campaign took aim at the self-proclaimed democratic socialist politician, seeking to link him with Corbyn’s “most extreme comments”.
Corbyn has been branded a “national security threat” by UK Prime Minister David Cameron for his foreign policy postures, which include opposition to NATO and support for the “electoral democratic credentials” of Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution.
Breaking with its hitherto standing policy of refraining from criticizing Sanders, the Clinton campaign sought to draw links between the two anti-party establishment progressives, pointing to the Vermont independent’s role in negotiating a 2005 deal with the Bolivarian government to bring free and discounted home heating oil to the poor in northeastern US cities.
However, Sanders’ distancing from Chávez, labeling him a “dead communist dictator” has caused disenchantment in some circles, who reject what they view as an offensive characterization of the immensely popular, democratically-elected late president, whose socialist government has won eighteen internationally recognized elections since 1998.
“Venezuela has become . . . the bad guy. We’re the villain,” Venezuela’s chargé d’affaires in Washington, Maximilien Sanchez Arvelaiz, told reporters.
In March, President Obama issued an executive order branding Venezuela a “national security threat” and imposing sanctions over unproven allegations of “human rights violations”.
Sanders, who has surpassed Hillary Clinton in the Iowa and New Hampshire polls, has up until recently avoided issuing statements on US foreign policy, preferring to focus on confronting economic inequality.
“For the left, Hugo Chavez is/was a reference,” Sanchez asserted, noting that Jeremy Corbyn recently won a landslide victory notwithstanding his public endorsement of the revolutionary Venezuelan leader and his democratic socialist project.
Meanwhile, the Sanders campaign has made fresh statements in response to the Clinton attacks, further disavowing any links with Chávez.
“To equate bringing home heating oil to low-income Vermonters with support for the Chavez government is dishonest,” Sanders spokesperson Michael Briggs told the Huffington Post.
Caracas – In the lead-up to talks with his Colombian counterpart, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro proposed a series of measures aimed at resolving the tense border conflict, including the sale of Venezuelan gasoline in the Colombian border city of Cucuta.
Tensions between the two neighbors have been on the rise since mid-August when Maduro ordered a 60-day closure of sections of the joint border in response to an alleged paramilitary attack on three Venezuelan soldiers in the frontier zone.
As Maduro prepares to sit down with Colombia’s Santos in the coming days, the socialist leader announced Friday the creation of Mission New Border of Peace, which will be charged with expanding all of Venezuela’s social missions established over the previous sixteen years to the border zone.
“This mission is aimed at bringing all of the missions, Homes of the Motherland, Barrio Adentro, Robinson, health and educational missions to teach people there to read and write, [give them their] elementary, secondary, and university education.”
The Venezuelan Head of State also announced a proposal to sell Venezuelan gasoline in the Colombian border city of Cucuta at preferential rates, favoring “cab drivers, workers, professionals, poor people.”
“We are ready to do it, President Santos, as soon as we sit down to talk, because this is how it works, proposal, counter-proposal, conversation, dialogue, and results,” he stated.
Colombian frontier cities such as Cucuta are an estimated 80% dependent on contraband Venezuelan gasoline, which is smuggled across the border at a rate of approximately 100,000 liters daily.
New Border Closures
President Maduro’s initiatives were followed on Tuesday with the announcement of new border closures in ten municipalities along the Colombian border, including seven in the northwestern state of Zulia and three in southwestern Apure state.
These border municipalities, comprising Jesus Enrique Lossada, Rosario de Perija, Machique de Perija, Cañada de Urdaneta, Jesus Maria Semprun, Paez, Catatumbo, Colon, Romulo Gallegos and Pedro Camejo, will be the first to see the roll-out of Mission New Border of Peace, aimed at creating social and economic alternatives to paramilitarism and contraband.
Cross-border smuggling has played a key role in what the President Maduro has termed an economic war against Venezuela, with an estimated 35% of subsidized food items making their way to Colombia.
“Airtec Inc. has been awarded a contract for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) services in support of the U.S. Southern Command. The deal is expected to be completed in September 2018. The contractor will provide ISR services utilizing a Bombardier DHC-8/200.
According to José Vicente Rangel, a Venezuelan journalist, the aircraft will be equipped with cutting-edge equipment to effectively survey the border areas of Venezuela.”
The US special services have applied a lot of effort to incite tensions in the “conflict zone” on the border between the two states. There are forces in the ranks of Colombian political and military leadership that are ready to help Washington in its subversive operations against the “main regional adversary”. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, a henchman of tycoons’ families, has said many a time that he supports further progress in the “special relationship” with Washington, including military ties. Santos believes that the deployment of seven US military facilities on Colombian soil is a step on the way of engaging Colombian military in NATO activities. Bogota is an integral part of the US plan to restore its dominant position in the region.
Colombia is used to undermine the process of Latin American and Caribbean integration. Nicolas Maduro, the President of Venezuela, displays great tolerance against the backdrop of hostile actions undertaken by Colombia. American supervisors apply no special effort to conceal their involvement. The intention is evident – the opposition is trying to prove tha Maduro’s government is unable to get the national economy back on track and fill Venezuelan stores to meet the legitimate demands of consumers for essentials. Internal sabotage is assisted by the activities of smugglers operating in Colombian territory.
Joint efforts are required to fight smuggling but Colombian border guards do nothing to interrupt the criminal activities often headed by former paramilitares (paramilitaries), the militants of AUC (the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia). According to Venezuelan counterintelligence, their leaders collaborate with Colombian power structures.
AUC fighters have recently staged a provocation near the border area. They laid an ambush for a Venezuelan patrol in pursuit of smugglers. Shots were fired and three servicemen were seriously wounded. President Maduro immediately introduced the state of emergency in one of the areas near the Colombian border (the state of Táchira) and sealed the border for an uncertain period of time. Police and military reinforcements were sent out to find the attackers. Venezuela launched operations to pinpoint the paramilitares strongpoints – the bunkers serving as prisons for kidnapped people and stashes of smuggled goods. Thirty five militants have been arrested so far. The interrogations provided information on the scale of crimes perpetrated by paramilitares in Venezuela, including even existence of secret burial places. Maduro said the findings about the activities of criminals and armed formations reveal the horrible truth and he, as president, has an obligation to do away with this evil in Venezuela.
His tough stand is justified. The economic war against Venezuela has come to the point when essentials, foodstuffs, hygiene stuffs and medicals evaporate from the stores located in the vicinity of border areas. Everything is taken out of the country – clothes, shoes, car parts, tires and oil production equipment. Filling stations run out of fuel. Gasoline prices are extremely low in Venezuela. It takes only 2 USD to fill a tank. That’s why great quantities of Venezuelan fuel are transported to Colombia along the whole length of the countries’ border. According to official data, the small town of San Cristobal, Táchira’s capital, “has consumed” more gas than Caracas. It has gone far enough. The situation has reached the point when gas smuggling brings more profit to Colombian paramilitares than drug trafficking!
Smuggling thrives because there is a great difference in the prices of consumer goods (Venezuela allocates subsidies to bring the prices down). The rate of bolivar, the Venezuela’s currency, is used for large-scale scams. The Colombian city of Cúcuta has become the center of financial and economic subversive activities. It boasts around three thousand currency exchange shops. The general strategy is to devalue the bolivar. It results in impoverishment of people and increasing discontent in Venezuela.
Cúcuta has always played an important part in conspirators’ plans. The US Defense Intelligence Agency and the Central Intelligence agencies are active there. This is the place where radical cells of Venezuelan opposition get instructions. The leaders of three groups formed especially for anti-Venezuelan activities – El Centro de Pensamiento Primero Colombia» (the Center of Thought Foundation – Colombia First), FTI Consulting (Forensic Technologies International) and La Fundación Internacionalismo Democrático (the Democratic Internationalism Foundation) – hold their meetings there. The anti-Venezuelan conspiracy is led by former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency in mid-80s. The Agency used damaging information. He was number 82 on the list of drug dealers prepared by the US Drug Enforcement Administration. During all eight years of his tenure President Uribe was involved in subversive activities against Hugo Chavez trying to isolate the “Bolivarian regime” in the Western Hemisphere. With good reason the Venezuelan intelligence agencies consider him to be the key figure in the US-led plot to overthrow the “Maduro regime”.
The Sanchez government of Colombia enjoys the support of Western media, especially by the New York Times and the Washington Post. Their editorials say essentially the same thing. They spread the idea that the “border problem” with Colombia has been “invented by Maduro” and this entire hullabaloo is raised with the purpose to ratchet up the Venezuelan President’s support before the parliamentary election. Not a word is said about five and half million Colombians residing in Venezuela, part of them as refugees who fled the civil war, the activities of paramiltares, drug traffickers and smugglers operating on Colombian soil. Venezuela’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has hit the nail right on the head when it disclosed the purpose of these publications. According to the Ministry, it’s all part of another plot staged by US media against Venezuela and its Bolivarian revolution.
Roy Chaderton, the Venezuelan Ambassador to the Organization of American States, said such Columbian media outlets as El Tiempo, RCN and Caracol radio stations and TV channels, as well as CNN Spanish language broadcasts, incite hatred towards Venezuela and its people. According to him, this hatred campaign could lead to a war. This scenario was avoided because Venezuelan leaders adopted quite different behavior patterns giving “positive signs” to Colombia. The Ambassador called on all the diplomats accredited with the Organization of American States not to trust Colombian media outlets waging a war of the fourth generation.
The US State Department made a statement regarding the closure of the border. It emphasized the humanitarian aspect of the problem and recommended to normalize the situation with the help of regional organizations. It said US diplomats were ready to contribute toward launching a dialogue. But there are different types of diplomats. For instance, according to Contrainjerencia, a respectable website, Kevin M. Whitaker, the US Ambassador to Colombia, served as the head of CIA station in Venezuela in 2006. It’s hard to believe that Whitaker and the like will really do anything positive. They have a quite different missions to carry out.
Gone With the River, or Dauna: Lo que lleva el río in Spanish, directed by Venezuelan-based Cuban filmmaker Mario Crespo. | Photo: Twitter | @anagaly20
A Venezuelan movie spoken almost entirely in the Indigenous Warao language was selected last week to represent the country in the 2016 Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film.
The 10 members of the National Association of Cinematographic Authors unanimously chose the film on the Indigenous Warao tribe for “the universality of the theme, its cinematographic values, the poetic presence of nature, and the profound glance into the Warao culture,” El Universal reported.
Gone With the River, or Dauna: Lo que lleva el río in Spanish, directed by Venezuelan-based Cuban filmmaker Mario Crespo has already been selected earlier this year by the Berlin Film Festival for its “NATIVe” program, especially dedicated to films on Indigenous people.
The film tells the story of Dauna, a member of the Warao tribe who is forced to confront cultural norms and traditions after deciding to move away from her people located in the Orinoco delta to pursue academic interests.
“The story serves as a vehicle to speak to the audience about the need to understand multiculturalism, and understand that women, whether she is indigenous or wherever she is, have as much right as men to grow and excel,” the director said.
The film was shot at the Orinoco delta where the Warao people have historically been located and is spoken almost entirely in the Warao language.
Warao is spoken by about 28,000 people primarily in northern Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname.
It all began in 1835 when the British Empire sent a German-born naturalist and explorer to conduct geographical research in the South American territory it had colonized and named British Guiana. In the course of his explorations, a map was drawn that well-exceeded the original western boundary first occupied by the Dutch and later passed to British control. Sparking the interest of the Empire’s desire to expand its borders into the area west of the Essequibo River that was rich in gold, the British government commissioned the explorer to survey their territorial boundaries. What became known as the “Schomburgk Line”, named after the explorer, Robert Hermann Schomburgk, usurped a large portion of Venezuelan land, and provoked the beginning of a territorial dispute that has remained unresolved to this day.
In 1850, after decades of arguing over the boundary line dividing Venezuela from its colonized neighbor, both sides agreed not to occupy the disputed territory until further determinations could be made. But as the demand for gold and other natural resources grew in the region, the British again tried to claim the territory declaring the Schomburgk Line the frontier of British Guiana, in clear violation of the previous accord with Venezuela.
Ironically, Venezuela appealed to the United States government for help at the time, using the Monroe Doctrine as a justification to prevent further colonization by the British Empire in the hemisphere. US President Grover Cleveland eventually declared the matter of US interest and forced Great Britain to sign a Treaty of Arbitration with Venezuela in Washington in 1897. Two years later, the Arbitration Tribunal, which had no representatives from Venezuela but instead two arbitrators from the United States said to be acting in Venezuela’s interest, ruled in favor of Britain. Venezuela rejected the decision, alleging there had been political collusion and illegal pressures in favor of the other side. These claims were supported by a letter written by Severo Mallet-Prevost, the Official Secretary of the US/Venezuela delegation in the Arbitration Tribunal who revealed the President of the Tribunal, Friedrich Martens had pressured the arbitrators to decide in favor of Great Britain.
More than half a century went by until the dispute was re-introduced on the international stage, this time at the United Nations. Venezuela denounced the corruption that had led to the arbitrators decision in 1899 and reiterated its claim over the territory known as the “Essequibo”. In February 1966, at a meeting in Geneva, all parties to the conflict – Venezuela, British Guiana and Great Britain – signed the agreement to resolve the dispute over the border between Venezuela and British Guiana, known as the Treaty of Geneva. They agreed neither side would act on the disputed territory until they could resolve a definitive border, acceptable to all parties. Months later, in May 1966, Guyana achieved its independence from the United Kingdom, further complicating matters. On subsequent maps of Venezuela and Guyana, both countries claimed the territory as part of their sovereign land.
Despite minor disagreements since 1966, the dispute did not become the source of escalating regional tensions until 2015, when a large oil discovery was made by Exxon right smack in the middle of the Essequibo, and claimed by Guyana.
The Cooperative Republic of Guyana is the second poorest country in the Caribbean, only surpassing desolate Haiti in per capita income. The country’s main economic activity is agriculture, specifically rice and sugar production, which account for over 30% of export income. Despite being surrounded by vast oil and gas reserves in neighboring Venezuela, which has the largest oil reserves on the planet in its Orinoco River Basin, and nearby Trinidad and Tobago, up until recently Guyana had no known oil reserves within its territorial boundaries.
Enter Exxon Mobil, one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, and a declared enemy of Venezuela. Until 2007, Exxon had a significant investment through its Cerro Negro Project in Venezuela’s Orinoco River Basin. Initially, U.S. oil and geological experts had classified the oil-based substance found in mass quantities in that area to be bitumen, a thick black tar-like asphalt, therefore rendering it not subject to the 1976 Hydrocarbons Law in Venezuela that nationalized oil and gas reserves. After President Hugo Chavez suspected the area actually contained huge oil reserves, he had his own research done and was proved right: the Orinoco River Basin was certified with over 300 billion barrels of heavy-crude petroleum.
On May 1, 2007, Chavez officially declared all hydrocarbons in that region subject to the prior nationalization laws, legally binding any foreign companies operating there to engage in joint-ventures with the Venezuelan public oil company, PDVSA. The law required a minimum of 51% ownership by the Venezuelan state, with a maximum of 49% for foreign companies. Only two companies refused to cooperate with the new laws. Both were from the United States: ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil. Both sued Venezuela over the nationalizations.
ConocoPhillips’ claim was significantly smaller than Exxon’s, which demanded over $18 billion for the expropriation. Venezuela offered market value and the case went to an international arbitration tribunal that eventually ordered the Venezuelan government to pay Exxon $1.6 billion, a mere fraction of what the US oil giant had expected.
In an apparent act of revenge, Exxon found a way to get Venezuela’s oil without following Venezuela’s rules, albeit through illegal and potentially dangerous channels.
As the Obama administration was amping up hostility against Venezuela, declaring it via Executive Decree an “unusual and extraordinary threat to U.S. national security” and imposing potentially vast-reaching sanctions on government officials, Exxon was making a deal with Guyana to explore oil deposits in the disputed Essequibo territory.
In May 2015, just as Guyana was swearing in a new president, the conservative military officer David Granger, a close U.S. ally, Exxon was making a huge discovery in the Atlantic Ocean near the Venezuelan coast. According to reports, the deposits found by Exxon in the ’Liza-1 well’ hold over 700 million barrels of oil, worth about $40 billion today. The find could be a major game changer for Guyana, representing more than 12 times its current economic input, that is, if the oil actually belonged to Guyana instead of Venezuela.
On January 26, 2015, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden hosted the first Caribbean Energy Security Initiative, bringing heads of state and high-level officials from Caribbean nations together with multinational executives in Washington. The stated goal of the new initiative is to help Caribbean nations “create the conditions to attract private-sector investment”, but Biden made the true objective clear when he declared, “…whether it’s the Ukraine or the Caribbean, no country should be able to use natural resources as a tool of coercion against any other country.”
Without mentioning it by name, Biden was referring to Venezuela and its PetroCaribe program that provides subsidized oil and gas to Caribbean nations at virtually no upfront cost. PetroCaribe has been fundamental in aiding development in the region during the past ten years since its creation. And clearly, its perceived as a threat to U.S. influence in the Caribbean, and an affront to traditional corporate exploitation of small, developing nations.
In addition to the Obama administration sanctions aimed at isolating Venezuela in the region and portraying it as a ‘failed state’, the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative takes a direct stab at Venezuela’s lifeline: oil. In the U.S. Senate Report on the Department of State’s Foreign Operations Budget for 2016, $5,000,000.00 was recommended for “enhanced efforts to help Latin America and Caribbean countries achieve greater energy independence from Venezuela”. Falling oil prices have already done damage to Venezuela’s economy, but forcing it out of the regional oil trade would hurt even more.
The main conundrum of figuring out how to replace Venezuelan oil in PetroCaribe was resolved with the stroke of a pen by Guyana’s new president, a former instructor at the U.S. Army War College who made a secret trip to the United States just three days after taking office in May. Hours later, Exxon’s oil exploration rig, Deepwater Champion made its first major lucrative discovery in the large Stabroek Block in the disputed coastal territory.
The Venezuelan government warned Exxon to leave the area, citing its claim over the Essequibo territory and the ongoing dispute with Guyana subject to UN mediation. But Exxon paid no heed to Venezuela, following President Granger’s lead in openly defying the Geneva Agreement and Venezuela’s calls to solve the conflict through diplomacy, involving the UN Good Offices in the resolution of the centuries-old dispute.
UN Secretary General Ban ki-moon has pledged to send a commission to both Venezuela and Guyana to seek resolution for a problem that now, as Washington hoped, is dividing the region. President Maduro and his Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez have been making their case before regional leaders, encouraging other Caribbean nations to support their claim over the Essequibo, or at least approve the involvement of the UN to arbitrate the dispute. In the meantime, Guyana continues to aggressively push forward with Exxon to pursue what could become the largest oil theft in the Americas.
Eva Golinger is the author of The Chavez Code.
Indigenous leader Sabino Romero of the Yukpa was murdered in 2013
One of the accused murderers of the prominent Venezuelan indigenous leader Sabino Romero was sentenced to 30 years in prison for homicide on Friday in a landmark move to prosecute the killer of an indigenous person for the first time.
Angel Romero Bracho, known as “El Manguera,” was given the maximum sentence for his role in Sabino’s murder, according to a statement from the attorney General’s office. Another five suspects had already been sentenced to seven years in prison for their involvement in the crime.
Sabino, a leader of the Yukpa indigenous group in western Venezuela and famed national symbol of indigenous resistance, was killed in March 2013 after a heated land conflict between indigenous groups with legal title to the land and large ranchers who wanted to stake their claim to the farmland.
Although the trial in the case of Sabino’s death was lengthy, justice has finally been served in a historic ruling to punish the murderer of an indigenous leader. Violence against indigenous people has long been treated with impunity in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America. While the national government has taken many steps to support indigenous rights, ranchers are usually able to bribe judicial officials. In the trial of Romero Bracho, the public prosector received death threats.
Family members and supporters hope that the conviction against Romero Bracho will pave the way to further investigations to punish the other masterminds behind the murder.
“Sabino Romero has denouced threats and violence in the Sierra de Perija of the latifundistas against the Yukpa people.”
Sabino was the target of an assassination plot in the western Venezuelan state of Zulia for his role in the indigenous struggle against large ranchers who sought to monopolize landholdings, even though indigenous campesinos held legal title to the land under an agrarian reform law implemented by former President Hugo Chavez in 2001.
Sabino’s wife and fellow movement activist Lucia Martinez was also injured in the attack.
Sabino was a well-known and important leader among the Yukpa people, but also stood as a national icon of the broader indigenous movement and struggle for indigenous rights.