Trump Says ‘Animals’ Comment Refers to Criminals, Mexico Protests

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was referring to criminal gangs when he called some illegal immigrants “animals,” a term the Mexican government labeled as unacceptable and which drew rebukes on social media.

Trump made the remarks on Wednesday during a meeting with California municipal leaders who support his goal of making the U.S. border impervious to illegal immigration.

“We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in, and we’re stopping a lot of them, but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals,” Trump said.

Mexico’s government said it would file a formal complaint with the U.S. State Department over the remarks.

“President Trump referred to some immigrants, perhaps he had criminal gangs in mind, I don’t know, as animals, not as persons,” Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray told local TV station Televisa on Thursday. “In the opinion of the Mexican government, this is absolutely unacceptable and we are going to formally communicate this to the U.S. State Department today.”

Asked about the remarks, Trump said on Thursday they had been taken out of context.

“I’m referring and you know I’m referring to the MS-13 gangs that are coming in. I was talking about the MS-13. And if you look a little bit further on in the tape, you’ll see that,” Trump told reporters.

He also doubled down on his earlier comments.

“MS-13 – these are animals. … We need strong immigration laws. … We have laws that are laughed at on immigration. So when the MS-13 comes in, when the other gang members come into our country, I refer to them as animals and guess what, I always will,” Trump added.

Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said later on Thursday that Videgaray’s comments still stood.

Seeking to Win Favor

MS-13, which started in Los Angeles in the 1980s, has grown into a cross-border criminal organization with leadership in El Salvador that has 30,000 members worldwide and 10,000 in the United States, the U.S. Justice Department says.

At the meeting on Wednesday, Trump also voiced hostility for Mexico, which will be partnering with the United States and Canada in an unprecedented bid to host the soccer World Cup in all three countries in 2026. It is also part of the North American Free Trade Agreement that Trump has threatened to scuttle if it is not improved to his liking.

“Mexico does nothing for us,” Trump said at the meeting.

“Mexico talks but they do nothing for us, especially at the border. They certainly don’t help us much on trade.”

Despite Trump’s comments, Mexico has been working hard to win favor with the Trump administration in areas like diplomacy and migration, in the hopes of garnering a beneficial renegotiated NAFTA deal.

Since 2014, when Democratic President Barack Obama was in the White House, Mexico has more aggressively enforced its own southern border, detaining and deporting tens of thousands of immigrants, many of whom hail from the poor, violent Central American nations of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Colombia Evacuates 5,000 People Amid Fears Dam May Burst

Colombia has ordered the evacuation of nearly 5,000 people living along the Cauca river in the northern part of the country after construction problems at a hydroelectric dam prompted fears of massive flooding.

Heavy rains have increased water levels in the Cauca, which feeds the Ituango Dam in Antioquia province, the country’s largest-ever hydroelectric project. Problems with filling mechanisms and tunnels at the dam have authorities on high alert.

“We are working jointly with all institutions on the worst-case scenario, which is the breaking of the dam, which would provoke a huge flood in down-river municipalities,” said Jorge Londono, the head of Empresas Publicas de Medellin, the public utility company that owns the dam.

“That’s a catastrophic scenario,” Londono added.

The dam, which has not yet begun power generation, has cost nearly $4 billion to build and is meant to generate 17 percent of Colombia’s electricity needs. A total of 4,985 people from down-river areas were moved to shelters away from the flood zone, the Andean country’s disaster agency said in a statement.

Some 200,000 people live in the 12 towns and populated areas in Antioquia, Bolivar, Cordoba and Sucre provinces that could eventually be affected by possible flooding, authorities said.

 

 

Brazil Arrests 132 in Online Child Porn Operation

Brazilian police arrested 132 men Thursday in the country’s largest offensive against child pornography on the internet, seizing more than 1 million picture

files in 284 cities across the country, the government said.

The operation involved 2,600 police officers, who seized computers, flash drives and cellphones for inspection.

Public Security Minister Raul Jungmann said the men arrested in the operation faced charges of sexual exploitation of children and adolescents.

Under Brazilian law, anyone found in possession of child pornography can face a prison sentence of up to four years, increasing to six years for selling pictures and eight years for producing pornographic material with children.

“This was the biggest ever coordinated police operation in Brazil and the largest in the world in one single day against the crimes of child abuse and sexual exploitation of children,” Jungmann said at a news conference.

An earlier operation in October against online child pornography led to 112 arrests.

Utah Man Jailed in Venezuela Pleas for Freedom in Video

A Utah man imprisoned in Venezuela for two years without a trial is making an emotional plea for Americans’ help getting out of a Caracas jail, saying Wednesday in a clandestinely shot video that his life was threatened during a riot in the country’s most-notorious prison.

In two 20-second videos shot on a cellphone and posted on his Facebook page, a visibly distraught Joshua Holt suggested that his patience is running out with the U.S. government, which has made his release a top priority in its dealings with Venezuela’s socialist government.

“I’ve been begging my government for two years. They say they’re doing things but I’m still here,” said Holt. 

The 26-year-old Holt traveled to Venezuela in 2016 to marry a fellow Mormon he met on the internet. Shortly afterward, the couple was arrested at her family’s apartment in a Caracas public housing project after police said they found him stockpiling an assault weapon and grenades.

“Please my fellow Americans don’t allow me to continue suffering in Venezuela,” Holt said in a written message, also posted on his Facebook page. “I am not a political pawn I am a human being a child of God and I just want to live happy with my wife and children. I have NEVER done anything wrong in my life. Please help me!”

His first-ever video message from jail came amid what the U.S. government described as a “riot” Wednesday by fellow inmates, including some of President Nicolas Maduro’s top opponents being held alongside the American. The disturbance, the extent of which was not immediately known, came as Venezuelans are on edge days before a presidential election that Maduro is widely expected to win despite a crushing economic crisis marked by widespread shortages and hyperinflation.

“The people have taken the entire prison. They’re trying to break in. They’re saying they want to kill me. They’re saying they want me as their guarantee,” Holt said in one of the videos, without clarifying who was allegedly trying to harm him. 

Chief Prosecutor Tarek William Saab sent a commission to the El Helicoide prison to speak with a representative of the inmates. While he didn’t provide details about the disturbance, or what sparked it, he said on Twitter that the delegates offered to coordinate with prison and judicial authorities to address the demands of inmates at El Helicoide, which is the headquarters of the feared Sebin intelligence police.

The inmates were demanding due process rights like speedier hearings and the immediate freedom for prisoners who have received a judge’s release order. Foro Penal, a lawyer cooperative, said 20 of the 54 detainees there that the opposition deems to be political prisoners have been granted parole, but are having their release blocked by the government for no stated reasons.

Socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello accused the inmates of staging the revolt to spread anxiety ahead of Sunday’s vote.

The Trump administration has suggested there are political motives for Holt’s continued detention. His trial on weapons charges was scheduled to start Tuesday but Holt and his wife, Thamara Caleno, were never taken to the courthouse by their jailers.

“The Sebin has told me that as long as my government continues attacking this government and as long as Marco Rubio continues talking about me the longer that they will never let me go,” Holt said in a written message, referring to the Republican senator from Florida who has accused Maduro of keeping Holt as a “hostage” to extract concessions from the U.S. 

The Trump administration has warned that it could put crippling oil sanctions on Venezuela if Maduro goes ahead with what the U.S. and others consider a sham presidential election Sunday. Several of Maduro’s top opponents are barred from running.

A group of about 30 people, many of them family members of inmates considered by many to be political prisoners, gathered outside the jail to seek information about their loved ones as a number of videos and audio recordings from inside the jail flooded social media. None of the prisoners’ claims could be verified by The Associated Press.

In one, Daniel Ceballos, a former opposition mayor, is seen trying to jimmy open the padlock on a cell using a dumbbell and iron rod. In another, a shirtless youth runs down a narrow hallway and knocks out an overhead light with a long stick to shouts of encouragement by other inmates. 

Amid statements of concern by Utah’s congressional delegation, Todd Robinson, the top American diplomat in Venezuela, rushed to the foreign ministry to seek information about Holt. But he left shortly after nightfall with no answers, saying he was unable to meet with the foreign minister and other officials, including Maduro, either didn’t take the embassy’s calls or claimed not to have any knowledge about the case.

“We are concerned about the riot at El Helicoide,” Robinson said, referring to the helix-shaped building where Maduro’s top opponents are being held. 

“Joshua Holt and other U.S. citizens are in danger,” he added. “The government of Venezuela is directly responsible for their safety and will be held responsible if anything happens to them. We renew our call for the government to release Joshua Holt on humanitarian grounds.”

Guatemala Embassy Move Seen as Domestic Win

Guatemala’s move of its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Wednesday was the culmination of long-standing friendly ties between the two nations.

It’s also seen by many as an attempt to curry favor with the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, which two days earlier inaugurated its own embassy in disputed Jerusalem.

Perhaps most important, it is considered an easy domestic victory for Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, whose government is beset by economic problems, gang violence and corruption allegations that continue to dog him and those close to him.

“I think it’s driven much more by domestic factors in Guatemala, the right-wing evangelical support for both Morales and their support for the state of Israel,” said Michael Allison, a political scientist specializing in Central America at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.

“Morales and many in the Guatemalan political and economic elite were in favor of moving their embassy,” Allison said. “They would not have done it without the U.S. doing it first, but it is not as if they were doing something that went against what they wanted to do.” 

Israel has always claimed Jerusalem as its capital, but other countries put their embassies in Tel Aviv because of the holy city’s contested status — Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

This week’s embassy moves came amid protests in Gaza that saw nearly 60 Palestinians killed by Israeli troops during clashes along the border.

Second to recognize Israel

Guatemala became the second country to recognize the Israeli state, in 1948, and it was the first to put its embassy in Jerusalem, in 1956. It shifted its legation to Tel Aviv 24 years later after the Israeli parliament declared Jerusalem the eternal and indivisible capital in contravention of a U.N. resolution.

The close relationship continued during Guatemala’s 1960-96 civil war. When the U.S. banned arms sales over military human rights abuses during the 1978-82 government of General Romeo Lucas Garcia, Israel provided intelligence systems and Israeli-made arms such as Galil rifles.

Even before the embassy move, Guatemala’s congress began pushing for closer relations and in April declared that Guatemala would observe each May 14 as a “national day of friendship with Israel.”

“It is the right thing to do,” Morales has said of moving the embassy.

Just as for Trump, moving Guatemala’s embassy plays well with an important part of the electoral base of Morales, an evangelical Christian whom like-minded voters helped usher into office in 2015. At least one evangelical pastor accompanied Morales to Israel for Wednesday’s inauguration.

“They [the Evangelical Alliance] exert some level of pressure over him and see the switch as positive,” said Enrique Godoy, a Guatemalan political analyst.

That kind of domestic win comes as Morales is under increasing pressure because of corruption investigations in Guatemala that have picked up steam in recent years, even leading to the imprisonment of former President Otto Perez Molina.

On Tuesday night, investigators revealed new details of a probe against Morales relating to purported illicit campaign financing and said the material is sufficient to again seek to have his immunity from prosecution lifted.

Morales has denied wrongdoing.

A U.N.-sponsored commission in Guatemala has been a key driver of that and other corruption investigations, along with the country’s crusading top prosecutor. Morales has sought — so far unsuccessfully — to expel the commission’s chief and persuade the United Nations to rein it in.

U.S. support

The U.S. has been a strong supporter of the anti-corruption agenda. “Guatemala’s government has been looking for ways to diminish that support,” said Adriana Beltran, director for citizen security at the Washington Office on Latin America, a U.S.-based think tank.

Guatemala is also a recipient of U.S. security and development aid, and it stands to be hurt if the United States deports Guatemalan migrants in mass numbers.

So far there is no indication that Guatemala has received anything from Washington in a quid pro quo, though Trump expressed appreciation for Morales’ support on the embassy issue in February when the two met in Washington.

Moving its embassy certainly didn’t hurt Guatemala’s standing in the eyes of pro-Israel groups and some U.S. lawmakers such as Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who recently put a hold on $6 million in U.S. funding for the U.N. anti-graft commission over an unrelated issue.

Manuel Villacorta, a Guatemalan political sociologist, said part of Morales’ calculus is likely to seek international allies due to difficulties at home. But he predicted that while the strategy may have yielded a quick win, over time Morales will still have to do more to solve core problems such as violence and corruption.

“This is a relief for him, it gives him oxygen, but only in the short term,” Villacorta said.

Elsewhere in Latin America, Honduras and Paraguay have also announced intentions to move their embassies to Jerusalem, though none has given a timetable. Some have speculated Honduras hoped to win an extension in temporary protected migration status for tens of thousands of its citizens living in the United States, but the Trump administration announced an end to those protections in early May.

Venezuelan Migrants Seethe at Maduro, Yet Sit Out Vote

Often arriving thin and penniless in South American capitals after long bus trips across the continent, many Venezuelan migrants blame President Nicolas Maduro for the crushing economic crisis that forced them to flee.

Yet, despite their anger, many in Venezuela’s fast-growing diaspora plan to abstain from Sunday’s presidential election, saying it is a sham vote designed to legitimize another six years in power for Maduro’s socialist government.

In dozens of interviews from Spain to the United States, Venezuelans abroad said they were pessimistic that Maduro would accept defeat at the ballot box. The former union leader has ruled the OPEC nation with an increasingly authoritarian hand since 2013, crushing opposition protests and jailing opponents.

Some of those who hoped to vote for Maduro’s low-profile challenger, former state governor Henri Falcon, said they were facing ever more obstacles to register at consulates, including a requirement that they prove residency in their adoptive country.

Venezuela’s Information Ministry, which handles media requests for the government, did not respond to a request for comment on voting conditions abroad.

Some opponents and academics say up to 4 million people — from a population of around 30 million — have fled Venezuela since Maduro’s predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez, won power two decades ago. 

The government dismisses that as exaggeration.

Yet despite their swelling numbers, Venezuelan emigres are unlikely to have a major impact on the election, which has been boycotted by the mainstream opposition parties and condemned by Washington.

“I have not heard of anyone trying to register,” said Garrinzon Gonzalez, executive director at the Venezuelan Union in Peru, which provides assistance to migrants.

Critics say Maduro has used state handouts of food to sway the vote of Venezuelans living hand-to-mouth due to salary-destroying hyperinflation, as well as coercing roughly 2.8 million state employees to vote for his government.

A compliant electoral council and a ban on the most prominent opposition politicians have further boosted Maduro.

Venezuela’s socialist government says a succession of electoral victories since 1998 indicate it has popular support.

Officials say the opposition’s boycott is anti-democratic and accuse Maduro’s rivals of sitting out the vote because they would lose.

‘Hardest time to vote’

There is no official data on the numbers of Venezuelans who have emigrated since Chavez launched a leftist “revolution” two decades ago in the once-prosperous nation.

According to the United Nations, nearly 1 million Venezuelans left between 2015 and 2017. Anecdotally, the trend seems to have accelerated this year.

An earlier wave of emigration saw many professionals leave by plane to Miami or Madrid with their savings intact.

But increasingly impoverished Venezuelans are fleeing by bus or on foot to neighboring Colombia and Brazil, as well as Argentina, Chile and Peru, where they often take low-paid jobs as waiters, construction workers or drivers.

Ignacio Avalos, one of the directors of the Venezuelan Electoral Observatory, an independent local election monitoring group, estimates that less than 10 percent of Venezuelans abroad are registered to vote.

Authorities did not respond to questions about how many overseas voters are registered. Authorities said earlier this year that more than 100,000 Venezuelans were registered to vote abroad.

Tough to register

In a report this month, the Observatory cited numerous obstacles hindering Venezuelans overseas from voting, including short opening hours at consulates, long backlogs and arbitrary conditions not demanded by law.

“Without a doubt this is the hardest time to be voting from abroad,” Avalos said.

Maduro did order in February the reopening of Venezuela’s consulate in Miami, saying that he wanted the local Venezuelan community to able to enroll to vote. Chavez had shuttered the consulate in 2012 just before his final presidential election.

The consulate did not respond to a request for information about whether it had reopened.

Two of the Venezuelans Reuters spoke to said they had no trouble registering to vote from abroad, although both did the process well before this electoral cycle.

In Madrid, several Venezuelans interviewed said the electoral register did not allow them to change their old addresses and that appointments at the embassy were near impossible to get.

“No-one goes in there, not even God,” said Vanessa Pineda, the head of a Spain-based Venezuelan opposition group.

The embassy did not respond to an emailed request for information.

‘Thousands of hurdles’

Maduro often disparages Venezuelans abroad, accusing them of being part of a “squalid” right-wing plot vying to discredit his brand of “21st century socialism.” He has mocked emigres for working in low-paying jobs.

“You don’t know how many of them are washing toilets in Miami. Would you wash toilets in Miami? Would you leave our beloved country?” Maduro said last month during a speech in the central state of Lara.

“I would never leave,” he added.

A minority of Venezuelan opposition figures think it is a mistake not to fight Maduro at the polls, as that almost certainly hands him a fresh six-year term.

“This could be our last chance to halt the crisis that keeps catapulting more and more Venezuelans into exile,” said lawyer Victor Sulbaran, 28, who in January emigrated to the U.S. state of Georgia.

A long-time activist for opposition candidate Falcon, Sulbaran was determined to cast a ballot.

But when in March he traveled to the Venezuelan consulate in New York, he was asked to submit a utilities bill proving that he resides in the United States. He eventually produced one but was then told internal systems were down.

It was only on his third attempt this month that consular officials told him he was successfully registered — but he has yet to receive a formal notification of a change of residency.

“They put down thousands of hurdles so that you can’t change your residency,” said Sulbaran, who is still unsure whether he will be able to vote for Falcon on Sunday. The Venezuelan consulate in New York responded that “requirements have always been the same. And all those who are registered must exercise the right to vote.”

Worried about family

One former engineer at Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, who asked not to be identified to avoid repercussions for his family back home, said he missed the deadline to change his voting center after he emigrated to Colombia last month.

But the former mid-level manager — who now works at a used cars and motorbikes store — said he had no interest in voting.

During past elections in Venezuela, he received text messages and calls from PDVSA pressuring him to vote for the government, a common experience for state employees.

“The government has taken control of all institutions and controls the electoral council so I don’t think it makes any difference whether we vote or not,” said the former manager, who now earns 28 times what he did back home in dollar terms.

“I’m carving out a new path for myself, starting again from the bottom to climb up slowly, and I want to leave Venezuela in the past.”

Who Are Venezuela’s Presidential Candidates?

Venezuela holds a presidential election on Sunday with incumbent leftist leader Nicolas Maduro expected to win, given a boycott by the mainstream opposition which says the vote is rigged to perpetuate a “dictatorship.”

The election comes amid a crippling economic and social crisis in the once-wealthy OPEC nation.

Following are some details about the main candidates:

Nicolas Maduro

The 55-year-old former union leader and bus driver does not have a university degree and proudly calls himself Venezuela’s first “worker president.”
Maduro has long promoted himself as the heir to “Chavismo,” the political movement begun by his late predecessor Hugo Chavez. His policies have remained very much in line with the maverick former leader.
His friendship with Chavez began in 1993 when Chavez was in jail following a coup attempt. “I will follow that man wherever he goes, I told myself. And that’s the way it was,” Maduro has said.
Maduro first entered politics in 2000 as a National Assembly legislator. He rose to become the body’s president, a role his powerful wife Cilia Flores would eventually take over.
As foreign minister from 2006, Maduro was a faithful ambassador expounding Chavez’s views around the world. He won plaudits from diplomats for his affable style and cultivated important friendships in Russia and China.
In late 2012, Chavez, suffering cancer, named Maduro vice president before endorsing him as his heir. “He was a bus driver. How the bourgeoisie mock him!” Chavez laughed.
That vote of confidence helped Maduro narrowly win the presidency in the April 2013 election, soon after Chavez’s death.
Maduro largely continued Chavez’s policies of nationalizations, currency and price controls and social handouts. Critics saw this as further damaging Venezuela’s economy and say reforms then would have helped avoid today’s crisis.
During Maduro’s tenure, hyperinflation has soared and supermarket shelves have emptied. Looting and rioting are common across the country given shortages and power outages. Voter disaffection propelled the opposition to win the 2015 parliamentary election, its first major electoral victory in nearly a decade.
Maduro blames Venezuela’s crisis on an “economic war” waged by Washington and the opposition. He promises to win that war should he be re-elected though critics point to his lack of reforms over the last five years.

Henri Falcon

Falcon is a 56-year-old former soldier and governor of Lara state. From humble roots, he studied law at a Caracas university.
His candidacy is controversial and he has been criticized by much of the opposition, which decided to boycott the election. In the eyes of many, Falcon only serves to legitimize Maduro’s inevitable win.
On the pro-government side, Falcon is widely seen as a traitor, having initially backed Chavez and then broken with the Socialist Party in 2010.
His key policy is to dollarize Venezuela’s economy, replacing the bolivar which has weakened well over 99 percent against the dollar since Maduro came to power. At rallies, he likes to give out mock $100 bills.
If elected, he says he will give a monthly welfare stipend of $25 to every adult and $10 to every child, and raise the minimum monthly wage to $75. He would also end strict currency controls.
Falcon and Wall Street heavyweight Francisco Rodriguez, his chief economic adviser, also plan to reform state oil company PDVSA, the government’s cash cow, by separating it from the Oil Ministry, asking the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to raise quotas and strengthening the role of foreign partners.
Falcon plans to free more than 200 jailed activists and politicians should he be elected, and allow foreign humanitarian aid into Venezuela.
Some see Falcon as a possible transition figure, able to unite two heavily divided groups.

Javier Bertucci

An evangelical pastor, Bertucci, 48, currently trails both Maduro and Falcon in the presidential polls. He is the founder of the Maranatha Church, which says it has fed millions across Venezuela.
Bertucci, like many evangelicals in Latin America, ardently opposes abortion and insists adoption should not be available for same-sex couples.
His candidacy has gained more traction than expected, not least thanks to popular soup handouts, but he is still seen as having little chance of success. He has no known political experience and had little name recognition in Venezuela prior to running.

More Chilean Sex Abuse Victims Speak Up During Pope Summit

Another group of Chilean church sex abuse victims is making its voice heard as the country’s Catholic leadership meets with Pope Francis, demanding that the Vatican recognize crimes, cover-ups and the need for reparation.

 

A statement from six named victims of the Marist Brothers religious community – and other unnamed survivors of Marist assaults – was issued Wednesday on the second day of the emergency summit Francis convened with 34 Chilean bishops.

 

The scandal within the Marists, who operate schools in 79 countries, exploded in August when the community in Chile revealed that at least 14 minors had been abused by a brother. Another brother abused at least five more.

 

In their statement, the victims said the Marists were still covering up the crimes, and attacking the credibility of survivors. They vowed to speak out so that parents with children in Marist schools would know what happened to them.

 

“We insist that the Vatican modify its discourse and rather than talk about pain, forgiveness and sin, it must urgently recognize crimes, misdeeds and reparation, and put all the information it has in the hands of the civilian justice system,” they said.

 

In a statement to The Associated Press late Wednesday, the Marists said that as soon as they received the accusations, superiors immediately removed the brothers from contact with minors, alerted Chilean prosecutors and offered victims psychological, legal and spiritual help. The community also launched a church investigation and asked the Vatican to remove the two brothers; a decision is pending.

 

Francis convened the Chilean church hierarchy in Rome after admitting he made “grave errors in judgment” about the case of a bishop, Juan Barros, accused by victims of Chile’s most well-known predator priest of witnessing and ignoring their abuse.

Francis had strongly defended Barros during his January trip to Chile, and sent in two Vatican experts to investigate after realizing something was amiss.

 

The investigators took testimony from the main victims of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, who was Barros’ superior. But the investigators also met with Marist victims and abuse victims of other priests in Chile, producing a 2,300-page dossier that is at the heart of this week’s meetings in the Vatican.

 

It’s unclear why Francis restricted the summit to Chilean bishops, since religious orders such as the Franciscans and Salesians, and communities such as the Marists operate somewhat independently of the diocesan bishop system, with their own superiors.

 

But in the case of the Marists, diocesan priests have also been implicated in the scandal, which involves allegations of abuse from decades ago through at least 2008. The victims have filed a criminal complaint against three Catholic priests, a Capuchin brother and six Marists. The allegations involve rape during camping trips and in the school locker rooms and showers.

 

In their Wednesday night statement, the Marists said they fully supported the legal action taken by victims, including the lifting of the statute of limitations.

 

“There is a total determination to apply the relative sanctions to those who are responsible,” the statement said.

 

It didn’t refer to the fact that many Chileans were outraged when the Marists admitted that the main brother accused had confessed in 2010, seven years before the community revealed the abuse.

 

“The actions that Pope Francis will take will be the only way to know if the times of cover-up inside the institution are over,” the victims wrote. “We’re concerned that the requests for forgiveness be translated into concrete and exemplary action.”

Venezuela’s Maduro Vows to FIx Economy That Some Say He Broke

Widely blamed for Venezuela’s unprecedented economic crisis, President Nicolas Maduro vowed on Tuesday to make “great changes” in the OPEC nation reeling from hyperinflation and shortages if re-elected this weekend.

The 55-year-old leftist, however, gave no specifics about how he would turn around Venezuela’s economy, mired in the fifth year of a grueling recession under his rule since 2013.

Despite pressure from political opponents and angst among millions of Venezuelans, Maduro has largely refused to make even minor reforms to the creaking state-led economy such as overhauling dysfunctional currency and price controls.

“Venezuela needs big economic changes and we are going to do it ourselves,” Maduro said at a rally in the bedroom community of Charallave, south of Caracas, prior to Sunday’s poll.

Though personally unpopular, Maduro is expected to win due to a boycott by the mainstream opposition, loyalists’ control of key institutions, and the vote-winning power of state handouts.

“If you give me your power on May 20, I swear … to you with my life that I will dedicate myself to making all the economic changes that Venezuela needs for rebirth,” added Maduro, who danced and sang under the Caribbean sun.

Maduro’s pledges ring hollow to many Venezuelans who blame him for salary-destroying hyperinflation, food shortages, the return of once-controlled diseases and mass emigration.

The president blames a U.S.-led “economic war”, including recent sanctions on the financial sector by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, for hardships.

Some observers expect him to take a harder line against companies after he is re-elected, likely exacerbating the crisis. Recent arrests of top executives at the country’s main private bank, Banesco, and two employees at U.S. oil major Chevron, have spooked the business sector.

“With little appetite to unwind the existing forex framework or otherwise adjust to stem hyperinflation, the government has few policy options beyond intervention and scapegoating,” said the Eurasia consultancy in a recent report.

Maduro’s main rival in Sunday’s vote, former state Governor Henri Falcon, is proposing dollarizing the economy, reversing botched nationalizations, and opening Venezuela to immediate emergency foreign aid.

“Which would you prefer to have – two petros or two dollars?” he asked a crowd in a poor Caracas neighborhood at a rally on Monday night. He was referring to a new cryptocurrency project, which Maduro has pitched as crucial to bypassing U.S. sanctions on the South American country.

“Dollars!” Falcon’s supporters roared back.

EU Says Cuba Could Help Broker Dialogue in Venezuela

The European Union’s top diplomat said on Tuesday Communist-run Cuba could help broker fresh dialogue between the government and opposition in Venezuela, despite Havana’s frequent assurances the crisis afflicting its leftist ally was a sovereign matter.

Federica Mogherini made the comments at a news conference in Brussels after hosting the EU’s first “joint council” with Cuba since the bloc dropped all sanctions on the island and agreed on a political framework within which to strengthen ties.

The EU has said it is now Cuba’s top trade and investment partner, and arguably plays a bigger role than traditional allies like Venezuela or Russia as the island implements market reforms to its centrally-planned economy.

Analysts say the EU has also taken advantage of U.S. indifference or a diplomatic vacuum, as the Trump administration backtracks on a fragile detente with Cuba.

“I personally believe that Cuba could play a positive role in trying to avoid further negative developments (in Venezuela) and trying to re-open and negotiate a political solution and dialogue,” Mogherini told joint news conference with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

Venezuela will hold a presidential election on May 20 that the opposition coalition is boycotting, saying it is a farce intended to legitimize a “dictatorship” led by President Nicolas Maduro.

The Lima Group of largely Latin American nations on Monday urged the Venezuelan government to suspend the vote, calling the process “illegitimate and lacking in credibility.”

Cuba has played the role of broker in several disputes in recent years, notably hosting peace talks between the Colombian government and Marxist rebel groups it has been at war with for five decades.

The Cuban government has stood steadfast by Venezuela, denouncing foreign interference in its internal affairs, despite a sharp decline in subsidized Venezuelan oil shipments amid the OPEC nation’s economic crisis.

The EU has sent several high-level delegations to Cuba this year. First Mogherini visited, then a delegation from the European Investment Bank.

The bloc signed on Tuesday an agreement with Cuba to invest 18 million euros to help its achieve its ambitious goals in terms of developing renewable energy on the island.

The EU has said it will sign cooperation agreements worth 49 million euros in total.