Venezuelan naval boat rams passenger cruise liner, damages itself, sinks

A Venezuelan naval boat picked and lost a fight with a passenger cruise liner off the country’s northern coast this week, ramming it several times before accidentally taking on water and sinking.

The proprietors of the German-owned RCGS Resolute cruise ship said its vessel had been receiving maintenance in international waters on Tuesday morning when the armed navy boat approached it and ordered it to change direction.

The encounter escalated when, according to the company, “gun shots were fired and, shortly thereafter, the navy vessel approached the starboard side at speed with an angle of 135 degrees and purposely collided with the RCGS Resolute.”

“The navy vessel continued to ram the starboard bow in an apparent attempt to turn the ship’s head towards Venezuelan territorial waters,” Columbia Cruise Services’ statement read.

However, the RCGS Resolute is reinforced with steel plating to help it navigate through ice.

“While the RCGS Resolute sustained minor damages, not affecting vessel’s seaworthiness, it occurs that the navy vessel suffered severe damages while making contact with the ice-strengthened bulbous bow of the ice-class expedition cruise vessel RCGS Resolute and started to take water,” the company’s statement said.

A total of 32 crew members were aboard the liner, but no passengers were.

Venezuela’s navy has acknowledged the incident, though it differs in its version of events.

According to Venezuela, the incident occurred in the early hours of Tuesday in Venezuelan waters, next to Isla La Tortuga. Columbia CS says it took place in International waters, near Willemsted, Curacao.

The country’s defense ministry suggested the Resolute may have been carrying mercenaries ready to attack Venezuela. The nation’s embattled President, Nicolas Maduro, has often accused the US government and its allies of attempting to overthrow him since much of the international community backed Juan Guaido’s challenge to his presidency.

A search and rescue mission successfully retrieved the crew from the sinking patrol boat, the Venezuelan navy said in a statement.

Cuban government releases prominent dissident from jail but puts him under house arrest

The Cuban government released dissident José Daniel Ferrer from prison Friday, but sentenced him to house arrest for four-and-a-half years under charges labeled as political by several human rights organizations.

Ferrer had been in prison since September and was tried at the end of February. The whole process was plagued with irregularities, according to reports from family members and activists.

“The first three months were the most difficult, the hardest I have experienced in my entire life as a political prisoner,” said Ferrer in a phone call with el Nuevo Herald from Santiago de Cuba. The dissident reported beatings, “torture,” and “constant humiliation.”

According to his account, he spent six months in an isolation cell in the Aguadores prison in Santiago de Cuba. He received no medical treatment because he refused to wear the uniform given to inmates. He also went on a hunger strike that lasted more than 20 days.

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Flights Between US and Cuba Being Suspended Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

All flights to and from the island will be suspended beginning at midnight Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Cuba tweeted

Flights between the United States and Cuba will be suspended amid the growing coronavirus pandemic, officials said.

All flights to and from the island will be suspended beginning at midnight Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Cuba tweeted.

“April 1. All U.S. citizens should immediately make arrangements to depart Cuba on remaining commercial flights. The last scheduled commercial flight departs today at 12:55 (American Airlines),” the tweet read.

US outlines plan for Venezuela transition, sanctions relief

MIAMI (AP) — The Trump administration is prepared to lift crippling sanctions on Venezuela in support of a new proposal to form a transitional government requiring both Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaidó to step aside in favor of a five-person governing council, U.S. officials said.

President Guaido

The one-page “Democratic Transition Framework for Venezuela” was presented Tuesday by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It echoes a proposal made over the weekend by Guaidó that shows how growing concerns about the coronavirus, which threatens to overwhelm the South American country’s already collapsed health system and economy, are reviving U.S. attempts to pull the military apart from Maduro.

“This framework can provide a path that ends the suffering and opens the path to a brighter future for Venezuela,” said Pompeo in Washington.

Under the plan, both Maduro and Guaidó, who some 60 countries recognize as Venezuela’s rightful leader, would step aside and cede power to a five-member council of state to govern the country until presidential and parliamentary elections can be held within 6-12 months. The military high command — the traditional arbiter of political disputes in Venezuela and a key plank of support for Maduro — would remain in place for the duration of the transitional government.

Four of the members would be appointed by the opposition-controlled National Assembly that Guaidó heads. To draw buy-in from the ruling socialist party, a two-third majority would be required. The fifth member, who would serve as interim president until elections are held, would be named by the other council members. Neither Maduro nor Guaidó would be on the council but Pompeo said Guaidó would be free to run for president when elections are held.

“The hope is that this setup promotes the selection of people who are very broadly respected and known as people who can work with the other side,” U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams told the AP in a preview of the plan. “Even people in the regime look at this and realize Maduro has to go, but the rest of us are being treated well and fairly.”

The plan also outlines for the first time U.S. requirements for lifting sanctions against Maduro officials and the oil industry — the source of nearly all of Venezuela’s foreign income.

Continue reading US outlines plan for Venezuela transition, sanctions relief

Fauci Says 200,000 U.S. Deaths Possible (10 a.m. NY)

Dr. Anthony Fauci

U.S. coronavirus deaths could reach 200,000, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” More than half of the new cases are in New York, he said.

“Looking at what we’re seeing now, we’re looking at 100,000 to 200,000” deaths, “but I don’t want to be held to that,” Fauci said on CNN. “But I don’t just to think that we need to make a projection when it’s such a moving target that you could so easily be wrong.”

The U.S. has almost 125,000 confirmed infections with more than 2,000 deaths.

Prepare For Outbreaks Like New York’s In Other States, Warns Anthony Fauci

Dr. Fauci

“The Real Cuba is publishing informational articles of reputable sources to keep our community of visitors informed regarding the current pandemic”

Over a thousand people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19, and over a third of those deaths have taken place in New York. Nearly half the confirmed cases in the United States are in New York. The state has become a coronavirus hot spot — anyone leaving New York City is being asked to self-quarantine for two weeks.

A key adviser to President Trump, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House coronavirus task force, says other states need to prepare to take on outbreaks of this scale.

NPR’s Noel King spoke with Fauci about where the U.S. is headed and what strategies may help stop the spread of the coronavirus. He weighed in on increased testing capacity in the U.S. and on President Trump’s comment that he hopes to see the economy reopen by Easter. That possibility, according to Fauci, remains to be seen.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Earlier this week, an official with the World Health Organization warned that the United States could become the new epicenter of the virus — could it?

Well, clearly in the beginning, China was the epicenter. Then it moved to Europe, particularly in Italy. And now we’re seeing a rather substantial outbreak in the New York City metropolitan area. Now, there are a lot of other areas in the United States. But clearly, the acceleration of cases that we’re seeing in New York City is really quite disturbing.

Nearly half of all cases in the country right now are in the state of New York. What should hospitals in New York expect over the next few weeks?

What they’re seeing already, and we’ll expect more, is an influx of cases which they’re trying to deal with locally and with the help of the federal government, with regard to beds, ICU beds and ventilators. I am in close contact with Gov. Cuomo of New York and he’s dealing with the federal government, with FEMA and other organizations to try to get to him the material and equipment that he will need.

There are other states, including Florida, that are seeing a surge in cases reminiscent of what we saw in New York maybe a week ago. Should those states be looking at New York and thinking: That’s what’s going to happen here and we need to be prepared for that?

Absolutely. That’s the course of these types of outbreaks. So Florida has gotten hit both from internal [cases], but also from travel-related cases of people who leave New York, many of whom have second homes in Florida. So we’re having a situation, as is predictable when you have outbreaks like this, that you seed different areas from hot spots.

Right now, New York is bearing a major burden of the outbreak. But when people leave New York, they go other places. And that’s the reason why yesterday at the White House press conference, we made the recommendation that when individuals leave New York, that when they get to [their] destination that they essentially self-isolate for 14 days, as well as monitor their own symptoms to make sure they don’t get sick. And if they do, to actually report it to a health care provider.

There’s still some confusion about who should be getting tested. The president tweeted last night that testing in this country has increased significantly. He also said there is no need to test all 350 million or so Americans. So who should go and get the test?

The president is correct on both counts that there are many, many, many more tests that are out there now than there were just a few weeks ago. The other thing that the president was referring to is he wants to make sure that those people who need the tests, get the tests first. Because right now, when you haven’t had enough tests to give to everyone, you need to make sure that the people who are having symptoms and need to be diagnosed are the ones who get the tests, particularly those who are in the hospital.

Continue reading Prepare For Outbreaks Like New York’s In Other States, Warns Anthony Fauci

The most expensive donkey in the world: U.S. offering $15 million for Maduro’s head

Trump administration puts $15 million bounty on head of Venezuelan strongman Maduro
by Joel Gehrke
March 26, 2020 10:46 AM

President Trump’s administration is offering a $15 million reward for information that leads to the arrest of Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro, who was indicted by the U.S. Thursday on charges related to the regime’s use of “cocaine as a weapon” against Americans.

“The Venezuelan people deserve a transparent, responsible, representative government that serves the needs of the people – and that does not betray the trust of the people by condoning or employing public officials that engage in illicit narcotics trafficking,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a bulletin touting the reward.

Justice Department officials indicted four other senior Maduro regime associates, including former vice president Tareck El Aissami. The charges build on sanctions imposed on El Aissami in 2017. The State Department is offering up to $10 million of reward money for each of those four officials.

“While holding key positions in the Maduro regime, these individuals violated the public trust by facilitating shipments of narcotics from Venezuela, including control over planes that leave from a Venezuelan air base, as well as control of drug routes through the ports in Venezuela,” Pompeo said.

The Washington Examiner originally reported, citing CNN, that Maduro’s regime would be branded a state sponsor of terrorism. CNN has acknowledged that its reporting was incorrect, and so this story has been updated to reflect that the designation was not made.

Yet the Justice Department emphasized that the drug charges hinge on the Maduro regime’s partnership with the FARC, a militant group in Colombia that has been designated as a foreign terrorist group and derives financing from drug trade.

“The scope and magnitude of the drug trafficking alleged was made possible only because Maduro and others corrupted the institutions of Venezuela and provided political and military protection for the rampant narco-terrorism crimes described in our charges,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement accompanying the indictments. “As alleged, Maduro and the other defendants expressly intended to flood the United States with cocaine in order to undermine the health and wellbeing of our nation. Maduro very deliberately deployed cocaine as a weapon.”

BREAKING NEWS: Feds charge Venezuelan President Maduro, other top officials with narco-terrorism

By Antonio Maria Delgado and

Jay Weaver March 26, 2020 09:40 AM
Read more here:

In a stunning announcement amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Justice Department plans to announce Thursday that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and other government officials have been charged with turning Venezuela into a narco-state by collaborating with a leftist Colombian guerrilla group that exported tons of cocaine to the United States.

An indictment, to be unveiled at a “virtual” news conference in Washington, D.C., accuses Maduro and other top officials in his socialist regime of conspiring with the U.S.-designated terrorist group known as the FARC so that Venezuela could be used for narcotics shipments to finance a long-running civil war against the Colombian government.

Charged along with Maduro are Diosdado Cabello, a former speaker of the National Assembly who is considered the second most powerful political figure in Venezuela, and Vladimir Padrino Lopez, the country’s minister of defense. All three Venezuelan officials face allegations of narco-terrorism, drug trafficking and weapons violations in a scheme initiated in the mid-2000s that was meant to help the Colombian rebel group while enriching themselves with cocaine-tainted bribes, according to federal authorities.

Maduro’s indictment marks the second time that the U.S. government has brought criminal charges against a foreign head of state. The last time was in 1989, when federal prosecutors in Miami indicted Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega on drug-trafficking charges. and U.S. military forces seized him late that year. Noriega was convicted at trial, imprisoned in the Miami area and died in 2017.

In announcing Maduro’s indictment, Attorney General William Barr is expected to say that the U.S. government will offer a $15 million reward to anyone who provides information on when Maduro leaves Venezuela that assists in his capture.

On Thursday, U.S. officials also plans to designate Maduro’s government as a terrorist state, following last year’s freeze on Venezuelan assets in the United States as well as threats to sanction any company that does business with his oil-rich country. The Trump administration has rejected Maduro as the president of Venezuela and formally recognized the opposition leader, Juan Guaido, as the nation’s rightful leader.
The extraordinary criminal case, which was filed in the Southern District of New York, is undoubtedly meant to put even greater pressure on Maduro, who took over the reins of Venezuela’s government from the late Hugo Chávez after his death in 2013. While the once-prosperous country began its decline under Chávez, Venezuela’s economy has crashed during Maduro’s tenure — leading to the exodus of millions of Venezuelans, including some who resettled in South Florida over the past decade.
At the same time, the Justice Department has already brought several multibillion-dollar corruption cases against senior Venezuelan government officials, including Chávez’s former national treasurer, Alejandro Andrade (now imprisoned), executives in the state-owned oil company, PDVSA, and politically connected businessmen with luxury homes and bank accounts in the United States. These prosecutions have been under way for years in New York, Miami and Houston.

On Thursday, a corruption case was also unsealed in Miami charging Miakel Moreno, the president of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice in Venezuela, with accepting bribes in connection with PDVSA corruption and contract schemes. Moreno, the nation’s top judicial figure, is the fifth target of the widening Miami case that has implicated both national oil company officials and contractors.
As part of Thursday’s live-streamed news conference in Washington, the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, and the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of Florida, Ariana Fajardo Orshan, are expected to participate from Manhattan and Miami, respectively, because of concerns about gatherings of more than 10 during the coronavirus outbreak.

Continue reading BREAKING NEWS: Feds charge Venezuelan President Maduro, other top officials with narco-terrorism

Cuba confirms 40 cases of coronavirus but suspects many more; schools will close

Cuban doctors are closely watching more than 37,000 people across the island with symptoms similar to those caused by the coronavirus, as the number of confirmed cases rose to 40, the Ministry of Public Health said Monday.

As of Sunday, the ministry had confirmed 35 cases of people with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. According to Monday’s statement, the five new patients are a Russian citizen, a French citizen and three Cubans.

In a live television address Monday evening, Manuel Marrero also announced the closing of schools and universities.

“We will suspend classes starting tomorrow,” until April 20, Marrero said, in part due to “concerns” shared by the population about crowded schools and lack of hygiene.

As announced on Friday, Cubans living abroad and foreigners will not be able to travel to the island starting next Tuesday, the minister said, and Cubans returning to the country will be isolated for 14 days.

Around 30,000 tourists who have not yet left the island will be isolated in hotels. The minister said the government will relocate tourists staying at private accommodations to government-run hotels.

The prime minister also announced new restrictions on domestic travel and more strict social distancing measures at stores and other businesses. The government will expand the presence of the police in streets, grocery stores and other public places to enforce the new regulations, Marrero added.

The stricter policies come as the government is expanding the screening of suspected cases.

The Ministry of Public Health said Monday that family doctors are monitoring the symptoms of 37,778 Cubans. Last week, the government started sending doctors, nurses, and medical students door-to-door across the island, looking for people with fever, cough and shortness of breath, the symptoms of COVID-19. These are also common to other respiratory diseases such as influenza and the common cold.

The ministry also announced that another 1,036 Cubans and foreigners were in isolation in various hospitals. Of those admitted, doctors suspect that 531 may have contracted the virus.

On Sunday, the ministry had reported that 255 foreigners and 727 Cubans were under observation in hospitals, but it did not update the data in Monday’s report.

The report did not say whether all the suspected cases were tested for coronavirus, but public information suggests testing is not widely available. Cuban health authorities have said that they have the tests, but have not clarified if the World Health Organization provided them or if they were made in Cuba.

So far, the government has denied that the virus is spreading among the population and has said that all cases are related to tourists or travel overseas. The authorities had used that argument to explain why they had not implemented more drastic measures of social isolation.

Among the sick patients is an 18-month-old Cuban boy who traveled to the island from Spain with his mother. The 19-year-old woman also tested positive for COVID-19.

The government also reported Sunday that a Cuban who arrived on the island on March 6 from Miami is among the confirmed cases. The 27-year-old man lives in the province of Sancti Spíritus and has been admitted to a hospital in the neighboring province of Villa Clara.

An American who was among the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Cuba was evacuated last Friday to the United States, according to Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla.

Only one person, an Italian tourist, has died of COVID-19 in Cuba, but the Ministry of Public Health reported Monday that three other patients were in serious or critical condition.

On Friday, Miguel Díaz-Canel announced that the country would no longer allow the entry of tourists and international travelers starting on Tuesday. Despite criticism from the population, the government had kept the borders open and continued promoting tourism to the island, one of its primary sources of income.

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Cuba is an Academic Fraud

Cuba Is an Academic Fraud

Few educational stats are available, and they are highly suspect.

By Paul E. Peterson

The Wall Street Journal

March 16, 2020 1:37 pm ET

Students in Havana, June 5, 2019.PHOTO: YANDER ZAMORA/SHUTTERSTOCK

Bernie Sanders has spent decades preparing to lose the Florida primary. In a 1985 interview, Vermont’s self-described socialist said of Fidel Castro that “he educated their kids.” He still praises the Communist regime’s “massive literacy program.”

Mr. Sanders is not alone in his admiration for Cuban education. In 2016 President Obama quoted himself as telling Raúl Castro, Fidel’s younger brother and successor: “You’ve made great progress in educating young people. Every child in Cuba gets a basic education.” Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, visited Havana in 2017 and exulted: “Cuba’s education system might as well be considered the ultimate wrap-around institution for children.” In 2007 Stanford’s Martin Carnoy published a book called “Cuba’s Academic Advantage.”

It’s all bunk—though it’s hard to prove, because Cuba refuses to participate in international tests such as the respected Program for International Student Assessment. The only external tests in which Cuba did participate were the 1997 and 2006 waves of the Latin American Laboratory for Assessment of the Quality of Education, sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and nicknamed Laboratorio. This was the main evidentiary basis for Mr. Carnoy’s book.

But the Cuban government supervised the administration of the Laboratorio tests, and the results strongly suggest it cheated. The median language-arts score for Cuban third-graders in 1997 was 343 points, compared with 264 in Argentina, 256 in Brazil and 229 in Mexico. If these scores are to be believed, the median child in Cuba learns by grade three what equivalent students elsewhere don’t learn until at least grade six.

In math, median Cuban third- and sixth-grade students scored 1.5 standard deviations higher than Chileans in 2006. (A standard deviation is about two years’ worth of learning.) Is Cuba a standout within Latin America, even though it won’t subject itself to comparison with developed countries? That seems unlikely. Chile performed only 0.9 standard deviation lower than high-flying Finland on the Program for International Student Assessment’s 2018 math test.

Belying Cuban students’ sky-high scores, they don’t seem to learn much from one grade to the next. In Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico, fourth-graders scored 22 to 25 points higher than third-graders on the 1997 math test. In Cuba an additional year of schooling was good for only five points. Why? One possibility is that teachers corrected the answers so that many students in both grades received perfect or near-perfect scores.

Similarly suspicious is the narrow gap—only 0.05 standard deviation—between urban and rural schools in Cuba. In Mexico and Brazil urban schools do better by 0.62 and 0.66 standard deviations, respectively.

It’s unsurprising that a communist regime would falsify its own accomplishments. It’s dismaying that American politicians, educators and scholars would fall for it.

Mr. Peterson is a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, director of Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance and a senior editor of Education Next, where an expanded version of this essay appears.