Venezuela: Where Drugs and Diplomacy Meet


Feb 17, 2017 | 22:02 GMT

Links to the narcotics trade in the Venezuelan ruling classLinks to the narcotics trade in the Venezuelan ruling class

The United States seems determined to take a harder line on Venezuela. On Feb. 15, U.S. President Donald Trump called on the Venezuelan government to free Leopoldo Lopez, a Venezuelan opposition politician who has been imprisoned since February 2014. Trump held a meeting the same day with Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Meanwhile, hints have emerged that the United States will soon move to level new sanctions against the Venezuelan government for officials’ involvement in criminal activity. But Venezuela will not accept more punitive measures against its politicians without a fight.

The number of prominent Venezuelan figures who have been accused of unlawful acts is growing steadily larger. On Feb. 13, Washington added Vice President Tareck El Aissami to its list of alleged drug traffickers. U.S. nationals and entities subject to U.S. jurisdiction are now prohibited from doing business with El Aissami and his suspected business associate, Samark Jose Lopez Bello. El Aissami is not the first Venezuelan official to find himself on the list of “specially designated nationals” kept by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (housed in the U.S. Treasury Department), either. Former Libertador Mayor Freddy Bernal, former Interior Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin and former military intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal are on it as well. 

Venezuela will not take kindly to new U.S. sanctions against these figures or their peers. Instead, the country’s entrenched elite will probably close ranks to protect their own positions in power, especially as they scramble to address the pressing domestic challenges ahead. Venezuela’s economy is on the verge of collapse, inflation is estimated to reach a whopping 400 percent this year, oil production is declining and the country is at risk of defaulting on its debt. Combined, these dangers threaten to spark massive social unrest, further destabilizing the already volatile country.

Still, the government’s ability to unite in the face of new sanctions largely depends on how much pressure the United States chooses to apply. For example, new sanctions could target Venezuelan state oil and natural gas giant Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), limiting the ability of U.S. companies to do business with PDVSA or its refining arm, Citgo. This, in turn, would pose an existential threat to the Venezuelan government, which relies heavily on PDVSA for its income. Should this come to pass, enough dissatisfaction may build in Venezuela to prompt Caracas to push back on Washington’s demands. 

Crumbling Ties

Venezuela’s ideological orientation and geographic location have turned it into a nagging headache for several U.S. administrations. While in office from 1999 to 2012, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez steadily allowed the expropriation of U.S. firms’ assets, including upstream oil and natural gas infrastructure, without providing any compensation in return. To make matters worse, Venezuela has also served as a major transit state for Colombian cocaine heading to the United States.

The government’s ability to unite in the face of new sanctions largely depends on how much pressure the United States chooses to apply.

For over a decade, some Venezuelan officials have even facilitated cocaine trafficking, a pattern that became more common after Chavez ended most of his country’s counternarcotics cooperation with the United States in 2005. Now, after years in power, some of Venezuela’s political elite have found themselves in a vulnerable position thanks to allegations of malfeasance that may subject them to the United States’ legal jurisdiction. Under former U.S. President Barack Obama, Washington opened a number of investigations into these officials, further souring its relationship with Venezuela even as its ties with Caracas’ ally, Cuba, improved. Venezuelan figures such as El Aissami and former National Assembly Speaker Diosdado Cabello came under close scrutiny for charges of cocaine trafficking, while PDVSA became the target of a money laundering investigation. The cases opened during the Obama administration could soon yield results under Trump’s, and it is certainly possible that more senior Venezuelan leaders will be indicted or fall victim to sanctions in the years ahead. What is unclear, however, is whether Washington will continue to limit its sanctions to individual politicians or broaden them to target the entities responsible for criminal activity, including Venezuela’s state-owned enterprises.

How Caracas Will Respond

Venezuela’s embattled administration has clung to power in spite of the extreme inflation and shortages of food and medical supplies that have plagued the country for nearly four years. For the most part, the government’s survival can be attributed to three things: a strong security apparatus, a divided opposition and a shared desire among many politicians to use public office for personal gain.

To be sure, the Venezuelan government — though resilient — remains divided into clear factions. But the country’s powerful politicians may temporarily overlook their differences in the face of a common threat, including a more aggressive administration in the White House. Additional U.S. sanctions and other punitive measures against certain people, therefore, could actually pull Venezuela’s ruling class together. On the other hand, if Washington were to slap hefty sanctions on companies that generate a sizable share of the government’s cash, it would put greater strain on the Venezuelan population at large, presenting a very real threat to leaders in Caracas. The prospect of significant sanctions on PDVSA, for instance, may spur Caracas to relent in its stalemate with the opposition and agree to hold regional elections in hopes of persuading Washington not to follow through with the measures.

Power Players in Venezuelan PoliticsPower Players in Venezuelan Politics

As it stands, political power in Venezuela is distributed among seven factions: those loyal to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro; the “Chavista orphans” who were loyal to Chavez but did not become fully incorporated into the Maduro government; former and current members of the armed forces in positions of power; civilian members of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela; the “February 4” faction comprising military officers who accompanied Chavez in his 1992 coup attempts; the Cuba-sponsored Francisco de Miranda Front; and unaffiliated officials who often serve as go-betweens among the groups. El Aissami, who is not linked to any faction, also seems to be trying to consolidate enough power to form a group of his own.

Of the existing factions, Maduro’s followers hold the most ministries (13). Meanwhile, the military faction runs eight ministries, largely distributed among retired officers. Although Maduro’s faction is one of the strongest in the government, his continued rule still depends on the acquiescence of other groups, particularly the armed forces. The president’s bloc also appears to cooperate closely with the Francisco de Miranda Front, although the latter seems to have lost influence in the government since Maduro replaced Vice President Aristobulo Isturiz in January.

Despite these different alliances, all of Venezuela’s political factions would probably unite against a common enemy. But their cohesion will be put to the test if the United States adopts more sweeping punitive measures or if social unrest spreads in response to rising inflation or a debt default. Should Caracas default on its debt, Venezuelan imports would fall sharply, likely causing widespread protests to erupt within months. Efforts to contain the unrest may then widen the fissures within the government, causing criticism of Maduro to mount as policymakers’ options narrow.

If the United States chooses to toughen its stance against Venezuela in the months ahead, its effect on Caracas’ behavior will primarily depend on the outcome of the ongoing criminal investigations and the kinds of sanctions that can be put in place against the guilty parties. The effectiveness of those sanctions, in turn, will depend on whether Venezuelan leaders band together, or whether domestic problems such as debt default and unrest conspire to pull them further apart.


Copyright © Stratfor Enterprises, LLC. All rights reserved.

Trump Supporters Online Are Pretending To Be French To Manipulate France’s Election

A second user, going by the user name @Das Krout, who identified himself as a 16-year-old from Minnesota, said he had seen no proof that the Discord group was communicating with Russian trolls.

“I’ve been here since its inception, we’ve had no Russians what so ever,” he said. “A bunch of Americans. There are no Russian trolls. We are the trolls. We are just regular people who are fed up.”

@Das Krout said he doesn’t consider himself a white supremacist or neo-Nazi, but instead believes that people “have the right to preserve their genetic, racial, and cultural identity.”

He said that his parents are aware he spends his time helping organize troll campaigns. “Oh, I’m quite open about most of my trolling,” he said. “Most of my friends meme.”

@Das Krout did echo what the other anonymous user said, however. He said that Discord groups like “The Great Liberation Of France” are forming fairly organically and largely because the users think it’s fun and want to disrupt society.

“Meme campaigns are very loosely organized, but due to the speed of the Internet, it acts as a giant political machine. The pissing story your organization got trolled with was constructed within a matter of hours,” @Das Krout said, referring to the belief among alt-right trolls that 4chan users fabricated the Trump dossier released earlier this month by BuzzFeed News.

“For years the ‘political spectrum’ has been normalizing further and further to the left. They call this ‘progress’. We are attempting to bring politics back to a true center where people can decide for themselves,” he said. “People don’t like the establishment. The reason why Trump was elected is because they wanted chaos. They wanted to put a blender into the system. The National Front has literally been excluded from almost all coalitions across the board since its conception. It is the only true opposition. That’s what people want. A challenge to the system.”

@Das Krout also said that some of the members of his Discord group are attempting to meet in real life, but due to the secrecy of the members and amount of misinformation being spread, vetting true supporters is extensive.

“Some chats are very strict on entrance and thoroughly ‘vet’ people in order to verify their claimed identity,” he said. “The one I’m referencing to is planning a meet up in the near future.”

Doctor Opens Fire at Bronx Hospital, Killing a Doctor and Wounding 6

A disgruntled doctor armed with an AR-15 rifle and wearing a lab coat went on a rampage on Friday in the Bronx hospital where he had worked, killing a doctor and wounding six other people — five of them seriously — before setting himself on fire and shooting himself in the head, the authorities said.

The furious attack by the doctor — identified by the police as Henry Bello, 45 — sent workers at the hospital, Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, diving behind desks and doors as gunshots and smoke filled the hallways of a place devoted to healing. Witnesses described medical workers ripping a fire hose from the wall to use as a tourniquet on one victim’s leg, while others recalled the horrific sight of the gunman, his torso aflame, running down a hallway.

Dr. Bello had a troubled past, having worked at the hospital for about six months before quitting after being accused of sexual harassment, officials said. And years earlier, he was arrested and charged with sexual abuse after assaulting a woman in Manhattan.


Henry Bello

The attack appeared to be the type of mass shooting by a lone gunman that has struck communities around the United States.

“He’s shooting! He’s shooting!” one woman yelled in the frantic initial moments of the afternoon assault, as recounted by a mother in the pediatric emergency room who had cowered with her five children, ages 1 to 10.

Some believed that the death toll would have been far higher had the shooting occurred anywhere but where it did — a hospital filled with state-of-the-art medical equipment, and with doctors and nurses who rushed to victims and performed triage where they fell, in staircases and hallways, even as the gunman was still at large.

“The situation unfolded in the middle of a place that people associate with care and comfort,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters outside the hospital, on the Grand Concourse in the Claremont Village neighborhood. The gunman acted alone, Mr. de Blasio said, adding that it appeared to be a workplace dispute that ended when the gunman committed suicide — “but not before having done horrible damage,” the mayor said.

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By The New York Times

The police did not identify the victim, other than as a woman and a doctor. The five seriously injured patients were “fighting for their lives,” said the police commissioner, James P. O’Neill. The sixth had a gunshot wound to the leg.

Dr. Bello was armed with a rifle, an AR-15, that investigators believe he sneaked into the hospital under his lab coat, police officials said.

While investigators were still trying to determine a motive, one official said, “Most likely it’s a workplace violence on the part of a former disgruntled employee.”

Dr. Bello was hired in August 2014, according to Errol C. Schneer, the hospital’s vice president, and left in February 2015, in lieu of being terminated. The police said he resigned after an accusation of workplace sexual harassment.


The AR-15 rifle used by Dr. Bello in Friday’s attack. Police officials said it was believed he sneaked it into the hospital under his lab coat.

New York Police Department

In 2004, Dr. Bello was arrested and charged with sex abuse and unlawful imprisonment after a 23-year-old woman told officers he had grabbed her crotch area outside a building on Bleecker Street in Manhattan and tried to penetrate her through her underwear, a law enforcement official said. The woman told officers that Dr. Bello had lifted her up in the air and dragged her while saying, “You’re coming with me.”

Court records indicate that Dr. Bello pleaded guilty to unlawful imprisonment in the second degree, a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to community service. The felony sexual abuse charge was dismissed.

Mr. Schneer said on Friday night that the hospital did not know about Dr. Bello’s criminal past when he was hired. “At that time, and as a result of a human resources and security department background check, which includes fingerprinting, there was no record of any conviction for sexual abuse,” he said.

Dr. Bello was a graduate of Ross University School of Medicine on the Caribbean island of Dominica, a New York State official said.


The police escorted people across the street outside the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center on Friday.

Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

The state’s Education Department said Dr. Bello had received a limited permit to practice as an international medical graduate in order to gain experience so that he could be licensed. The permit was issued on July 1, 2014, and expired on July 1, 2016. He also had an expired pharmacy technician license, issued in California in 2006.

The carnage took place around 2:50 p.m. Friday on the 16th and 17th floors of one of the Bronx’s largest hospitals, which has 1.1 million patient visits and over 140,000 emergency room visits a year, according to its website. Witnesses said that on Friday afternoon, Bronx-Lebanon’s rooms and corridors were filled with patients and visitors.

As the situation developed, emergency workers were at first prevented from entering the building. At least one of the wounded was being treated by people inside the hospital who had tied an emergency fire hose as a tourniquet, a Fire Department official said. At one point, the police escorted into the building a group of emergency workers wearing armor, as the gunman was still being sought.

Dr. Sridhar Chilimuri, the physician in chief at the hospital, said the doctor who was killed had been shot in the chest. Of the five victims in critical condition, one is a family services physician, three are medical students and one is a gastrointestinal specialist. Dr. Chilimuri said he had treated some of the victims, who were friends and colleagues. The situation was “extraordinarily difficult,” he said.


In front of Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center in New York after a shooting on Friday.

Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Norma Ruiz, a patient-care technician at Bronx-Lebanon, said the shooting took place on a floor where she works, and she recalled seeing a man, now believed to be the gunman, on fire. “He was running down the hall throwing himself on the floor,” she said. “We threw ourselves on the floor, and when everybody was quiet, my co-worker and me, we lift our heads, and the doctors’ station was on fire.”

“Everybody just started screaming,” said the mother in the pediatric unit, who asked that her name not be used to protect her children’s medical privacy. The hospital staff frantically tried to quiet everyone, she said, ordering people in the packed waiting room to lie on the floor while the lights were turned off.

The woman ran into an exam room with her children and shoved them underneath a hospital bed, while she lay on the floor as a barricade in front of them. When her 1-year-old began to cry, she breast fed him to keep him quiet, she said. “My heart was pounding,” she said. “I was shaking, just shaking.”

Miguel Mercado, 61, was lying in a hospital bed on the 10th floor, waiting for an M.R.I. after complications from back surgery earlier in June, when the police burst into the room and ordered patients who could walk to head down the stairs with their hands up. “The cops came and started emptying out the rooms floor by floor — ‘Everybody get out, get out, get out!’” he said about an hour after the shooting, standing in the parking lot outside the hospital, IV tubes dangling from his arm. On his feet he wore only hospital socks.


Hospital staff stood outside the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital on Friday.

Timothy A. Clary/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“It’s been happening almost anywhere, but nobody was waiting for this,” Mr. Mercado said, referring to the workplace shooting. “Who would have thought it would happen in a hospital?”

Shortly after the shooting, graphic images emerged online that purported to show the suspect lying on the hospital floor, in a button-down shirt worn under a lab coat, the scene covered in blood.

As patients and employees drifted from the hospital in the hours after the shooting, Ms. Ruiz, the patient-care technician, stood in her green scrubs, deeply shaken.

“I just want to get out of here,” she said, recalling the moment she heard the gunman. “We hear, ‘Boom, boom, boom.’ We thought, ‘A patient, a relative.’ But no, it came from the doctors’ station.”

Continue reading the main story

Turkey suspends 9103 police personnel over alleged links with failed coup – CNN Turk

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish authorities have suspended 9,103 personnel from the police force, broadcaster CNN Turk reported on Wednesday, as part of an investigation of over alleged links with a U.S.-based cleric who Ankara says orchestrated a failed coup last July.

In the aftermath of the abortive coup, authorities arrested 40,000 people and sacked or suspended 120,000 from a wide range of professions, including soldiers, police, teachers and public servants, over alleged links with terrorist groups.

Earlier on Wednesday, more than 1,000 people had been detained in a police purge in 72 provinces across the country.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, editing by Larry King

HMD makes Accessories Nokia Active Wireless Earphones & Wired Earphones official. Posts full specs

HMD has made two accessories meant to compliment its range of Nokia Android Phones official on its website: Nokia Active Wireless Earphones 501 Wired Earphones (WH 501). For Nokia Active Wireless Earphones, HMD claims ergonomic design, magnetic clips, diamond-cut aluminum casing and ultra-light weight in major features.

In case of Nokia Active Wired Earphones, we have highly reflective cable, lightweight sweat-proof earphones, premium metal finish and diamond-cut details in major features.

HMD is about to make Nokia 3, Nokia 5 and Nokia 6 available in many markets across the globe. You can read about release date/availability of Nokia 3, 5 and 6 by following the dedicated pre-order and release date pages: Nokia 3, Nokia 5, Nokia 6.

Read the full specs and list of features for both Earphones below.

Nokia Active Wireless Earphones Full Specs features:

  • High-end design with premium, diamond-cut aluminium casing
  • Ultra-light, specially-developed ergonomic ear tips for an extra comfortable and secure fitting
  • Fine-tuned, high-quality sound with solid bass tones for an empowering workout experience
  • Remote call and music control
  • Water, sweat and dust-proof
In the box:

Nokia Active Wireless 501

USB cable (USB A to Micro-USB)

Interchangeable earplugs

in 3 sizes (S, M, L)

Interchangeable ear tips

in 3 sizes (S, M, L)

User guide


Size 24 x 27.6 x 19mm (exc. ear tips)

Weight 15.6g

Cable length 50cm, flat cable

Operation and features:

Bluetooth 4.1

Multifunction key for power on/off, call, track, volume control

Multipoint connection for pairing with two phones

Passive noise cancelling

Water and dust-proof


Frequency response 20 – 20k Hz

Impedance 16Ω±15%

Driver sensitivity 94±4dB 1mW

Microphone sensitivity -11±4dB

Driver High Definition 9mm dynamic driver


Talk time Up to 8 hrs

Music time Up to 8 hrs

Standby time 144 hrs

Charging time 1.5 hrs

Battery 45 x 2 mAh

Rated power input 3mW


Compatible with Nokia Android smartphones. Compatibility with other devices may vary.

Nokia Active Wired Earphones Full Specs features:

  • Specially-developed ergonomic ear tips for a comfortable and secure fitting
  • Removable earplugs in three different sizes to fit your preference
  • High-performance speakers give clarity to the fine details of your music
  • Splash and sweat resistant
  • Highly reflective cable for increased visibility
In the box:

Nokia Active Wired Earphones WH 501

Interchangeable earplugs

in 3 sizes (S, M, L)

Interchangeable ear tips

in 3 sizes (S, M, L)


Earpiece 22.6 x 24 x 21mm

Total weight 19g

Cable length 110 CM LX 500 Reflective flat wire

Operation and features:

Answer/End key/Volume control operating keys

3.5mm audio jack

Passive Noise Cancelling

Splash and sweat resistant


Frequency response 20–20kHz

Impedance 16Ω±15%

Driver sensitivity 94±4dB 1mW

Microphone sensitivity -42±4dB

Driver Premium 9mm dynamic driver


Rated power input 3mW


Compatible with Nokia Android smartphones. Compatibility with other devices may vary.

Source: Nokia 1 2