Friday, February 21, 2014

Castro envía de urgencia Las Avispas Negras para sofocar rebelión estudiantil en Caracas


Venezuela expats are tweeting the way for embattled protesters

Wesley Tomaselli

February 21, 2014 16:02

The government is squeezing critical TV, blocking websites and even cutting off the internet. Here's how Venezuelans abroad are helping protesters cope.

A Venezuelan protester lights a fire during clashes with riot police in Caracas on Feb. 20. (Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images)

BOGOTA, Colombia — As anti-government protesters descended on Caracas’ main plaza this week, marcher Eiker Ramirez called a Venezuelan living in neighboring Colombia and asked her what was happening.

His friend here, 24-year-old university student Yoselie Gonzalez, checked her Twitter feed.

“They’ve got the whole avenue militarized,” Gonzalez told him via cellphone.

She warned Ramirez to avoid possible clashes between opposition demonstrators and government forces or the armed militia supporters of President Nicolas Maduro, after a wave of violence over the past week has left
eight confirmed dead.

“You’ve got to go through the other way. There isn’t any other route,” she said.

Since the Maduro government blocked access to a range of visual media covering the protests, young Venezuelans abroad have resorted to online social networks to keep family and friends inside the country informed.

This is part of a global trend where young people from Kyiv to Tehran, Cairo to Rio de Janeiro have swarmed to social media for organizing, spreading the story, and voicing anger at their leadership.

Venezuela’s government, also an avid tweeter, is well aware of this.

The authorities are now
blocking websites and cutting off the internet in parts of the country after bloody scenes from the clashes went viral.


With very few remaining independent and critical local media, President Maduro is also cracking down on international broadcasters he deems dangerous to the stability of his regime. The country's telecommunications regulator took a Colombian network off the air last week.


Now, Maduro has done
the same to CNN.

“We’re living through the worst media blackout in our history right now,” said Lorena Di Cecilia, chief of operations at Digital Monitoring, a Caracas-based media watchdog.

“The government has launched an investigation into CNN. And they’re the very last channel on the air with a voice. If we lose CNN, the country goes blind — it’ll be an absolute blackout.”

Telecom regulator CONATEL, Di Cecilia explained, has threatened news anchors and broadcasters with heavy fines against their companies or getting taken off the air if they communicate information that the government considers to be “destabilizing.”

This has scared the national media into "a form of self-censorship," she added. “Basically everything expressed in opposition to this government implies ‘fascism’ or ‘destabilization’ … so they refrain from publishing it.”

In an attempt to muffle the noise of protests, Maduro’s government blocked images on Twitter last week, a spokesman for the social site told Bloomberg.

 After three days, Twitter’s image-publishing service was back online there, but other outlets have suffered.

Not long after that, the government
removed NTN 24, a Colombian 24-hour TV news station, from Venezuelan televisions after the network showed footage of violent clashes between police and protesters.

As the protests crescendo, the Committee to Protect Journalists
condemned Maduro’s actions toward the press, saying, “Media blackouts, arrests, and a campaign of harassment against dissenting voices has become a hallmark of this administration.”

Gonzalez insists that citizen journalism through social media has become the only way for Venezuelans to publish and verify information as the government tightens its control over traditional forms.

On top of that, many protesters are relying on people like Gonzalez who are safely outside the country to monitor social networks since many protesters can’t get internet access on the streets to find out where violent flare-ups are happening.

“We’re trying to publish the human rights violations that are happening,” Gonzalez said. “That’s what is not getting published on [Venezuelan] national television right now and these images need to be seen.”

The tone of Venezuela’s protests is eerily similar to other violent clashes around the world, including Ukraine and Brazil. Deadly and lasting clashes in all three countries started with smaller rallies of young people — many of them college students — protesting the government plus a host of social and economic woes.

Venezuelan protesters are speaking out against a deepening economic crisis, high crime levels and corruption. Many feel strongly that President Maduro is incapable of solving the problems that lie ahead, while his staunchest critics say he's making those problems worse.

Indeed, Venezuela’s economy is in shambles. Consumer prices are up a whopping 56 percent. Many basics — like food and medicine — are widely unavailable across the country.

Yet, as to the causes and solutions to these problems, Venezuela is very polarized. That's clear just by watching the demos. Ardent government supporters have also swarmed the streets in counter-protest. Many Venezuelans still support the left-wing movement launched by the late Hugo Chavez in 1999. And they fear that Chavez’s disciple, President Maduro, is right: that his opponents are “ultra-right-wing fascists” backed by US interests who are trying to incite a coup — lines that are repeated by most national media outlets as fact.

Not 25-year-old Giovanna Delgada. She's a Venezuelan teacher who fled her native Caracas a month ago after finding that the economic situation had become intolerable for her profession. She now lives in Dublin, Ireland.

Commenting on Venezuela’s rampant inflation, Delgado says, “If I were working as a teacher in Caracas right now, I’d be dying of hunger.”

In addition to inflation problems, Venezuela’s
debts are piling up and its foreign currency reserves are dwindling. It owes $3 billion to foreign airlines, and roughly $9 billion in private-sector imports. And even though Venezuela sits on top of what many agree to be the world’s largest oil reserves, it isn’t reaping all the rewards it could from its oil sales.


Right now, Venezuela is sending hundreds of thousands of barrels to pay off $40 billion worth of debt to China , one of its main trading partners.
Instead of claiming responsibility and confronting deep-seated economic problems, Maduro seems to be putting more energy into measures that quell the dissent. Over the weekend the government ousted three US diplomats and, on Tuesday, arrested opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez for inciting the marches.

Lopez, a 42-year-old Harvard-educated local mayor, is among those Maduro labels a “fascist.”

How Lopez’s trial in the courts, and Venezuela’s trial on the streets, shape up over the next week should tell the world a great deal about President Nicolas Maduro’s leadership. That is, if he doesn’t shut down the story on social media before Venezuela’s citizen journalists tell it.

Back in Bogota, as she scrolls through her Twitter feed showing images and videos of violence from the day in Caracas, Yoselie Gonzalez asked out loud to herself, “How did we come to all of this? This isn’t my Venezuela.”,0


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Ecuador : cocaine’s stopover on the way to market

Simeon Tegel

February 21, 2014 00:32

This Andean nation produces no coca leaves, but more than 100 tons of cocaine cross its borders every year.

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Ecuadorean police seized this homemade narco submarine, which travels at 10 mph, has no oxygen tanks and can dive for just 15 minutes.
PHOTO BY: Simeon Tegel

GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador — If smuggling cocaine onto an airplane sounds dicey, then imagine navigating 2,000 miles on the open sea in a homemade submarine with half a ton of the white stuff and no oxygen tanks.

This 30-foot fiberglass sub can dive just 15 feet and stay under for a maximum of 15 minutes — barely long enough for passing coastguard patrols to disappear. It has no toilet, kitchen or, for that matter, legroom.

Even four months after Ecuadorean police captured it at a clandestine dock deep in a mangrove forest, the smell of diesel fumes inside the vessel is overpowering.

The submersible highlights this nation’s burgeoning reputation as a transit point for cocaine out of the Andes and onward to the streets of New York, Sydney, Moscow and Bangkok.

During a 10-day Pacific journey up to Mexico, its two-man crew would literally be sitting atop their cargo, with a street value in the United States of some $50 million.

The risk of being caught in an ocean swell or one of the hurricanes that annually batter Central America might make the common smuggling tactic of swallowing a cocaine-stuffed condom and boarding an international flight sound like a smart, safe thing to do.

No wonder Juan Carlos Barragan, the police general in charge of Ecuador’s counternarcotics strategy, describes the rudimentary vessel now stored at a Guayaquil police base as a “death cage.”

More from GlobalPost:
Cocaine king’s riches don’t reach coca growers

According to the US State Department, 110 metric tons of cocaine pass through Ecuador every year (page 155 of this report). Much of that makes its way through Guayaquil, the country’s largest city and principal port, with its excellent transport connections, including freeways and an international airport.

With no local tradition of growing or consuming coca, Ecuador has long reveled in its oddball status as an Andean nation that produces virtually no cocaine.

In 2009 it had fewer than 62 acres of the troublesome bush, whose leaves are the key ingredient in cocaine, according to the most recent
United Nations statistics.

Growing coca is outlawed here, unlike in Bolivia or Peru. In those countries, locals chew it or brew it into tea as a natural stimulant or medicine, just as they had done long before cocaine was invented by a German chemist in the 19th century.

But geography is key: Ecuador is sandwiched between Peru and Colombia, the world’s Nos. 1 and 2 cocaine producers, respectively.

Together, the two leading growers have some 386 square miles of coca fields — almost the
size of San Antonio, Texas — and some 90 percent of the global total. A growing amount of their exports is now passing through their tiny neighbor, Ecuador.

And, Barragan says, the drug flow is increasingly controlled by ruthless Mexican cartels that have drenched much of Central America in blood, triggering a gradual rise in narco-violence here.

The sub would have cost around $500,000 to manufacture, the undercover agent who tracked it down told GlobalPost. It’s just one of several captured in Ecuador and
Colombia in recent years.

Using submarines is just one of the increasingly ingenious — and often downright reckless — methods the cartels use to move their wares to market.

Probably Ecuador’s most famous product, bananas, has served as obvious cover. Plastic fruit packed with drugs is frequently found by sniffer dogs in the Guayaquil docks.

In October 2012, Belgian authorities unearthed 8 metric tons of cocaine hidden in a banana shipment from Ecuador, one of the largest coke seizures anywhere.

Another common tactic is for traffickers to hollow the stems of flowers, a major Ecuadorean export, and fill them with cocaine.

Falling US demand drives new routes

Barragan estimates the authorities intercept roughly 30 percent of the cocaine passing through Ecuador. That of course means that more than two-thirds gets through.

“The drug traffickers are actually trying out lots of new routes, all over the place, especially to go to Europe and to Russia and even Australia,” he says.

“One of the reasons for that is the growing demand there but also that there is a falling demand in the United States.”

Cocaine is actually thought to be more expensive Down Under than anywhere else on the planet, with a kilogram of the white stuff costing up to $300,000, according to the Australian Crime Commission (
page 225).

That makes the “Pacific route” one of the world’s most lucrative for drugs.

It made headlines in November 2012 when a
yacht loaded with 450 pounds of cocaine, and the corpse of a Serbian national, washed up in Tonga.

The ship set sail in August that year from Guayaquil with two people aboard, bound for Australia, before running into trouble.

The cadaver was too badly decomposed for authorities to establish a cause of death. It remains unclear whether the other crewmember fell overboard or escaped alive.

Greatest hits

In spite of all the cocaine that makes it past the authorities, Ecuador is scoring some major successes against the cartels.

Last year, officials seized
more than 50 tons of the drug, based on preliminary numbers. In 2012, the figure was 42 tons, up from 26 tons the year before and 18 tons in 2010.

Yet those figures are all smaller than the 2009 haul: a whopping 68 tons.

That was the last year that Washington still coordinated anti-drug operations in the country — until leftist President Rafael Correa ended the US lease on the Manta military base.

Correa regularly jousts with Washington, including booting out the US ambassador in 2011 over the WikiLeaks cables and offering asylum to the website’s founder, Julian Assange.

The US Agency for International Development, Washington’s foreign aid arm, is now planning on pulling out of Ecuador by year’s end, despite having already earmarked $32 million of anti-poverty projects for the country, in frustration at what US officials see as roadblocks from the Correa administration.

Scaling down the US’s involvement in its counternarcotics strategy clearly hurt Ecuador’s capacity to fight the drug lords, at least temporarily, says Bruce Bagley, an expert on the drug trade at the University of Miami.

But Ecuador’s counternarcotics fight appears not to be a source of tension with Washington.

“Correa has promised to extirpate drugs from the country,” Bagley adds.

“The US likes that kind of rhetoric. Although it regards Ecuador’s strategy as incoherent, it doesn’t want to fight with Ecuador and recognizes that there is a real will to confront the cartels.”

The US Drug Enforcement Agency’s Ecuador office declined to comment for this story. But Washington has publicly recognized the country’s efforts to stem the flow of drugs across its borders.

“The government has maintained Ecuador virtually free of coca production since the mid-1980s, and is working to combat money laundering and the transshipment of drugs and chemicals essential to the processing of cocaine,” the State Department

Rather than spend too much time busting users and drug mules, Ecuador has set out to use intelligence to nab targets higher up the gangs’ chains of command.

It was that straight-to-the-top approach, and a tip-off from an informant, that led agents to seize the submarine. And it has even earned the country accolades from the UN.

Yet so long as there’s demand for cocaine in the US and elsewhere, Ecuadorean law enforcement will have its work cut out to intercept as much drugs as possible.

And the smugglers are likely to continue attempting to outsmart them to get the white stuff to market.