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U.S. Keen On Removing All Diplomatic Personnel From Venezuela

"No nation has done more to sustain the death and daily misery of ordinary Venezuelans, including Venezuela's military and their families, than the communists in Havana," Pompeo said. "Cuba is the true imperialist power in Venezuela."

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Elliott Abrams, left, listens to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talk about Venezuela at the State Department in Washington, Jan. 25, 2019. VOA

The United States says it is removing all remaining personnel from its embassy in Venezuela.

In a statement issued late Monday night, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the personnel will be pulled out of Caracas this week. Secretary Pompeo said the decision to shut down the embassy “reflects the deteriorating situation in Venezuela” as well as the conclusion that the presence of the diplomatic staff “has become a constraint on U.S. policy.”

The State Department ordered all non-emergency personnel to leave Venezuela back in January, days after President Nicolas Maduro ended diplomatic relations with Washington and ordered U.S. diplomats to leave after President Donald Trump officially recognized Juan Guaido as interim president. Guaido had declared himself president after claiming Maduro’s re-election was illegitimate.

The U.S. announcement that it was closing its embassy comes as Venezuela enters the sixth day of nationwide power outage Tuesday. Desperate residents are fetching water from a polluted river and drainage pipes, with schools and businesses closed and stores unable to keep cold and fresh whatever food is on hand.

Some hospitals have generators and doctors are hoping to be able to transfer patients who need operations to save their lives to those facilities.

Power was restored to parts of the country Monday, but was reported to be unreliable. It is also hard to confirm reports of deaths and looting coming out of Venezuela because of communication difficulties.

President Maduro blames the power outage on the United States and the political opposition, accusing them of a cyberattack on a hydroelectric dam.

People collect water from an open pipeline during rolling blackouts, which affects the water pumps in people's homes and apartment buildings, in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, March 11, 2019.
People collect water from an open pipeline during rolling blackouts, which affects the water pumps in people’s homes and apartment buildings, in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, March 11, 2019. VOA

​Guaido says government corruption and mismanagement are the cause. Engineers say a lack of maintenance and skilled experts fleeing the country have left the Venezuelan electrical grid in terrible shape.

The United States denies having anything to do with the power shortages and Pompeo Monday blasted Cuba and Russia for backing the Maduro regime.

“No nation has done more to sustain the death and daily misery of ordinary Venezuelans, including Venezuela’s military and their families, than the communists in Havana,” Pompeo said. “Cuba is the true imperialist power in Venezuela.”

Pompeo says Maduro sends up to 50,000 barrels of oil to Cuba per day to help prop up Cuba’s “tyrant socialist economy while Maduro needs Cuban expertise and repression, to keep his grip on power. A match made in hell,” said Pompeo.

Pompeo added that Russia joins Cuba in showing contempt for the rule of law and prosperity in Venezuela.

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The United States expanded sanctions against Venezuela Monday to include a Moscow-based bank jointly owned by the Venezuelan and Russian governments. VOA

“Russia, too, has created this crisis. It, too, for its own reasons, is thwarting the Venezuelan people’s legitimate democratic hopes and their dreams… The Kremlin is standing with its Venezuelan cronies against the will of the people of a sovereign nation to protect a Moscow-friendly regime.”

Pompeo said oil-rich Venezuela’s plunge from wealth to poverty has left economists with “amazement and horror.”

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The United States expanded sanctions against Venezuela Monday to include a Moscow-based bank jointly owned by the Venezuelan and Russian governments.

The Treasury Department says the bank allegedly tried to avoid earlier sanctions on Venezuela by backing Maduro’s failed efforts. (VOA)

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U.S. Government Human Rights Report Shows ‘Amber’ Warning Light Situation in Hong Kong

"Human rights issues included substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association [and] restrictions on political participation," the report said.

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The flags of Hong Kong (left) and its communist ruler China, in file photo. RFA

A U.S. government human rights report is ‘an amber light’ for the human rights situation in Hong Kong, with some of the city’s traditional freedoms under threat, commentators told RFA.

The State Department highlighted several areas of concern in its 2018Human Rights Report published last week, in particular, “encroachment” by the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing on Hong Kong’s promised autonomy.

“Human rights issues included substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association [and] restrictions on political participation,” the report said.

The report cited multiple sources as saying that Chinese operativesmonitored some political activists, nongovernmental organizations(NGOs), and academics who criticized Beijing’s policies in Hong Kong,which is supposed to be separate legal jurisdiction under the terms of the “one country, two systems” framework.

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The move came as the Hong Kong Journalists Association warned ofincreasing self-censorship among local journalists, often among mediaoutlets with business interests in mainland China. VOA

It also pointed to cross-border detentions and abductions, citing thedisappearance of businessman Xiao Jianhua and the cross-border rendition of Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai, who is a Swedish citizen.

“Xiao’s and other abductions show the Chinese Central Government’swillingness to act contrary to the rule of law and undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy,” the report said.

It said Hong Kong and Chinese officials had restricted, or sought to restrict, the right to express or report on political protest and dissent, particularly the notion of independence for Hong Kong.

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“But if Hong Kong’s human rights situation continues to deteriorate in the next couple of years … for example, if we see more kidnappings, then I think the U.S. is very likely to abolish Hong Kong’s status as a separate trading territory.” VOA

The trial of dozens of protesters, including key figures, after the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement on public order charges had”raised the cost of protesting government policies and led to concerns the government was using the law to suppress political dissent.”

The report also cited the jailing of two disqualified lawmakers, Sixtus Leung and Yao Wai-ching, last June for four weeks on “unlawful assembly” charges, following scuffles with Legislative Council security guards in 2016.

It said the banning of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party(HKNP) last September was one example, while the disqualification of six pro-democracy lawmakers for “improperly” taking their oaths of allegiance was another.

The U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) voiced concern at thetime over the ban, which relied on colonial-era legislation under theSocieties Ordinance that originally targeted criminal organizations, or “triads.”

“The UK does not support Hong Kong independence, but Hong Kong’s highdegree of autonomy and its rights and freedoms are central to its way of life, and it is important they are fully respected,” the statement said.

‘An amber light’

Hong Kong political commentator Sang Pu said the State Departmentreport had struck a note of warning to the international community.

“I don’t think this is a red light, but it is an amber light,” Sang told RFA, adding that a further deterioration could affect Hong Kong’s international reputation as an open port.

“But if Hong Kong’s human rights situation continues to deteriorate in the next couple of years … for example, if we see more kidnappings, then I think the U.S. is very likely to abolish Hong Kong’s status as a separate trading territory.”

Another red flag would be the enactment of sedition, subversion andnational security laws, as mandated by Article 23 of the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, Sang said.

Meanwhile, a national law passed by Beijing in September 2017“criminalizes any action mocking the Chinese national anthem and requires persons attending public events to stand at attention and sing the anthem in a solemn manner during its rendition,” the State Department report said, adding that Hong Kong will soon legislate to make the law apply in its own jurisdiction.

It also pointed to the effective expulsion from Hong Kong, the first since the handover, of Financial Times Asia news editor Victor Mallet, after he hosted at event at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club featuring HKNP founder Andy Chan as the speaker.

The move came as the Hong Kong Journalists Association warned ofincreasing self-censorship among local journalists, often among mediaoutlets with business interests in mainland China.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Alvin Yeung, who also heads Hong Kong’s CivicParty, said he shares concerns over Hong Kong’s reputation.

“Our most important competitor, Singapore, has free trade agreements with pretty much the rest of the world, and Hong Kong is lagging behind,” Yeung said.

Also Read: North Korean Authorities Ramping Up The Levels of Strictness at Weekly Self-Criticism Sessions

“Our international image is probably that Hong Kong wouldn’t be capable of such a thing,” he said. “Other countries might not be interested in pursuing free trade agreements with Hong Kong, because there are no benefits to doing so.”

But pro-Beijing lawmaker Priscilla Leung said Hong Kong remains a free society.

“We have a very high level of human rights protection,” Leung said. “I hope they aren’t going to suppress our economic freedom under the guise of human rights.” (RFA)