Tag Archive | "venezuela"

Venezuelan Detained for Cocaine-Filled Breast Implants

Breast implants stuffed with cocaine are seen in this handout picture released by Spain's police (photo by Rene Walter)

Breast implants stuffed with cocaine are seen in this handout picture released by Spain’s police (photo by Rene Walter)

A Venezuelan woman has been detained in Madrid’s Barajas airport after confessing to police that she was carrying 1.7kg of cocaine inside her breast implants. The 43-year-old had arrived on a flight from Bogotá.

According to the Spanish police, the passenger had been acting in a way that aroused suspicion among the drug control section, who also noticed certain “irregularities and malformations” in the woman’s breasts.

When the woman realised she was being observed, as authorities were checking her bags she confessed that she was carrying implants that contained cocaine in her breasts. She was immediately transferred to a Madrid hospital, where she underwent surgery before being detained.

The drugs would have had an estimated street value of US$250,000. It is estimated that upwards of 120 tonnes of cocaine make it to Europe each year.


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Venezuela-Colombia Border to Close at Night

Colombia's president Juan Manuel Santos and his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolás Maduro, during the Cartagena summit

Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos and his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolás Maduro, during the Cartagena summit

Starting tonight, the 2,200km border between Colombia and Venezuela will shut between 10pm and 5am in a bilateral effort to combat smuggling.

The hope is to stem the flow of food and fuel products from Venezuela, where prices are much lower due to state subsidies of 40%. Venezuelan authorities estimate that 40m litres of petrol and 20,000 tonnes of food have been smuggled across the border into Colombia so far this year.

The smuggling has led to scarcities of products in the west of Venezuela, which was one of the grievances of groups that were involved in the anti-government protests earlier this year.

The inflow of cheap goods has also had an effect on Colombian producers who have found it hard to compete with the contraband products. Colombian authorities also say such illicit trade, which they estimate to be worth US$6bn a year, is one of the main sources of finance for mafia and illegal groups in the country.

The measure is one of many to be implemented as a result of a meeting in Cartagena between President Juan Manuel Santos and President Nicolás Maduro earlier this month. The leaders met to review the peace process between Colombia and FARC and also discuss trade between the neighbours. They also reviewed freight and passenger transport and the efficiency of their borders as well as creating a permanent working group, directed by both countries’ ministries of economy, to monitor the effects of the new measures and also evaluate the bilateral trade.

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Venezuela: Arrested Diplomat Returns from Aruba

The island of Aruba is located in the Southern Caribbean, just north of Venezuela (image: Wikipedia)

The island of Aruba is located in the Southern Caribbean, just north of Venezuela (image: Wikipedia)

Hugo Carvajal, the Venezuelan Consul General to Aruba, returned to his home country yesterday after being illegally arrested on the island last week.

Carvajal, a former military intelligence chief, was arrested on 23rd July in the capital city of Oranjestad, following a request by the US Department of Justice. Carvajal is being investigated for alleged links with drug trafficking operations conducted by the FARC (Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces) in Venezuela. However, he was released yesterday after the Dutch state recognised that his arrest contravened international laws regarding diplomatic immunity, such as the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961.

Carvajal had been appointed Consul General earlier this year, though he was yet to receive formal approval by the Aruban government. According to Venezuela’s Supreme Court, the retired military official “began his consular functions on 7th February 2014, as per the notification made on 10th February 2014 by the General Consulate of Venezuela in Aruba to the Aruban Foreign Relations Department.”

On a note sent by the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the Venezuelan government, it is stated that “As per article 13 of the consular agreement [the Vienna Convention], the head of a consular mission may be admitted provisionally to exercise their functions. In that case, the dispositions of the consular agreement apply. Based on this article, the Kingdom recognises that the dispositions of the consular agreement are applicable to Mr. Carvajal Barrios. This means that his detention on 23rd July was in violation of his [diplomatic] immunity, the Kingdom will see to his release.”

The note finishes saying: “The Kingdom informs the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela that Mr. Carvajal Barrios must return to his country after his release.”

Carvajal flew back to Caracas accompanied by the Venezuelan deputy chancellor for Europe, Calixto Ortega, and was greeted at the Simón Bolívar airport by Foreign Affairs Minister Elías Jaua. Upon his return, he said: “I want to point my finger at two people: the judge that dealt with my case and the prosecutor are both corrupt. I suspect they received money to do what they did to me.”

Talking to Venezuelan TV station TeleSUR in Aruba, Ortega said that “the government of the Netherlands assumed the criterion of the Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Ministry in the sense that the Mayor General [Carvajal] is a diplomatic functionary; common sense prevailed and that’s the reason why he was released.” On the potential severity of the issue, he added that “tensions arise when the diplomatic status is not acknowledged: this would have set a very grave precedent with which we don’t know what could have happened.”

The US State Department issued a statement saying that the government “is deeply disappointed by the decision of the Dutch government” to release Carvajal “based on a supposed immunity that goes beyond the established international rules.”

The Island of Aruba is located in the Netherlands Antilles, some 27km north of the Venezuelan coast on the southern Caribbean Sea. It is one of the four constituent countries that form the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along with the Netherlands, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten.

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Venezuela: Charges Upheld against Leopoldo López

Leopoldo López (centre) gives himself up to the National Guard today (photo: AFP/ Juan Barreto/Télam)

Leopoldo López (centre) gave himself up to the National Guard on 18th February (photo: AFP/ Juan Barreto/Télam)

During a hearing that concluded in the early hours of this morning, Judge Adriana López upheld the charges against Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, ordering him to be remanded in custody until his trial.

López is accused of being the mastermind behind arson, damage and conspiracy related to the violent events that took place during a student march on 12th February. He is also charged with inciting public violence. Four students are also facing charges related to damage and conspiracy.

His lawyers consider him a prisoner of conscience and maintain that he is being kept behind bars as a result of his political ideas.

López has been held military prison on the outskirts of the capital Caracas since 18th February, after handing himself in in the middle of a demonstration in support of him. No date has been set for his trial, but his lawyers estimate that it will begin in August. 

In other news, Venezuela’s attorney general, Luisa Ortega, yesterday issued subpoenas for former deputy María Corina Machado and other members of the opposition, ordering that they appear on Monday testify about the alleged assassination plot agains Maduro, which was unveiled last week. Former director of Petróleos de Venezuela, Pedro Burelli, former ambassador Diego Arria, and lawyer Ricardo Koesling will also appear.

Since anti-government protests erupted in Venezuela in February, 44 people have been killed and over 600 injured, and a further 2,500 have been imprisoned. 


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Venezuela: Machado Says Alleged Assassination Plot ‘Defamatory’

María Corina Machado is at the heart of the assassination plot scandal (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

María Corina Machado is at the heart of the alleged assassination plot scandal (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Venezuelan former deputy María Corina Machado yesterday filed a criminal report against Caracas mayor Jorge Rodríguez, who on Wednesday linked her to an alleged “plot to assassinate” President Nicolás Maduro.

Machado, who vehemently denies the accusations, aims for charges to be brought against Rodríguez for defamation, falsifying documents, cyber-spying, insult, and fabricating a criminal case, among others.

The public prosecutor, Luisa Ortega, came out to justify the interception of communications, calling the situation a serious state security problem. She also confirmed that the relevant authorities had given their backing to the interception, and underscored that a criminal investigation is underway into the alleged plot.

“All those who are implicated in the case could be charged, imprisoned, or prohibited from leaving the country,” she said, whilst adding she would keep the public informed as the investigation progresses.

Machado has claimed the accusations are a “stage show”, and that she does not have faith in the independence of the Venezuelan justice system.

In other developments yesterday, the White House confirmed that it would not support sanctions against Venezuela. On Wednesday, the lower house passed a bill to implement sanctions against various government officials, and will now be debated in the Senate. “The fact is that we have seen how sanctions can be counterproductive,” said State Department representative, Roberta Jacobson, who went on to say that now is not the right time for such action, and that the US prefers to give its backing to the Unasur-led dialogue.

Maduro welcome the decision, saying that it was “sensible”.

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Venezuela: Government Reveals Assassination Plot

Caracas Mayor Jorge Rodríguez at yesterday's press conference (photo: AVN)

Caracas Mayor Jorge Rodríguez at yesterday’s press conference (photo: AVN)

Yesterday the Venezuelan government unveiled a series of emails which appear to show opposition figures plotting an assassination attempt against President Nicolás Maduro, seemingly with financial backing from the US.

At the press conference, mayor of Caracas, Jorge Rodríguez, showed an email written on 23rd March by right-wing former deputy María Corina Machado and sent to Gustavo Tarre, a lawyer who is under investigation by the Public Ministry, orchestrating “violent actions” and the assassination plot. Other mails showed communication between Machado, former governor Henrique Salas Römer, Diego Arria, and US officials talking of financial backing for the opposition from the US, as well as economic support by the fugitive Venezuelan banker Eligio Cedeño, currently residing in the US. Rodríguez said that at least one US State Department official was involved in the plot.

He went on to say that the government has more evidence that it would not be disclosing, due to the sensitivity of the materials, and called on the opposition to deny the accusations and for Venezuelans to publicly reject the emails.

The mayor of Caracas then confirmed that Maduro has authorised a criminal investigation into the exchanges, in an attempt to “stop this madness”.

The opposition’s response was confused, with some claiming the emails were fake, whilst others responded saying that telephones used to send the messages had been stolen. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles called the emails a “government conspiracy against the people”.

The reports come in the same week the US House of Representatives approved a bill to introduce sanctions against Venezuelan officials involved in human rights abuses. The legislation calls for a travel ban on some members of the Venezuelan government and for their assets in US banks to be frozen. However, the White House has opposed sanctions against the Maduro government, to give the Unasur-brokered dialogue a chance of working.

Anti-government protests erupted in Venezuela in February and have left at least 42 dead and dozens more injured.


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Venezuela: Opposition Meets with Unasur in Bid to Break Deadlock

Government and opposition engage in 'dialogue for peace' (photo: Francisco Batista, courtesy of Venezuelan government)

Talks, which began on 10th April, have been frozen by the opposition (photo: Francisco Batista, courtesy of Venezuelan government)

Venezuelan opposition groups yesterday met with foreign ministers from the Unasur countries, who were visiting Caracas in a bid to break the political deadlock in the country.

After the meeting, Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, president of the coalition of opposition groups, the Venezuelan Table for Democratic Unity (MUD), called the encounter “very productive”, but said that for now, national dialogue remains frozen.

“The ball is in the government’s court,” Aveledo said, referring to the list of demands that MUD had given to the foreign representatives in order for the talks – which were paralysed a week ago – to resume.  

The foreign ministers will now liaise with the government to formulate a response to the group’s demands, which include independent reviews of the status of those who have been imprisoned since the protests began in February, and also a the establishment of a Truth Commission to investigate any human rights abuses that may have occurred during the protests.

The Unasur and Vatican-initiated dialogues between the government and opposition began on 10th April, and the government has said that the talks will continue until a solution is found. However, MUD last week left froze the talks, as the group felt the real issues were not being negotiated. Aveledo said: “One does not dialogue just for conversation, this is not a social gathering.”

Anti-government protests in Venezuela erupted in February and have left at least 42 dead and dozens more injured.


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Latin America News Roundup: 8th May 2014

Luis Guillermo Solís (photo via Wikipedia)

Luis Guillermo Solís (photo via Wikipedia)

Costa Rica: Solís Assumes Presidency: Historian and academic Luis Guillermo Solís assumed the presidency of Costa Rica today, beginning a four year term in which he promised to bring change. He said: “There is much work to be done to gain the people’s trust,” adding that he would work “honestly” and “humbly”. Solís, of the Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC), easily won April’s presidential runoff, receiving 77.8% of the vote on a platform of change, calling for a “broad national debate”. Hinting to the way he will govern, he has said that each one of his cabinet members will be required to give an annual report of their work, which will be submitted to an evaluation. In assuming the presidency, Solís also takes on the role of president of CELAC, the regional block of Latin American and Caribbean nations. Prior to his inauguration, Solís appealed for understanding from the country’s teachers, who are currently on strike over a wage dispute.


Chile: Students March for Education Reform: Thousands of students took to the streets of Santiago today to demand free, universal, and quality education. It was the first major student march under the administration of newly-appointed Michelle Bachelet. “We don’t need to maintain this model of market education, we need a real reform which covers all aspects of education,” said Melissa Sepúlveda, president of Fech, Chile’s student union, who underlined that whilst the prospects for reform were good, there were still “doubts” and “contradictions” in the government’s proposals. Dozens of former student leaders joined the march, including the newly appointed deputy, Camila Vallejo. The group presented a document to the Ministry of Education, which stated: “The possibility for change is real. But it could still be reversed by the actions of a social and political minority who believe themselves to be above democracy.”


Protests in Altamira, Caracas (photo: José Romero/Télam/lz)

Protests erupted in Venezuela in February (photo: José Romero/Télam/lz)

Venezuela: Caracas Opposition Camp Cleared: Government forces cleared three opposition camps from Caracas in the early hours of this morning, leading to the arrests of 243 people. The camps, located in the neighbourhoods of Chacao, Las Mercedes, and Santa Fe, were set up by students and opposition groups as a semi-permanent space to voice their criticism of the government after anti-government protests began in February. Critics have said that in clearing the camps, the government has cracked down on freedom of speech. The government justified the move, saying it was necessary to ensure the free circulation of citizens, with Interior Minister Miguel Rodríguez Torres saying that there was evidence that the camps were breeding more violent groups, willing to commit terrorist acts. He added that drugs, weapons, and explosives had been found in the camps. Since the protests began three months ago, 41 people have died and more than 600 have been injured. Some 2,500 people have been detained.

The camp’s clearing came the night before the hearing for opposition leader Leopoldo López, set to take place today, was suspended. “Leopoldo arrived at the courthouse. They have suspended the hearing. They are taking him back to Ramo Verde,” López’s wife wrote on Twitter, referring to the jail he has been held in since been arrested on 18th February, in the middle of uprisings around the country. According to Bernardo Pulido, one of López’s defense team, the hearing was suspended as there was no chamber available. A new date for his hearing has yet to be set.



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Latin America News Roundup: 16th April 2014

The fire in Valparaíso has killed 12 and destroyed 2,000 homes. (photo: AFP/Martin Bernetti/Télam/lz)

The fire in Valparaíso has killed 12 and destroyed 2,000 homes. (photo: AFP/Martin Bernetti/Télam/lz)

Chile – President Announces Benefits for Fire Victims: President Michelle Bachelet announced that the government is preparing a special one-off payment for victims of the recent Valparaíso fire. “We will announce the amount later, because we’re working on it, but it’s a resource for people to be able to buy the basic, essential things they need,” she said on a radio interview, and she highlighted there are already two payments available to people who lost their possessions to the fire, ranging from US$216 to US$300. Also today, Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo gave the latest figures regarding the fire, which indicate that an estimated 12,500 people have been affected by it, with 2,900 homes “completely destroyed”. Chilean authorities expect to fully control the fire today.

Venezuela – Opposition to Join ‘National Pacification Plan’: As a result of the second round of dialogue between the government and the opposition, the Mesa de Unión Democrática (MUD) alliance agreed to joining the ‘National Pacification Plan’ launched by president Nicolás Maduro. MUD’s Secretary General, Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, stated that the opposition is willing “to participate in the national plans of protection and promotion of safety and peace,” and that they will focus their participation on developing policies to curb insecurity, “so we can enrich that plan.” During the meeting, it was also agreed that the parliamentary opposition will take part in the nomination committees for the electoral and judicial powers, something they had previously refused to do. The government, in turn, agreed to including personalities from outside the legislative power to the Truth Commission that will investigate the violence that left 41 people dead and hundreds wounded over the last two months, as requested by the opposition.

Talking about the process, vice-president Jorge Arreaza said that “the meeting is never without tension, it was carried out in good terms, with tolerance, we listened to each other, respected each other’s rights. We’re moving forward.” He also confirmed that the dialogue will continue next week.

President Evo Morales at The Hague (photo courtesy of Bolivian government)

President Evo Morales at The Hague (photo courtesy of Bolivian government)

Bolivia – President Travels to The Hague over Access to the Sea: President Evo Morales presented documentation supporting his country’s claim against Chile over access to the Pacific Ocean before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The documentation, called ‘Maritime Memory’, was presented yesterday by Morales and Foreign Affairs Minister David Choquehuanca, two days before the deadline set by the ICJ. Now Chile has until 18th February 2015 to respond to the Bolivian presentation. In a press conference from The Hague, president Morales indicated he is “optimistic” about the outcome of the claim. “Bolivia has placed a lot of trust and hope in the ICJ to bring justice to Bolivians,” he said. The Chilean government, through Foreign Affairs Minister Heraldo Muñoz, criticised the presentation, saying it “lacks a legal foundation and it reverts a  debate which was constructive and conducive to generating mutual trust.” The claim was lodged before the ICJ in 2013, and it seeks to force Chile to negotiate a solution to the conflict which dates back to the War of the Pacific in 1897, and which saw Bolivia lose 120,000 km2 of its territory, including access to the sea.

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Latin America News Roundup: 14th April 2014

The five defendants who went on hunger strike (photo courtesy of Qué Pasó en Curuguaty? facebook)

The five defendants who went on hunger strike (photo courtesy of Qué Pasó en Curuguaty? facebook)

Paraguay: Home Arrest Granted for Curuguaty Campesinos: After a 58-day hunger strike, home arrest has been granted for five campesinos, part of a group of 12, arrested for their role in the Curuguaty Massacre. Defense lawyer for the group, Victor Morales, said that upon hearing the decision, the campesinos decided to lift their hunger strike. The group will be transferred to a civilian hospital where their recovery is estimated to take five to eight days, before which they will be allowed to return to their homes, where they will remain under house arrest whilst they await their trial. As the news was made public, supporters gathered outside the Asunción Military Hospital, where the campesinos are being held, to celebrate. It is thought they will be transferred to a civilian hospital in the coming days, as soon as the doctors decide they are strong enough to be transferred. The Curuguaty Massacre took place in 2012 after a police operation to evict 50 campesinos from public land turned violent, ending in the deaths of 11 campesinos and six police officers. Human rights organisations have voiced concerns that only campesinos have been arrested for the deaths, highlighting that three of the 11 campesinos killed had wounds that indicated they had been killed execution-style, after already being wounded. They have also demanded an independent inquiry into the case. The prosecution is basing its case on an investigation that the police force itself carried out into the massacre, after an independent inquiry was shut down by the government.

Kidnapped Venezuelan Journalist Released Unharmed: Nairobi Pinto, chief correspondent at TV news network Globovisión, has been released after being kidnapped on 6th April. She was released on a roadside in Cúa, about 60km south of the capital Caracas, early this morning. Pinto, who appeared to be in good health, gave a press conference with Interior Minister, Miguel Rodríguez Torres, and said: “They treated me well, they didn’t touch me or treat me badly. I was given three meals a day.” She went on to say that she was unable to give many details about her ordeal, as she had been kept blindfolded and her kidnappers never spoke in front of her. Three armed men attacked as Pinto was bringing shopping in to her building last Sunday, threatening her family at gunpoint and taking her away in a blue van. A strong media campaign surrounded the kidnapping, demanding the Pinto’s release. Kidnappings and crime are a big problem in Venezuela, especially in the major cities. In February, former world boxing champion Antonio Cermeño was kidnapped and murdered in Caracas.

The fire in Valparaíso has killed 12 and destroyed 2,000 homes. (photo: AFP/Martin Bernetti/Télam/lz)

The fire in Valparaíso has killed 12 and destroyed 2,000 homes. (photo: AFP/Martin Bernetti/Télam/lz)

Chile: Twelve Dead in Valparaíso Fire: At least 12 people have died and 10,000 have been evacuated after a fire ripped through the coastal city of Valparaíso on the weekend. The fire, described by President Michelle Bachelet as the “worst fire” in the city’s history, began on Saturday afternoon, and burned for hours, destroying 2,000 houses and 850 hectares. Years of drought, unusually strong winds and high temperatures, as well as a lack of firewalls combined to make it the “perfect fire”, according to Valparaíso mayor, Ricardo Bravo. A total of 1,200 firefighters were called in, with teams travelling from the capital Santiago to help the local forces fight the blaze, which were still burning into Sunday afternoon in some places. They were joined by some 4,000 troops who were sent to help fight the fire and also help prevent looting of abandoned homes and businesses. Bachelet, who has suspended a trip to Argentina and Uruguay to oversee the emergency, travelled to the city yesterday, declaring a state of emergency and catastrophe zone in the city.

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