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Maduro faces off with US over Venezuela rival’s power claim

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelans headed into uncharted political waters Thursday, with the young leader of a newly united and combative opposition claiming to hold the presidency and socialist President Nicolas Maduro digging in for a fight with the Trump administration.

Violence flared again Wednesday during big anti-government demonstrations across Venezuela, and at least seven protesters were reported killed in the escalating confrontation with Maduro, who has been increasingly accused of undemocratic behavior by the United States and many other nations in the region.

Juan Guaido, the new leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, turned up the heat by declaring himself interim president before a mass of demonstrators in Caracas. He said it is the only way to end the Maduro “dictatorship” in Venezuela, which has seen millions flee in recent years to escape sky-high inflation and food shortages.

“We know that this will have consequences,” Guaido shouted to the cheering crowd, then slipped away to an unknown location amid speculation that he would soon be arrested.

In a united and seemingly coordinated front, the U.S., Canada and some Latin American and European countries announced that they supported Guaido’s claim to the presidency.

But Russia, China, Iran, Syria and Turkey have voiced their backing for Maduro’s government.

President Donald Trump promised to use the “full weight” of U.S. economic and diplomatic power to push for the restoration of Venezuela’s democracy. “The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law,” he said in a statement.

Maduro fired back by breaking diplomatic relations with the U.S., the biggest trading partner for the oil-exporting country, and ordering American diplomats to get out of the country within 72 hours. Washington said it would ignore the order.

The socialist leader, who so far has been backed by the military, as well as the government-packed courts and a constituent assembly, recalled the long history of heavy-handed U.S. interventions in Latin America during the Cold War as he asked his allies for support.

“Don’t trust the gringos,” he thundered to a crowd of red-shirted supporters gathered at the presidential palace. “They don’t have friends or loyalties. They only have interests, guts and the ambition to take Venezuela’s oil, gas and gold.”

China’s Foreign Ministry called on the United States to stay out of the crisis, while Russia’s deputy foreign minister warned the U.S. against any military intervention in Venezuela.

Some Russian officials reacted with anger to the opposition protests. Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the information committee at the Russian Federation Council, called Guaido’s declaration “an attempted coup” backed by the U.S.

Russia has been propping up Maduro with arms deliveries and loans. Maduro visited Moscow in December, seeking Russia’s political and financial support. Over the last decade, China has given Venezuela $65 billion in loans, cash and investment. Venezuela owes more than $20 billion.

Juan Guaido, head of Venezuela's opposition-run congress, declares himself interim president of Venezuela. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Juan Guaido, head of Venezuela’s opposition-run congress, declares himself interim president of Venezuela. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

On Thursday, attention will shift to Washington, where diplomats at the Organization of American States will hold an emergency meeting on the Venezuelan situation. The debate promises to be charged, and the National Assembly’s newly picked diplomatic envoy will be lobbying to take Venezuela’s seat from Maduro’s ambassador.

Meanwhile, many Venezuelans will be looking for Guaido to re-emerge and provide guidance on the opposition’s next steps. The armed forces’ top command, which has so far remained silent, is also expected to issue a statement, although nobody expects the general’s loyalties to Maduro to have shifted.

The price of oil slipped for the third time in four days Wednesday, an indication that international energy markets are not overly concerned yet that the situation in Venezuela — America’s third top oil supplier and owner of Houston-based Citgo — will disrupt global crude supplies.

Tensions began ramping up earlier this month as Maduro took the oath of office for a second six-year term won in an election last May that many in the region contend was not free or fair because his strongest opponents were barred from running.

The 35-year-old Guaido, a virtually unknown lawmaker at the start of the year, has reignited the hopes of Venezuela’s often beleaguered opposition by taking a rebellious tack amid Venezuela’s crushing economic crisis.

He escalated his campaign Wednesday by declaring that the constitution gives him, as president of the congress, the authority to take over as interim president and form a transitional government until he calls new elections.

Raising his right hand in unison with tens of thousands of supporters, he took a symbolic oath to assume executive powers: “Today, January 23, 2019, I swear to formally assume the powers of the national executive as president in charge of Venezuela.”

The assault on Maduro’s rule came after large crowds gathered in Caracas waving flags and chanting “Get out, Maduro!” in what was the biggest demonstration since a wave of unrest that left more than 120 dead in 2017.

There were no signs that security forces heeded Guaido’s call to join the anti-Maduro movement and go easy on demonstrators. Hours after most demonstrators went home, violence broke out in Altamira, an upscale zone of Caracas and an opposition stronghold, when National Guardsmen descended on hundreds of youths, some of them with their faces covered, lingering around a plaza. Popping tear gas canisters sent hundreds running and hordes of protesters riding two and three on motorcycles fleeing in panic.

Anti-government protesters hold their hands up during the symbolic swearing-in of Juan Guaido, head of the opposition-run congress, who declared himself interim president of Venezuela. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Anti-government protesters hold their hands up during the symbolic swearing-in of Juan Guaido, head of the opposition-run congress, who declared himself interim president of Venezuela. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Blocks away, a small group knocked a pair of guardsmen riding tandem off their motorcycle, pelting them with coconuts as they sped down a wide avenue. Some in the group struck the two guardsmen with their hands while others ran off with their gear and set their motorcycle on fire.

Meanwhile, four demonstrators were killed by gunfire in the western city of Barinas as security forces were dispersing a crowd. Three others were killed amid unrest in the border city of San Cristobal.

Amid the showdown, all eyes are on the military, the traditional arbiter of political disputes in Venezuela — and to which Guaido has been targeting his message.

On Monday, a few dozen national guardsmen seized a stockpile of assault rifles in a pre-dawn uprising that was quickly quelled, although residents in a nearby slum showed support for the mutineers by burning cars and stoning security forces. Disturbances flared up that night in other working-class neighborhoods where the government has traditionally enjoyed strong support, and more violence was reported Tuesday night.

___

Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.

___

Joshua Goodman on Twitter: https://twitter.com/APjoshgoodman

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Democrats

Losers all around: Untangling the border bill that benefits literally zero Americans

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Losers all around Untangling the border bill that benefits literally zero Americans

The Senate and House just put a bill on the President’s desk that he intends to sign. This bill will keep the government funded for most of the year and has many components worth discussing within its 1200 pages. For this discussion, let’s look specifically at the border security components because there seems to be losers across the board without a single winner in sight… at least not from this country.

First, let’s look at the two parties.

Democrats lose the political clout that would have come from a bipartisan agreement to fund the border wall. While most on the left see it as a win that they were able to put together a bill that snuck in so many atrocious immigration loopholes (which we’ll cover below), those loopholes will be used to demonstrate how bad their border policy really is.

But it would all be worth it to them if the wall never got built, at least politically speaking for 2020. The wall is President Trump’s post-midterm achievement if he can get a good chunk of it built, so stopping him from doing so would have been a win. There’s still a chance it can be a win for the Democrats if the White House doesn’t play their cards right. The national emergency declaration may or may not get the wall started before the election, so they’ll need to invoke 10 U.S.C. 284 to get it going sooner rather than later.

Of course, the biggest loss for Democrats is their own policies. It may not have the immediate negative impact necessary to affect them in 2020, but it will have a negative impact nonetheless. As drug cartels and criminal illegal immigrants benefit from the insane policies they put in the bill, the only defense the Democrats will have is that a majority of Republicans backed it as well.

Republicans lose because this deal demonstrates their weakness. They were too weak to fight the border wall battle when they had control of the House, Senate, and White House simultaneously. There’s no reason to expect them to have grown a backbone since the midterms, and this bill proves they did not.

They folded on the border wall dollars. They folded on the restrictions placed on the border wall itself. They folded on the number of beds set aside for detained illegal immigrants. They folded on the allowance of what can only be construed as amnesty for future illegal border crossing unaccompanied minor sponsors (it’s a mouthful, but we’ll get into those protections a bit later).

In short, they folded on nearly everything and put the President in a position where his only viable option was to declare the national emergency. Sadly, it means the GOP not only accomplished nothing since the shutdown began, but also demonstrated the shutdown could have easily been avoided by simply caving then instead of waiting two months to cave.

Now, let’s look at everyone other than the parties themselves.

President Trump loses because this deal makes the shutdown look meaningless. It also exposes him to the wrath of conservatives who are both unhappy with the deal itself and infuriated by the massive overreach the national emergency declaration represents.

The only possible way for him to make it out of this mess with chances still intact for a reelection win are if three very specific things happen:

  1. He has to get a good chunk of the wall built before the election.
  2. Crime and illegal immigration numbers must go down before the election.
  3. Somehow, the negative components of this deal cannot come back to haunt him, though that seems unlikely at this point because the negatives are so numerous and utterly horrendous.

But the worst loss of all for the President is that it will be very hard for him to spin the use of a national emergency and creative appropriations to build a wall when he said literally hundreds of times that Mexico was going to pay for it. Yes, this catchy line helped him win the primaries and possibly even the general election, but it’s turning into such an inaccurate campaign promise that it can’t even be called a broken promise anymore. At this point, it appears to be a bald-faced campaign lie.

Most of all, the American people lose, This will be demonstrated on so many levels over the next couple of years that it will be hard to keep track of every instance that this bill makes us less safe, wastes our money, steals from our prosperity potential, and undercuts our sovereignty.

I’ll let Twitter explain this even further:

And the winner is…

Drug cartels, criminal illegal immigrants, and anyone willing and able to take advantage of Washington DC’s stupidity are the only winners from the border omnibus deal. National emergency declarations cannot take away from how bad this is. In fact, it may make it worse.

 


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As Benjamin Netanyahu meets with world leaders, focus centers on Iran in Syria

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As Benjamin Netanyahu meets with world leaders, focus centers on Iran in Syria

The threat represented by Iran in the war-torn nation of Syria manifests in multiple ways. Other Middle Eastern nations are concerned that if Iran’s military is allowed to get entrenched in Syria, they will have too much direct access to the region in ways that threaten the peace. The United States and western allies are concerned that exerting control over the Syrian regime will turn them into a puppet state that will not solve the problems faced by the Syrian people.

Meanwhile, Israel faces the greatest threat as the nation that wants to wipe them off the map would be next door neighbors if they continue to fortify themselves in Syria. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows this all too well and has not been shy about expressing these views to the world. In fact, he did it today in meetings with 60 world leaders and followed up by sharing his perspectives on Twitter.

Iran is not Israel’s problem alone. They are a problem for all freedom-loving countries in the region as well as powers throughout Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia. Israel needs our support as well as the support of others who realize the threat Iran poses to us all.

 


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Trump’s Venezuela policy boosts his 2020 chances

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Trumps Venezuela policy boosts his 2020 chances

In a political age where Democrats rely heavily on identity politics to peddle socialism, by way of climate alarmism, their endgame is poised to unravel a particular demographic they have historically successfully dominated: Venezuelan-Americans. Back when Democrats were progressive and not socialist, they upset Cuban Americans with the botched Bay of Pigs invasion, and Cuba suffered since under communism. To this day Cuban Americans are more likely Republican, and several prominent Republicans have Cuban American heritage. Democrats face a similar splinter today that could see Venezuelan-Americans Republican for generations to come. President Trump is doing everything he can to make it happen.

The crisis in Venezuela shows no signs of getting better. Rather the country is on a course towards greater strife and possibly civil war. President Trump has demonstrated compassion with regards to the plight of the Venezuelans, perhaps unmatched in a long lasting humanitarian crisis. In September of 2017, Trump said “The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.” During the well-received State of the Union, Trump once again expressed compassion for the Venezuelans, vowing that America will never become a socialist nation.

Venezuelan-Americans are not ignorant to the fact that Venezuela was ruined by socialism. And perhaps they are opening their eyes to the Democrats and their allies blatantly endorsing the system that ruined Venezuela. Democrats are afraid of this. The New York Times issued a wake up call on the subject.

Venezuela, not Cuba, now dominates Miami’s political conversation. A television anchor not long ago ended a somber segment with a promise to keep praying for the troubled South American country. Venezuelans in the city have gathered for demonstrations to coincide with protests back home. Even the Miami-Dade County Commission, a local body with no control over foreign policy, voted unanimously to recognize the opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president.

While Hispanics stereotypically lean Democrat, Hispanics are not as pan-ethnic as one might think, despite having a similar linguistic background. Hence Cuban Americans are more likely Republican. Florida is a notorious swing state Trump needs to win in order to gain a second term in 2020. Republicans put many eggs into the Florida basket in 2018, coming up victorious in the key races. Winning over Venezuelan-Americans could very well tip the scale in Republicans favor for generations.

But many Venezuelan exiles are exasperated to see Democrats opposed to intervening in the alarming humanitarian crisis in their country because of the lingering politics of the past.

It’s not just Jews alarmed by Rep. Omar’s words. Venzuelan-Americans are turned off by them. Democrats are slowly recognizing Maduro support as folly with top leaders such as Pelosi and Biden joining Trump on recognizing Guaidó. Still, will this be enough to keep Venezuelan-Americans blue? Trump’s strong policy on Venezuela is sure to strengthen his support within the community, even if they vote blue ballot down. Trump benefited largely from people who voted for Obama at least once and can similarly win a key demographic in a key state in a key election.

 


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