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U.S. Denies Role in Venezuelan Coup Attempt. Here’s What You Need to Know

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  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said Monday that the country arrested two Americans who were part of a plan to overthrow and kill him.
  • Former Green Beret Jordan Goudreau, who runs a private security firm, claimed responsibility for the operation, which he said he launched separately from the U.S. government or Venezuelan opposition to capture Maduro.
  • Maduro claimed that President Trump and the U.S. was behind the attempted coup, but Trump and his administration denied any involvement.

A Series of Unusual Events

President Donald Trump and his administration have denied allegations from the Venezuelan government that the United States was behind an attempt to invade the embattled Latin American country earlier this week.

Details of the highly unusual events, which have taken place in the last few days, remain murky and largely unverified as both countries continue to lob accusations at each other.

The incident is likely to further intensify the already fraught relationship between the U.S. and Venezuela, but it’s also been characterized by contradictory reports, numerous he-said-she-said allegations, and few confirmed details.

Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know about this confusing and bizarre situation.

Sunday: The “Operation” Comes to Light

On Sunday, the Venezuelan government announced that it had stopped an “invasion” off its coast and claimed that eight people were killed and two were captured.

The government also said that the group were “mercenary terrorists” who had come from Colombia in a speedboat to overthrow the government, but security forces had stopped the planned coup and taken the group’s weapons and equipment.

Later that day, a former U.S. Green Beret named Jordan Goudreau released a video alongside former Venezuelan National Guard officer Javier Nieto Quintero.

The two announced that they had launched what they called “Operation Gideon,” which they described as an operation to capture senior members of Maduro’s government, and called on Venezuelan soldiers to join them.

In an interview with the Washington Post later on Sunday, Goudreau, who now runs a Florida-based security firm called Silvercorp USA, said the operation involved 60 troops, some of whom he claimed had already engaged Maduro’s forces by land and sea. That has yet to be verified.

Goudreau also told the Post that the troops, many of whom he said were Venezuelan military defectors, had been based in camps near Colombia’s border. 

That appeared to back up an investigation by the Associated Press published Friday, which found that Goudreau had been working with a former Venezuelan army general, who is now facing U.S. narcotic charges, to train Venezuelan military deserters to invade the country and capture Maduro.

Notably, Goudreau said that he had tried to get backing from the U.S. government but was unsuccessful. He also claimed that he had discussed the plan with the Venezuelan opposition, led by Juan Guaidó, but the opposition pulled out.

In a separate interview on Sunday with a Miami-based journalist Patricia Poleo, Goudreau provided what he claimed was a general services contract between Silvercorp and the opposition signed by Guaidó in Miami in October for $213 million. He said that the opposition never paid them, but that he still went ahead with the operation.

Guaidó, for his part, denied any connection to the operation. Hernán Alemán, another leading opposition lawmaker, also told reporters that the operation was conducted without the knowledge of Guaidó or any opposition leaders.

Alemán said that they had been briefed last year on the general idea of but did not endorse it.

Goudreau later told Bloomberg that the opposition leaders were “lying.”

Monday: Maduro Says He’s Captured Two Americans

During a lengthy televised address on Monday, Maduro described the operation as a “terrorist” assault on Venezuela that had been aimed at killing him.

He also said that authorities had arrested 13 “terrorists,” two of whom were American “mercenaries.” 

Maduro showed what he said were the U.S. passports and other identification cards of the Americans, which identified them as Airan Berry and Luke Denman.

Goudreau confirmed that Berry and Denman were two of the people involved in the operation, and told the Post that they were fellow former Special Forces who joined the operation as “supervisors,” and that they had been on a boat that was intercepted by Maduro’s forces.

Maduro also accused the Trump administration of helping coordinate the operation, and seemed to back up speculations that the plot had been infiltrated by someone in his government.

“We knew everything,” he said. “What they ate, what they didn’t eat. What they drank. Who financed them. We know that the U.S. government delegated this as a [U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration] operation.”

The DEA, for its part, outright denied any involvement on Monday. According to reports, U.S. officials tried to distance themselves from the operation, and some questioned the truthfulness and legality of it.

Tuesday: Trump and Administration Respond

President Trump himself denied any involvement when asked about the incident on Tueday.

“We’ll find out. We just heard about it,” he said. “But it has nothing to do with our government.”

Those remarks were echoed by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who told reporters that the U.S. government “had nothing to do with what’s happened in Venezuela in the last few days.”

In a statement to the media, the State Department said it could not comment on the reported arrests because of privacy considerations.

“There is a major disinformation campaign underway by the Maduro regime, making it difficult to separate facts from propaganda,” the statement said, adding that officials would be “looking closely into the role of the Maduro regime.”

“The record of falsehoods and manipulation by Maduro and his accomplices, as well as their highly questionable representation of the details, argues that nothing should be taken at face value when we see the distorting of facts.”

Maduro’s communications chief, Jorge Rodríguez, responded to Trump’s denial of involvement by referring to the fact that Silvercorp had posted a promotional video on its website that shows Goudreau as security detail behind President Trump at a rally in 2018.

The company also posted a since-deleted picture on it’s Instagram account that appeared to be taken backstage at the same rally, according to VICE.

“How is it that the Secret Service of the United States hired Silvercorp to handle Trump’s security and that Silvercorp publishes that on its website?” Rodríguez asked during a news conference.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press) (Al Jazeera)

International

U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.

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The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.


New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle

A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.

Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.

In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.

The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.

Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.

However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”

The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased. 

In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.

High Court Ruling

The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.” 

“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”

Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”

The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.

If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.

Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.

U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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International

Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe

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The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.


More Information About Omicron

Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.

One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.

Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa —  where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.

Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.

In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.

Studies on Vaccine Efficacy 

Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.

On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.

According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses. 

By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.

Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.

Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)

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International

40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox

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The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.


Camels Booted From Beauty Contest

More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.

The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.

However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”

Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.

An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.

“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”

While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.

In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (The Guardian) (ABC News)

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