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Venezuela Unrest Creates A Battleground For U.S. And Russia

The State Department was more muted, saying only that Russian and Cuban intervention was “destabilizing for Venezuela.”

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Venezuelan Crisis Spurs May Day Rallies, Clashes. VOA

The unrest in Venezuela is turning into a battleground of rhetoric between the United States and Russia.

After a telephone conversation between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday, the Russian warned of “the most drastic of consequences” if the U.S. continued what he called “aggressive steps.”

The State Department was more muted, saying only that Russian and Cuban intervention was “destabilizing for Venezuela.”

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton talks to reporters at the White House in Washington, May 1, 2019.
U.S. national security adviser John Bolton talks to reporters at the White House in Washington, May 1, 2019. VOA

But White House national security adviser John Bolton said, “This is our hemisphere. It’s not where the Russians ought to be interfering. This is a mistake on their part. It’s not going to lead to an improvement of relations.”

Pompeo said again Wednesday that the U.S. was prepared to use military action in Venezuela: “If that is what is required, this is what the United States will do.”

But Pompeo and President Donald Trump have not specified what would prompt the U.S. to intervene militarily.

Cuba denies troops in Venezuela

Meanwhile, a top Cuban diplomat denied U.S. accusations that thousands of Cuban troops were on the ground in Venezuela.

“Cuba does not participate in military operations nor in security operations in Venezuela,” Cuban Chief of U.S. Affairs Carlos Fernandez de Cossio told the Associated Press.

He said the 20,000 Cubans in Venezuela were primarily medical workers.

But he did say, as hemispheric partners, Cuba and Venezuela have the sovereign right to military and intelligence cooperation.

Cuba and Russia are longtime allies of Venezuela and its socialist government. Russia has supplied economic support and military equipment to the Maduro government, while Venezuela has sent billions of dollars in oil to Cuba in exchange for medical aid.

Guaido: More demonstrations

Supporters of opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognized by the U.S. and more than 50 other nations as Venezuela’s rightful president, filled the streets again Wednesday, hurling rocks at police who responded with tear gas.

Guaido said a staggered industrial action would start Thursday, leading to a general strike.

“We’re going to remain in the streets until we achieve freedom for the Venezuelan people. The regime will try to increase the repression. It will try to persecute me,” he told demonstrators Wednesday.

As head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Guaido used the constitution to declare Nicolas Maduro’s presidency illegitimate, saying his election in December was a fraud.

Millions of Venezuelans — sick of out-of-control inflation, severe food and fuel shortages, a lack of medical care, and periodic blackouts — have fled the country.

Maduro accuses Guaido of coup

Maduro is accusing Guaido of trying to carry out a U.S.- and Colombian-supported coup and says the opposition will fail.

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He said demonstrators would be prosecuted “for the serious crimes that have been committed against the constitution, the rule of law and the right to peace.”

Neither Maduro nor Guaido can succeed, however, without the support of Venezuela’s powerful military. While many of the rank-and-file soldiers have joined the opposition, Maduro still has the backing of generals and other top military chiefs. (VOA)

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Clash at UN with Russia, Syria over Syria Hospital Attacks

The United Nations said on Friday at least 18 health centers have been attacked in the past three weeks in northwestern Syria

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The destroyed building of Nabd Al-Hayat hospital that was hit by an air strike is seen in Hass, Idlib province, Syria, May 6, 2019 in this still image taken from a video on May 9, 2019. VOA

The United Nations said on Friday at least 18 health centers have been attacked in the past three weeks in northwestern Syria, prompting a confrontation between western powers and Russia and Syria at the Security Council over who is to blame.

While the area is nominally protected by a Russian-Turkish deal agreed in September to avert a new battle, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces — backed by Russians — have launched an offensive on the last major insurgent stronghold. Some three million civilians are at risk, the United Nations said.

“Since we know that Russia and Syria are the only countries that fly planes in the area, is the answer … the Russian and Syrian air forces?” Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Karen Pierce said to the 15-member council on where the blame lay.

Acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jonathan Cohen said Russia and Syria were responsible for the attacks on the health centers. He said it was “most alarming” that several of the centers attacked were on a list created by Russia and the United Nations in an attempt to protect them.

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United Kingdom Ambassador Karen Pierce address a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Yemen, Oct. 23, 2018 at UN headquarters. VOA

Pierce said it would be “absolutely grotesque” if health facilities that provided their locations were “finding themselves being the authors of their own destruction because of deliberated targeting by the regime.”

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the Syrian and Russian forces were not targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure and questioned the sources used by the United Nations to verify attacks on health centers.

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U. N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (OCHA) Mark Lowcock attends a news conference for the launch of the “Global Humanitarian Overview 2019” at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Dec. 4, 2018. VOA

“We categorically reject accusations of violations of international humanitarian law,” Nebenzia told the council. “Our goal is the terrorists.”

An array of insurgents have a foothold in northwestern Syria – Idlib province and a belt of territory around it. The most powerful is the jihadist Tahrir al-Sham, the latest incarnation of the former Nusra Front which was part of al Qaeda until 2016.

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U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council he did not know who was responsible, but “at least some of these attacks are clearly organized by people with access to sophisticated weapons including a modern air force and so called smart or precision weapons.”

Lowcock said 49 health centers had partially or totally suspended activities, some for fear of being attacked, while 17 schools have been damaged or destroyed and many more closed. He said that in the past three weeks up to 160 people have been killed and at least 180,000 people displaced.

U.N. political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo warned the Security Council: “If the escalation continues and the offensive pushes forward, we risk catastrophic humanitarian fallout and threats to international peace and security.” (VOA)