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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

Petition Calls for Ban on Sexualized Fanfiction in South Korea

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  • A petition circulating across South Korea calls for sexualized fanfiction depicting K-pop stars and other real people to be outlawed and classified as sex crimes.
  • The petition particularly focuses on the way male stars are depicted in same-sex relationships and argues that they often feature people who are minors.
  • A similar petition was submitted last week to President Moon Jae-in; however, it focused on deep fakes. Because both petitions have over 200,000 signatures, they will need to be addressed by President Moon.

K-Pop Fanfiction Causes Chaos

A petition began circulating across South Korea this week demanding that “real person slash” fanfiction works be outlawed and charged as sex crimes.

“Real person slash” refers to a specific form of fanfiction that most often features sexualized versions of K-pop stars and other real people.

In particular, the petition focuses on the way male stars are depicted in same-sex relationships and the age of some of the people being portrayed. The petition notes, “due to the nature of the profession of idols, whose average age is young, many of the victims are still minors or children.”

The petition was submitted to the Blue House, South Korea’s version of the White House, and currently has over 200,000 signatures. It received a big boost in attention after K-pop star Nancy, from the group Momoland, was secretly filmed by a member of her agency while she was changing backstage. This person then doctored some of the images and uploaded them online.

While Nancy’s case isn’t hand-drawn fanfic, it did fuel outrage at what’s seen as an ineffective approach towards sex crimes in the country. Signers of this petition believe that these fanfics fall into the same category of likely illegality as deep fakes.

Deep Fakes Also Being Targeted

Additionally, just last week deep fakes – which often feature k-pop stars – had its own petition submitted to the president last week with over 300,000 signatures.

Because both petitions have over 200,000 signatures, they will need to be addressed by President Moon Jae-in

For years South Korea has struggled with secret cameras, deep fakes, revenge porn, and more violent sex crimes, such as the infamous Nth Room case that saw certain stars filming themselves having sex with women against their consent.

See What Others Are Saying: (CNA) (The Korea Herald) (South China Morning Post)

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International

Italy Begins Largest Mob Trial in Decades

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  • Italian prosecutors have started their trial against more than 320 defendants linked to the  ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate.
  • The charges range from murder and drug trafficking to extortion and money laundering.
  • The case is so large, high-profile, and potentially dangerous that the government built a bunker for the event in Calabria, the home territory of the ‘Ndrangheta.
  • Details uncovered could deliver a massive blow to organized crime in Italy and potentially across the world as the ‘Ndrangheta has major dealings in Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

Hundreds of ‘Ndranghetisti Facing Charges

A major mob trial kicked off in Italy Wednesday involving more than 320 defendants who are part of or associated with the ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate.

In addition to these defendants going on trial, 90 others have elected for a fast-tracked trial elsewhere in Calabria.

While this is a massive affair, it’s still not the country’s largest mob-related trial in history. That happened in the ’80s against the Cosa Nostra from Sicily.

The trial is so high-profile and potentially dangerous that the government built a bunker for the event in Calabria, close to the home territory of the ‘Ndrangheta.

The court is looking at many charges against the defendants, including extortion, drug and arms trafficking, money laundering, and Mafia association – a term used in Italy’s penal code for members of organized crime.

Breaking Into the Family

Investigators hope that the trial will show just how entrenched organized crime is in the territory, as it’s believed that the ‘Ndrangheta has dealings with local politicians and businessmen. These dealings are believed to not only stem from their illicit activities but also from their legitimate businesses that were initially funded via crime-related funds. Either way, the trial is seen as a major blow for the group.

The organization is made up of multiple groups of tight-knight families that are all interconnected. For years investigators have tried to get more information on the group but following the arrest and prosecution of Luigi Mancuso, a boss in the ‘Ndrangheta, investigators finally had a way to look more closely at 12 families who make up part of the ‘Ndrangheta.

During their investigation police and prosecutors managed to turn some members of those families and use them as informants. They are expected to take the stand as witnesses during the trial. In total, prosecutors hope to put bring out over 900 witnesses.

If successful, this could be a massive blow to organized crime in Italy and potentially across the world as the ‘Ndrangheta has major dealing in Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

See What Others Are Saying: (ABC News) (LA Times) (Chicago Tribune)

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Hundreds Sickened By Mysterious Illness in India

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  • A mystery illness has hospitalized over 500 people in India and is linked to one death. While most people have recovered and been discharged from the hospital, under 100 people are still being treated.
  • Health officials believe that it is not a viral infection and that it is not tied to the coronavirus pandemic. One official told The Washington Post that it is a “point source epidemic,” but no one knows what is causing it.
  • Blood tests showed patients had high levels of lead and nickel and officials are trying to find what is behind that. Some are also pointing to pesticides used in mosquito treatment as a potential cause behind the outbreak.
  • Still, health officials are puzzled, and the situation comes while India currently trails the United States as the country with the most coronavirus cases. This mystery outbreak is also occurring in one of the hardest-hit states.

Mystery Illness in India

Health officials are still looking for what might be causing a mysterious illness that has sickened hundreds of people this month in India. 

The unidentified illness has put over 500 people in the hospital and taken one life. Most patients have been discharged and recovered but under 100 are still being treated. The disease was first reported on Sunday, and new instances have gone down since the start of the week.

The outbreak started in the state of  Andhra Pradesh. Symptoms range from nausea to anxiety to loss of consciousness, and in some cases, seizures. Some reports say the patient who died suffered from a seizure. Others note they may have fallen as well.

Many patients describe the sickness as hitting them quickly and suddenly as they were going about their day. Some got foggy vision, sore eyes, or incredibly tired before passing out. Many woke up in the hospital and were left with a gap in their memory. 

While the cause of this disease is unknown, health officials do not believe it is tied to the coronavirus in any way as no patients have tested positive. The illness is also not believed to be a viral infection of any kind. 

“What has been established by experts is that this is a case of acute intoxication of toxins. It is not chronic in nature. This is all we know for now,” one high-ranking official told The Washington Post. 

Because cases are already slowing significantly, some believe it might have stemmed from an isolated source or event. 

“This is a point source epidemic,” another official told the Post. “Whatever happened, occurred for one particular day and some people got affected. The number of new patients has dropped.”

Potential Causes

What that source or event may have been remains a mystery that officials are eager to solve. So far, no commonalities have been found between the patients as they all live in different places, are of different ages, and do not test positive for other kinds of illnesses that could be causing or contributing to this outbreak. Clues are beginning to emerge, though. 

One medical official told Al Jazeera that high lead and nickel levels were found in the blood tests of patients. So far, ten have been tested and another 30 will be tested shortly. At first officials thought these levels may have been a result of water contamination, but after water tests were conducted, neither lead nor nickel were found. 

Water contamination as a whole has not been ruled out though. 

“Health experts suspect that excessive use of bleaching powder and chlorine in sanitation programmes as part of Covid-19 prevention measures may be the cause of water contamination,” the Health Minister of Andhra Pradesh told the Indian Express. “This is just one of the causes we are exploring.”

Another theory at play stems from the fact that organochlorines, which are used as pesticides in mosquito control, were found in some water samples. One of the federal legislators in the state believes that the sickness could be tied to that. A public health director confirmed to Al Jazeera that “it is one of the possibilities.”

Timing With COVID-19

Still, all these ideas simply remain possibilities and officials have far more questions than they have answers about this situation. Health officials from the country and the World Health Organization have established a presence in Andhra Pradesh to get to the bottom of the situation.

The timing of this outbreak is unfortunate as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread through India. While daily cases are much lower than they were when it peaked in September in the country, it still remains an issue. 

India is behind the United States in seeing the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases, totaling 9.7 million infections. Around 141,000 people have died in the country. In August, their outbreak was the fastest growing in the world. Andhra Pradesh is among the hardest-hit states in the country. 

Hope is on the horizon as India, like many other countries, could be on track to approve a vaccine within weeks. According to Reuters, health officials will prioritize 300 million people, including healthcare workers, policemen, and those above the age of 50.

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (Indian Express) (Washington Post)

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