Magnitude 8 Earthquake Strikes Amazon Jungle in Peru

A powerful magnitude 8.0 earthquake struck a remote part of the Amazon jungle in Peru early Sunday, collapsing buildings and knocking out power to some areas but causing only one reported death.

The quake struck at 2:41 a.m. and was centered in a vast nature preserve 57 miles (92 kilometers) east of the small town of Yurimaguas. Helping limit damage was the earthquake’s depth, at 70 miles (114 kilometers) below the surface, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Earthquakes that are close to the surface generally cause more destruction.

 

President Martin Vizcarra called for calm before traveling to the zone with members of his Cabinet to survey the damage. He said first reports indicate a bridge had collapsed and several homes and roads had been affected.

 

“It’s a quake that was felt throughout the Peruvian jungle,” said Vizcarra, who was scheduled to host a regional summit Sunday in the capital with the presidents of Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador. 

Ricardo Seijas, chief of the National Emergency Operations Center, said one person died when a rock fell on a house in the Huarango district.

 

A preliminary survey by authorities found that six people were injured and 27 homes damaged across seven provinces. Three schools, three hospitals and two churches were also affected.

 

In Yurimaguas, a bridge and several old houses collapsed, and the electricity was cut, according to the National Emergency Operations Center.

 

Images circulating on social media showed residents in several parts of the country panicked as the quake shook buildings.

 

The quake also awoke people in Lima, who ran out of their homes in fear.

 

“It was a really long quake,” said Maria Brito, who lives on the fifth floor of an apartment building in the capital. “It could’ve been worse, and luckily it’s over.”

 

Earthquakes are frequent in Peru, which lies on the Pacific’s so-called Ring of Fire. On August 15, 2007, a similarly sized quake struck near Lima, killing more than 500 people.

 

 

Venezuelan Negotiators Return to Norway for Talks

Representatives of the Venezuelan government and opposition have returned to Norway for talks aimed at resolving the political crisis in the South American country, the Norwegian government said Saturday.

Norway said it will mediate discussions next week in Oslo, in an indication that the negotiation track is gaining momentum after months of escalating tension between Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Juan Guaido, the U.S.-backed opposition leader.

The negotiators

Top Maduro aide Jorge Rodriguez and Hector Rodriguez, the governor of Miranda state, both of whom were in Oslo earlier this month for an earlier round of exploratory talks, will once again lead the government delegation. They will be joined this time by Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, said Maduro, who thanked Norway for promoting “peace and stability” in Venezuela through the mediation effort.

Larry Devoe, the government’s top human rights official, is also a delegate member, said a Venezuelan official who was not authorized to discuss the talks and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The opposition delegation is being led by Stalin Gonzalez, a senior member of the opposition-controlled congress, former Caracas area Mayor Gerardo Blyde and former Transport Minister Fernando Martinez Mottola, according to an opposition statement. They will be joined by Vicente Diaz, a supporter of past negotiations with the government who previously served on the nation’s electoral council.

Both delegations traveled Saturday for the meetings, according to officials.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide praised both sides for their involvement.

Representatives of Venezuela’s political factions traveled to the European country earlier this month for talks, but it had been unclear if they would continue to engage with one another amid increased tensions over the opposition’s call for a military uprising April 30.

The opposition had previously ruled out talks, accusing Maduro of using negotiations between 2016 and 2018 to play for time, and has demanded Maduro’s resignation and early elections. Maduro, in turn, alleges the opposition tried to seize power by force.

The U.S. State Department noted the arrests of key opposition figures in Venezuela and said the only thing to negotiate with Maduro is “the conditions of his departure” from office.

“We hope the talks in Oslo will focus on that objective, and if they do, we hope progress will be possible,” spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

Talks reflect stalemate

The diplomatic effort reflects recognition in Venezuela that neither side has been able to prevail in the struggle for power, leaving the country in a state of political paralysis after years of hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine. Several million Venezuelans have left the country, creating Latin America’s biggest migration crisis.

The United States and more than 50 other countries support Guaido’s claim to be Venezuela’s rightful leader. The U.S. has imposed oil sanctions to try to force out Maduro, whose key allies are Cuba, Russia and China.

Norway has a long, successful history of foreign mediation: The country hosted peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians in September 1993 and Maoist rebels and the government in the Philippines in 2011. The government also brokered a 2002 cease-fire between Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebel negotiators. Seven years ago, mediators from the Colombian government and left-wing FARC rebels held their first direct talks in a decade in Norway.

Norway Says Venezuela Mediation to Resume Next Week

Representatives of the Venezuelan government and opposition have decided to return to Norway for a mediation effort aimed at resolving the political crisis in the South American country, the Norwegian government said Saturday. 

 

Norway said it would facilitate discussions next week in Oslo, in an indication that the negotiation track is gaining momentum after months of escalating tension between Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido. 

 

Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide praised both sides for their involvement. 

 

Representatives of Venezuela’s political factions traveled to the European country earlier this month for talks, but it had been unclear whether they would continue to engage with one another amid increased tensions over the opposition’s call for a military uprising on April 30.  

The diplomatic effort reflects recognition in Venezuela that neither side has been able to prevail in the struggle for power, leaving the country in a state of political paralysis after years of hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine. Several million Venezuelans have left the country, creating Latin America’s biggest migration crisis.

The United States and more than 50 other countries support Guaido’s claim to be Venezuela’s rightful leader. The U.S. has imposed oil sanctions to try to force out Maduro, whose key allies are Cuba, Russia and China. 

 

Norway has a long, successful history of foreign mediation: The country hosted peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians in September 1993 and Maoist rebels and the government in the Philippines in 2011. The government also brokered a 2002 cease-fire between Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebel negotiators. Seven years ago, mediators from the Colombian government and left-wing FARC rebels held their first direct talks in a decade in Norway.

29 Prisoners Killed in Attempted Venezuelan Jail Break

At least 29 prisoners were killed and 19 police wounded in clashes at a jail in western Venezuela Friday, authorities said.

The incident at the police station jail in the town of Acarigua, in Portuguesa state, occurred when police special forces (FAES) tried to stop a “massive prison break,” which resulted in the deaths of 29 inmates, according to Portuguesa public security secretary Oscar Valero.

The prisoners received the officers with “a hail of gunfire” while detonating three grenades, which injured 19 police, Valero told reporters.

The Una Ventana a la Libertad NGO, which defends prisoner rights, gave a preliminary toll of 25 dead.

NGO director Carlos Nieto said the clashes broke out when the FAES attempted to rescue visitors who had been taken hostage Thursday by the leader of the inmates at the jail.

“This morning (authorities) sent the FAES and there was a clash. The detainees had weapons, they shot at the police. Apparently they also detonated two grenades,” Nieto told AFP.

The inmates’ leader, Wilfredo Ramos, was one of those killed, according to an internal police report.

The report, quoted by the NGO, said several officers were wounded by “shrapnel and explosives.”

Nieto said the inmates were demanding “food and to be transferred to prisons,” and had denounced police “abuses.”

Violence is a problem in such detention facilities, where inmates are supposed to be held for a maximum of 48 hours, Una Ventana a la Libertad said.

There are around 500 of them in the country, holding 55,000 people even though their total capacity is 8,000, the NGO added.

The Acarigua jail has capacity for 60 inmates but was holding 500, according to the police report.

Venezuela has one of the worst records for prison violence in the region.

Maduro Accuses US of Attacking Food Aid Program

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro Thursday accused the United States of seeking to destroy a food aid program that the government of the crisis-stricken OPEC nation says feeds 6 million families.

Washington is preparing sanctions and criminal charges against Venezuelan officials and others suspected of using the food program to launder money for the Maduro government, sources familiar with the matter said Tuesday.

The measures against the program, known in Venezuela by its Spanish acronym CLAP, are expected to be enacted within the next 90 days, according to the sources, who asked not to be identified.

“(The U.S.) is preparing sanctions to destroy the CLAP system,” Maduro said in televised broadcast, accompanied by the military high command.

“Do what you want to do, Venezuela will continue with the Local Supply and Production Committees,” he said, referencing the full name of the CLAP program.

The State Department did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Subsidized food

The program sells at subsidized prices boxes of food that include products such as rice, pasta, oil and powdered milk.

Some of the products are imported from countries such as Turkey, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.

Maduro launched the plan in 2016 in response to chronic food shortages and spiraling prices, as Venezuela struggled under hyperinflation and a severe economic contraction. Critics call the program a form of social control that is used to pressure its recipients to support the ruling Socialist Party.

Crisis deepening

Venezuela’s political crisis has deepened since opposition leader Juan Guaido invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, arguing that socialist Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.

The United States as well as most European and Latin American countries have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader.

But Maduro retains control of state functions and the support of the military’s top brass, as well the support of allies such as Russia, Cuba and China. He says the country’s economic problems are the result of an “economic war” led by his political adversaries with the help of Washington.

Costa Rica Announces Drop in Murders, Increase in Gun Seizures

Costa Rica announced on Thursday a reduction in murders and an increase in the confiscation of illegal weapons as it put into force a law that tightens gun controls.

“Up to today we’ve had 201 murders in the country, which sounds like a lot but if we compare it to last year, we have 47 less,” Security Minister Michael Soto said at a ceremony in the capital San Jose.

“This is great progress,” he said, adding that 67 percent of murders are committed with firearms.

The security ministry has seized 863 guns so far this year, 34 more than in the same period last year.

“These weapons can take someone’s life, they can be used in a crime against property,” said Soto.

The Central American country saw a spike in its murder rate between 2012 and 2017, reaching 12.1 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the police.

That number dropped slightly to 11.7 in 2018 but that was still more than twice the global average of 5.3 in 2015, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

However, it is considerably lower than the 2017 average of 22 in Latin America and the Caribbean, the most violent region in the world according to an Inter-American Development Bank study from last year.

Soto spoke at a ceremony in which new gun control laws came into effect that increase punishments for the illegal purchase of a weapon and for individuals or businesses that fail to report the theft or loss of a firearm.

“Every effort made to regulate or educate in relation to gun control is a victory for our society,” said President Carlos Alvarado.

 

Scientists: Chile’s Southern Patagonia Ice Field Ruptured by Climate Change 

Chile’s 12,000 square kilometer (4,633 square mile) Southern Patagonia Ice Field split in two and is likely to continue to fracture amid climate change, according to a team of Chilean scientists who were in the region in March.

Gino Casassa, chief of the Snow and Glacier Division of Chile’s DGA water authority, told Reuters increasing temperatures along the Andes Mountains in southern Chile and Argentina have meant less snow and ice to replenish the region’s abundant glaciers.

“What occurred is a fracture as the ice has retreated, Casassa said.

The chunk of ice that split off from the main glacier was estimated at 208 square kilometers (80.3 square miles), a relatively small part of the ice field.

But Casassa said it may be a sign of things to come.

The ice field, he said, is now “split in two, and we’ll likely discover further divisions to the south,” he said.

Two icebergs broke off the Grey Glacier in southern Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park earlier this year, adding to fears that such ruptures are becoming more frequent.

 

UNHCR: People Fleeing Venezuela Need Protection, Must Not Be Deported

The U.N. refugee agency says the majority of Venezuelans fleeing worsening conditions in their country are in need of international protection and must not be forcibly returned home.

Citizens are leaving Venezuela as political, economic, human rights and humanitarian conditions deteriorate. The U.N. refugee agency reports some 3.7 million people have fled the country. Most have gone to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil and Caribbean countries.

The agency says by the end of last year, some 460,000 Venezuelans had formally sought asylum.

But given the dire conditions back home, UNHCR spokeswoman Liz Throssell said it is clear the majority of the millions of those who have left need international refugee protection.

“This is because of the threats to their lives, security or freedom resulting from circumstances that are seriously disturbing public order in Venezuela,” she said. “UNHCR also calls on states to ensure that Venezuelans, regardless of their legal status, are not deported or otherwise forcibly returned to Venezuela.”

Throssell said so far Venezuelans are not being deported, but warned that might change as more people flee and the refugee load becomes more burdensome.

She said there was a period not long ago when official border crossings into Latin American countries were closed. She notes Brazil’s border with Venezuela was reopened only last week.

“What we have seen is people crossing over regular crossing points, but also, importantly, some people are opting to take irregular routes that are dangerous, putting themselves at risk,” she told VOA. “One of the reasons why we are saying this now is that given the progressive deterioration of the circumstances in Venezuela, we are seeing that Venezuelans who are increasingly vulnerable are leaving the country.”

Throssell said countries hosting the ever-growing number of Venezuelans need international support. She said they are under incredible strain and do not have the financial means to care for the asylum-seekers.

She is appealing to donors to be more generous in their contributions, noting that the U.N.’s $146 million appeal for Venezuela is only 28 percent funded.

WHO Certifies Algeria, Argentina Free of Malaria

The World Health Organization has certified Algeria and Argentina as malaria-free, following three consecutive years where no new cases of the deadly disease have been reported. 

The malaria parasite, which kills more than 400,000 people each year, was discovered in Algeria in 1880. Most of the victims are children under the age of five in Africa.

The World Health Organization reports Algeria is the second country in Africa to be recognized as malaria-free after Mauritius, which was certified in 1973. Argentina is the second country in South America, after Paraguay, to be declared malaria-free.

A combination of many factors has made the achievements possible, according to WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib.

“It is very good news for Algeria and Argentina, but also for the two continents and globally also,” Chaib told VOA. “It means that malaria can be beaten. But the efforts should continue because we need also to enhance surveillance to be able to detect if any cases of malaria are still present in the country.”

WHO says the two countries eliminated malaria by employing a number of basic, well-proven measures, including insecticide-treated mosquito nets. It says both countries improved surveillance, which enabled them to rapidly identify and treat new cases of malaria. In addition, the two countries provided free diagnosis and treatment within their borders.

In the case of Argentina, WHO says cross-border collaboration with its neighbor Bolivia was critical in combating the disease. It says both countries teamed up to spray more than 22,000 homes in border areas and to conduct widespread malaria testing.

WHO says Algeria’s and Argentina’s unwavering commitment, perseverance and success in combating malaria should serve as a model for other countries.

Both Algeria and Argentina have succeeded in ridding themselves of the deadly malaria parasite without the benefit of a vaccine. Health officials are hopeful this task becomes easier with the recent rollout of the first promising malaria vaccine in Ghana and Malawi.

Canada’s Oil-Rich Alberta Takes a Step to Repeal Carbon Tax

Canada’s main crude-producing province, Alberta, introduced a bill to repeal the provincial carbon tax Wednesday, setting up a legal tussle between Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party and Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government in Ottawa.

Premier Kenney and his party swept to power in Alberta last month on a platform that promised to champion the province’s beleaguered energy industry and stand up to the federal government.

Scrapping Alberta’s carbon tax, introduced by the previous government, was a major part of Kenney’s campaign. It will be the first piece of legislation tabled by the new government, but puts the province on a collision course with Trudeau’s Liberals ahead of a national election this fall.

The move will automatically trigger a federal carbon tax aimed at provinces that do not have their own plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Pain no gain

“The carbon tax has been all economic pain and no environmental gain,” Kenney told reporters at a news conference. “If Justin Trudeau’s government then seeks to impose a federal carbon tax in Alberta, we will see him in court.”

Alberta will join Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan when it challenges the federal carbon tax in court. Earlier this month Saskatchewan’s Court of Appeal ruled the tax does not violate the Canadian constitution, marking a victory for Trudeau on one of his trademark policies.

Kenney said his government has a stronger case than Saskatchewan because Alberta will still impose a levy on large industrial carbon emitters.

The Carbon Tax Repeal Act will provide C$1.4 billion in tax relief to Albertans and create 6,000 jobs, the government said in the first legislative session in the provincial capital Edmonton.

Next: corporate tax rate

“Now more than ever Canadians expect their leaders to work together to reduce pollution, not play politics,” said Vanessa Adams, spokeswoman for the Minister of Natural Resources Canada, in an emailed statement. “If Premier Kenney dismantles Alberta’s climate plan, the federal backstop will apply.”

Kenney’s government also plans to table legislation to lower Alberta’s corporate tax rate from 12% to 8%, cut back on regulation and guarantee oil and gas royalty rates, moves aimed at increasing the competitiveness of the energy industry.

Alberta is home to Canada’s vast oil sands but has seen billions of dollars in foreign investment flee the province since 2017 in part because of concerns about market access and regulatory uncertainty.