Geneva, July 5 (AP/UNB) — A top Venezuelan diplomat on Friday blasted what he called the "biased vision" of a report by the U.N. human rights chief chronicling torture, sexual abuse and extrajudicial killings in the country, and demanded it be "corrected."
Deputy Foreign Minister William Castillo insisted the report from High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet "does not reflect the reality in our country." He said Venezuela would heed "constructive" recommendations.
"We demand that its contents be corrected, and we urge you to act in a balanced and respectful way," Castillo told the U.N-backed Human Rights Council through a translator.
"The content of this report is incomprehensible, dominated by a selective and biased vision," Castillo said. "It's a text lacking in scientific rigor, with serious errors in methodology and which seems like a carbon copy of previous reports."
Bachelet, after presenting the report published Thursday to the council, insisted that she heard from victims on both government and opposition sides, and defended the methodology. Since taking office last year, Bachelet said, she has emphasized that staffers need to get the facts right to show balance.
The rights chief said her teams had been working on the report, which covers a period from January 2018 nearly to the present, for a long time. She insisted upon the validity of the reporting, based on hundreds of interviews and meetings with government officials, Maduro's opponents, as well as victims, their relatives, rights defenders and many others.
She also expressed hope that the report could help pave the way toward improvements in the rights situation in Venezuela, and noted that her office now has an office in Venezuela — access not granted for many years.
She summarized her team's findings about a "pattern of torture" under President Nicolas Maduro's government, citing violations like arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and enforced disappearances.
Witnesses recounted "in every case" how special forces known as FAES "manipulated the crime scene and evidence," the report said. "They would plant arms and drugs and fire their weapons against the walls or in the air to suggest a confrontation and to show the victim had 'resisted authority.'"
"In many cases, FAES brought the victims to hospital even though they were already dead, apparently with the intention of manipulating the bodies and modifying the crime scene," it added.
Venezuela's government acknowledged nearly 5,300 killings during security operations last year alone linked to "resistance to authority," the report said, and added that another 1,569 took place from Jan. 1 to May 19 this year.
Mexico City, Jul 4 (AP/UNB) — Some of Mexico's federal police remain in revolt over the force's planned dissolution and absorption into the newly created National Guard.
Striking police continued to hold a federal police command center in the Mexico City borough of Iztapalapa Thursday morning. Meanwhile, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador repeated his suggestion that rank-and-file police were being manipulated by his political adversaries.
López Obrador declined to name the "dark forces" he says are responsible, but says his security secretary Alfonso Durazo will provide details later.
On Wednesday, federal police held the command center and blocked key highways around the capital. They expressed concerns about potentially losing their salaries, benefits and seniority if they transferred to the National Guard and being left unemployed if they don't join the new force.
Sao Paulo, Mar 13 (AP/UNB) — Two young men, wearing hoods and carrying firearms and other weapons, opened fire at a school in southern Brazil on Wednesday, killing eight people before taking their own lives, authorities said.
The dead included two teachers and six students, and several other people had been hospitalized after sustaining injuries, according to Gov. Joao Doria, speaking a few blocks from the public school in Suzano, a suburb of Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city.
The age of the attackers was estimated to be between 20 and 25 years old, and authorities don't believe they were former students, the governor said.
Doria said the school had been evacuated and police were inspecting possible explosives left by the shooters.
"The school is on lockdown," he said.
Latin America's most populous nation has the largest number of annual homicides in the world, but school shootings are rare.
Brazil's new President Jair Bolsonaro recently announced that gun ownership controls would be loosened.
Rio De Janeiro, Dec 7 (AP/UNB) — At least 12 people, including two children, were killed Friday when police engaged in a shootout with bank robbers, according to authorities in northeastern Brazil.
The two attempted heists in the state of Ceara began around 2:30 a.m. in the downtown area of the city of Milagres.
Robbers at one bank took several people hostages when police surrounded the area, according to a police statement. A firefight broke out, leaving several dead. Authorities have yet to identify the dead.
Two suspects were apprehended, according to police.
Milagres Mayor Lielson Macedo Landim told local media that two children, between 10 and 13 years old, were killed in the shooting. It was not immediately clear how the hostages were taken. Police did not immediately respond to email and phone requests for more information.
Latin America's largest nation routinely is the world leader in total annual homicides. Ceara is one of the country's most violent states.
Mexico City, Nov 30 (AP/UNB) — Mexico's incoming president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is folksy, plain-spoken, and spontaneous — perhaps too much so for financial markets, which have been roiled in advance of his inauguration Saturday.
Lopez Obrador is the first president since the Mexican Revolution to rise to prominence as a protest leader, and he sees his inauguration as a historic "fourth transformation" of Mexico, following independence from Spain, the liberal reforms that broke the church's dominance in the 1850s and the 1910-1917 revolution.
His calls for a crusade against corruption and his professed concern for the common people often assume the proportion of a moral mission, with a zeal that carries over to pet projects, such as a costly rural railroad project, that baffle or alarm critics.
So, who will he listen to? It's pretty clear he hears the financial markets, at least when they make noise about the prospect of a president who in the past has railed against a "mafia of power" that included major business figures.
One ratings agency downgraded Mexico's outlook to "negative" and the peso and stocks have plunged in recent weeks after conflicting signals from Lopez Obrador's team, prompting conciliatory words from the incoming leader.
"We are going to give a lot of reassurance to investors, to those who invest in shares, in companies, in financial markets. Their investments will be guaranteed, and they will get good returns, because there will be true rule of law," Lopez Obrador said in a taped message four days before taking office.
He boasts of listening to the people, and has submitted his pet projects to a series of unofficial "referendums," winning overwhelming support, though with the participation of only about 1 percent of registered voters. "We will always be looking for more legitimacy, more support from the people," he said.
At the same time, the man who built his political career on defending the poor faces a huge immediate challenge: the thousands of impoverished Central American migrants camped out in squalid conditions on the border with the United States and the thousands more on the way. U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to close border crossings to prevent them from entering, and Mexico's new leader — once labeled a hot-head — appears ready to defuse the situation by agreeing to provide better housing for the migrants while they wait for months on Mexican soil for a chance to apply for asylum in the U.S.
But Lopez Obrador dismisses his domestic critics as "fifi" — Mexican slang for elitist or frivolous — saying they need to spend more time with the poor and people in small towns.
Lopez Obrador, who led protests against oil pollution in his swampy native state of Tabasco, comes across as friendly, if a bit obstinate, and surely has a kind of charisma. Certainly, no politician in Mexican history has shaken more hands or toured more dusty small towns than Lopez Obrador over more than a dozen years of campaigning for the presidency.
That hands-on style echoes the folksy autocracy of his hero of the 1930s, Lazaro Cardenas, who nationalized the oil industry as a nearly all-powerful president. But many worry about how well Lopez Obrador will respect the opposition, or the counterbalances put in place in recent decades to limit presidential power.
"I think he is resurrecting the imperial presidency of 30 or 40 years ago," said Jose Antonio Crespo, a political analyst at Mexico's Center for Economic Research and Training. "But it is also mixed with Lopez Obrador's personal style, which is disorderly, ambiguous, contradictory and capricious."
"He is going to govern by whim, according to his desires, and he's going to ride roughshod over institutions," Crespo said.
On the other hand, many of those who contributed to Lopez Obrador's crushing tidal wave of victory in the July 1 elections look forward to his inauguration with enormous hope that he will wrest power from market-oriented technocrats, and produce jobs and better wages.
Francisco Javier Martinez Cardenas, a 59-year-old street vendor who uses crutches and has high blood pressure, waited in line to cast his vote in one of Lopez Obrador's "referendums" last week. "This is something innovative," he said of the vote. "Before, the government never consulted us on anything. Before, when the government decided something, we only heard about it, sometimes months, even years later."
Gustavo de la Vega, a 30-year-old industrial designer who also voted in the referendum — but against some of the projects — said, "I do have a lot of hope ... but we're not giving him a blank check."
One project being put to the vote was Lopez Obrador's plan for a "Maya train" that would link resorts like Cancun and Tulum with colonial Merida and the jungle ruins of Palenque and Calakmul on the Yucatan Peninsula. He announced a start date for the $7.5 billion project, though there has been no environmental impact statement, serious economic feasibility study or consultation with indigenous communities, as required by law.
Lopez Obrador brushed off experts who led a petition drive against the plan, accusing them of being out of touch with the people.
"Look at what the petition-signers don't know," Lopez Obrador wrote. "I say it with all respect and I recognize the majority are very smart people, but as amazing as it sounds, they need to make contact with the people in the countryside."
He has taken a similar broad-brush approach to Mexico's main problems.
For example, Lopez Obrador wants to build an expensive new refinery to restore Mexico, which now imports much of its gasoline, to the glory days of big oil in the 1970s, though many analysts say that will only add to the woes of the debt-strapped state oil company.
He hasn't outlined any plan to stop gangs that drill illegal taps into government pipelines an average of 40 times every day, looting a major source of government revenues while occasionally sparking explosions and employing entire neighborhoods as protective human shields.
He has also been vague about how he will tackle the drug cartels, kidnappers and extortionists who have boosted Mexico's homicide rates to historic levels.
Contrary to calls to return soldiers to their barracks and remove them from civilian law enforcement, Lopez Obrador now has proposed creating a National Guard under military control, subsuming the federal police and military police.
That plan, too, lacks specifics. "It doesn't have any strategies for action, it doesn't say how they're going to do things," said Raul Benitez, a security expert and professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
So far, however, Lopez Obrador has proved surprisingly adept at handling foreign relations despite having almost no experience in the field, and when confronted with Trump and his sometimes threatening language toward Mexico.
"He has a good relationship with the United States," Benitez said. "Foreign relations have been the best area I have seen" in the incoming administration. "He got involved in negotiations on the free trade agreement, and that didn't go badly."