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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)

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Chief Adviser to Boris Johnson in Hot Water for Breaking Lockdown Measures He Helped Create

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Source: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

  • Politicians and citizens in the United Kingdom are calling for Dominic Cummings, chief adviser to the Prime Minister, to be fired after breaking strict lockdown measures that he helped create.
  • Days after those measures went into effect, Cummings drove his young son and wife, who was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, 260 miles north from London to Durham.
  • As Cummings explained on Monday, this was to allow his parents to care for his son in case he came down with symptoms, too.
  • A day later, he did. Eventually, so did his son, who was later taken to the hospital. 

Cummings Travels 260 Miles After Lockdown Restrictions

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing calls to fire his chief adviser Dominic Cummings after Cummings broke lockdown measures he helped create.

On March 23, the United Kingdom imposed strict lockdown orders that barred nearly all travel; however, on March 27, Cummings drove 260 miles from London to his parents’ home in the northern city of Durham.

Notably, he also brought his 4-year-old son as well as his wife, who was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. The next day after arriving in Durham, Cummings developed symptoms. It was also later learned that eventually, so did his son, who had to spend a night in the hospital.

Only a couple of weeks after experiencing symptoms, Cummings and his family then reportedly visited a local castle.

According to the government’s stay-at-home orders—which Cummings reportedly helped directly create—people with children were told to comply “to the best of your ability.”

While England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer warned that “if you have adults who are unable to look after a small child, that is an exceptional circumstance,” she also added that people without child care or family support should contact their local authorities for help. That is something Cummings didn’t do. 

In fact, Cummings also failed to tell Johnson he was making this trip. 

Because of that, many have used social media to rail at Cummings for seemingly flouting his own rules.

One Twitter user said, “he has COVID symptoms so he drives the length of the country to deliver a potentially contagious child to a household of two elderly people, and he wants to keep his job?”

Many others, including journalist Piers Morgan, have shared personal stories of being unable to visit their elderly relatives. Some have even noted that they obeyed lockdown orders in lieu of comforting dying family and friends or attending funerals.

A number of politicians in parliament have also called for Johnson to fire Cummings, including more than 35 Conservatives in Johnson’s own party. 

Still, following this, Johnson defended Cummings, saying he “followed the instincts of every father and every parent.”

Cummings Addresses His Travel

On Monday, Cummings held a news conference in the garden of 10 Downing Street, the office of the prime minister. More than 3.7 million people tuned in to listen to Cummings address the mounting criticism.

At the conference, Cummings defended his actions. Originally, he said that he, his wife, and his son had all quarantined together, but when they began to suspect that his wife might have had the coronavirus and could possibly spread it to him, they left. 

Cummings argued this was so that his extended family would be able to care for his son if both of them became ill. 

Notably, he said he didn’t stop on the way up to his father’s farm.

Cummings went on to say that because he needed to ensure childcare for his son, that constituted an “exceptional situation” granted under the lockdown orders.

“I don’t regret what I did,” Cummings said. “As I said, I think reasonable people may well disagree about how I thought about what to do in the circumstances, but I think that what I did was actually reasonable in these circumstances.” 

Regarding why he visited the castle, Cummings claimed that this was to test his eyesight to see if he could drive back to London, this because he said he had experienced vision loss from the coronavirus. 

As to why he didn’t tell Johnson about his trip to Durham, Cummings said it was because Johnson had just fallen ill himself and had other issues to worry about. Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 on March 27.

Still, Cummings did admit that he had made a mistake in not telling Johnson. 

“I think lots of people would be very angry and I completely understand that,” he said, “but I hope and think that, today, when I’ve actually explained all the circumstances about it.”

“I think people realize that this was a very complicated, tricky situation. I was trying to weigh out a lot of different things. Some people might have behaved differently in some ways. As I said, you know, arguably, it was a mistake that I didn’t call Prime Minister on the Friday night, but I just did what I thought was the right thing to do. But I make decisions like that everyday.” 

MP Resigns from Government Post

If Cummings hoped that the masses would be understanding after his explanation, he was wrong. While some people have certainly approached the situation from the perspective of a desperate parent wanting to do anything to protect their child, others have remained critical. 

In fact, Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Douglas Ross, announced that he was resigning from his post following Cummings’ conference.

According to Ross, while that conference “clarified” Cummings’ actions, “these were decisions many others felt were not available to them.”

“I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the government. I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior advisor to the government was right,” he added.

Ross, who is also a Conservative member of parliament, will continue in that role without resigning. 

Essentially, this move is meant to put extra pressure on Johnson, as Ross’ Under-Secretary of State position was a function of the prime minister’s cabinet.

Whether that pressure or any pressure will actually lead to Johnson firing Cummings is a big question that remains unanswered, though Johnson has indicated thus far that he doesn’t plan on firing Cummings. 

As The Washington Post points out, Johnson may think that he needs Cummings, this because Cummings is “focused on doing whatever is necessary to get his policies through.” 

In fact, because of that, Cummings has been described as “arguably the second-most powerful man in Britain.” 

Still, if Johnson loses the support of his party over this, there is the possibility that Conservative members of Parliament could trigger a leadership contest. As to how likely such a situation would be, that may become more clear in the coming days. 

See what others are saying: (CNBC) (BBC) (The Guardian)

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Taiwanese President Pledges Support for Hong Kong After China Proposes National Security Law

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  • On Thursday, the Chinese government announced that it was proposing a new national security law aimed at Hong Kong.
  • The law is meant to criminalize any attempts at secession, subversion, or terrorism against mainland China in the autonomous city-state. 
  • Though protests had already been scheduled to oppose different measures being proposed in Hong Kong, they quickly shifted on Sunday to include opposition to the likely-to-be-passed national security law.
  • Also on Sunday, Twainese President Tsai Ing-wen said that Taiwan “stands with the people of Hong Kong.”

China Proposes National Security Law

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said in a Facebook post on late Sunday that she “stands with the people of Hong Kong” as mainland China prepares to implement a sweeping new national security law that pro-democracy advocates argue could strip Hong Kong of its autonomy.

The law, proposed by the Chinese government on Thursday, is a direct response to the massive protests that have rocked Hong Kong since last year following a proposed extradition bill that would have made it easier for the mainland to target Hong Kongers critical of the Chinese government. 

Hong Kong enjoys many freedoms that the mainland lacks. That is because, for more than 150 years, Hong Kong was a British colony. Then, in 1997, Britain handed Hong Kong back to mainland China; however, under a unique agreement called Basic Law, Hong Kong was allowed to retain its freedoms of assembly and speech, with that agreement set to last 50 years. 

The proposed national security law is not the first time China has actively tried to exert more power over Hong Kong over the years, but it is the mainland’s most blatant attempt yet to crackdown on protests.

Notably, it would criminalize a number of acts in Hong Kong, including:

  • Secession, or the right to declare independence from the mainland;
  • Subversion, or undermining the power or authority of the mainland;
  • Terrorism, 
  • Any activities by foreign forces that interfere in Hong Kong. 

The law would also allow mainland China to implement its own law enforcement agencies in Hong Kong to “fulfill relevant duties to safeguard national security.” 

Large Scale Protests Ramp Up for the First Time Since Lockdown

A large scale protest was originally scheduled to be held on Sunday to oppose a bill in Hong Kong’s legislature that would criminalize disrespecting the Chinese national anthem. After China’s announcement of this new bill, the focus shifted.

On Sunday, thousands of protesters ignored social distancing orders as they marched through the streets. This was the first instance of a large scale protest since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

While most of the protest was peaceful, in a scene now not uncommon for Hong Kong, several clashes between protesters and police occurred.

Police threw tear gas to disperse demonstrators, reportedly because the demonstrators had set up roadblocks and thrown objects at officers. Along with tear gas, police also fired other familiar projectiles at protesters, including a water cannon and rubber bullets. 

By the end of the protest, more than 180 people were arrested, four officers were injured, and six other people were hospitalized—including one woman in critical condition.

Alongside that protest, on Sunday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi continued to defend the proposed national security law, saying that it’s aimed only at a: “very narrow category of acts that seriously jeopardise national security.”

He added that the law would have “no impact on Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents, or the legitimate rights and interests of foreign investors in Hong Kong.”

“Instead of becoming unnecessarily worried, people should have more confidence in Hong Kong’s future,” he said.

Still, his comments have failed to assuage or persuade pro-democracy advocates. According to The Washington Post, this law could lead to secret police, surveillance, arbitrary detentions, and even propaganda in classrooms.

International Response to the Proposed Law

One of the big questions that remains is to what degree the United States might intervene—especially since the law would criminalize foreign forces interfering with Hong Kong. 

So far, the U.S. hasn’t promised any specific action, but on Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called security law a “death knell” and said he strongly urged Beijing to reconsider the “disastrous proposal.”

Late Sunday night, Taiwanese President Tsai said that if the law is implemented, then Hong Kong’s core values of freedom and judicial independence will be severely eroded.

Still, it likely will be implemented as Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that she’ll fully support the law, arguing that it will improve business confidence without eroding freedoms.

On Tuesday, Lam continued to call on citizens to support the legislation, saying, “We are a very free society, so for the time being people have the freedom to say whatever they want to say.”

However, she also added that once the law passes, that could make demonstrations like we’ve seen over the past year illegal. 

Also Tuesday morning, reports indicated that Hong Kong demand for VPN’s surged more than 600% the day that China announced the draft law.

See what others are saying: (CNBC) (BBC) (South China Morning Post)

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WHO Agrees to Independent Inquiry of Pandemic Response With China’s Backing

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  • The World Health Organization said it will support an independent investigation into how it has handled the pandemic, as well as an inquiry into the source of the coronavirus.
  • The move, announced at the WHO’s annual World Health Assembly, was made after China agreed to the idea. China had previously opposed an inquiry, arguing that it would be used to blame them for the outbreak and politicize the event.
  • The WHO director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, also warned countries against opening up too early.
  • The warning comes as China was forced to re-impose a lockdown of 100 million people, while the U.S. and other hot-spot European countries continue to reopen and Brazil surpasses Spain and Italy in cases.

WHO Investigation

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Monday that it will agree to an independent investigation into the organization’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the origins of the virus.

The announcement was made at the WHO’s 73rd annual World Health Assembly, where leaders from all over the world gathered virtually for the two-day event.

The meeting of the 194 member countries comes at a crucial time during the coronavirus pandemic when the international spotlight is firmly placed on the WHO and its role throughout the global outbreak.

A resolution calling for both investigations was at the top of the agenda as member states went into the highly-anticipated meeting, and the proposal had been in the works for some time.

Australia first floated the idea of an independent inquiry last month, but China fervently rejected the proposal, arguing that any investigation was just an attempt to blame them for the outbreak or politicize the situation.

Angered with Australia’s plan, China threatened to boycott Australian goods and moved to cut off major imports to the country last week.

However, China started to warm up to the proposition as drafts of a resolution calling for an investigation started gaining more support among member countries and began to shift focus on the international effort to manage the pandemic rather than where the virus started.

China’s Reversal

By Monday, the resolution had the backing of more than 120 member nations. In his opening remarks to the WHO assembly, Chinese President Xi Jinping made a stunning reversal and announced that China was backing the plan.

“China supports a comprehensive evaluation of the global response to the epidemic after the global epidemic is under control, to sum up experiences and remedy deficiencies,” he said.

While Xi did not address criticisms that Chinese officials had covered up early warnings of the outbreak in Wuhan, he did call on other countries to “step up information sharing.”

“All along we have acted with openness, transparency and responsibility,” he continued. “We have done everything in our power to support and assist countries in need.”

The Chinese leader also said that he would be giving $2 billion to help the international fight against COVID-19. Xi did not say exactly what he was giving the money to, but he called on member nations to support the WHO and the work it has been doing.

“At this critical juncture, to support the WHO is to support international cooperation and the battle to save lives,” he said.

The remarks appear to be a jab at President Donald Trump, who withdrew U.S. funding from the WHO last month after he accused the organization of being too close with Beijing, covering up China’s mistakes, failing to share information in a timely manner, and generally bungling its response to the pandemic.

The move received was widely condemned by global leaders, but Trump has not been the only one to accuse China of covering up the virus in its early stages. He has also not been the only one critical of the WHO and its director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has been criticized for repeatedly praising China’s response to the virus.

Tedros, for his part, also voiced his support for the resolution following Xi’s opening statement. 

“I will initiate an independent evaluation at the earliest appropriate moment to review experience gained and lessons learned, and to make recommendations to improve national and global pandemic preparedness and response,” he said.

Tedros also called for a more comprehensive global framework for pandemic preparedness and warned against countries reopening too soon.

“Countries that move too fast, without putting in place the public health architecture to detect and suppress transmission, run a real risk of handicapping their own recovery,” he added.

Countries Reopen as Cases Grow 

Tedros’ remarks come at a significant time when countries all over the world move to ease restrictions, even as infections and deaths continue to rise.

As of Monday morning, over 4.7 million cases and nearly 317,000 deaths have been confirmed worldwide. At the same time, the global community is seeing more countries beginning to reopen and more complications arising from that process.

More than 100 million people in China’s northeast region are now being forced back under lockdown conditions because of a new, growing cluster of infections. 

For China, which moved swiftly and authoritatively to clamp down on the virus and only reopened when nearly all cases were eradicated, the move marks a highly significant landmark in the global effort to lift restrictions.

“China’s swift and powerful reaction reflects its fear of a second wave after it curbed the virus’s spread at great economic and social cost,” Bloomberg explained in an article published Sunday.

“It’s also a sign of how fragile the re-opening process will be in China and elsewhere as even the slightest hint of a resurgence of infections could prompt a return to strict lockdown.”

But a multitude of countries, including some that have not gotten as strong of a handle on the virus, are still pushing to reopen.

In the U.S., a vast majority of states have begun to ease restrictions in at least some form despite the fact that cases are still growing. As of Monday morning, the U.S. had reported nearly 1.5 million confirmed cases and nearly 90,000 deaths.

This is especially alarming in some states like Texas, where gyms and movie theaters were set to open Monday, just two days after the state reported its highest single-day increase of new cases.

But widespread reopenings are not limited to the U.S. On Monday, Italy lifted many of Europe’s strictest restrictions and is now allowing restaurants, cafes, clothing retailers, hairdressers, and museums to open.

Meanwhile, Spain and other European nations have also begun to reopen shops and other small businesses.

While former hot-spots like Spain and Italy begin to lift restrictions, on Sunday, it was reported that Brazil officially surpassed both countries in confirmed cases. On Monday, the country reported over 244,000 infections.

The spike in Brazilian cases comes as the country’s second health minister in less than a month resigned over President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic.

Bolsonaro has received significant backlash for how he has managed the outbreak in his country. He has repeatedly downplayed it, pushed against distancing and quarantine measures, and even joined protests calling to end distancing and bring back military dictatorship-era policies.

During a recent interview, when a journalist asked him about the rapid spread of the virus in Brazil, he responded, “So what? What do you want me to do?”

Brazil, however, is not alone. Other Latin American countries are also grappling with growing outbreaks across the continent. According to reports, cases have also been surging in Mexico and Peru.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (NBC News) (Bloomberg)

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