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Israel prevents Palestinians from combating COVID-19

By Robert Inlakesh | Press TV | April 3, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic death toll grows and the number of those infected creeps past one million confirmed cases, worldwide, the Palestinian health workers of Gaza and the West Bank try desperately to prevent the spread of the virus in the occupied territories. Unfortunately, however, this effort has been severely compromised by the Israeli occupation forces.

An issue almost completely overlooked by Western corporate media, is the issue of Israeli persecution of Palestinians during the ongoing pandemic. This major cover-up comes despite the fact that there is currently round the clock coverage of the impacts of the novel coronavirus.

Israel has continued its brutal policies of mistreatment of Palestinian political prisoners, massive arrest campaigns, break-ins, killings, bombings and even crimes specific to the pandemic, which we are currently living through, such as the destroying emergency clinics which have been set up to deal with the virus outbreak and also the dumping sick Palestinians outside of checkpoints.

If ever there was a time that the world would see unity between the oppressed and the oppressors, it would surely be at a time when the whole world is collectively under attack by an enemy of the collective which is not only infecting and killing people, but destroying the world economy. However, unfortunately, this has not been the case between Palestinians and the Israeli occupation.

Just in the past few weeks alone, Israeli occupation forces have continued arresting and detaining Palestinian minors in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds. Also continuing to raid and attack Palestinians who are attempting to self isolate and practice social distancing in order to combat the spread of COVID-19.

On Sunday the 22nd of March, Israeli occupation forces killed a 32 year old Palestinian man, from the village of Nilin (near central Ramallah), in the West Bank. The 32 year old was shot in the head whilst driving his car and according to his family was simply running errands. Since then, dozens more have been shot and severely injured.

Palestinian political prisoners who are currently being held in Israeli prisoners are also fearful for their lives, some announcing hunger strikes over the lack of precautionary measures taken by the Israeli prisons. All Palestinian prisoners will now be essentially in the dark, as social distancing measures are in place, preventing any physical communication with loved ones. On top of this, a recently released Palestinian prisoner has, according to reports, tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Israeli artillery strikes have also been reported as having hit three different areas inside of the illegally besieged Gaza Strip, just last week. Israel claimed this came after an unspecified number of rockets were fired, no damage was reported inside of Israel however. This bombardment of Gaza ignores the UN global call for ceasefire, which Israel has joined the likes of Saudi Arabia and the United States in already abandoning. Israel has continued running mock raids on Gaza since last week’s airstrikes.

Israel has also been documented as having dumped Palestinians who work in illegal settlements, randomly, outside checkpoints after the workers have displayed signs of sickness. One specific case gathering a lot of attention on social media, the Palestinian Health Ministry later confirmed that the man who had been featured in the video, did not test positive for the virus.

What Israel shows with its dealings with sick Palestinian workers, demonstrates its clearly racist views towards Palestinians, treating Palestinians as if they were animals that can be simply discarded of if they seem to pose a health risk.

According to Israeli Human Rights Organization BTselem, on the 26th of March, the Israeli military stormed the Palestinian village of Khirbet Ibziq, accompanied by a military escort with a bulldozer and two cranes, which they used to demolish an emergency clinic and community housing. The facilities were created to deal with the outbreak of the virus, which the Palestinian Authority, based in Ramallah, are ill-equipped to deal with in the event that the disease becomes more wide spread. The Israeli forces also confiscated equipment being used to combat the spread of COVID-19 on that day.

These are but only a sample of the problems faced by Palestinians under occupation, when it comes to dealing with the outbreak of COVID-19. But without using more examples of racist persecution, it is essential that we ask the question; that if Israel cannot put aside its dehumanizing tactics used against the Palestinian people now and cannot put aside its racism during a global pandemic, what will defeat this divisive mentality of the occupier?

April 3, 2020 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, War Crimes | , , , , | 4 Comments

US sidestepped OWN SANCTIONS against Russia to save American lives from Covid-19… If only it cared as much about Iranian lives

By Scott Ritter | RT | April 3, 2020

When it comes to saving American lives, sanctions are not an obstacle to the provision of life-saving medical equipment. Ramping up sanctions on struggling Iran is okay however – which goes to show the US price tag on human life.

It was a sight that warmed the heart of even the most cynical American opponent of Vladimir Putin’s Russia—a giant An-124 aircraft, loaded with boxes of desperately needed medical supplies, being offloaded at JFK Airport. When President Trump spoke on the phone with his Russian counterpart on March 31, he mentioned America’s need for life-saving medical supplies, including ventilators and personal protective equipment. Two days later the AN-124 arrived in New York.

As the aircraft was being unloaded, however, it became clear that at least some of the equipment being offloaded had been delivered in violation of existing US sanctions. Boxes clearly marked as containing Aventa-M ventilators, produced by the Ural Instrument Engineering Plant (UPZ), could be seen. For weeks now President Trump has made an issue about the need for ventilators in the US to provide life-saving care for stricken Americans.

There was just one problem—the manufacturer of the Aventa-M, UPZ, is a subsidiary of Concern Radio-Electronic Technologies (KRET) which, along with its parent holding company ROSTEC, has been under US sanctions since 2014. Complicating matters further is the fact that the shipment of medical supplies was paid in part by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), a Russian sovereign wealth fund which, like ROSTEC, was placed on the US lending blacklist in 2014 following Russia’s intervention in Crimea. Half of the Russian aid shipment was paid for by the US State Department, and the other half by RDIF.

According to a State Department spokesperson, the sanctions against RDIF do not apply to purchases of medical equipment. KRET, however, is in the strictest SDN (Specially Designated Persons) sanctions list, which means US citizens and permanent residents are prohibited from doing business with it. So while the letter of the sanctions may not have been violated, the spirit certainly has been.

One only need talk to the embattled Governor of New York State, Andrew Cuomo, to understand the difficulty in trying to purchase much-needed medical equipment during a global pandemic where everyone else is trying to do the same. New York has been competing with several other states to purchase much-needed ventilators from China. “It’s like being on eBay”, Cuomo recently told the press, with 50 states bidding against one another, driving the price up. The issue became even more complicated when the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, entered the bidding war. “They big-footed us”, Cuomo said, driving the price per ventilator up to $25,000. “We’re going broke.”

Cuomo estimates that New York will need upwards of 40,000 ventilators to be able to handle the influx of stricken patients when the outbreak hits its peak. At the moment, New York has 17,000 ventilators available—including 2,500 on order from China—and Cuomo doesn’t expect any more. “We’re on our own.” Plans are in place to begin imposing a triage system to prioritize ventilator availability if and when the current stockpile is exhausted. These plans include the issuance of an emergency waiver that permits health care providers to take a patient off a ventilator to make it available for another patient deemed to be more “viable”—that is, who has a greater expectation of surviving the disease.

Cuomo’s predicament is being played out around the world, in places like Italy, Spain—and Iran, where the outbreak of coronavirus has hit particularly hard. The difference, however, is that while the US, Italy and Spain are able to scour the global market in search of life-saving medical supplies, Iran is not. US sanctions targeting the Iranian financial system, ostensibly imposed to prevent “money laundering” by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Command, which has been heavily sanctioned by the US over the years, have made it virtually impossible for Iran to pay for humanitarian supplies needed to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

As bad as it is for Governor Cuomo, at least he can enter a bidding war for medical supplies. Iran can’t even get its foot in the door, and it is costing lives. Making matters worse, at a time when the international community is pleading for the US to ease sanctions so Iran can better cope with an outbreak that is taking a life every ten minutes, the US instead doubled down, further tightening its death grip on the Iranian economy.

The global coronavirus pandemic will eventually end, and when it does there will be an accounting for how nations behaved. Nations like Russia and China have been repeatedly vilified in the US media for any number of reasons—even the Russian aid shipment containing the sanctioned ventilators has been dismissed as a “propaganda ploy.” What, then, do you call the US’ blatant disregard for select human lives?

The callous indifference displayed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other officials to the suffering of the Iranian people by increasing sanctions at a time when the situation cries out for them to be lifted in order to save lives, when contrasted to the ease in which US sanctions on Russia are ignored when life-saving medical equipment is needed, drives home the point that, as far as the US is concerned, human life only matters when it is an American one. That might play well among American voters (it shouldn’t), but for the rest of the world it is a clear sign that hypocrisy, not humanitarianism, is the word that will define the US going forward.

Scott Ritter is a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer. He served in the Soviet Union as an inspector implementing the INF Treaty, in General Schwarzkopf’s staff during the Gulf War, and from 1991-1998 as a UN weapons inspector. Follow him on Twitter @RealScottRitter

April 3, 2020 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , | Leave a comment

Isn’t that ‘Medicare for all’? Trump administration rolls out interesting plan for funding Covid-19 treatments in US

RT | April 3, 2020

The Trump administration has said it intends to pay providers treating coronavirus patients at ‘Medicare rates’ and prohibit additional billing – in effect, testing a flagship progressive proposal for nationalized healthcare.

“We will send money to providers through the same mechanism used for testing,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters on Friday, referring to the $100 billion in funds earmarked for healthcare providers in the CARES stimulus act.

The government will reimburse any patients with Covid-19 that lack health insurance at Medicare rates, and will ban them from “balance-billing” those patients, Azar added, noting that this will give the millions of newly unemployed – and therefore uninsured – Americans a better deal than falling back on “Obamacare” insurance exchanges.

This did not escape the attention of President Barack Obama’s former healthcare czar Andy Slavitt, who hinted that this basically amounted to “Medicare for all” – a proposal for single-payer healthcare championed by Senator Bernie Sanders as part of his bid for the Democrat presidential nomination.

Azar’s announcement amounts to a field test of Sanders’s proposal, at a time when the US economy has been crippled by the weeks-long shutdown ordered as a measure to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, mainstream Democrats – such as the establishment favorite Joe Biden and 2016 candidate Hillary Clinton – have clamored for the government to reopen Obamacare exchanges, condemning Trump for not doing so, only to get “outflanked from the left” by the White House.

The CARES Act is an ambitious $2.2 trillion package passed by Congress last week, intended to deal with the pandemic but also offset the economic fallout of the measures imposed to combat its spread. As of Friday, the US has registered almost 274,000 cases of Covid-19, with just over 7,000 deaths.

April 3, 2020 Posted by | Economics | , , | 3 Comments

China Produces Record Amount Of “Fire Ice”

By Irina Slav | Oilprice.com | March 30, 2020

In a world awash in oil and gas, you’d think it couldn’t get any worse. Well, it can: China just announced that it had extracted a record amount of what has been poetically called fire ice.  It is, however, a form of natural gas trapped in frozen water.

At 861,400 cubic meters, this record might not be a whole lot of gas, but it may well be the start of something new, and gas producers may not like this ‘something’.

Gas hydrates don’t garner a lot of media attention as a rule, simply because they have yet to become an addition to the world’s energy mix. But when they do—if they do—they may change the international oil and gas market even more than the coronavirus outbreak has changed it now by decimating demand for hydrocarbons.

First, what are gas hydrates? 

Gas hydrates are molecules of natural gas, most commonly methane, trapped in a “cage” made from water molecules. They exist in cold climates, such as beneath the Arctic permafrost and Antarctic ice, but also in sedimentary deposits–the same kind of deposits where oil and gas collect along the margins of continents and also under the seabed of specific basins such as the South China Sea.

Because they only exist in cold places, research on gas hydrates has been challenging. As geologist Hobart M. King explains in an article on hydrates for Geology.com, hydrates are only stable in the environment where they formed.

To study them, researchers need to remove the samples from their environment. The change in temperature in pressure, however, melts the water cage, and the methane escapes.

Why bother with hydrates at all, then? Because they may be more abundant than all other hydrocarbons taken together: oil, gas, and coal.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the world’s methane gas hydrates could be as vast as 250,000 to 700,000 trillion cu ft. According to the UN Environmental Programme, the world’s reserves of gas hydrates could be as large as 3,000 to 30,000 trillion cubic meters. But these are just enormous figures that are difficult to digest.

Here’s an estimate that might be more palatable: the world’s gas hydrate reserves could be between 100,000 and 1.1 million exajoules. For context, the world’s total annual energy consumption as of 2014 when the UNEP paper was written was about 500 exajoules.

This means we might be sitting on enough gas to power the world for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

It’s packed tightly, too. According to the Department of Energy, a single cubic meter of hydrate can release as much as 164 cubic meters of natural gas. Talk about energy density.

China is among just a handful of countries pursuing research into gas hydrates with a focus on extraction. With its dependence on imported oil and gas, this is hardly surprising. The first extraction experiments in the South China Sea, in 2017, resulted in an output of 300,000 cubic meters extracted over a period of two months. Now, the Ministry of Natural Resources has reported an output of 287,000 cubic meters achieved in a single day. This is quite a significant progress in three years.

And that’s not all.

According to the ministry, the output achieved during this phase of the gas hydrate trials provided a “solid technical foundation for commercial exploitation.”

This is probably the last thing gas producers around the world want to hear right now, but it is what they need to hear. Full-scale commercial production may be years or even decades away, but China is getting there. It seems, however, that it is getting there in strides rather than baby steps. This could spur others into action or, as it were, faster action.

Back in 2012, the United States and Japan reported successful production of methane from gas hydrates in the Alaskan North Slope. Then, a year later, Japan reported successful production again, this time from an offshore deposit at home. Those tests ended sooner than expected because of technical problems. In 2017, Japan again announced the first successful longer-lasting extraction of methane from a gas hydrate deposit offshore.

Last year, the U.S. Geological Survey updated its estimate for gas hydrate reserves in Alaska to 53.8 trillion cu ft. While this is significantly lower than the initial estimate from 2008, which said there were 85 trillion cu ft of recoverable fire ice in the North Slope, it is still substantial enough to motivate exploration. Only perhaps not right now, given the price environment.

China’s announcement comes at a sensitive time for the world gas industry. Prices are severely depressed by a rare if not unprecedented combination of unusually low demand and excessive supply. Energy firms are retrenching and preparing to wait out the crisis. Exploration budgets are being slashed and plans are being revised. And now, China has announced that it is working on its self-sufficiency in gas. It is going to be an ugly year for the energy industry, but maybe a good year for research into what could be the world’s most abundant fossil fuel resource.

April 3, 2020 Posted by | Economics | | 1 Comment

We need to cut around 10 mln barrels per day of oil production, Russia is ready to act with US on oil markets – Putin

RT | April 3, 2020

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country is ready to work with the Trump administration to halt the freefall of oil prices. His comments come after a phone call with President Trump earlier this week.

Putin also noted that the daily oil output should be cut by around 10 million barrels, as there is lower demand due to coronavirus. Oil prices started dwindling after OPEC+ countries disagreed on production cuts, with Saudi Arabia refusing to lower the output.

With an ongoing “price war” between Russia and Saudi Arabia driving prices even further down, US president Trump said on Thursday that “it would be great” if the two countries could make a deal to limit production.

Putin had already spoken to Trump by phone earlier this week, and on Friday announced that he is ready to cut production by 10 million barrels per day.

The Russian leader said that moving forward, Moscow would be comfortable with a price of $42 per barrel, roughly $10-15 higher than current levels.

Oil prices jumped prior to Putin’s Friday announcement, after Trump spoke of a pending deal.

No talks between Moscow and Riyadh have yet taken place, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday. However, non-OPEC member Azerbaijan announced that the petroleum bloc and its allies will hold discussions on Monday aimed at restoring “balance to the oil market.”

Saudi Arabia, ramped up its production on Wednesday to a record high of more than 12 million barrels per day, after previous OPEC+ production cuts expired at the end of March.

During a televised meeting with Energy Minister Alexander Novak Putin said the Saudi crown is flooding the market to force competing shale oil producers out of business, among them the US and Russia.

Novak noted that he doesn’t know when the world’s plummeting demand for oil will finally bottom out.

April 3, 2020 Posted by | Economics | , | 1 Comment

US Sends Navy Ships to Caribbean in ‘Anti-Drug’ Mission Targeting Venezuela

By Ricardo Vaz and Lucas Koerner | Venezuelanalysis | April 2, 2020

Mérida  – The Trump administration is dispatching US Navy warships to the Caribbean Sea in an effort to turn up the pressure on Venezuela.

The initiative was announced by President Donald Trump and other high ranking officials in a press conference Wednesday.

The move is allegedly part of a wider “anti-narcotics” operation in the region, which in addition to Navy destroyers will reportedly involve AWAC surveillance aircraft and on-ground special forces units. The Associated Press reported that the operation is one of the largest in the region since the 1989 invasion of Panama.

“We must not let malign actors exploit the [coronavirus] situation for their own gain,” Trump said.

The military deployment came on the heels of the Department of Justice (DoJ) levying “narco-terrorism” charges against top-ranking Venezuelan officials, as well as a “democratic transition” plan unveiled by the State Department.

On March 26, the DoJ accused President Nicolas Maduro, National Constituent Assembly Diosdado Cabello and several other officials of conspiring with FARC rebels to “flood” the US with cocaine.

Critics have pointed to the dearth of concrete evidence implicating top Venezuelan leaders and to the fact that data from US agencies shows that only a small fraction of drug routes pass through Venezuela, with most cocaine entering US territory via Central America and Mexico.

A map produced by the US Southern Command shows the main drug-smuggling routes connecting Colombia and Ecuador with Guatemala and Mexico via the Pacific Ocean.

On Tuesday, the State Department unveiled a “framework for a peaceful democratic transition in Venezuela,” calling for Maduro’s resignation and the establishment of a transition government headed by opposition and Chavista officials to oversee new elections.

The Trump administration pledged to lift sanctions against Venezuelan individuals and key economic sectors, but only after Maduro left office and all security agreements with Russia and Cuba were terminated.

The US has vowed to ramp up unilateral sanctions until the Maduro administration accepts the deal.

For its part, the Venezuelan government blasted the military deployment, with Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez calling it “an attempt to attack Venezuela with lies and threats.”

Rodriguez added that Venezuela has “robust” anti-narcotics policies and would be ready to “coordinate” actions against drug trafficking in the region.

Washington’s naval operation comes days after the controversial sinking of a Venezuelan coast guard boat off the coast of the Caribbean island of La Tortuga.

According to the Venezuelan Ministry of Defense, the patrol ship “Naiguata” located a Portuguese cruise ship, the “RCGS Resolute,” in Venezuelan territorial waters and ordered the vessel to accompany it to port. The “Resolute” allegedly refused the instructions and proceeded to ram the “Naiguata,” which subsequently sank as a result of the impact.

The cruise ship owner, Columbia Cruise Services, has disputed this account, insisting that the “Resolute” was “subject to an act of aggression by the Venezuelan Navy in international waters,” while carrying no passengers.

On Wednesday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro suggested the ship “was being used to transport mercenaries.” He also claimed that “someone from the north called” to prevent Dutch authorities from inspecting the “Resolute” at its current mooring in the Curacao port of Willemstad.

Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva, for his part, has pledged to collaborate with Venezuela and Holland in the investigation of the “unfortunate” incident.

April 3, 2020 Posted by | Militarism | , , | 2 Comments

Crisis & Critique: US Ramps up Aggression amid Pandemic

By Ociel Alí López – Venezuelanalysis – April 1, 2020

Venezuela has been one of the countries least affected by the coronavirus pandemic in the region so far. Nevertheless, the US government is attempting to exploit the situation in order to force a violent outcome to the country’s political standoff, putting a price on the head of Maduro and other top functionaries as well as pushing a new “transition” plan to depose the government in exchange for sanctions relief. Meanwhile, Venezuela’s attorney general has summoned Guaido for questioning on April 2. Far from bringing about a truce, the coronavirus has raised tensions to new heights.

On the verge of a truce

The pandemic has caught Venezuela’s opposition in a rather uncomfortable position. Their strategy of not recognizing Maduro and the never ending simulacrum that is Guaido’s “interim presidency” is, fourteen months later, an abject failure in terms of concrete achievements. Guaido’s virtual staying power is owed almost exclusively to Donald Trump, who invited him to the White House at the close of his international tour in February.

But this strategy leaves a vacuum in the opposition. The existence of an “interim president” precludes that of an opposition leader who can channel requests, critiques, and demands toward the government. Guaido is instead forced to speak as a president but without any state resources at his disposal to confront the COVID-19 crisis. Some of Guaido’s spokespeople such as his foreign relations envoy, Julio Borges, issue statements that are woefully out of touch with the gravity of the international conjuncture: “The coronavirus is Maduro and there will be no cure until he leaves power.”

For his part, Maduro, comfortable and without internal resistance, rapidly implemented the World Health Organization’s guidelines, decreeing a national quarantine within days of the first case being reported on March 13. Maduro also managed to meet not only with the country’s principal chamber of commerce, FEDECAMARAS, but also with Colombia’s health authorities, a fact which Colombian President Ivan Duque publicly denied. He additionally secured aid from Cuba and China, which have emerged as global leaders in COVID-19 response. Meanwhile, the United States and Guaido’s other Western sponsors are mired in an unprecedented health crisis due to the number of dead and infected.

On March 23, the European Union publicly called for the International Monetary Fund to accept emergency loan requests from Venezuela and Iran and for relief from US sanctions, which according to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, “block them from receiving income by selling oil.” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also urged the lifting of unilateral coercive measures in the face of the pandemic.

The situation seemed favorable for Maduro’s struggle against the US economic blockade.

In this context, the coronavirus was on the verge of bringing about the unthinkable: an agreement between the opposition and the government. Henry Ramos Allup, the president of Venezuela’s main opposition party, announced on March 10 that Democratic Action would abandon its prior abstentionism and compete in parliamentary elections scheduled for 2020. Amid the global COVID-19 hysteria, former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles opened the possibility for an agreement with Maduro when he stated on March 25:

This pandemic must create an opportunity to pursue some kind of agreement that looks after people’s wellbeing… Let’s work together: you have internal control, and I have international support. You are willing to come to an agreement to join hands. Could it be that difficult? I don’t think so.

That very night, there were two, almost parallel reactions. Maduro said, “I agree with Capriles’ proposal,” and asked the Vatican’s representative in the country to mediate and open its offices for a meeting with the different opposition factions as soon as possible.

Minutes later, Guaido stated, “we are willing to do everything we have to do,” implicitly recognizing the need for an agreement to address the health emergency. However, he did enumerate certain conditions regarding the distribution of humanitarian aid, which should be managed by multilateral organisms and not the Maduro government.

Venezuela’s dueling political factions appeared to be on the verge of engaging in substantive talks, but it was not to be.

Escalating US assault

The next day, on the morning of March 26, US Attorney General William Barr gave a press conference announcing “narco-terrorism” charges against Maduro and other senior government officials.

As expected, the charges were endorsed by Trump in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, effectively torpedoing negotiation efforts and once again raising tensions to a boiling point.

This is hardly the first time that the US has blocked dialogue. When in early August 2019 rumors were circulating of something resembling an electoral pre-agreement emerging from Norway-brokered talks, the United States ramped up sanctions with an August 5 executive order banning all dealings with the Venezuelan state and freezing its assets in what some analysts have linked to the Cuba embargo. The next day, Maduro abandoned talks.

The government had also previously claimed in February 2018 that a last minute call by then US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to the head of the opposition negotiating team, Julio Borges, led the opposition to walk out in lieu of signing a finalized electoral deal. This was the fruit of months of negotiations mediated by former Spanish President Jose Rodriguez Zapatero and the Dominican government, and the agreement concerned guarantees for the 2018 presidential elections, which the main opposition parties opted to boycott.

With this latest decision, Trump ups the ante. On top of punishing economic sanctions, the US now places a multi-million dollar bounty on the head of Maduro and other top officials, giving the green light to renewed violent actions aimed at killing or capturing them.

But the move also aborts the nascent negotiation efforts recently underway. Rather than paving the way for an invasion, indictments open the way for paramilitary operations of the sort one might find in a Hollywood movie. Recall that neighboring Colombia is a country littered with irregular armed outfits. Just a few days ago, following the seizure of an arms cache in northeastern Colombia, retired Major General Cliver Alcala confessed to a plot to overthrow Maduro in coordination with Guaido and US advisors. Paradoxically, the general confirmed the coup plan only after he was indicted by the US Justice Department, subsequently turning himself in to Drug Enforcement Agency officials and traveling from Colombia to the US.

Several days later, on March 31, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a more conciliatory but equally arrogant tone, unveiled a “transition” plan proposing the creation of a “council of state” comprised of opposition and Chavista representatives, with both Guaido and Maduro stepping aside and new elections called. The Venezuelan constitution contains no provisions permitting such an arrangement, which has already been rejected by Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza.

The government did not delay in rolling out its response. The attorney general summoned Guaido to appear for questioning on April 2 and it is very possible that he could be taken into custody after Alcala publicly named him as responsible for terrorist actions to be carried out with the arms confiscated in Colombia. With Guaido behind bars, another scenario opens up, and all that is left is to await a more decisive response from the US.

Meanwhile, we must not forget the arena that has taken center stage at present: healthcare.

Coronavirus and the collapse of the health sector

This escalation of conflict comes not only in the context of coronavirus, but also at a moment of deep crisis in Venezuela’s healthcare system, which could be rapidly overwhelmed if Venezuela’s curve mirrors that of other countries.

In a November 2019 report, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock observed:

I have seen myself how the health system is on the verge of collapse, with many hospitals lacking the most basic water and electricity infrastructure. Hospital patients, many of whom are already critically ill, are at high risk of losing their lives from new infections they are acquiring while they are in hospital, because basic cleaning and disinfection cannot be done. This is exacerbated by a lack of medicines, and a shortage of doctors and nurses to administer them. Preventable diseases including malaria and diphtheria are back with a vengeance. People with chronic health conditions, pregnant and nursing women, infants and those living with disabilities are among the most vulnerable.

No matter how much the government emphasizes its strength in the health sector owing to the support of its allies, the reality is that the system has suffered severe deterioration. If we project an Italy or Spain-style curve in Venezuela, the result could be not just a health sector collapse, but a catastrophe in every arena of life.

For this very reason, Washington’s bellicose measures provoke widespread animosity among diverse national and international constituencies. On the one hand, Chavismo automatically closes ranks behind the government, which implements stronger security measures that block efforts to open up the political field. On the other, the opposition factions that were engaged in or calling for dialogue with the government are now shut out of the game because it will be very difficult for them to compete in parliamentary elections to be held later this year. And if the main opposition parties do not participate, like in the last few elections, they will lose the only real power they have left: the National Assembly. The majority of opposition political actors have reacted with caution and have not automatically supported the US’ actions.

Washington’s latest maneuvers also fly in the face of positions taken by US allies like the European Union, as well as other multilateral bodies, which have called for lifting sanctions on Venezuela and Iran. Washington’s “kick them while their down” approach may appear disproportionate in the face of the current crisis, but we must remember that the US presidential campaign looms large and the Venezuela issue is key to winning the critical state of Florida.

For his part, Guaido may try to dust off the “humanitarian aid” discourse that he had dropped from his political repertoire after the opposition’s US-backed effort to force food and other supplies across the Colombian border in February 2019 ended not only in failure but in a corruption scandal that has dogged the “interim president” ever since. The US, Colombia, and Guaido’s other allies could make a fresh attempt at “humanitarian intervention” amid the current situation of international panic. US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Cuba and Venezuela Carrie Filipetti recently prepared the ground for this possibility, stating that the COVID-19 contagion in Venezuela could pose a regional threat.

This discourse is illogical given that according to official figures Venezuela has far fewer cases than its neighbors, while the US is now the global epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. But when it comes to US-Venezuela relations, official discourses have little concern for facts. Anything can happen, above all, if elections require putting a face on the “invisible enemy.”

Ociel Alí López is a Venezuelan researcher who has published numerous written and multimedia works. He is dedicated to analyzing Venezuelan society for several European and Latin American media outlets. He is a co-founder of alternative Venezuelan state television station Avila TV in 2006. He is the recipient of the CLACSO/ASDI researcher prize and the Britto Garcia literature award.

April 3, 2020 Posted by | War Crimes | , , | Leave a comment

Brazil Slum Residents Organize Without State To Fight Virus

teleSUR | April 2, 2020

The packed living conditions, poor sanitation, lack of healthcare and flouting of lockdown measures make Brazil’s slums – home to around 11 million people or 6 percent of the population – particularly vulnerable to the virus.

Emerson Barata draws a circular map of Sao Paulo’s largest slum, Paraisopolis, and begins to mark confirmed coronavirus cases in blue ink. At the center of the favela of around 120,000 people, which crowds between luxury apartment blocks and high-walled mansions, he draws four dots.

“It’s going to get a lot worse,” the 34-year-old tells an assembled medical team, adding another two dots to the favela’s outer districts. “The surge hasn’t hit yet.”

Barata is leading the coronavirus response in this labyrinth of red cinder block homes where, beyond the six confirmed cases, his team suspects another 60.

He is not connected to the Brazilian state, and nor is the medical team around him. The former minor league soccer pro is part of an association of Paraisopolis residents whose deep distrust of government has led them to take things into their own hands.

The residents’ association has hired a round-the-clock private medical service including three ambulances, two doctors, and two nurses, as well as drivers and support staff.

While President Jair Bolsonaro has dismissed the virus as “a little flu” and told Brazilians to get back to work, Barata is sleep-deprived trying to get his favela ready for what he describes as a “war.”

Barata declined to say how much this would cost or how it was being funded, beyond saying some was covered by donations. Much of it still needs to be raised, he said. The medical team is on an initial 30-day contract, likely to be extended.

“Favelas are going to be hit the worst,” he said, standing in a parking lot outside a mechanic’s workshop that doubles as a base for the medical team. “The places that are already neglected by the state will be neglected even more.” Public health experts agree.

Paraisopolis is likely to be on the front line. Many of its residents work in the nearby wealthy neighborhood of Morumbi, ground zero for the outbreak in Brazil. Across Latin America, many of the first cases were diagnosed in those affluent enough to travel abroad, but the virus is expected to hit the poorest hardest.

Brazil is Latin America’s worst affected nation by the coronavirus so far, with nearly 7,000 confirmed cases and 240 deaths.

The Paraisopolis residents who have tested positive include two who work in the nearby Albert Einstein Hospital, a private medical facility that diagnosed the first case in Latin America. Another was a live-in nanny.

The population density in Paraisopolis is about the same as Manhattan, although most buildings are just two or three stories tall. Residents complain the water runs dry after 8 p.m. and rubbish piles up along the tight, damp alleyways that weave through the community.

“I think it’s going to get ugly… This is a ‘little flu’ that kills,” said Luiz Carlos, a short, grey-haired doctor who is part of the hired medical team.

Roberto de Souza, 41, believes he caught the virus through his job in a pharmacy – despite wearing disposable gloves and a facemask when serving customers. He developed terrible pain in his legs and a constant cough soon followed.

After testing positive he isolated himself in a cramped second-floor flat in Paraisopolis.

“What hurts the most is being locked away, alone,” he said through a facemask, in between coughing fits. “I have to worry, not just about myself but about not giving it to the next person.”

De Souza lives by himself. In Paraisopolis that puts him in the minority.

Reuters visited one cramped home where a woman was self-isolating, sick with coronavirus symptoms. But her three children, mother and brother had nowhere else to go, so continued to live with her.

To address that challenge, the residents’ association is looking to use two local schools – closed due to the outbreak – to house up to 500 suspected and confirmed cases without life-threatening symptoms, removing them from tight living quarters.

Despite all the preparations, Barata is worried residents are not taking the threat seriously enough. Unlike in the rest of Sao Paulo, where a lockdown is in place, most bars and shops remain open in Paraisopolis. The streets bustle. Parties pound.

Barata fears many will change their attitude only once a parent or a friend dies. By then it might be too late.

“We’re trying to get the message out: This is no joke,” he said.

April 3, 2020 Posted by | Solidarity and Activism | , | Leave a comment