(MIAMI) — The Trump administration will announce indictments against Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro and members of his inner circle for effectively converting Venezuela’s state into a criminal enterprise at the service of drug traffickers and terrorist groups, according to four people familiar with the situation.
The indictments from prosecutors in Miami and New York, which will encompass money-laundering and drug-trafficking charges, will be announced at a news conference by U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Thursday, according to the four, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the indictments ahead of their unsealing.
The U.S. is also expected to announce $25 million in rewards for information leading to the arrest or prosecution of Maduro and Diosado Cabello, head of the ruling socialist party. That’s according to two U.S. officials familiar with the matter. The State Department is expected to announce the reward offers at the same time the Justice Department goes public with the indictments, the officials said.
The indictment of a functioning head of state is highly unusual and is bound to ratchet up tensions between Washington and Caracas as the spread of the coronavirus threatens to collapse a health system and oil-dependent economy driven deep into the ground by years of corruption and U.S. sanctions.
Analysts said the action could boost Trump’s re-election chances in the key swing state of Florida, which he won by a narrow margin in 2016 and where Venezuelans, Cubans and Nicaraguans fleeing authoritarian regimes have political muscle.
But its unclear how it brings Venezuela any closer to ending a 15-month standoff between Maduro, who has the support of Russia and China, and the U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó. It also could fragment the U.S.-led coalition against Maduro if European and Latin American allies think the Trump administration is overreaching.
“This kind of action does nothing to help a negotiated solution—something that’s already really difficult,” said Roberta Jacobson, who served as the State Department’s top diplomat for Latin America until 2018.
Maduro, a 57-year-old former bus driver, portrays himself as an everyman icon of the Latin American left. He’s long accused the U.S. “empire” of looking for any excuse to take control of the world’s largest oil reserves, likening its plotting to the 1989 invasion of Panama and the removal of Gen. Manuel Noriega to face drug trafficking charges in Florida.
Barr and Elliott Abrams, the State Department’s special envoy on Venezuela, are driving the hawkish U.S. stance toward Maduro much as they pushed for Noriega’s ouster in the late 1980s — Barr as a senior Justice Department official and Abrams as assistant secretary of state for Latin America.
U.S. officials see other parallels as well. Noriega transformed Panama into a playground for violent, international drug cartels while the Trump administration has accused Maduro and his military henchmen of harboring drug traffickers, guerrillas from Colombia and even Hezbollah, a designated terrorist group.
They also have accused government officials together with well-connected businessmen of stealing hundreds of billions of dollars from the state coffers, much of it from state oil giant PDVSA, which has seen its production plunge to a seven-decade low.
Christians Mark Good Friday in Isolation Without Services or Processions
(JERUSALEM) — Christians are commemorating Jesus’ crucifixion without the solemn church services or emotional processions of past years, marking Good Friday in a world locked down by the coronavirus pandemic.
The chanting of a small group of clerics inside Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher echoed faintly through the heavy wooden doors, as a few people stopped and kneeled outside to pray. The centuries-old church, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and rose from the dead, is usually packed with pilgrims and tourists.
Later, four monks in brown robes and blue surgical masks prayed at the stations of the cross along the Via Dolorosa, the ancient route through the Old City where Jesus is believed to have carried the cross before his execution at the hands of the Romans. It runs past dozens of souvenir shops, cafes and hostels, nearly all of which are closed.
In ordinary times, tens of thousands of pilgrims from around the world retrace Jesus’ steps in the Holy Week leading up to Easter. But this year, flights are grounded and religious sites in the Holy Land are closed as authorities try to prevent the spread of the virus.
James Joseph, a Christian pilgrim from Detroit dubbed “the Jesus guy” because he wears robes and goes about barefoot, lives near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher year-round. On Friday morning he had the plaza outside to himself. He said Good Friday has special meaning this year.
“The crucifixion is the saddest thing possible, and he felt what we feel right now,” he said. “But thanks be to God. … He rose from the dead and changed the world on Easter.”
The new virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, who recover within a few weeks. But it is highly contagious and can be spread by those who appear healthy. It can cause severe illness and death in some patients, particularly the old and infirm.
In Rome, the torch-lit Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum is a highlight of Holy Week, drawing large crowds of pilgrims, tourists and locals. It’s been cancelled this year, along with all other public gatherings in Italy, which is battling one of the worst outbreaks.
The virus has killed More than 18,000 people in Italy and over 95,000 worldwide, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University.
Instead of presiding over the Way of the Cross procession, Pope Francis will lead a Good Friday ceremony in St. Peter’s Square without the public.
Ten people — five from the Vatican’s health office and five from a prison in Padua, in northern Italy, where infections are particularly widespread — will participate in the procession, which will circle several times around the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square.
On display in the square will be a wooden crucifix, famed for being carried in a procession during the plague that ravaged Rome in the early 16th century.
In Spain, which has also been hit especially hard, Good Friday is traditionally a day of celebrations, especially in the south. People traditionally fill the streets to watch processions of religious brotherhoods carrying heavy, elaborately decorated platforms bearing statues of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.
There will be no festivities this year, as the country battles an outbreak that has claimed more than 15,000 lives. Many churches are instead holding services online.
“With the pandemic that we have due to the coronavirus, the people are once again remembering the story of Jesus,” said Francisco Lucena, a member of a brotherhood in a town near the southern city of Córdoba.
In Paris, a ceremony was held in the charred and gutted interior of Notre Dame Cathedral, which was nearly destroyed by fire a year ago. The ceremony was closed to the public because of the virus lockdown and because the structure is not deemed safe for parishioners.
Archbishop Michel Aupetit and three other clergymen wore hard hats as they entered the damaged cathedral before taking them off for the ceremony. Standing before a large cross and beneath a gaping hole in the roof, they sang, prayed and venerated a crown of thorns that survived the flames.
Classical musician Renaud Capuçon played violin, the mournful notes echoing off the walls and pillars. Actors Judith Chemla and Philippe Torreton delivered readings, and Chemla sang a moving rendition of “Ave Maria.” All three wore white protective overalls.
The bishop said the ceremony, which was broadcast live, showed that “life is still here,” even as the pandemic is “spreading death and paralyzing us.”
In the Philippines, Asia’s bastion of Catholicism, masses and other solemn gatherings have been put on hold, including folk rituals that feature real-life crucifixions and usually draw thousands of tourists and penitents. The annual procession of the “Black Nazarene,” a centuries-old statue of Jesus, through downtown Manila, has also been canceled.
Churchgoers have been told to stay home and remember Jesus’ suffering through family prayers, fasting and by watching masses and religious shows on TV or online.
For Josille Sabsal, it’s a test of faith. The 30-year-old Catholic missionary tried to replicate an altar in her Manila home by setting up a laptop, a crucifix and small statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary on a table.
“It’s different, because the priest is on a screen,” she said. “When the internet lags, the mass suddenly gets cut off and you have to look for another YouTube video.”
“I miss that moment in church when you say, ‘Peace be with you,’ to complete strangers and they smile back,” she said.
Associated Press writers Frances D’Emilio in Rome, Sergio Rodrigo in Aguilar de la Frontera, Spain, John Leicester in Paris and Jim Gomez in Manila contributed to this report.
Colombia hopes for 'humanitarian' ceasefire during coronavirus as violence resurges
Colombia’s 2016 peace accord was meant to end a half century of conflict with the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Yet some areas previously dominated by the FARC guerrillas are seeing unintended consequences of that agreement, including a turf war between other armed groups. Colombian paramilitaries, drug traffickers and rebel groups are now fighting for control over what was once FARC territory. One result of renewed violence in Colombia is that humanitarian aid groups are less able to reach conflict-affected communities that have long depended on their services, according to my research on the Colombian peace process. Such international assistance is more critical than ever as coronavirus spreads across the South American country. Unintended consequences of ‘peace’Colombia’s 2016 peace deal with the FARC was far-reaching. To meet the guerrillas’ demands, the government promised land reform, economic development and political inclusion of the rural areas controlled by the FARC. Three years later, implementation of these ambitious agreements remains slow, underfunded and incomplete. Repeating a situation documented in other post-conflict zones, the government’s lack of presence and control in previously FARC-dominated regions has left a power vacuum for other armed groups to contest the territory.Violence is particularly high in Colombia’s Pacific coast area, which is predominantly black and indigenous, and is among Colombia’s most socially and economically marginalized regions. But it is rich in resources like gold and coca, the traditional Andean crop used to make cocaine – both lucrative income sources which help fund the illegal activities of armed groups.Poverty rates reach 59% in some areas of the Colombian Pacific, compared to a 27% national average. The most recent census shows that up to 70% of people in parts the Pacific have insufficient access to potable water, food and housing. As a result, many households, businesses, farms and community projects in Colombia’s Pacific region rely on humanitarian assistance and development aid. This year Colombia is slated to receive US$448 million in total aid from United States. The European Union and Catholic Church also provide substantial humanitarian aid to the country. But the recent proliferation of criminal groups is making it very difficult for humanitarian groups to do their work. ‘We don’t know who’s in charge’Before the 2016 peace deal, “we knew who to negotiate with,” a representative of an aid group based in the city of Cali, told me. The aid worker, who like all participants in my research must remain anonymous for safety and ethics reasons, said his staff used to negotiate with the local FARC or paramilitary bloc commander to ensure safe passage for their aid supplies.“Now we can’t do that,” he said, “because we don’t know who’s in charge.” There was a brief honeymoon period of reduced violence following the 2016 peace accord, an aid worker from a different humanitarian group told me. Now, he said, while aid is still getting to some high-need urban communities in Colombia’s Pacific region, remote areas are increasingly hard to access.“Armed groups often check the cars or boats that pass through their territory,” he said. “So, if you have aid materials with you, it can be complicated, depending on who’s in charge that day.” Sometimes, he told me, their deliveries of supplies like textbooks, medical supplies, seeds and fertilizer are let through without problem. Other times, local paramilitaries or rebel groups seize the supplies and threaten the humanitarian workers. COVID-19 and human rightsViolence is also complicating Colombia’s response to the global coronavirus pandemic.Colombia, which passed the 1,000 COVID-19 case mark in early April, has been proactive in its efforts to contain the virus. The country is under a nationally mandated quarantine until at least April 13.That hasn’t kept Colombia’s armed groups at home. As the country prepared for quarantine the week of March 23, three community leaders were killed. The murders are part of a wave of violence against Colombian community organizers who have led protests and strikes by indigenous and peasant communities to demand the social and economic justice initiatives promised in the peace deal. An estimated 600 to 900 activists have been murdered in Colombia since 2016. An uncertain future for peaceFollowing the United Nations’ appeal on March 24 for a global ceasefire while the coronavirus crisis lasts, the ELN – Colombia’s largest active guerrilla group – declared a monthlong ceasefire as a “humanitarian gesture.” So far, other armed groups have not heeded the call.Humanitarian workers worry that aid to the country may start to dry up with supplies from the U.S. and Europe being redirected to their domestic coronavirus response. “As different countries around the world close their borders and brace themselves for COVID-19, we expect to see a huge decrease in the level of international aid we’ll receive,” a Colombian government member who works in international cooperation and humanitarian projects told me. In the meantime, the violence indirectly caused by the 2016 peace accords continues in Colombia, complicated by the arrival of COVID-19. [You need to understand the coronavirus pandemic, and we can help. Read The Conversation’s newsletter.]This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts.Read more: * Colombia’s murder rate is at an all-time low but its activists keep getting killed * Violence climbs in Colombia as president chips away at landmark peace deal with FARC guerrillasShauna N Gillooly receives funding from the Fulbright Hays Program, which is funded by the US Department of Education.
‘I’m Very Worried.’ Hong Kong Sanitation Worker Keeps Collecting the Trash Despite Virus Fears
While much of the homebound world waits out coronavirus in momentary dormancy, the daily grind has never been so busy, or so hazardous, for T, a public sanitation worker in Hong Kong who uses an initial as she lacks permission to talk to the press.
Families complying with the government’s work-at-home, stay-at-home appeal are generating great mountains of household garbage. Take away containers, surgical masks, disinfectant wipes and all the other single-use disposables proliferating amid the health crisis are piling up, potentially exposing trash haulers like T to infectious waste.
“There’s so much of it, it’s maddening,” the 60-year-old industry veteran tells TIME.
T, who has collected trash from the same towering, yellow housing estate for decades, estimates her workload has more than doubled since the outbreak began. Despite the added volume and possible exposure to a deadly pathogen, she says her pay remains the same at about 9,000 Hong Kong dollars ($1,154) per month, or slightly above local minimum wage.
“Of course I’m very worried when I’m at work,” she says, “But it’s my job, so I have to do it.”
T works two physically demanding shifts a day, six days per week. As many in Hong Kong tackle their third month of working from home, she says she cannot imagine such a luxury.
In Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese enclave, residents have hunkered down since the end of January, practicing an early wariness that helped the city skirt the virus’ worst—at least so far. After infections started to surge again mid-March, the government shuttered bars and karaoke parlors and closed the borders indefinitely, hoping to curb imported cases and those connected to entertainment venues. With schoolkids and professionals cooped up for the foreseeable future, residential waste collectors like T are bracing for a prolonged inundation.
Yet T, who cannot read, says she has received no guidance about the new coronavirus or whether she needs to be handling trash—including items potentially carrying coronavirus—any differently during the pandemic. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine published last month found that the coronavirus can survive on plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours, and on cardboard for up to 24 hours. Other studies have found it lingering for even longer.
Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection has published pamphlets advising health professionals, public transportation drivers, cabin crew and beauty salon staff how to avoid getting sick at work. Its general “workplace” advice urges employees to “properly clean up rubbish and waste,” but does not elaborate on what that might entail.
At least two people in the building where T works underwent mandatory home quarantine last month, according to government data. T had no idea and says she has no way of knowing if residents there are falling sick.
“There’s nothing really I can do,” she says.
She adds that she doesn’t dare ask her company, Easy Living, for a training. “They’ll threaten me, say if you don’t do the job, there’s plenty of people that will.” Amid the current economic crunch, T says she’s already clinging to her job since people facing layoffs in the restaurant industry are lining up for cleaning work.
In a phone call to TIME, an Easy Living representative defended the company’s policies and accused any cleaner with complaints about their level of risk of “making a joke.”
“For sure we have provided enough protection to the cleaners … including masks,” says Katherine Cheung, a representative who declined to provide her title. “I know other companies have not done enough, but we have done all.” Cheung says that Easy Living has spent “over a million Hong Kong dollars” on personal protective equipment for its staff amid coronavirus. When asked how Easy Living ensures this equipment reaches and is used by the sanitation workers, she says she “does not have to share the company’s policies.”
In several countries, including the U.S., federal guidelines stipulate that waste collectors typically need personal protective equipment like gloves and face protection. In Hong Kong, the Secretary for Food and Health says waste contractors are obliged to provide uniforms and special protective clothing for their staff, including replacing face masks “at least once at the beginning of a work shift.”
But T says she doesn’t have enough protective gear, including masks, gloves or uniforms. Since the outbreak started, her employer has been providing a box of 50 masks each month, but it’s not enough to cover the two separate shifts she works each day. Amid the global shortage of surgical masks, she’s had to source and pay for her own.
She’s not alone. According to charity Oxfam Hong Kong, 80 percent of cleaners surveyed said they have not received any training on preventing the spread of the virus. Some 30% said their companies have not provided them with masks, while of those who are provided with masks 40% said they were given less than one mask a day. Yet the population is especially vulnerable. A large portion of the city’s army of trash haulers are low-income elderly residents, a demographic particularly at risk for a severe or fatal case of COVID-19.
For T, who has an underlying health condition, all the recent, extra work has taken a physical toll.
“My lower back hurts … My legs and my feet hurt,” she says. “Recently it’s been quite bad.”
When the pain becomes unmanageable, she takes over-the-counter pain relievers. Otherwise, she applies a topical ointment, and then starts work all over again early the next morning.
Originally from Guangdong province in mainland China, T moved to Hong Kong over two decades ago, joining her husband who had emigrated earlier.
She lives with her family in an 400-square-foot apartment not far from the estate where she works. She doesn’t share her concerns about being exposed to the virus with them, certain that if they knew, they would tell her to quit.
“If we don’t have this income, it would be very difficult,” she says.
Adding to her anxiety is her fear of bringing the virus home to an older relative who has liver disease, and to another relative who suffers complications from polio. If she comes into contact with someone sick at work, there’s little chance of isolating herself in such close quarters and with a shared bathroom, so she never wears her uniform home, and takes a shower as soon as she gets back.
T belongs to the Cleaning Workers Union, which is asking the government to ensure compensation for front-line staff like sanitation workers should they catch COVID-19.
“We are asking to treat COVID-19 as [a] work injury,” says Tsz-yan Leung, organizer of the union.
T, who also collected waste during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome [SARS] epidemic that ripped through Hong Kong in 2003, says she is even more scared now. The global infection rate of COVID-19 has far eclipsed the earlier epidemic, she notes, even if it has led to the loss of fewer lives in Hong Kong.
Still, after the pandemic she intends to keep doing the same job, though says she couldn’t imagine her children doing it.
“As a mother, I would be very upset to see them do this backbreaking work.”
At the same time, “I don’t know how to do other jobs,” she says. “I’ve always done this. I’m used to this.”
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