Havana, Jan 29 (AP/UNB) — Neighborhood brigades and teams of government workers hacked at fallen trees and hauled chunks of concrete out of collapsed homes Monday as the Cuban capital attempted to recover from what officials called the strongest tornado to hit Cuba in nearly 80 years.
Three people were dead and hundreds injured, at least 12 in critical condition, after the tornado touched down with estimated winds of 200 mph (320 kph) in three neighborhoods across eastern Havana.
Members of the Provincial Defense Council of Havana said 90 homes collapsed completely and 30 suffered partial collapse.
A quarter of the city's roughly 2 million people were without power Monday afternoon and more than 200,000 people had lost water service because of a broken main and power cuts that left pumps out of service. Some 100 underground cisterns close to the coastal section of Havana were contaminated by seawater.
Three electric substations were knocked out by the tornado, the strongest to hit Cuba since Dec. 26, 1940, when a Category F4 tornado hit the town of Bejucal, in what is now Mayabeque province, officials said. It also appeared to be the first tornado to hit the capital in at least as many years.
Residents of the three relatively poor boroughs hit by the tornado were bracing for further calamity once the tropical sun started to dry sodden buildings, which can often lead to structures shifting and collapsing.
Julio Menendez, a 33-year-old restaurant worker, said his neighborhood in Havana's 10 de Octubre district looked "like a horror movie."
"From one moment to the next, we heard a noise like an airplane falling out of the sky. The first thing I did was go hug my daughters," who are 9 and 12, he told The Associated Press.
Driver Oster Rodriguez said that amid a fierce storm, what looked like a thick, swirling cloud touched down in the central plaza of the Reparto Modelo neighborhood "like a fireball." He saw a bus blown over, though he said the driver escaped unharmed.
Miguel Angel Hernandez of the Cuban Center for Meteorology said the tornado was a Category F3, with winds between 155 and 199 miles per hour, produced when a cold front hit Cuba's northern coast. Other meteorologist told state media that the tornado may have been even stronger.
Some of the heaviest damage from Sunday night's rare tornado was in the eastern borough of Guanabacoa, where the twister tore the roof off a shelter for dozens of homeless families.
Cubans enduring long waits for government housing often live in such multifamily shelters for years.
Dianabys Bueno, 31, was living in the shelter with her husband and son after they were forced to relocate by the collapse of their home in Central Havana. Much of the housing in Havana is in dire condition due to years without maintenance, and building collapses are routine even in ordinary storms.
"This has already happened to us once," Bueno said. "I'm not going anywhere."
Around Havana, cars were crushed by fallen light posts and vehicles were trapped in floodwaters.
Leanys Calvo, a restaurant cook in the 10th de Octubre borough, said she was working Sunday night despite heavy rain and wind when she heard a rumbling noise outside and looked out to see what appeared to be a tornado touching down.
"It was something that touched down, and then took off again. It was like a tower," she said, describing it as displaying colors of red and green. "It was here for two-three seconds, nothing more. They were the most frightening seconds of my life."
The tornado tore the concrete roof off an apartment building in the Regla section of Havana and dumped it into an alleyway, briefly trapping residents in their homes.
Marlene Marrero Garcia, 77, said she was in her ground-floor apartment with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren Sunday night when she heard electrical transformers begin to explode. Then the tornado passed.
"It looked like fire, everything was red, then everything began to fall," she said.
Marrero said she and her family were trapped by debris for about half an hour before firefighters arrived.
Caracas, Jan 29 (AP/UNB) — More than 700 opponents of President Nicolas Maduro have been arrested during the latest push by Venezuela's opposition to oust the socialist leader.
But there's one anti-government activist security forces notably haven't touched: Juan Guaido, the lawmaker who declared himself interim president in a direct challenge to Maduro's rule.
Maduro's refusal, at least so far, to order Guaido's arrest reflects mistrust in his own security forces as well as the Trump administration's warning that any harm to the man the U.S. recognizes as Venezuela's legitimate leader would be crossing a dangerous red line.
The U.S. administration reiterated that threat Monday in announcing sweeping sanctions against Venezuela's state oil company.
Any actions taken against U.S. diplomats, Guaido or the National Assembly he presides over would be considered a "grave assault" that "will be met with a significant response," U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said.
While he didn't specify what actions the U.S. might take, he reaffirmed that all options for dealing with Venezuela's crisis remain on the table, including use of the military.
"They won't dare touch Guaido," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "There's a new dynamic at play. Even while Maduro's government continues to brutally repress the poor and invisible, they won't harm Guaido because he has so much international support."
Maduro's government on several occasions has threatened to arrest the 35-year-old lawmaker, accusing him of violating the constitution and acting as a "puppet" of a U.S. coup attempt.
But every day that Guaido is allowed to move freely around Caracas, holding rallies and building a parallel government complete with foreign ambassadors and a presidential-looking office from which he delivers videotaped messages, he looks statelier and undermines Maduro's authority in the eyes of ordinary Venezuelans, Vivanco said.
On Monday, a consular officer in Miami joined Venezuela's military attache in Washington, Col. Jose Luis Silva, in ditching support for Maduro and recognizing Guaido.
"I'm always at the service of my beloved country. I'll continue to provide consular services in Miami," Scarlet Salazar said in a video announcing her allegiance to Guaido as she stood in front of a Venezuelan flag. "This is our country's moment."
It's not clear what security precautions Guaido is taking to avoid arrest. But he's not exactly been hard to find.
On Friday, he held a news conference in a Caracas plaza announced hours in advance on social media, and on Sunday he attended a church service for victims of anti-government unrest.
In both instances he spoke with a studied coolness, seemingly unconcerned about the enormous risks he was taking by openly defying Maduro. In 2014, his political mentor, Leopoldo Lopez, was arrested during an outdoor rally, and numerous other politicians, activists and even two small-town firefighters who published an online video mocking Maduro as a mule have been arrested over the past year.
Foro Penal, a local rights group, said Monday that in a single week of unrest more than 700 people have been detained. Another 35 have been killed during the unrest, many in poor neighborhoods where the opposition traditionally dominates.
The government has yet to comment on the report but socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello on Monday tried to turn the tables on Guaido, saying his security was now in the hands of the U.S. Embassy.
"If something happens to this man, or any leader from the opposition, it's part of the imperialists' plans," Cabello said at a rally Monday in the central city of Barquisimeto.
Francisco Gonzalez, a pro-government analyst, said that while Maduro's weakness and Venezuela's economic and social problems are self-evident, many in the country resent the heavy-handed role the Trump administration is playing in the fast-unfolding crisis.
"The discontent is real," said Gonzalez. "But at this stage it's more about Trump looking for a foreign policy win to counter the decline in the U.S. geopolitical influence."
Moscow, Jan 28 (AP/UNB) — Russian police on Monday found the painting that was stolen a day earlier from Moscow's famed museum of Russian art in broad daylight before unsuspecting visitors.
The painting of mountain ridges by Arkhip Kuindzhi, titled "Ai-Petri. Crimea," was stolen in front of confused visitors on Sunday evening at the Tretyakov Gallery in one of the most brazen Russian art heist in recent memory.
CCTV footage released by the police shows a young man calmly walking up to the painting, stopping to take a look and then taking it off the wall with other visitors looking on. He then crosses the hall and walks away.
The Interior Ministry said Monday that they have detained a 31-year-old suspect in the theft and recovered the painting, which had been hidden at a construction side outside Moscow. Police said the man was detained last December for drug possession and has been on bail since.
The man said in the video of interrogation posted online by the police that he "did not commit any crimes" and that he could not remember where he was on Sunday.
The painting had an insurance estimate of $185,000 but some other works by Kuindzhi have fetched more that $3 million at auctions.
The theft raised questions about security at the Tretyakov Gallery, one of Russia's most renowned museums.
The Tretyakov was hit by another brazen crime last May when a man attacked a famous 19th-century painting with a metal stanchion. The man reportedly damaged the painting, which depicts Russia's first czar cradling his dying son after striking him in a fit of rage, because he thought it to be historically inaccurate.
Russia's Culture Minister said after Kuindzhi's painting was recovered that it would push for all temporarily exhibitions at state-owned museums to be equipped with motion detectors.
Investigators have yet to establish whether the man had an accomplice or not.
Cairo, Jan 28 (AP/UNB) — French President Emmanuel Macron is to hold talks Monday with his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo, saying beforehand that he wants to boost ties with an important ally to fight terrorism but also use the visit to encourage respect for human rights.
Macron, heading a large delegation on a three-day trip to the Arab world's most populous country, said he wants to "pursue a truthful dialogue on topics of public freedoms and human rights" — an area he feels Egypt has not progressed enough on since he raised it with officials earlier in his mandate.
France, which considers itself the birthplace of human rights, has come under pressure by advocates to raise the matter with general-turned-President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, whose human rights record has been widely condemned and is seen as worsening.
Macron said that too many normal people "who do not threaten the regime's stability" were being jailed.
"It is on this area of what is happening in Egypt that I will continue to focus things. I will do it more openly during this trip," Macron told reporters late on Sunday, adding that better treatment for political opponents was in the interest of el-Sissi and Egypt.
Macron said he felt the current crackdown on opposition in Egypt, begun after el-Sissi overthrew his elected but divisive Islamist predecessor in 2013, had become worse than under the country's longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, who was overthrown in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.
"I think what is happening here sooner or later threatens the stability of Egypt," Macron said. "That's to say, I think that the policies as they are being done are perceived by intellectuals, the Egyptian civil society, as being even stronger than (under) the Mubarak regime."
Macron also said that he would raise specific names with el-Sissi in a confidential discussion. Aside from heightened public emphasis on human rights, he did not mention raising any new specific levers to try and incentivize the Egyptian leader, who has faced no real competition in parliament or elections.
Rights groups and activists have urged France and other Western powers to halt weapons sales to Egypt, a major purchaser, until it shows improvement on the way it treats its own citizenry. But Macron dismissed using such pressure, saying it was important to respect Egypt's sovereignty and not cut it off because that could drive it further into the arms of the West's authoritarian rivals, Russia and China, which el-Sissi has courted.
Asked specifically if human rights issues could affect specific arms sales, such as one under discussion for additional Rafale advanced fighter jets to Egypt, Macron said such matters were separate.
"I would differentiate between the two subjects, they are not linked for us and they never were."
Macron arrived Sunday in Egypt and visited the country's south, where he toured the famed temple of Abu Simbel and other archaeological sites. He is to meet el-Sissi later on Monday, when he will sign several bilateral accords.
His delegation includes government ministers, two dozen representatives from academic, cultural, and scientific fields, and a dozen business leaders -- including the heads of Rafale producer Dassault.
Macron will also dine with local business leaders and meet the heads of Egypt's Christian and Muslim communities during the trip, his first to Egypt since taking office in 2017.
London, Jan 28 (AP/UNB) — A leading Brexit supporter says he will back Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit divorce deal with the European Union if she wins concessions on controversial language designed to prevent border checks in Northern Ireland.
Boris Johnson, the former U.K. foreign secretary, writes Monday in the Daily Telegraph that it would be "unadulterated good Brexit news" if May negotiated an expiration date for the Irish border backstop plan. Currently, the backstop clause would indefinitely keep Britain in a customs union with the EU if no other way were found to avoid physical border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Tuesday is a crucial day for May's Brexit deal, with Parliament considering a number of amendments that could prevent Britain from leaving the EU without an agreement on future relations.