Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has died at the age of 58 after a two-year battle with cancer. News of Chávez’s death was delivered Tuesday in an emotional address by Vice President Nicolás Maduro.
Nicolás Maduro: “We accompanied his daughters, his brother, his family members, and we received the hardest and the most tragic of news that we will ever transmit to our people: At 4:25 in the afternoon today, the 5th of March, Comandante President Hugo Chávez Frías died.”
Venezuela has announced a seven-day period of mourning, with a funeral scheduled for Friday. An election to select Chávez’s successor will be called within 30 days. News of Chávez’s passing came hours after the Venezuelan government said it had expelled two U.S. military attachés over allegations of planning to destabilize the country.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has voted to advance the nomination of John Brennan as head of the CIA. The vote had been twice delayed in a standoff over the release of legal memos justifying the Obama administration’s assassination program, which Brennan has overseen. But panel members approved Brennan in a 12-to-3 vote after the White House agreed to provide an undisclosed number of additional memos. The New York Times reports the administration withheld the rationale for targeting non-Americans, ensuring the rules “for a vast majority of drone strikes … remain secret even from the Congressional intelligence committees.” A full Senate vote on Brennan’s nomination could come as early as next week.
The Justice Department meanwhile has responded to requests from Republican Sen. Rand Paul on whether the government’s drone program can target Americans on U.S. soil. In a letter to Paul, Attorney General Eric Holder said such a strike would only be possible in a “extraordinary circumstance,” like an attack on the scale of Pearl Harbor or 9/11. In response, Paul called Holder’s refusal to rule out domestic drone strikes “more than frightening.” Paul says he intends to sponsor legislation barring drone attacks in the United States, and will try to filibuster John Brennan’s CIA nomination when it comes up for a vote.
A top United Nations investigator is calling on the United States to release the findings of a classified probe into the CIA torture program under President George W. Bush. On Tuesday, Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, urged the Obama White House to hand over a confidential Senate investigation that details the torture of prisoners in U.S. custody. Speaking before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Emmerson said the United States can no longer ignore global demands for transparency and accountability when it comes to torture.
Ben Emmerson: “Many of the states involved, including of course the United States, have made strenuous efforts over the past decade to keep their involvement in the CIA program of international crimes hidden from public scrutiny. But despite the care with which this wall of silence has been so painstakingly erected, it has not proved to be impenetrable. The case is steadily building for the adoption of a comprehensive strategy to secure public accountability for the past and to bring to justice those officials within the U.S., Europe and elsewhere that were complicit in this global network of crimes. The calls for the past to be confronted are fast approaching a critical mass.”
Emmerson has also asked Britain to disclose the findings of its own inquiry into what British officials knew of the torture program when they helped carry it out.
The United Nations has confirmed the number of refugees fleeing the violence in Syria has surpassed one million. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres announced the figure in a video statement earlier today.
António Guterres: “Today we have registered one million Syrian refugees in the countries around. And this represents a massive displacement, and this is the proof of the level of destruction and suffering that we are witnessing in Syria today. Without massive support from the international community, it will be impossible to respond to this dramatic humanitarian situation in Syria and around Syria.”
The United Nations says around half of Syria’s refugees are children, most under the age of 11.
Secretary of State John Kerry has confirmed the Obama administration is actively involved in efforts to arm Syrian rebels in their fight against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Speaking during a visit to Qatar, Kerry said although the United States does not arm the rebels directly, it has held extensive discussions to ensure weapons provided by Persian Gulf nations are reaching the opposition groups the U.S. prefers.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “We did discuss the question of the ability to try to guarantee that it’s going to the right people and to the moderate Syrian opposition coalition, and I think it’s really in the last months that that has developed as a capacity that we have greater confidence in.”
The United States has unveiled its proposal for a new round of U.N. sanctions in response to North Korea’s recent nuclear test. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said the sanctions would mark a serious challenge to the North Korean regime.
U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice: “The resolution tabled today will take the U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea to the next level, breaking new ground and imposing significant new legal obligations. For example, for the first time ever, this resolution targets the illicit activities of North Korean diplomatic personnel, North Korean banking relationships, illicit transfers of bulk cash and new travel restrictions. With the adoption of this resolution, which will build upon Resolutions 1718, 1874 and 2087, North Korea will be subject to some of the toughest sanctions imposed by the United Nations.”
The United States circulated the resolution after consulting with China. U.S.-North Korean tensions have escalated this week, with North Korea now threatening to withdraw from its 1953 armistice with South Korea if U.S.-South Korea military drills proceed.
Global markets have soared after the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit record levels. The Dow rose 0.3 percent on Tuesday, surpassing a previous high set in 2007. The news had a ripple effect, leading to strong gains in stock markets in Europe and in Japan. The New York Times reports the United States is in the midst of a “golden age for corporate profits.” The boom is partially attributed to high unemployment, which allows companies to keep wages low. Recent figures show corporate profits accounted for more than 14 percent of national income in the third quarter of 2012, its largest point in over 60 years. The portion of income going to employees was nearly 62 percent, its lowest point since 1966. An analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch said the recent sequestration will have a “minimal” effect on corporate profits, adding that nonetheless “the market wants more austerity.”
Hundreds of people rallied at the Texas State Capitol in Austin on Tuesday to oppose Gov. Rick Perry’s rejection of federal Medicaid assistance. Perry announced last year he would refuse billions of dollars in federal funding rather than accept the Medicaid expansion mandated under President Obama’s healthcare reform law. Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured people in the country, with nearly a quarter of its population, or 6.2 million people, lacking health insurance. Although a number of other Republican governors also initially vowed to reject Medicaid expansion, at least two — Chris Christie of New Jersey and Rick Scott of Florida — have since changed course by vowing to opt in and accept federal help.
Argentina has opened a landmark trial of figures involved in Operation Condor, a coordinated effort by Latin American military rulers to target their political opponents in the 1970s and 1980s. With U.S. backing, dictators and generals in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil collaborated to hunt down and assassinate dissidents opposed to their rule. The Argentina case accuses 25 suspects of violating human rights, including former dictators Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone. The trial marks the first specially focused on Operation Condor and its victims across Latin America.
Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill has been named one of nine recipients of Yale University’s inaugural Windham Campbell Prizes for writing. The $150,000 award honors “emerging and established writers for outstanding achievement in fiction, non-fiction, and drama.” The prize was founded with an endowment by the late novelist Donald Windham. Scahill writes for The Nation magazine and is the author of “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army” and the forthcoming book “Dirty Wars.”