Posts Tagged ‘Venezuela’

Several dead in Venezuela as police seek helicopter pilot’s capture — “Venezuelan Rambo”

January 16, 2018


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Photo: Venezuelan Commandos. Credit Fernando Llano – Associated Press

Video by Rebecca ROSMAN


Latest update : 2018-01-16

Several people including two police officers were killed in an operation to capture a helicopter pilot who bombed Venezuela’s Supreme Court during anti-government protests last year, the interior ministry said Monday.

A ministry statement said members of a “terrorist cell” were killed in a fierce gunbattle, and five were captured, but did not say whether the pilot, Oscar Perez, was among the dead or detained.

Venezuelan police officer and helicopter pilot, Oscar Perez, in a video obtained on social media, 15 January 2018Image copyrightREUTERS
Oscar Pérez was wanted for using a stolen helicopter to throw grenades at government buildings

Six police were wounded, President Nicolas Maduro told lawmakers.

The cell had planned to set off a car bomb outside the embassy of “a beloved and prestigious country,” Maduro said.

Reports said Perez and associates were holed up for hours in a house 25 kilometers northwest of Caracas during the raid.

Perez released videos on Instagram in which he said authorities were trying to kill him and his people even though they wanted to surrender.

Press reports said Perez did in fact die in the raid.

At the height of street protests against Maduro last June, Perez and unidentified accomplices flew over Caracas in a police helicopter and dropped four grenades on the Supreme Court before opening fire on the interior ministry. There were no casualties.

Perez has been on the run since Venezuelan authorities issued an arrest warrant through Interpol after accusing him of a “terrorist attack.”

The 36-year-old former elite police officer and actor has regularly taunted the government during his time in hiding, saying he was fighting against Maduro’s “tyranny” and the “narco-dictatorship.”

He urged Venezuelans “not to lose heart. Fight, take to the streets, it is time we are free.”

Two weeks after the attack on the Supreme Court, Perez at the time Venezuela’s most-wanted man turned up at a Caracas ceremony to commemorate those who had died in the wave of anti-government protests.

In all, 125 people were killed between April and July as authorities used force to put down protests to unseat Maduro.

Eventually, the protests fizzled out and the socialist president prevailed, despite a staggering crisis caused by falling oil prices, spiraling inflation and corruption.

‘Heavily armed’

“These terrorists, who were heavily armed with high-caliber weapons, opened fire on the officials responsible for their capture,” the interior ministry statement said.

It said those who resisted had been killed.

The police were “attacked violently” when they were negotiating the surrender of Perez’s group, it said, adding that they had “tried to detonate a vehicle loaded with explosives.”

AFP journalists trying to reach the area saw an army tank, special forces and ambulances rush to the scene.

Perez said in a video released on Twitter earlier Monday that he and his companions were surrounded and pinned down by police marksmen at El Junquito on the outskirts of Caracas.

“They are firing at us with grenade launchers. We said we are going to surrender but they do not want to let us surrender. They want to kill us,” a bloody-faced Perez said in one of the videos posted online.

Perez, a former elite police officer, is seen with other men in one of the videos, some of them armed.

He said they were being besieged by snipers.

“We will die standing up defending our land, never kneeling before the tyrants,” another of Perez’s messages said.

The vice president of the ruling Socialist party, Diosdado Cabello, said on Twitter the Police Special Action Force (FAES) had launched the operation to arrest Perez.

He said the security forces had “responded with fire” when two officers were wounded in the operation.

Iris Varela, Venezuela’s minister with responsibility for prisons, rejoiced at the news that police had finally cornered Perez “like a rat.”

“What a coward now that he has been caught like a rat. Where is the courage he had to attack military units, kill and injure officers and steal weapons?” she wrote on Twitter.

In December, Perez claimed responsibility for an attack on a military base in the country’s north, in which weapons were seized.

Perez said in a message to his children that his fight against the government was dedicated to them and to the children of Venezuela, suffering the worst of the food and medicine shortages caused by the economic crisis.

Perez, blond and blue-eyed, was well known to Venezuelans even before his attack on the Supreme Court as an actor. He starred in the film “Muerte Suspendida” (Suspended Death), an action movie based on the true story of the kidnapping of a Portuguese businessman in Caracas.


Oil producers should commit to cuts until market reaches balance says OPEC president

January 11, 2018

UAE Energy Minister Suhail Al-Mazrouei believes the oil market needs further correction. (Reuters)

ABU DHABI: Oil-producing countries should remain committed to current production limits for the rest of 2018, or even consider further cuts, until the global market reaches balance, according to Suhail Al-Mazrouei, the UAE energy minister.

He was speaking for the first time in his capacity as president of OPEC.
“I have no doubt that the market needs further correction. We still have more than 100 million barrels that needs to be taken care of,” he said at the UAE Energy Forum in Abu Dhabi.
“There is positive market sentiment we are seeing today. The market is balancing, but the issue is timing and how long it will take,” he said.
Last year OPEC and 10 other oil exporters agreed to continue output limits into 2018, with a commitment to review the deal in June.
“But this is not ‘mission accomplished.’ OPEC is committed to the deal for a full year,” Al-Mazrouei insisted.
He was confident that OPEC and other oil exporters — led by Russia, the world’s biggest oil producer — could maintain the alliance that has helped the oil price recover from the big declines of 2014.
The price of Brent crude rose marginally as he was speaking, at $69.32 per barrel just slightly below the psychologically important $70 level.
“This group (the OPEC and non-OPEC alliance) started something never attempted before, and I believe compliance will continue this year. OPEC will continue to be a strong organization. The phenomenon of getting others to join is something that is of increasing interest. Many other countries have expressed interest in joining OPEC,” he added.
Some analysts have recently forecast that geopolitical shocks could force the oil price to spike above $80 a barrel, but Al-Mazrouei said he was not worried about the effects of short-term shocks from producers like Venezuela and Iran.
“We can always help each other. For example, when Libya was experiencing problems a few years ago we came together. We will be responsive to countries that are experiencing exceptional problems,” he said.
On the US shale industry, which some experts predict will ramp up production as the price recovers and the US economy gets fiscal stimulus from President Trump’s tax reform, he said: “The American people chose their president and we respect that. The US market has been supportive of the oil industry. The only issues with shale oil is the pace of production.”
Al-Mazrouei added that US investors were increasingly looking at the economics of the shale industry, rather than simply increasing production.
“Investors are seeking a good return,” he said.
Asked if he thought Saudi Aramco would complete its initial public offering in 2018, as Saudi Arabian policymakers have pledged, he said: “I trust what the leadership in Saudi Arabia says it will do. They committed to raise fuel prices and bring in VAT, and they have done it. The Vision 2030 is a reality, people are excited about it.”
The forum, organized by the Gulf Intelligence information firm and attended by 200 industry experts, agreed that the Aramco IPO would take place this year. In an electronic poll, 65 percent said that it would happen in 2018.
In a similar vote, 62 percent of participants predicted that the average price of oil would be in the $60-70 range this year, with 20 percent saying it would be more than $70.

Iran ‘tested by its own citizens’: Nikki Haley

December 31, 2017


© AFP/File | US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley singles out Iran in New Year’s message

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said Sunday Iran’s government is “being tested by its own citizens” after three days of protests against the clerical regime.

“We pray that freedom and human rights will carry the day,” she said in a statement.

Haley’s comments echoed those of US President Donald Trump, who earlier Sunday said the United States was watching closely for human rights violations.

“Big protests in Iran. The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer,” Trump tweeted.

Over the past year, Trump has held out Iran as Washington’s top adversary in the Middle East, disavowing a 2015 accord that curbed its nuclear program and accusing it of destabilizing activities in the region.

At least two people have been killed and dozens arrested since protests broke out Thursday in the city of Masshad and spread to Tehran and other cities.

Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli on Sunday warned that protesters will “pay the price” for disrupting order.

Haley singled out Iran in a New Year’s message that also denounced “oppressive governments” in North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba.

“The long-repressed Iranian people are now finding their voice,” she said. “The Iranian government is being tested by its own citizens.”

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte “Wins” Person of the Year — Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project Says Duterte “Empowed Corruption“ and “Made a Mockery of Rule of Law” Nation-Wide

December 30, 2017
By: – Reporter / @JhoannaBINQ
 / 03:14 PM December 30, 2017

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President Rodrigo Duterte. PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

A network of nonprofit investigative centers and several major regional news organizations around the globe has named President Rodrigo Duterte as its “Person of the Year” for his crackdown against illegal drugs.

The network, through its investigative reporting platform known as the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), gives the title to an individual every year “who has done the most in the world to advance organized criminal activity and corruption”.

Drew Sullivan, editor of the OCCRP, said Duterte “has made a mockery of rule of law” in the country for empowering corruption “in an innovative way.”  Sullivan is one of the nine judges who made the selection from nominations submitted by journalists and the public, according to the OCCRP website report published on Dec. 28, 2017.

“While he is not your typical corrupt leader, he has empowered corruption in an innovative way. His death squads have allegedly focused on criminals but, in fact, are less discriminating,” Sullivan said.

“He has empowered a bully-run system of survival of the fiercest. In the end, the Philippines are more corrupt, more cruel, and less democratic,” he added.

Palace reaction

Communications Secretary Martin Andanar disputed the award on Saturday, saying that Duterte has done the complete opposite of the OCCRP’s claim.

“Parang kabaliktaran ata dahil ang ating Pangulo ay ginawa naman niya lahat para kalabanin, para labanan ang organized crime para mapuksa ang [inaudible] drugs, ipinagbabawal na gamot, para matigil na ‘yung drug trafficking dito sa ating bansa at para mahinto ang gawin nilang transshipment ng droga ‘yung ating bansa,” Andanar said in an interview over state-run Radyo Pilipinas.

(It appears that it’s the other way around because our President has done everything to fight organized crime, suppress illegal drugs, eradicate drug trafficking in the country, and stop making the Philippines as the transshipment point of illegal drugs.)

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, on the other hand, did not comment on OCCRP’s “recognition”, saying he has “never heard of that award.”

Duterte beat out two African strongmen for the title–South African President Jacob Zuma and recently-ousted Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe.

The OCCRP had given the distinction before to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Montenegro Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, and Russian President Vladimir Putin for their “iron-fisted rule.”

Groundbreaking investigative reports

OCCRP has also spearheaded several groundbreaking investigative reports, including the controversial ‘Panama Papers and Offshore Leaks” database in collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). It’s most recent work is the $3-billion secret slush fund of Azerbaijan’s ruling elite.

It is also the only full-time investigative reporting organization that specializes in organized crime and corruption.

The panel of judges of the Person of the Year 2017 award is composed of nine corruption-fighting journalists, scholars and activists, including Luis Manuel Botello of Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists./asu

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Oil price optimism would be ‘misplaced’ in early 2018, strategists say

December 26, 2017

By Sam Meredith
December 25, 2017

There’s little reason to expect oil prices to extend gains through the first quarter of 2018, energy strategists have told CNBC.

The prospect of rising U.S. shale production, subdued price movements and intensifying geopolitical risks is likely to offset a rally in prices at the start of next year, the analysts said.

Harry Colvin, director and senior economist at Longview Economics, told CNBC in a phone interview that he was “pretty bearish” over the price of oil over the next three months.

“While we could easily see an escalation of tensions in the Middle East, in the absence of that, optimism is probably misplaced for up to six months… Everybody seems to be facing the same way over oil at the minute and it’s when this happens that you need to be especially careful,” he said.

Oil prices have recovered well over a third of their value since hitting 2017 lows in June. The gains are largely due to the global supply cuts implemented by OPEC and non-OPEC producers at the start of the year.

What will happen with US shale?

Goldman Sachs said a stronger-than-anticipated OPEC-led commitment to extend production cuts would likely support oil prices through 2018. The U.S. bank lifted its Brent price forecast for next year to $62 a barrel and its West Texas Intermediate (WTI) projection to $57.50 a barrel. The revisions were up from $58 a barrel and $55 a barrel respectively.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) have both indicated strong global demand growth in 2018 at 1.3 percent or above.

“A really key nub of the debate with oil is what will happen with the U.S. shale?” Colvin said.

Pump jacks and wells on the Monterey Shale formation in California

David McNew / Stringer | Getty Images News
Pump jacks and wells on the Monterey Shale formation in California

In recent months, U.S. shale producers have surprised market participants with how quickly they have ramped up production in the wake of rising prices. Almost all increases in American oil production over the last few years have stemmed from shale, which in total accounts for nearly two-thirds of the country’s existing output.

The U.S. is not part of a global effort to withhold oil production levels.

Colvin said it would be “easy” for oil to go to $50 a barrel by the end of the first quarter, before adding he would “not be surprised” to see levels as low as $45 a barrel.

‘Volatility killer’

OPEC, Russia and nine other producers agreed to extend their deal to keep 1.8 million barrels a day off the market through the end of 2018. Having extended the deal once already, the producers again reached an agreement at the end of November to try to drain a global crude glut.

OPEC’s latest deal was most likely a “volatility killer,” Chris Main, energy strategist at Citi, told CNBC in a phone interview.

Despite expecting fundamentals to continue to support the market, Main said he forecast oil prices to fall back to around $57 a barrel by the end of the first quarter.

“That price weakness could end up being supportive to the OPEC commitment next year… It would certainly reinforce the will of the Saudis,” he said.

OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia is head of the cartel’s compliance monitoring committee and is reportedly expected to try to ensure all other member countries stick to agreed production levels over the next 12 months.

‘Bullish catalysts in short supply’

“The major price driver in the first quarter of 2018 will be geopolitical developments,” Stephen Brennock, oil analyst at PVM Oil Associates, said in an email to CNBC.

While Brennock cited Iran’s relationship with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia as geopolitical risks worthy of keeping an eye on, he argued it was likely to be only a “matter of time” before Venezuela‘s worsening debt crisis started to significantly hamper the OPEC members’ oil production.

An attendant sits at a closed Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) gas station in Caracas, Venezuela, on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017.

Wil Riera | Bloomberg | Getty Images
An attendant sits at a closed Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) gas station in Caracas, Venezuela, on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017.

The South American country has the largest proven oil reserves in the world but, amid intensifying economic pressure, its production levels have decreased to levels not seen in more than 30 years.

“All things considered, bullish catalysts will be in short supply and prices will therefore settle into their current trading ranges,” Brennock said.

The price of oil collapsed from almost $120 a barrel in June 2014 due to weak demand, a strong dollar and booming U.S. shale production. OPEC’s reluctance to cut output was also seen as a key reason behind the fall. But, the oil cartel soon moved to curb production — along with other oil producing nations — in late 2016.

Jake Tapper Condemns United Nations — UN gave “moral platform” to dictators and human rights abusers — Resolution rejecting Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital an unneeded insult

December 22, 2017

‘Possibly is something else afoot at the United Nations, something that allows the representative of the Assad government to lecture the United States for moving its embassy?’

86 % of the condemnations issued by the U.N. are aimed at Israel….

Haaretz Dec 22, 2017 6:05 PM

CNN’s Jake Tapper called out the United Nations for giving a “moral platform” to dictators and human rights abusers and singling out Israel by passing a resolution rejecting Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“The United Nations General Assembly, from 2012-2015, has adopted 97 resolutions specifically criticizing an individual country, and of those 97, 83 have focused on Israel. That is 86 percent,” said Tapper.

Tapper insisted there are many issues inherent with Trump’s decision, but scoffed at the fact that leaders responsible for humanitarian crises and human rights abuses are now lecturing the United States over its Israel policy.

“Now certainly Israel is not above criticism, but considering the genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, the lack of basic human rights in North Korea, the children starving in the streets of Venezuela, the citizens of Syria targeted for murder by their own leader using the most grotesque and painful of weapons, you have to ask is Israel truly deserving of 86 percent of the world’s condemnation? Or possibly is something else afoot at the United Nations, something that allows the representative of the Assad government to lecture the United States for moving its embassy?”


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Venezuela’s Brutal Crime Crackdown: Executions, Machetes and 8,292 Dead

December 20, 2017

Beleaguered regime kills guilty and innocent alike in poor barrios, often with shots to the heart

Yanderson Granados’ parents look through the files of his death inquiry at their home in Caracas, Venezuela.


BARLOVENTO, Venezuela—The young men had already been tortured at an army base when soldiers piled them into two jeeps and transported them to a wooded area just outside the Venezuelan capital.

Stumbling in the dark, with T-shirts pulled over their faces and hands tied behind their backs, they were steered to an open pit. Soldiers then used machetes to deliver blow after blow to the base of their necks. Most suffered gaping wounds that killed them before they hit the ground.

Others, bleeding profusely but still alive, crumpled into the shallow grave as their killers piled dirt over their bodies to hide the crime.

“We think they were alive a good while as they died from asphyxia,” said Zair Mundaray, a veteran prosecutor who led the exhumation and investigation that pieced together how the killings unfolded. “It had to be a terrible thing.”

For Mr. Mundaray and his team of investigators, the massacre in this area east of Caracas in October 2016 was the most bloodthirsty of killings by security forces in a country riven by unspeakable violence.

Prosecutors, criminologists and human-rights groups say it was only one of many recurring and escalating lethal attacks carried out by police or soldiers.

A view from Elibeth Pulido’s house, where her son, Jose Daniel Bruzual, was killed last August in Caracas.

The full scope of the alleged atrocities is beginning to surface publicly now. Luisa Ortega, a former Socialist Party stalwart who was attorney general until fleeing to neighboring Colombia in August, is releasing data on the killings, as are independent human-rights groups and Venezuelan journalists.

Her office recorded the slayings of 8,292 people by the police, the National Guard, the army and Venezuela’s version of the FBI, from 2015 through the first six months of this year, she said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. By her account, the operations target poor barrios that have traditionally formed the bedrock of support for Chavismo, the radical leftist movement in power since 1999 that is named after its late founder, Hugo Chávez. She and other human-rights activists criticize them as misguided and heavy-handed attempts to confront the crime running rampant in those neighborhoods.

“It’s a systematic policy against a social sector,” said Ms. Ortega. She said the police and armed forces enter poor barrios heavily armed in large numbers, “leveling everything that is in their way.”

The government of President Nicolás Maduro says it respects human rights but must respond with force to battle a soaring crime wave he and his ministers say was hatched from abroad to destabilize the country. Whipsawed by gangs and cocaine, Venezuela has seen homicides spiral from 25 per 100,000 people in the first year of the Chávez government to 70 per 100,000 in 2016. That is the second-highest in the world outside El Salvador, according to data collected by the attorney general’s office and criminologists.

“We can’t let our guard down,” Mr. Maduro said in one speech extolling the operations.

Calls and emails to Ms. Ortega’s successor in the attorney general’s office, Tarek William Saab, as well as to the president’s office and the police, army, National Guard and other agencies weren’t returned.

By Ms. Ortega’s count, Venezuelan security services claimed roughly the same number of civilian lives in the year ended June 30 as did Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial antidrug campaign in the Philippines, a country three times Venezuela’s size.

Forensic evidence from shootings and a chorus of complaints from the poorest barrios indicates the vast majority weren’t acts of self-defense by security forces.

A portrait of Jose Daniel Bruzual.

An independent Caracas human-rights group, Families of Victims Committee, or Cofavic, tallied 6,385 extrajudicial executions from 2012 through the first three months of this year, what it calls social cleansing operations by state forces in which all the deaths were legally unwarranted, the group says.

Fired by Mr. Maduro, Ms. Ortega fled Venezuela in a speedboat to avoid arrest before arriving in Colombia. She recently filed a 495-page report on rights abuses at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands, asserting that “the civilian population is victim of these criminal attacks.” A copy of the report was reviewed by the Journal.

She now operates a parallel prosecutor’s office, staffed by Mr. Mundaray and other loyal prosecutors exiled from Venezuela, on a leafy street in the Colombian capital. Working with evidence and documents smuggled out of Venezuela, prosecutors say they are advancing on cases of alleged rights abuses and corruption by Ms. Ortega’s former comrades.

Over the past year, Venezuela has entered a severe economic downturn. The output of oil, its lifeblood, has declined for 13 months, skyrocketing inflation has given way to hyperinflation, the currency is virtually worthless and millions struggle to feed themselves. In this context, an increasingly authoritarian regime has resorted to tactics long used in dysfunctional countries to generate public support: military-style assaults on poor districts and a growing body count of people officials assert were criminals.

“State policy is not to catch the criminal,” said Mr. Mundaray. “Because there’s police corruption and no control of the jails or the courts, then they opt to kill them.”

Venezuela escalated its lethal use of force in 2015, when it launched a new strategy called the Operation to Liberate and Protect the People, or OLP. The stated goal, using various police and military units at once to flood neighborhoods, was to defend citizens from foreign criminals and gunmen, though the government never offered evidence of such a threat.

“This is the concept: Liberate the people, protect the people,” Mr. Maduro said in a speech that year.

The OLP strikes were one of many loose strategies criminologists say were employed by the state. What they had in common was the high body count.

To blame the slayings on “resistance against authorities,” the police alter crime scenes and incidence reports to make it appear as if officers were in danger, say investigators on Ortega’s team, criminologists and relatives of the dead.

Mr. Mundaray says he has personally examined bodies and repeatedly seen direct, clean shots to the heart and upper chest at straight angles, which he says clash with reports describing wild gunfights.

“It’s always a shot to the chest, perpendicular, in and out, upper torso,” he said. “That doesn’t happen in confrontations. Statistically, that doesn’t happen.”

Elibeth Pulido, mother of the late Jose Daniel Bruzual, looks out the window of their home in Caracas.

Elibeth Pulido said that’s exactly what happened to her son, a 27-year-old electrician named Jose Daniel Bruzual. On Aug. 22, a swarm of officers who said they were searching for kidnappers stormed into her home, according to people in the neighborhood.

Two witnesses told the Journal they heard Mr. Bruzual yelling repeatedly, “Call my mom, they want to kill me!”

The victim suffered one shot to the upper chest, a death certificate shows. Mr. Bruzual’s body was rolled in a bed sheet and carried out of the house. Bullets pockmarked walls inside and outside Ms. Pulido’s small home, pointing to a shootout. The police said a gun was recovered. Ms Pulido said it was planted, and that her son wasn’t a criminal.

The targets of the crackdown are often in hotbeds of government support, like the 23 of January neighborhood, which is near the presidential palace and was raided in October 2016.

Rossinis del Valle, a 40-year-old mother of six, said officers barged through the fence of her home and front door, hauling out her husband, her brother and a friend with their T-shirts over their heads. Officers shot and killed all three, she and other relatives said.

“All these cases are the same—it’s the same modus operandi—and they don’t care if they have a criminal record or not,” said Ms. del Valle, who said her relatives weren’t involved in criminal activities. “They don’t kill people in rich neighborhoods. They kill people in barrios.”

Not far from her home, 25-year-old Yanderson Granados was picked up in the same sweep, according to his family and police reports. A well-known community leader was a witness, describing in an interview how security forces dressed in black led Mr. Granados into an alley between two buildings. Shots were fired, and his lifeless body was then carried out.

“Everyone here knows,” said the witness.

As in other cases reviewed by the Journal, the slayings in the 23 of January neighborhood had similarities with other operations by security forces. The targets were shot at close range and in direct angles in the chest or abdomen, the Journal review showed. Witnesses describe security forces clad in skull masks. Bullet-holes peppered walls and buildings.

Those killed in the 23 of January operation were discovered by their families in a public hospital, their clothes discarded and their bodies naked. Human-rights investigators say stripping bodies of clothing is a common way to obscure the fact that a gun was fired at close range.

“When there’s a gunfight, you have your body here, the gun there, the shell casings there,” said Yanderson’s father, Asdrubal Granados, who has collected police reports and made complaints to myriad agencies about his son’s death. “No one is supposed to touch it” until investigators arrive. Instead, he says, his son was taken to the hospital morgue and “tossed there like a dog.”

A view of the alley where Yanderson Granados was last seen alive.

In an address on the day of those killings, Interior and Justice Minister Nestor Reverol announced that 19 people had been killed in confrontations with security forces in what he called a “new phase” of operations launched in 23 of January and other districts.

“We are going to continue the necessary activities to guarantee peace,” he said. “Our victory is and will be the peace.”

Policemen who have participated in the operations say only an iron hand can bring control to unruly barrios. “For them, we’re a trophy—to kill a policeman is to get a trophy,” said one officer.

Sitting in a hotel restaurant in Caracas before a plateful of eggs, the policeman, a veteran of Caracas’s meanest streets, said to surprise criminals the police plan to strike operations swiftly, at 4 a.m., when those being targeted are still asleep. “Imagine the danger,” he said. “We can’t wait for an arrest warrant.”

He resented the concerns rights groups show about the killings of criminals in the barrios. “They worry about their rights and not ours, when we are the ones who get killed,” he said.

The number of police officers slain is high for a country of Venezuela’s size, with at least 1,700 officers killed from 2012 through 2016, according to data compiled by Keymer Ávila, a criminologist who studies civilian killings by police and the killing of officers. In the U.S., which has ten times Venezuela’s population, 62 officers were shot dead in 2016, the FBI said, with another four on-duty officers killed.

Mr. Ávila and other leading criminologists here argue the circumstances related to the deaths of many police officers suggest that the security forces are engaged in criminal activity themselves, not that they are under siege.

Mr. Ávila’s 2016 study of police slayings in Caracas showed that seven of 10 policemen killed were off-duty. He found more than half were related to some sort of criminal activity on the part of the officer. Mr. Ávila also found that 31% of the killings were carried out by other officers. Only 7.1% were clearly killed in the line of duty, he found.

An old photo of Eliezer Ramirez, killed in October 2016 during a security operation in Barlovento, Venezuela, hangs on a wall of his house.

With nowhere else to go to complain, hundreds of families of those killed by security forces for months flooded the offices of opposition congresswoman Delsa Solórzano. She headed a special committee that held hearings in which people from the barrios spoke about what had happened to their loved ones.

“Everyone started to come,” said Ms. Solórzano, whose office collects police reports, death certificates and other official documentation of lethal government operations. “Sadly, these things don’t surprise us,” said the congresswoman.

The most notorious case in Venezuela, first reported in detail by a team of reporters from the Caracas news website Runrunes, involved the deaths of 13 young men here in Barlovento, 10 of whom were killed with machetes and buried in a mass grave. Another two were shot, one was tortured to death, and five remain missing.

It began when security forces believed there was “a growing conspiracy against the Bolivarian government,” according to an army document viewed by the Journal. Military authorities believed “an internal subversion” was leading to drug trafficking, kidnappings, robbery and extortion, according to the document.

“The final desired result is that the groups that generate violence be neutralized as fast as possible,” said the document, which is marked secret and was written before the operation.

A view of local cemetery in Barlovento where Eliezer Ramirez was buried.

Carmen Cordero’s son, Eliezer Ramirez, 22, was at home in Barlovento on leave from the merchant marine when he was detained in army sweeps on Oct. 16 of last year along with dozens of others. Prosecutors who later investigated the case and two of the men detained told the Journal the entire group was taken to an army base, where they were beaten with helmets and fists. Soldiers demanded to know about a local gangster.

“We asked for water,” one young man said, “and they put a gun in my mouth.”

Another man who was detained said in an interview with the Journal that at night “you could hear people scream.”

Only after one of the soldiers was interrogated and told investigators what had transpired was the crime uncovered; several soldiers have been charged and are awaiting trial.

“They tried to say they killed a gang, when they were good kids who were clean,” said Ms. Cordero. A maid in Caracas, Ms. Cordero now spends her free time making sure the grave where her son is buried is well-kept and asking herself how this tragedy could befall her family.

“I always say the government has a lot to do with this—they didn’t catch a single criminal,” she said. “What we ask ourselves is, ‘Why? Why would they do this?’ ”

—Mayela Armas and Anatoly Kurmanaev in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this article.

Carmen Cordero, mother of Eliezer Ramirez, decorates her son’s grave.

Write to Juan Forero at

Blackout hits parts of Venezuelan capital Caracas

December 18, 2017

CARACAS (Reuters) – A blackout hit parts of the Venezuelan capital Caracas as well as the nearby states of Miranda and Vargas on Monday, state-run electricity company Corpoelec said, adding that authorities were working to restore service.

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Lights and refrigeration click off.  Photo: A refrigerator out of power is seen at a bakery, during a massive blackout in Caracas, Venezuela December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Social media users and local media reported that the fault was affecting the Caracas metro as well as the Maiquetia airport just outside the capital.

Corpoelec did not give details on the cause of the blackout or how many households were impacted.

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Maiquetia airport — after electric power lost

Oil-rich Venezuela has in recent years suffered frequent blackouts that critics attribute to insufficient investment following the 2007 nationalization of the electricity sector.

The government of President Nicolas Maduro has in some cases attributed blackouts to sabotage by his adversaries.

Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien

Venezuelan first lady’s ‘Narco Nephews’ jailed for drug trafficking

December 15, 2017


Statue of Justice. Photo by sebra/Shutterstock

Dec. 14 (UPI) — Two nephews of Venezuela’s first lady were sentenced to 18 years in prison in the United States for drug trafficking.

Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas, 32, and Efraoin Antonio Campo Flores, 31, were accused of conspiring to smuggle 1,700 pounds of cocaine from South America to the United States via Honduras.

Prosecutors sought a sentence of 30 years for both men — who were given the moniker of “Narco Nephews” by Venezuelan media — but U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty said that would be “excessive,” as neither had a criminal record and sentenced them to 18 years.

They had previously denied the charges saying the trafficking plot “could never actually have been executed,” and requested a shorter sentence.

“I’ve always been a good person,” Flores de Freitas said. “Even in jail I tried to help those who were in a worse psychological situation than I find myself in.”

The two nephews of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores, were arrested in 2015 by undercover U.S. Drug Enforcement agents in Haiti, where prosecutors said they were making arrangements to smuggle the cocaine.

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (R) and his wife Cilia Flores (L)

While in Haiti they told the agents, posing as representatives of a Mexican cartel, they would ship 800 kilos of cocaine purchased from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerrillas to Honduras, where the presumed cartel members would move it to the United States.

The brothers were then taken to New York where they were convicted on drug trafficking charges in 2016.

Maduro suggested he and his wife were the true targets of the sting at the time.

“Do you think it’s a coincidence that the empire [the United States] created this case with the sole objective of attacking the first lady, the first combatant, the wife of the president,” he said. “Do you think it’s a coincidence?”

Attorneys for Josh Holt, a Utah man who has been in custody in Venezuela for more than 17 months on weapons charge, fear Venezuela might “take revenge” on their client after the sentencing.

Saudi Aramco Ramps Up Spending to Over $40 Billion a Year

December 12, 2017

World’s biggest oil company needs investments to maintain production capacity

DUBAI—Saudi Arabian Oil Co. Tuesday unveiled a plan to invest more than $40 billion a year in projects over the next decade, a significant expansion for the world’s largest energy company ahead of its expected public listing next year.

The $414 billion proposal is up almost 25% from a 10-year spending plan outlined last year by Saudi Aramco, as the company is commonly known. The increased spend is being driven by its goal of maintaining its production capacity at about 12 million barrels of oil a day, the most of any company in the world.

Saudi Aramco’s spending plan coincides with the Saudi government’s efforts to prop up oil prices with coordinated supply cuts via the 14-nation cartel it leads, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, and an alliance of 10 other producers led by Russia. The group last month reaffirmed its commitment to limiting oil output through all of 2018 to reduce a long-built-up global oversupply of petroleum.

Saudi Aramco’s announcement came on the same day that Brent crude, the international benchmark for oil prices, passed $65 a barrel for the first time since June 2015. Oil prices have risen by almost a third since their lows over the summer, thanks to OPEC’s production cuts, rising demand and supply disruptions in the U.K., the U.S., Iraq and Venezuela.

Saudi Aramco’s plans to increase spending buck a general trend in the global oil industry. Big publicly listed oil companies like Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Exxon Mobil Corp. have either pulled back expenditure or maintained current levels as they weather the market downturn.

The Aramco plan was revealed at an industry event in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, where most of its oil-sector is based. About $134 billion will be spent on drilling and well services and $78 billion will be invested to maintain oil output potential, according to a presentation by Nassir Al Yami, Saudi Aramco’s general manager for procurement.

More than half of the $334 billion previously announced by Aramco will be invested in offshore fields. The spending also represents a boost to sectors like refining, as the Saudis try to process more of their own crude into fuel, a more lucrative enterprise than exporting pure petroleum.

“Our numbers compared to the previous business plan have increased…we expanded into other sectors,” the company’s chief executive Amin Nasser told reporters Tuesday.

“We are into so many sectors…before we used to talk about oil and gas but now we are in renewables and infrastructures,” he said.

Saudi Aramco is planning potentially the world’s largest-ever public offering, with a domestic and international listing next year. More recently Riyadh has considered scrapping the international listing and selling a private placement to a Chinese consortium including pension and sovereign-wealth funds and state oil companies, according to people familiar with the matter.

Write to Summer Said at