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Leader of Community Blocking Road to Peru Copper Mine Arrested

Peruvian police said on Friday that they have arrested the leader and two lawyers of an indigenous community, accusing them of trying to extort Chinese miner MMG Ltd by blocking a road it uses to transport copper for the past month.

Gregorio Rojas, president of the community Fuerabamba, was arrested in Lima late on Thursday, along with the community’s attorneys, brothers Frank and Jorge Chavez, the police said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear who the legal representatives were for Rojas and the Chavez brothers. Frank Chavez and Rojas have previously denied allegations by representatives of the mining industry that the road blockade aimed to illegally or unfairly secure money from MMG.

Fuerabamba has said MMG built the road on its farmland without its permission, and that the government illegally made it a national highway last year to help MMG, which is controlled by state-owned China Minmetals Corp Ltd. The government and MMG deny the allegations.

Rojas told Reuters this month that Fuerabamba asked MMG for 40 million soles ($12 million) for the rights to use the road. The arrests came as talks between the three parties reached a stalemate. The government had demanded an end to the blockade before discussing the community’s demands any further.

MMG said it respects decisions by Peru’s judicial system and was open to dialogue. It reiterated that the road blockade had halted its exports of copper but that production has not yet stopped.

Las Bambas is one of Peru’s biggest copper mines, with about 385,000 tonnes in output last year.

Fuerabamba, a Quechua-speaking community that once farmed and herded animals in Peru’s southern Andes, was relocated to a new town near Las Bambas earlier this decade so that the mine could be built.

Fuerabamba has repeatedly accused MMG of failing to fulfill its commitments in the relocation agreement. In early February, community members camped out along a stretch of the road on its farmland to block MMG’s trucks carrying copper concentrates to the port of Matarani on Peru’s Pacific coast.

Former Fuerabamba President Alfonso Vargas said by telephone on Friday that the blockade would continue despite the arrests.

As part of the same operation, police said they had arrested two others and seized dynamite, guns and bullets from 12 properties in Lima and the region of Apurimac, where Las Bambas is located. The police statement did not specify whose property the weapons were seized from or how they related to the alleged extortion.

 

 

Pence Calls for Roberto Marrero Release in Venezuela

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has said the United States “will not tolerate” the continued detention of Roberto Marrero, chief of staff of Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Marrero was arrested Thursday during a pre-dawn raid on his home. Venezuelan Interior Minister Nestor Reverol explained the arrest, saying a “large number of weapons” were found in Marrero’s house.

Pence made the statement in an op-ed piece for the Miami Herald Friday. He warned that the United States would not tolerate Marrero’s detention or intimidation of the Guaido government, which the U.S. recognizes as the legitimate government of Venezuela.

​Pence also called out Cuba, Russia, and China for supporting the administration of embattled president Nicolas Maduro and profiting from it.

He said Cuba is allowing its military and intelligence services to train, support, and equip Venezuela’s secret police; Russia vetoed a resolution at the United Nations calling for unfettered aid to Venezuela; and China is refusing to grant a visa to economist Ricardo Hausmann to attend the Inter-American Development Bank’s annual meeting, which it is hosting.

Pence called Maduro a “corrupt dictator” and said those nations are holding Venezuela back in its “steady march towards freedom.”

“Nicolas Maduro must go,” he said.

Guaido, head of the National Assembly, has declared himself interim president after disputed elections. The United States and about 50 other countries have recognized him as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. But Maduro has vowed to remain, leaving the two men in a struggle for power.

U.S. citizens detained

Also Friday, the State Department issued a statement of concern for “all U.S. persons” detained in Venezuela. Prison officials reportedly are preventing lawyers and families of detained Americans from seeing or bringing food to the detainees.

Six U.S. citizens, executives of the oil company Citgo, have been in jail since November 2017 for alleged money laundering and embezzlement.

The two U.S. senators from Texas, home to five of the six detainees, say the six are being held in deteriorating conditions. The legislators also say Venezuelan authorities have denied the detainees a trial and contact with the State Department.

Citgo is a U.S.-based refinery and gasoline marketer primarily owned by Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PDVSA.

President Donald Trump has said all options are on the table for Venezuela, but he has not said under what circumstances he might consider using U.S. military force.

A collapse in world energy prices, corruption and failed socialist policies have destroyed oil-rich Venezuela’s economy.

Food and medicine are scarce, and more than 3 million Venezuelans have fled the country.

Venezuelan Hospitals Reach Catastrophic Breaking Point

The crumbling health system in Venezuela is worsening every week. After a nationwide electrical shutdown cut power for many days, major hospitals in Caracas continue to face serious problems, including a lack of running water, supply shortages and enough staff to operate properly. For VOA, Alvaro Algarra has more from Caracas. Cristina Caicedo Smit narrates.

Venezuelan Agents Arrest Guaido’s Top Aide

Venezuelan opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaido says intelligence agents working for President Nicolas Maduro have arrested his chief of staff.

Guaido aide Roberto Marrero was taken into custody in an overnight raid on his home.

“We do not know his whereabouts,” Guaido tweeted Thursday. “He must be released immediately.”

Opposition lawmaker Sergio Vergara says agents also raided his own home. He is accusing the agents of planting weapons on Marrero.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is demanding Marrero’s immediate release and said those behind the arrest will be held accountable.

National Security Adviser John Bolton tweeted, “Maduro has made another big mistake” that “will not go unanswered.”

Detained oil executives

Also in Washington, Texas Republican senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz said the Maduro regime must free six Citgo oil company executives who have been in jail since November 2017 for alleged money laundering and embezzlement.

Five of the executives are Texans.

“We are gravely concerned for their health and safety as they continue to be used as political pawns by an illegitimate government,” the senators said Thursday. “Every day that passes for these families without their loved ones is excruciating.”

Cornyn and Cruz say the six are being held in deteriorating conditions and say Venezuelan authorities have denied them a trial and contact with the State Department.

Citgo is a U.S.-based refinery and gasoline marketer primarily owned by Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PDVSA.

Because of U.S. sanctions on PDVSA, Citgo’s profits are being placed in a blocked account so the Maduro government cannot access it.

Maduro and Guaido are battling for control of Citgo, the main source of cash from the United States.

Support for Guaido

The United States and about 50 other countries recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president and say Maduro must go.

President Donald Trump has said all options are on the table for Venezuela, but has neglected to say under what circumstances he would use U.S. military force.

A collapse in world energy prices, corruption and failed socialist policies have destroyed oil-rich Venezuela’s economy.

Food and medicine are scarce, and more than 3 million Venezuelans have fled the country.

Maduro has shown little tolerance for dissent. He has blamed his country’s problems on the United States, and accuses the U.S. of backing the opposition in plotting a coup.

Wayne Lee contributed to this report.

US Military Vet Recounts Arrests in Haiti

 An American security contractor at the center of a mysterious case roiling Haitian politics says that he and a group of fellow veterans were sent to Haiti on a mission to protect a businessman signing a more than $50 million contract at the country’s central bank. 

Chris Osman, a 44-year-old retired Navy SEAL, told The Associated Press that he and six fellow contractors were arrested by Haitian police during what was supposed to be a simple Sunday afternoon reconnaissance of the route their client would take to the bank the following day, Feb. 18. 

“It went bad for us,” he said in the first on-the-record interview by any of the arrested men. “I don’t know what the real truth is.” 

Osman said he and his fellow contractors — carrying a dozen semi-automatic rifles and pistols, along with satellite phones and other gear — had pulled away from the bank when they were stopped by police and detained for three days before they were set free by Haiti’s Justice Ministry and allowed to fly home to the U.S., where they were released without charges. 

The contractors’ unexplained release and the still-murky nature of their mission have helped fuel political chaos in Haiti, where President Jovenel Moise has faced months of protests over his government’s failure to prosecute the theft and mismanagement of $2 billion in subsidized oil aid from Venezuela under the administration of his predecessor and political patron, Michel Martelly.

Neither Moise’s administration nor the American ambassador in Haiti, Michele Sison, has offered any explanation of the U.S. contractors’ mission in Haiti or the reason for their release, which appeared to violate Haitian criminal procedure. Moise’s allies in the lower house of Parliament dissolved the Haitian government by dismissing Prime Minister Jean-Henry Ceant on Monday hours before he was due to testify in the Senate about the American contractors’ case. 

Communications Minister Jean-Michel Lapin was being named interim prime minister Thursday, but there seemed little likelihood that the government would be able to bring stability to a country gripped by rising inflation, energy shortages and popular discontent.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio flew to Haiti Wednesday for meetings with the president and opposition in which, the senator said on Twitter, he discussed the formation of a new government and the need for “good faith dialogue” and parliamentary elections scheduled for October. 

News site The Intercept reported Wednesday, citing anonymous sources, that one of the contractors, 52-year-old Marine veteran Kent Kroeker, had been told the mission was to escort presidential aide Fritz Jean-Louis to the Haitian central bank, who would electronically transfer $80 million from the government’s Venezuela oil fund to a second account controlled solely by the president in order to give Moise greater power over the government’s limited funds. 

Osman said that report did not match his experience in several key ways. 

Osman said he received a call from Hawkstorm Global, a security company based in Dallas, Texas, about a job in Haiti to provide private security for a client of the Bank of the Republic of Haiti for $1,000 a day. He said he didn’t know the client until he arrived in Haiti on a commercial flight on Feb. 16 and was introduced to Josue Leconte, a Haitian-American businessman with ties to the Moise administration. 

Leconte’s civil engineering firm, Preble-Rish, has done millions of dollars of business with the Haitian government over the years, according to Jake Johnston, a research associate at the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research who recently published a three-week investigation into the contractors’ case. Leconte’s partner is related by marriage to former president Martelly. 

“These are not just acquaintances, but people who for decades are basically family,” Johnston said. The only Haitian arrested in the case, Michael Estera, is a driver who has worked for Preble-Rish for many years, according to his lawyer. 

Leconte told the AP when reached by phone that he could not talk about the case and had no comment before hanging up. Meanwhile, spokesman Jean Baden Dubois said the governor of Haiti’s central bank was on a business trip in Qatar and unavailable for comment. 

The contractors were told that they would be escorting Leconte from his Port-au-Prince home to the central bank to sign an infrastructure deal with Moise’s administration, Osman said, adding that the deal required the signature of at least one high-ranking central bank official, hence the location. 

“We were all told that it was a huge contract with (Leconte’s) company … and that his company provides engineering contracts for the government of Haiti and that they were really close friends with the president and that the money was for infrastructure and rebuilding Haiti,” Osman said. 

On the day they were arrested, the group of four Americans, two Serbian nationals and two Haitian drivers got into two cars owned by Jean-Louis for a reconnaissance mission and to swing by the bank so some team members could talk to people there and let them know what they were doing, he said. 

“The actual job didn’t even start until the next day,” Osman said, adding that he never met or saw Jean-Louis during his time in Haiti, and that the only time he heard the name was when police asked if he knew Jean-Louis while he was in jail. 

He said team members Dustin Porte and Talon Ray Burton got out of the car to speak with bank officials or security while the rest of the group stayed inside with weapons nearby. Porte and Burton could not be reached for comment, and Burton’s brother did not return a message for comment. 

As they pulled away from the bank, Osman said a group of Haitian police officers stopped them and called their superiors. At that moment, Leconte and another man whom Osman identified as team leader and retired Navy SEAL Mike Phillips showed up in one car, and then Kroeker showed up in another car. Osman said police told Leconte and Phillips they could leave, and that Kroeker, a former KC-130 pilot, stayed with the group. 

“They literally abandoned us,” Osman said of Leconte and Phillips. 

Phillips declined to comment and referred requests for interviews to Kroeker, who did not respond to a request for comment. 

The group was released Feb. 20. Osman said a police officer simply opened the cell doors, led them to diplomatic vehicles that took them to the airport. He said he didn’t know who ordered their release or authorized it. Once they arrived in Miami, he said the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security interviewed everyone separately for several hours. 

“We asked what was going on,” Osman said. “They said, ‘Nothing, man, you’re not going to be charged with anything. … Welcome home.’”

Ex-President Michel Temer Arrested in Brazil for Corruption

Former Brazilian President Michel Temer was arrested on Thursday on corruption charges, a dramatic development in a sprawling corruption probe that has roiled Brazil has showed no sign of slowing.

In a statement, the Prosecutors Office in Rio de Janeiro said that Judge Marcelo Breitas had issued an arrest order for Temer and Moreira Franco, a former minister and close ally of Temer.

The statement did not detail the charges against the two and a spokeswoman at the Prosecutors Office also declined to specify the charges.

Globo Television showed images of the former president being accompanied by police in Sao Paulo, where Temer lives. Helicopter images showed Temer getting out of a police convoy at an airport, presumably to be brought to Rio de Janeiro and processed.

Breitas is overseeing the Rio portion of a massive corruption probe involving kickbacks to politicians and public officials. Since launching in March 2014, the so-called Car Wash investigation has led to the jailing of top businessmen and politicians, including ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

In a statement, Temer’s Brazilian Democratic Movement party called the arrest “hasty.”

“The party hopes that the Justice Department re-establishes individual liberties and the presumption of innocence,” it read.

Temer, who was vice president, came to the presidency in 2016 after President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and ousted from office for mismanaging the federal budget.

From the get-go, Temer’s administration was hit with several scandals, including some involving the president himself.

Three times, prosecutors charged Temer with corruption. Because he was a sitting president, he could only be tried if two-thirds of the lower chamber in Congress agreed. Temer twice mustered enough support in Congress to avoid prosecution and his term ended before the third case proceeded far enough for Congress to vote.  

Temer left office on Jan. 1 and no longer has the partial immunity that helped him avoid prosecution.

Asked about looming cases against him in December, Temer said he wasn’t worried and did not believe he would be arrested.

 

 

Migrants Encounter Snafus With New US Asylum Policy

Scheduling glitches led an immigration judge to deny the Trump administration’s request to order four Central American migrants deported because they failed to show for initial hearings Wednesday in the U.S. while being forced to wait in Mexico.

The judge’s refusal was a setback for the administration’s highly touted initiative to make asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their cases wind through U.S. immigration courts.

One migrant came to court with a notice to appear on Saturday, March 30 and said he later learned that he was supposed to show up Wednesday. He reported in the morning to U.S. authorities at the main crossing between San Diego and Tijuana.

“I almost didn’t make it because I had two dates,” he said.

Similar snafus marred the first hearings last week when migrants who were initially told to show up Tuesday had their dates bumped up several days.

Judge Scott Simpson told administration lawyers to file a brief by April 10 that explains how it can assure migrants are properly notified of appointments. The judge postponed initial appearances for the four no-shows to April 22, which raised more questions about how they would learn about the new date.

Government documents had no street address for the four men in Tijuana and indicated that correspondence was to be sent to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Simpson asked how the administration would alert them.

“I don’t have a response to that,” said Robert Wities, an attorney for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

At least two others were given notices to appear Tuesday but, when they showed up at the border, were told by U.S. authorities that they were not on the schedule that day. Their attorneys quickly got new dates for Wednesday but Mexico refused to take them back, forcing them to stay overnight in U.S. custody.

Laura Sanchez, an attorney for one of the men, said she called a court toll-free number to confirm her client’s initial hearing Tuesday but his name didn’t appear anywhere in the system. Later, she learned that it was Wednesday.

Sanchez said after Wednesday’s hearing that she didn’t know if Mexico would take her client back. Mexican officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Homeland Security Department representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Wednesday.

The snafus came two days before a federal judge in San Francisco hears oral arguments to halt enforcement of the “Migration Protection Protocols” policy in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center and Center for Gender & Refugee Studies.

The policy shift, which followed months of high-level talks between the U.S. and Mexico, was launched in San Diego on Jan. 29 amid growing numbers of asylum-seeking families from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Mexicans and children traveling alone are exempt.

Families are typically released in the U.S. with notices to appear in court and stay until their cases are resolved, which can take years. The new policy aims to change that by making people wait in Mexico, though it is off to a modest start with 240 migrants being sent back to Tijuana from San Diego in the first six weeks. U.S. officials say they plan to sharply expand the policy across the entire border.

Mexican officials have expressed concern about what both governments say is a unilateral move by the Trump administration but has allowed asylum seekers to wait in Mexico with humanitarian visas.

U.S. officials call the new policy an unprecedented effort that aims to discourage weak asylum claims and reduce a court backlog of more than 800,000 cases.

Several migrants who appeared Wednesday said they fear that waiting in Mexico for their next hearings would jeopardize their personal safety. The government attorney said they would be interviewed by an asylum officer to determine if their concerns justified staying in the U.S.

Some told the judge they struggled to find attorneys and were granted more time to find one. Asylum seekers are entitled to legal representation but not at government expense.

U.S. authorities give migrants who are returned to Mexico a list of no-cost legal providers in the U.S. but some migrants told the judge that calls went unanswered or they were told that services were unavailable from Mexico.       

A 48-year-old man said under the judge’s questioning that he had headaches and throat ailments. The judge noted that migrants with medical issues are exempt from waiting in Mexico and ordered a medical exam.

 

Venezuelan Opposition Leader Guaido Says His Top Aide Detained

Venezuelan opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaido says intelligence agents have detained his chief of staff.

Guaido’s aide, Roberto Marrero, reportedly was taken into custody in an overnight raid on his home.

 

“We do not know his whereabouts,” Guaido wrote of Marrero in an early morning Twitter post. “He must be released immediately.”

Also, opposition lawmaker Sergio Vergara’s home was searched but he was not detained.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Guaido both claim to be the legitimate president of the South American country.

The United States has frequently warned Maduro’s socialist government from arresting Guaido or his aides. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo quickly denounced the actions and demanded that Marrero be released.

“We call for his immediate release,” Pompeo said on Twitter. “We will hold accountable those involved.”

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton tweeted “Maduro has just made another big mistake” that “will not go unanswered.”

U.S. President Donald Trump reiterated Tuesday that “all options” are under consideration to oust Maduro from office, suggesting military action if necessary.

Guaido declared himself interim president on January 23rd. He has the support of the U.S. and about 50 other countries, primarily in Latin America.

Maduro is supported by Russia and Cuba, retains the allegiance of the military’s leadership and maintains control of state apparatus.

Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately comment on the overnight operation.

The oil-rich country’s economy has contracted sharply in recent years and inflation has exceeded 2 million percent. The dire economic conditions have fueled malnutrition and disease and triggered an exodus of more than 3 million citizens since 2015.

Economic conditions are expected to worsen when the U.S., Venezuela’s largest crude oil customer, imposes a ban on all oil sales to the U.S. on April 28.

Maduro contends his government has been victimized by an “economic war” led by political opponents and blames previous U.S. financial and oil sanctions for the country’s economic crisis.

 

Venezuelan Forces Detain Key Aide to Opposition Leader

Venezuelan security forces detained a key aide to opposition leader Juan Guaido in a raid on his home early Thursday, an opposition lawmaker said.

Lawyer Roberto Marrero was taken by intelligence agents in the overnight operation in Caracas, said lawmaker Sergio Vergara, whose nearby residence was also searched. Vergara said he was woken up by heavy banging at his door and agents pointed weapons at him.

Vergara and Marrero both accompanied Guaido on a recent Latin American tour to build international support for his efforts to oust President Nicolas Maduro. Marrero heads the office of Guaido, who is leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly,

 

“We don’t know where he is. He should be freed immediately,” Guaido tweeted.

The U.S.-backed opposition leader, who had defied a travel ban to leave the country, returned to Venezuela on March 4. The United States had warned the Venezuelan government against taking action against Guaido, who has staged frequent demonstrations in an attempt to remove Maduro.

Venezuelan prosecutors say Guaido is under investigation for alleged links to violence as well as the nation’s worst power outages. Maduro alleges the blackouts were caused by U.S.-directed sabotage, though U.S. officials and the Venezuelan opposition say state mismanagement and corruption caused the infrastructure collapse.

The U.S. and about 50 other countries support Guaido’s contention that he is the rightful leader of Venezuela and that Maduro’s re-election last year was illegitimate. Maduro, whose key allies are Russia and Cuba, says Guaido is a collaborator in a U.S. plot to overthrow his government.

 

Nicaragua Government Says It Will Free All Jailed Protesters

The government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is promising to free all protesters arrested in the last year within 90 days.

The release of more than 700 opposition protesters had been the main demand of the opposition for continuing talks with the government. In return, the government is asking for the lifting of sanctions imposed against the Ortega administration.

The announcement was made Wednesday by the two independent figures who are monitoring and assisting the talks. The papal nuncio in Nicaragua and a representative of the Organization of American States said the talks would resume Thursday, after several days of tension.

According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, at least 325 people have died in protests or related violence since April 2018.