One day after announcing sweeping new sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA, the U.S. said Tuesday it was giving Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó control of Venezuela’s assets in the U.S. Russia has condemned the U.S. action, calling the sanctions “illegal interference” in Venezuela’s economy. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the U.S. of attempting to profit from the crisis, as American companies in Venezuela are exempt from the sanctions. PDVSA subsidiary Citgo also operates across the U.S.
In Venezuela, the Supreme Court barred opposition leader Juan Guaidó from leaving the country Tuesday and agreed to freeze his assets. Prosecutors have launched an investigation into Guaidó, who last week declared himself Venezuela’s interim leader during a large opposition protest to President Nicolás Maduro’s leadership. Meanwhile, the U.N. is calling out the violent crackdown on protests, which they say has resulted in 40 people being killed and 850 people detained, including children. Venezuelan Ambassador to the United Nations Jorge Valero blasted the U.S.’s hypocrisy Tuesday.
Jorge Valero: “What does this government want, this government that doesn’t recognize treaty, that doesn’t recognize any of the agreements made around Iran and signed by various European countries, that launches a trade war with China, that threatens Russia with a nuclear war, that attacks in a very sadistic manner migrants from Central America who arrive there, that has built a wall, a criminal wall, that sequesters children to make them suffer, children of migrants? And this government, this U.S. government, would have any moral authority to impose any diktat on Venezuela?”
In Washington, Democratic lawmakers are hitting back at national security adviser John Bolton, after he was photographed holding a notepad with the words written “5,000 troops to Colombia.” Democratic Congressmember Gregory Meeks tweeted a photo of a yellow notepad on his desk with the handwritten words “President Trump does not have the authority to invade Venezuela.” The photo caption reads, “Since we’re sending cables by legal pad now. #YellowPadding.” We’ll have more on the situation in Venezuela after headlines with investigative reporter Allan Nairn.
Senior members of the intelligence community directly contradicted statements by President Trump on several major issues Tuesday. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee that North Korea will likely not move toward complete denuclearization.
Dan Coats: “We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities, because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival.”
Coats also said Iran is not producing a nuclear weapon. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal last year, despite international condemnation of the move and U.N. inspectors saying Iran was adhering to the deal. On ISIS, Coats said the group still has thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria and is “very likely” to launch attacks on U.S. and allied targets. Last month, Trump announced he was withdrawing all U.S. troops from Syria, declaring, “We have won against ISIS. We’ve beaten them, and we’ve beaten them badly.” Intelligence officials did not signal the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border as a major security threat, despite Trump repeatedly saying it constitutes a national emergency.
On Tuesday, the United States launched its sweeping new policy of forcing many asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases wind through court. Officials at a border crossing near San Diego returned a Honduran asylum seeker to Mexico who sought asylum after months on a waiting list.
Meanwhile, acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has announced “several thousand” more troops would head to the U.S.-Mexico border. Two thousand four hundred troops are currently stationed at the border. Nearly 6,000 U.S. troops were sent to the border at the height of Trump’s anti-migrant campaign in the run-up to the midterm elections.
In Honduras, a judge found opposition lawmaker and prominent police critic María Luisa Borjas guilty of defamation Tuesday. Camilo Atala, president of Ficohsa Bank, sued Borjas after she publicly read his name from a list of suspected masterminds in the 2016 assassination of renowned indigenous environmental leader Berta Cáceres. Borjas was formerly a high-ranking official in the Honduran police force. Human rights groups have condemned the case and the “chilling effect” of such lawsuits. The Honduran Committee for Freedom of Expression said Tuesday’s verdict poses “a grave threat to democracy.”
In Brazil, police arrested five people over the devastating dam collapse in Minas Gerais last week that killed at least 65 people, with nearly 300 still missing. Three of those arrested work for Vale, the mining company that owned and operated the dam. The other two worked for a German company that carried out inspections on the dam last year. The news comes as families of the victims have started holding funerals for the deceased. Residents and workers are demanding justice for what they say was a preventable disaster. Meanwhile, local indigenous communities are decrying the environmental effects of the dam breach, which dumped millions of tons of iron ore waste onto the land and into waterways.
Hayo Pataxo Ha-ha-hae: “We lost the equilibrium of our reserve, because the river was everything. We bathed in it. We washed our clothes, our dishes. So we get really sad with this situation from this tragedy that the white man caused with our nature.”
In Mexico, workers in the border city of Matamoros say they have reached a deal in 27 out of 48 assembly plants that are participating in a massive strike that saw nearly 30,000 workers walk out on Friday. Workers say their demand for a wage increase of 20 percent in those factories was met. Matamoros, which is located south of Brownsville, Texas, is home to dozens of factories, or “maquiladoras,” owned largely by U.S. and European companies.
In Britain, lawmakers voted to reopen negotiations with European leaders on Brexit. Europe has rejected renegotiating the Brexit deal, while Britain is currently scheduled to exit the EU on March 29. Lawmakers narrowly failed to approve an amendment forcing Prime Minister Theresa May to delay Britain’s exit from the EU and avoid a potentially devastating “no-deal Brexit.” Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn is due to meet with Prime Minister May today.
In Cameroon, opposition leader Maurice Kamto was arrested, as the government cracks down on unrest after last year’s disputed presidential election. Kamto’s lawyer said the arrest was due to opposition protests over the weekend. Security forces reportedly responded to the protests by firing live bullets. Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists is calling for the release of two journalists who were also arrested while covering an opposition gathering.
Back in the U.S., the polar vortex enveloping the Midwest is causing record lows across the region, with temperatures in some areas, including Detroit, dipping below temperatures in Antarctica. The wind chill temperature in Chicago hit -49 degrees Fahrenheit this morning. President Trump used the extreme weather to once again deny climate change, tweeting Monday, “In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming?”—he wrote W-A-M-I-N-G—”Please come back fast, we need you!”
Meanwhile, raging wildfires in Australia’s record-breaking heat are bringing about widespread power failures.
A federal grand jury has filed 19 new charges, including hate crimes, against Robert Bowers, the accused gunman in last year’s mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. On October 27, 11 Jewish worshipers were shot and killed in what has been described as the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. The indictment against Bowers cited his online attacks on the Jewish charity HIAS, including posts from the day of the shooting.
President Trump ally and former adviser Roger Stone pleaded “not guilty” to lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction Tuesday in federal court in Washington. Stone was arrested last week and indicted as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
In Chicago, police are investigating a hate crime against African-American actor Jussie Smollett, after two men violently attacked him on the street Tuesday. Smollett is a star of Fox’s hit TV show “Empire.” The attackers shouted racist and homophobic slurs, “poured an unknown chemical substance” onto Smollett and tied a rope around his neck. Smollett publicly came out as gay in 2015. The actor is said to be in hospital in good condition. Responding to the news, NAACP’s Derrick Johnson said, “The rise in hate crimes is directly linked to President Donald J. Trump’s racist and xenophobic rhetoric. It is dangerous for any society to allow a tone of divisiveness and hatred to dominate the political discourse.”
And Democrats have selected former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams to deliver the response to President Trump’s State of the Union address. The address will take place next week, after being delayed due the government shutdown. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer praised Abrams for her work on voting rights. She recently launched Fair Fight Action, a voting rights advocacy group. The group is suing Georgia election officials for mismanagement of the midterm elections.