UN Security Council Fails to Find Consensus on Venezuela Crisis

The U.N. Security Council failed to agree Thursday on either a U.S. or Russian proposal to find a way forward on the Venezuelan crisis.

The 15-nation council voted on two draft resolutions. The U.S. text had the support of the majority of the council members but was blocked by Russia and China, while a Russian draft garnered only four positive votes.

The U.S. text stressed the need to “prevent further deterioration” of the humanitarian situation and to allow unhindered access for the delivery of aid throughout the country.

The government of disputed President Nicolas Maduro has refused to recognize that there is a humanitarian crisis in the country and is not permitting aid from the United States to enter the country, saying it is a pretext for a U.S. military invasion.

The American draft also expressed “deep concern” that the May 2018 presidential elections that gave the incumbent Maduro a second six-year term were “neither free nor fair” and called for a political process leading to new elections. It also showed support for the “peaceful” restoration of democracy and rule of law.

“Regrettably, by voting against this resolution, some members of this council continue to shield Maduro and his cronies, and prolong the suffering of the Venezuelan people,” said U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams.

“Regardless of the results of today’s vote, this resolution shows that democracies around the world, and especially in Latin America, are mobilizing behind interim President [Juan] Guaido,” he said of the National Assembly leader who declared himself interim president Jan. 23.

Russian response 

The Russian resolution called for a peaceful settlement of the conflict, but added that Maduro needed to approve aid deliveries. The Russian text also expressed “concern over the threats to use force” against Venezuela.

Moscow’s envoy said Washington’s proposal was an effort to “escalate tensions and to implement their scenario for an unconstitutional change of government.” Vassily Nebenzia warned that the focus on the humanitarian situation was merely “a smoke screen.”  

“We are seriously concerned at the fact that today’s meeting may be exploited as a step for preparations of a real — not humanitarian —intervention as a pretext for external intervention as a result of the alleged inability of the Security Council to resolve the situation in Venezuela,” Nebenzia said.

Last Saturday, troops and Maduro supporters blocked the entry of trucks carrying food and medical supplies in violent clashes at Venezuela’s borders with Colombia and Brazil. Four people were killed, and dozens were injured.

Venezuela’s U.N. envoy said that Saturday’s violence was an “international incident,” not a domestic one, and he asserted that all was well in his country.

“Venezuela today is completely at peace, a peace preserved by the constitutional government of President Nicolas Maduro, who is in full exercise of his legal powers and who guarantees the protection of national territory, as well as the well-being of the Venezuelan people and effective control over the country,” Ambassador Samuel Moncada said. “Let me repeat: There is no type of violence in Venezuela. If there are threats against peace, those threats come from abroad.” 

Venezuela’s Guaido Plans to Go Home Despite Safety Concerns

 

 

 

Crisis-hit Venezuela awaits as opposition leader and self-declared president plans return despite security concerns

 

 

 

 

 

 

Venezuela is waiting for Guaido.

The man who would be paramount leader of a country in upheaval is on the move. He heads to Paraguay on Friday after lobbying in Brazil for international pressure on the government back home and coordinating a failed attempt to deliver aid across the Colombian border to desperate Venezuelans.  

Caracas is also on the itinerary for Juan Guaido, the Venezuelan opposition chief who declared himself president. He says he’s going home in the coming days despite “threats,” in another looming flashpoint in his power struggle with Nicolas Maduro, the military-backed president targeted by U.S. oil sanctions aimed at forcing his ouster.

A defiant return by Guaido to steer protests against Maduro would test the resolve of a government that says the 35-year-old head of Venezuela’s National Assembly left the country illegally. Even so, any attempt to arrest Guaido could further inflame tensions in a country where hyperinflation, shortages of food and medicine and other hardships have forced several million Venezuelans — about one-tenth of the population — to flee the country in the last few years.  

Just how he will get back into Venezuela, or whether Venezuelan security forces would try to block him, is unclear. In an interview with Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper, Guaido described his secretive exit from Venezuela, a 42-hour trip from Caracas to the Colombian border during which he changed clothes and had to leave behind his bag.

“We had to talk to a lot of military personnel, we had to talk to a lot of people who are trying to help us,” said Guaido, who has urged the military leadership to turn against Maduro _ an appeal that has failed despite the desertions of some hundreds of lower-ranking members of the security forces. 

Maduro, often combative in public, recently took a softer tone during a televised appearance in which he declared that the annual carnival season was starting on Thursday, a couple of days earlier than usual.

“President Rhythm, President Passion, that’s me,” said Maduro, who has denounced his opponents as killers and criminals in fiery speeches reminiscent of the style of predecessor Hugo Chavez. The late leader’s rhetoric about imperialism and Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution, along with subsidies for the poor, galvanized a support base that has eroded under Maduro. 

The United States and about 50 other countries recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate leader and support his claim that Maduro was re-elected last year in an allegedly flawed vote. But the opposition leader’s efforts to wrest power from his adversary have stumbled, raising the prospect of a protracted standoff in which U.S. sanctions inflict deeper economic pain on Venezuelans.

Guaido had announced that last weekend’s attempt to deliver several hundred tons of U.S.-supplied humanitarian aid from Colombia into Venezuela would be politically decisive, but Venezuelan forces blocked the aid that Maduro said was part of a scheme to overthrow his government. 

Venezuela closed the border with Colombia ahead of clashes with protesters, inflicting more hardship. Some Venezuelan schoolchildren who receive subsidized education in the Colombian border city of Cucuta have been unable to cross over. Many people in the Venezuelan town of Urena don’t have enough food and lack basic medicines that they were sometimes able to get on the Colombian side.

pompeo

The United States remains committed to delivering medicine, hygiene kits and other aid to Venezuela, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

“We are hopeful that over the next couple of weeks, we can really begin to make a dent in that problem,” Pompeo said. 

It remains to be seen whether U.S. sanctions on the country with the world’s largest oil reserves will further weaken Maduro, or divert blame for increasing deprivation to the U.S.-backed opposition. And while Guaido says all options for Maduro’s removal are on the table — a comment interpreted as an openness to U.S. military intervention — Colombia, Brazil and other countries that back the opposition appear more cautious, insisting on a peaceful solution to Venezuela’s crisis. 

 

Trudeau: Canada ‘Going to the Moon’

Canada will join NASA’s space mission to put an orbiter around the Moon in a few years, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Thursday.

“Canada is going to the Moon,” Trudeau told a press conference that included a live video link from the International Space Station with Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques.

NASA plans to build a small space station, dubbed Gateway, in the Moon’s orbit by 2026.

It will serve as a way-station for trips to and from the lunar surface, but will not be permanently crewed like the International Space Station (ISS), currently in Earth’s orbit.

According to the Canadian Space Agency, Gateway will provide living space for astronauts, a docking station for visiting spacecraft and research laboratories.

Canada will develop and contribute an autonomous robotic system — Canadarm3 — that will be used to repair and maintain the station.

The original 15-meter remote-controlled mechanical Canadarm, also known as the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System, was used on the Space Shuttle for 30 years, deploying, capturing and repairing satellites, positioning astronauts, maintaining equipment and moving cargo.

Its successor is used on the ISS.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement that the organization is “thrilled that Canada is the first international partner for the Gateway lunar outpost.”

“Our new collaboration on Gateway will enable our broader international partnership to get to the Moon and eventually to Mars,” he said.

Trudeau also announced Can$2.05 billion (US$1.55 billion) over 24 years for Canada’s space program, which will help support a push to develop new “artificial intelligence-based technologies” for space.

Due to communications lags between Earth and remote outposts, it will be increasingly necessary to automate many robotic functions on space stations and vehicles.

The last person to walk on the Moon was Eugene Cernan in December 1972, during the Apollo 17 mission.

Before humans set foot on the lunar surface again, NASA aims to land an unmanned vehicle on the Moon by 2024.

So far, only Russia, the United States and China have made the 384,000-kilometer (239,000-mile) journey and landed spacecraft on the Moon.

Last week, Israel launched a spacecraft that aims to join them.

YouTube to Block Comments on Most Videos Showing Minors

YouTube said Thursday it will disable user comments on a broad array of videos featuring children to thwart “predatory behavior” after revelations about a glitch exploited for sharing of child pornography.

The Google-owned video sharing service announced further steps to crack down on inappropriate comments a week after an investigation showing how comments and connections on child porn were being displayed alongside innocuous videos.

“We recognize that comments are a core part of the YouTube experience and how you connect with and grow your audience,” YouTube said in a posted message to creators.

“At the same time, the important steps we’re sharing today are critical for keeping young people safe.”

YouTube said that during the past week it has suspended comments on tens of millions of videos to prevent users from exploiting of the software glitch for nefarious purposes.

“These efforts are focused on videos featuring young minors and we will continue to identify videos at risk over the next few months,” YouTube said.

“Over the next few months, we will be broadening this action to suspend comments on videos featuring young minors and videos featuring older minors that could be at risk of attracting predatory behavior.”

A small number of video creators will be allowed to keep comments enabled, but will be required to carefully moderate commentary and to deploy software tools provided by YouTube, according to Google.

YouTube accelerated the release of an improved “classifier” that it said will detect and remove twice the number of policy-breaking comments by individuals.

‘Wormhole’

A YouTube creator last week revealed what he called a “wormhole” that allowed comments and connections on child porn alongside videos.

Shortly thereafter, YouTube deleted many comments and blocked some accounts and channels showing inappropriate comments.

Matt Watson, a YouTube creator with some 26,000 subscribers, revealed the workings of what he termed a “wormhole” into a pedophile ring that allowed users to trade social media contacts and links to child porn in YouTube comments.

The post by Watson sparked a series of news reports and boycotts of YouTube ads from major firms.

The incident raised fears of a fresh “brand safety” crisis for YouTube, which lost advertisers last year following revelations that messages appeared on channels promoting conspiracy theories, white nationalism and other objectionable content.

Canada Opposition Asks for Probe Into Government Meddling Claim

Canada’s opposition leader formally asked federal police on Thursday to investigate a claim of political meddling by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government in the criminal prosecution of engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

The House of Commons scheduled an emergency debate Thursday on the deepening controversy, the most serious faced by Trudeau since assuming office in 2015.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer accused the Liberal prime minister’s inner circle of possibly attempting to obstruct justice, in a letter to Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Brenda Lucki — which the RCMP confirmed to AFP it has received.

“The matter at hand appears, on its face, to be a gross violation of the law,” Scheer wrote.

He pointed to “explosive testimony” by former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, who told the House of Commons justice committee on Wednesday that Trudeau’s staff and other senior officials applied undue pressure on her to settle a criminal case against SNC-Lavalin.

The Montreal-based company was charged in 2015 with corruption for allegedly bribing officials in Libya between 2001 and 2011 to secure government contracts during former strongman Moamer Kadhafi’s reign.

Wilson-Raybould, after resigning from cabinet, testified that she experienced a “consistent and sustained effort” to politically interfere in the prosecution of one of the world’s top engineering firms.

She added that she faced “veiled threats,” and described the intense pressure on her to comply as “inappropriate,” but stopped short of suggesting it was illegal.

In the end, Wilson-Raybould refused to ask prosecutors to settle, and the trial is set to proceed.

Trudeau has rejected her characterizations of events, saying Wednesday that he had made clear to his former attorney general that the “decision around SNC-Lavalin was Jody Wilson-Raybould’s and hers alone to make.”

Thursday morning, dodging calls to resign, he said: “My team and I have always acted in a professional manner.”

“Canadians expect their government to look for ways to protect jobs, to grow the economy, and that’s exactly what we’ve done every step of the way … in a way that has respected our laws and respects the independence of the judiciary,” he added.

For weeks, Trudeau’s Liberal government has been rocked by the allegations first reported by The Globe and Mail newspaper, only eight months before elections.

Canada’s ethics commissioner has launched an investigation into the matter.

 

Thai Lawmakers Approve Controversial Cybersecurity Act

Thailand’s legislature has passed a cybersecurity bill that would allow authorities access to people’s personal information without a court order.

The Cybersecurity Act addresses computer hacking crimes, but activists fear it will allow the government sweeping access to people’s personal information.

The National Legislative Assembly, which passed the bill in its final reading Thursday by a vote of 133-0, was appointed by the junta that came to power after a 2014 coup. It becomes law when published in the Royal Gazette.

The cybersecurity bill allows state officials to seize, search, infiltrate, and make copies of computers, computer systems and information in computers without a court warrant if an appointed committee sees it as a high-level security threat, and relevant courts can later be informed of such actions.

Russia Charges Owners of ‘Whale Prison’

Russian officials have brought charges against four companies in the Far East that have been keeping about 100 whales in small, crowded pools that environmentalists have dubbed a “whale prison.”

The companies, which appear to be affiliated, have previously been fined for illegal capture and have a history of selling the animals to amusement parks abroad. 

Putin ordered investigation

The Border Guards Department said Thursday that it suspects that the four companies captured the whales illegally. It also confirmed the environmentalists’ claims that the belugas and orcas are kept in cramped conditions in a marine containment facility near Vladivostok and that they need to be released. The border guards did not specify, however, when it will happen. 

The border guards appear to be taking a cue from President Vladimir Putin who last week ordered authorities to investigate the case and release the animals.

Whales are worth a fortune on the black market, and the activists believe that they were captured for sale to amusements parks in China. Russian law only allows for the capture of whales for scientific purposes.

Activists raised the alarm late last year when the whales were captured off the Pacific Coast. 

About 100 whales

Ninety belugas and 12 orcas were originally reported to have been kept in a marine containment facility in Srednyaya Bay, near Vladivostok, but local prosecutors said Thursday that three belugas appear to have escaped. Environmentalists also reported the disappearance of one orca earlier in February.

The whales are kept at one location off the Pacific Coast but are owned by four separate companies. Company records and court filings, however, indicate that they are connected. In an interview with Russian state TV last year, a representative for the facility rejected reports of poor treatment of the animals.

One of the companies unsuccessfully sued the Federal Fishery Agency in 2017 over its refusal to issue it a quota for capturing unidentified marine mammals. The 2017 ruling shows that the company had a standing contract with a company in China’s northeast and that the company was unable to prove that the whales would be kept in good conditions and used for educational purposes. The city of Weihai in the Shandong province hosts an ocean amusement park.

Press Groups Denounce Venezuelan Crackdown Against Journalists

Numerous media organizations working in Venezuela have denounced authorities for harassing, bullying and even confiscating the equipment of journalists as they cover the ongoing crisis in that South American country. While embattled President Nicolas Maduro assures that press freedom is respected in Venezuela, journalist groups tell another story. Cristina Caicedo Smit has this report.

US-China Trade Talks ‘Not Close’

The top U.S. trade official said Wednesday that a new trade agreement with China is not yet close to being completed. State Department correspondent Nike Ching reports from Washington on the latest in the talks and how U.S. concerns over high-tech issues remain a key point of friction. VOA Mandarin reporter Yihua Lee contributes.

Ethics Allegations Prompt Call for Trudeau to Quit

The leader of Canada’s main opposition party Wednesday demanded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau quit after a former justice minister said government officials inappropriately pressured her to help a major firm avoid a bribery trial.

The allegations by Jody Wilson-Raybould dramatically deepened the biggest crisis of Trudeau’s tenure just months ahead of an October election in which his Liberals face a tough fight.

Wilson-Raybould told the House of Commons justice committee that she had confronted Trudeau over what she called inappropriate pressure to help construction firm SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. evade a corruption trial on charges of bribing Libyan officials.

Andrew Scheer, leader of the official opposition Conservative Party, demanded the resignation of what he called a disgraced prime minister.

“He can no longer, with a clear conscience, continue to lead this nation,” Scheer told reporters, calling for police to immediately probe the matter. Trudeau was to address reporters later Wednesday.

Wilson-Raybould said officials imposed “consistent and sustained pressure” on her from September to December last year to ensure SNC-Lavalin pay a large fine rather than go to trial.

“In my view, these events constituted pressure to intervene in a matter and that this pressure, or political interference to intervene, was not appropriate,” she told the committee.

Wilson-Raybould, who named several senior officials in the offices of Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau, said under questioning from Liberal legislators that she did not feel the pressure on her had been illegal.

A Morneau spokesman denied the minister or his staff had ever pressured Wilson-Raybould when she was justice minister.

Trudeau and other officials deny inappropriate pressure was put on Wilson-Raybould. But the case forced the resignation of Trudeau’s principal private secretary, Gerald Butts, earlier this month.

Opinion polls show the affair is starting to hurt the Liberals ahead of what looks set to be a tightly contested federal election in October.