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Venezuela has announced the health of President Hugo Chávez has deteriorated in his recovery from recent cancer surgery. A government statement says Chávez has developed a “severe” new infection that has worsened his breathing. Last week, Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro repeated his warning that Chávez is “fighting for his life.” He has not been seen in public since winning re-election late last year.
Vice President Nicolás Maduro: “You all know why he didn’t take care of his health: because he gave his body and soul and forgot about his obligations to himself, so he could give everything to the people—work, life, housing, food, education, healthcare. That’s the truth. So they come and twist these things that are the truth. Our commander is sick because he gave his life for those who don’t have anything and never had anything. That’s the truth. He is battling for his life, for his health. And we are there with him.”
The Obama administration is renewing its threats of military force against Iran ahead of President Obama’s visit to Israel later this month. Speaking at the annual gathering of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, Vice President Joe Biden repeated the administration’s openness to attacking Iran if it fails to meet international demands on its nuclear activities. Biden’s comments were echoed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “From the bottom of my heart, and with the clarity of my brain, words alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions must be coupled with a clear and credible military threat if diplomacy and sanctions fail.”
Vice President Joe Biden: “We are not looking for war. We are looking to and ready to — ready to negotiate peacefully. But all options, including military force, are on the table. But as I made clear at the Munich security conference just last month, our strong preference, the world’s preference, is for a diplomatic solution. So while that window is closing, we believe there is still time and space to achieve the outcome.”
Monday’s speech marked Vice President Joe Biden’s first appearance before the AIPAC gathering since 2009, when he angered the crowd by calling for a freeze on expanding illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. This time, Biden made no mention of the settlements. Dozens of people have been protesting the AIPAC conference under the banner of Occupy AIPAC or Expose AIPAC. Many have dressed up in settlement costumes — large square “blocs” — to protest the settlements.
Speaking in Saudi Arabia, Secretary of State John Kerry also raised the prospect of military force against Iran. Under questioning from reporters on U.S. aid for Syria rebels, Kerry dismissed concerns it may fall into the wrong hands.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “This is important for Iranians to hear and to understand. We both prefer diplomacy as the first choice, as the preferred choice. But the window for a diplomatic solution simply cannot, by definition, remain open indefinitely. There is no guarantee that one weapon or another might not at some point in time fall into the wrong hands. But I will tell you this, that there is a very clear ability now in the Syrian opposition to make certain that what goes to the moderate, legitimate opposition is in fact getting to them.”
The United States confirmed last week it is providing non-lethal aid and training to Syrian rebels. The CIA is training a group of Syrian opposition fighters in neighboring Jordan.
In news from Syria, rebels appear to have captured the northeastern city of Raqqa, ousting the forces of President Bashar al-Assad. Raqqa is the first provincial capital seized by Syria’s rebels in their fight against Assad. Meanwhile in neighboring Iraq, at least 40 Syrian soldiers and government workers were killed on Monday in an ambush by armed attackers. The victims were in the process of returning home to Syria after fleeing a rebel attack last week.
President Obama has rounded out his second-term Cabinet picks with three new nominations. On Monday, Obama formally tapped air quality expert Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency and nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz to head the Energy Department.
President Obama: “Ernie knows that we can produce more energy and grow our economy while still taking care of our air, our water and our climate. As assistant EPA administrator, Gina has focused on practical, cost-effective ways to keep our air clean and our economy growing. She has earned a reputation as a straight shooter. She welcomes different points of views. I’m confident that she is going to do an outstanding job leading the EPA.”
The advocacy group Food and Water Watch is campaigning against Ernest Moniz’s nomination, citing his support for the gas-drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
President Obama also filled a top economic post with the nomination of Sylvia Mathews Burwell to head the White House Office of Management and Budget.
President Obama: “Sylvia knows her way around a budget. But as the granddaughter of Greek immigrants, she also understands that our goal when we put together a budget is not just to make the numbers add up. Our goal is also to reignite the true engine of economic growth in this country, and that is a strong and growing middle class.”
Mathews Burwell currently heads the Walmart Foundation, the retail giant’s charity. Wal-Mart critics say the company has leveraged its donations to attract support for expanding its stores and deflect critical scrutiny.
Defense attorneys for a group of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay have revealed their clients have been on a hunger strike for more than three weeks. In a letter to the U.S. military, the Center for Constitutional Rights and several detainees’ lawyers say the prisoners have refused meals over ongoing humiliations and arbitrary searches. Warning the hunger strike is “endangering lives and health,” the letter concludes: “This administration should be far beyond such cruelties, particularly given how many of the men still trapped there have been unanimously cleared for transfer.”
A federal appeals court has upheld an injunction blocking another key provision of Arizona’s notorious anti-immigrant racial profiling law, S.B. 1070. On Monday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the law unfairly criminalizes the solicitation of day laborers by violating workers’ right to freedom of speech. In a statement, the immigrant rights group Tonatierra, a plaintiff in the case, said: “We have always known that the criminalization of day labor is immoral, unjust, and a violation of human rights. Today, it should be very clear that the Constitution forbids such criminalization too.”
The United States and China have reportedly reached agreement on a new United Nations Security Council measure punishing North Korea for its recent nuclear test. Talks on the measure are scheduled for today. North Korea drew international condemnation when it carried out the test, its third, last month. At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney dismissed the visit of former professional basketball player Dennis Rodman to North Korea over the weekend. Rodman said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un told him he wants a phone call with President Obama.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: “The United States has direct channels of communications with the DPRK, and instead of spending money on celebrity sporting events to entertain the elites of that country, the North Korean regime should focus on the well-being of its own people, who have been starved, imprisoned and denied their human rights. We have urged the North Korean leadership to heed President Obama’s call to choose the path of peace and come into compliance with its international obligations.”
Earlier today, North Korea said it would scrap its 1953 armistice with South Korea if the South continues its annual military drills with the United States.
Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe of Arkansas has vetoed a measure banning abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy, the point at which an abdominal ultrasound can detect a fetal heartbeat. Arkansas lawmakers could still push through the ban with a simple majority vote, as they did when Beebe vetoed a 20-week abortion ban last month.
An openly gay mayoral candidate in Mississippi has been killed in what appears to be a brutal murder. The body of 34-year-old Marco McMillian, a candidate in the town of Clarksdale, was reportedly found in a river levee with signs showing he had been beaten, dragged and set on fire. Lawrence Reed, 22, has been charged with McMillian’s murder. McMillian was the first openly gay candidate to run for a mayoral office in Mississippi.
The independent media broadcast Free Speech Radio News has issued an appeal for donations amidst a financial crisis threatening its closure. Founded 12 years ago, Free Speech Radio News has grown into a daily grassroots newscast with more than 200 freelance correspondents spread across the globe. It airs on more than 100 Pacifica and community radio stations, bringing local voices from global stories to airwaves across the country. FSRN says it will be forced to cease operations next week unless it receives urgent help. It’s asking for support through its website.