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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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Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion

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  • Egyptian authorities seized the Ever Given, a mega-ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month, after a judge ruled Wednesday that the owners must pay $900 million in damages.
  • The ship was seized just as it was deemed fit to return to sea after undergoing repairs in the Great Bitter Lake, which sits in the middle of the Suez Canal.
  • The vessel’s owners said little about the verdict, but insurance companies covering the ship pushed back against the $900 million price tag, saying it’s far too much for any damage the ship actually caused.

Ever Given Still in Egypt

An Egyptian court blocked the mega-ship known as the Ever Given from leaving the country Wednesday morning unless its owner pays nearly $1 billion in compensation for damages it caused after blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month.

The Ever Given’s ordeal started when it slammed into the side of the canal and became lodged, which caused billions of dollars worth of goods to be held up on both sides of the canal while crews worked round the clock to free the vessel. An Egyptian judge found that the Ever Given becoming stuck caused not only physical damage to the canal that needed to be paid for but also “reputational” damage to Egypt and the Suez Canal Authority.

The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, will need to pay $900 million to free the ship and the cargo it held, both of which were seized by authorities after the ship was transported to the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the canal to undergo now-finished repairs. Shoei Kisen Kaisha doesn’t seem to want to fight the judgment in court just yet. It released a short statement after the ruling, saying that lawyers and insurance companies were working on the claims but refused to comment further.

Pushing Back Against The Claim

While Shoei Kisen Kaisha put in a claim with insurers, those insurance companies aren’t keen on just paying the bill. One of the ship’s insurers, UKP&I, challenged the basis of the $900 million claim, writing in a press release, “The [Suez Canal Authority] has not provided a detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300 million claim for a ‘salvage bonus’ and a $300 million claim for ‘loss of reputation.’”

“The grounding resulted in no pollution and no reported injuries. The vessel was re-floated after six days and the Suez Canal promptly resumed their commercial operations.”

It went on to add that the $900 million verdict doesn’t even include payments to the crews that worked to free the ship, meaning that the total price tag of the event could likely be far more for Shoei Kisen Kaisha and the multiple insurance companies it works with.

See what others are saying: (Financial Times) (CNN) (The Telegraph)

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Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean

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  • The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
  • The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
  • Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
  • Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Radioactive or Bad Publicity?

After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”

While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.

According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.

Something Had To Eventually Be Done

Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.

The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.

The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.

Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.

“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.

To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (KBS World) (NBC News)

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Greta Thunberg To Skip U.N. Climate Change Conference, Citing Vaccine Inequality

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  • Young environmental activist Greta Thunberg will not attend the U.N.’s climate change conference set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland this November.
  • “Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem,” the 18-year-old tweeted Friday, adding, “Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions.”
  • Since rollouts began late last year, 40% of vaccines have been administered in wealthy and Western countries, according to The Washington Post.
  • Scientists have warned that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.

Thunberg Points To Vaccine Inequality

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has said she is skipping the UN’s climate change conference.

The COP26 summit is set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland in November, but 18-year-old Thunberg told BBC she won’t attend because she’s concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on attendance.

In a Twitter thread Friday, she responded to a headline about her plans to miss the summit.

“Of course I would love to attend…But not unless everyone can take part on the same terms. Right now many countries are vaccinating healthy young people, often at the expense of risk groups and front line workers (mainly from global south, as usual…),” she wrote.

“Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem.”

“Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions,” the teen continued.

Thunberg went on to say that if the summit is delayed, it doesn’t mean urgent action should too.

“We don’t have to wait for conferences nor anyone or anything else to dramatically start reducing our emissions. Solidarity and action can start today,” she added before noting that digital alternatives for the conference would also be insufficient.

“High speed internet connection and access to computers is extremely unequal in the world. In that case we would lack representation from those whose voices need to be heard the most when it comes to the climate crisis,” she wrote.

Data on Global Vaccine Distribution Efforts

According to The Washington Post, nearly 20% of people in the United States are now vaccinated, but many other countries are unlikely to hit that same metric by the end of the year, even with international assistance through the Covax program.

Current projections predict it could be years before developing countries distribute enough doses to come close to herd immunity, which scientists say requires inoculating around 70-80% of a population.

Since rollouts began late last year, enough shots have been distributed to fully vaccinate about 5% of the world’s population, but The Post reported that the vast majority have been administered in wealthy and Western countries.

Around 40% of vaccines have been given in 27 wealthy nations that include only 11% of the world’s population, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

That’s pretty concerning because scientists also warn that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.

Thunberg’s comments are a blow for U.K. organizers, who have already postponed the conference once from last November because of the pandemic. Even now, there has been speculation that it could be delayed again this year.

Thunberg would not play a formal role at the conference but her decision not to attend is a significant symbolic moment.

At COP25, the young climate change activist gave a headline speech and she typically attends major climate events of this nature. On top of that, reports say this summit was slated to be one of the most consequential climate conferences since the 2015 Paris accord.

On the agenda for this year’s conference discussions were country-level plans for cutting carbon emissions, along with progress on the Paris agreement and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (CNBC) (The Washington Post)

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