Monday, May 7, 2012

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Hugo Chavez looks to God as cancer clouds future

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has spent much of his career praising the socialist ideas of famed atheists such as Karl Marx and Fidel Castro. Now in the thick of a prolonged battle against cancer, however, the leftist leader is drawing inspiration more than ever from a spiritual leader: Jesus Christ.
Chavez has been praying for divine intervention during increasingly infrequent appearances on television, holding up a crucifix while vowing to overcome his illness. He says living with cancer has made him "more Christian," talk that has coincided with speculation by some Venezuelans that cancer might cut short his bid for re-election in October.
Chavez's voice cracked with emotion as he bade farewell to aides and supporters in Caracas on April 30 before leaving for what he said would be his final round of cancer treatment in Cuba.
"I'm sure our Christ will do it again, continuing making the miracle," Chavez said as he raised his cross to his lips and kissed it, prompting applause from an audience of aides.
If Chavez survives cancer, political analysts say his increasing religiosity could pay election-year dividends in a country where Catholicism remains influential.
"Given that he cannot hide the illness, but he can hide its characteristics and danger, he's decided to take as much advantage of it as he can, and one advantage is the symbolic and religious issue," said Luis Vicente Leon, a Venezuelan pollster and analyst. "He'll present himself as the chosen one, the man who has been cured and healed by the Lord to continue governing the country."
The president has alternated between emotional fragility and optimism in public, mentioning God and Jesus nearly every time he shows up on TV.
Chavez shed tears last month during a televised Mass with relatives in Venezuela, when he prayed aloud to Jesus to "give me life."
In a later appearance in Cuba, Chavez held up the same crucifix that he said helped deliver him from one of his darkest moments, a 2002 coup that briefly deposed him. He returned to the presidency within two days.
"I have great faith in what we're doing, in this intense undertaking against the illness that ambushed me last year, and I have faith, I repeat, in God," said Chavez, who looked pale and bloated.
"It's like a pact with God, with Christ my Lord," Chavez said. "I'm sure he will lay on a hand so that this treatment, which we're rigorously following, will have supreme success."
Chavez's religiosity contrasts with the resolute secularism of his political father figure, Castro, and other leaders who have followed the socialist path Chavez lauds.
A large majority of Venezuelans practice Catholicism, and Protestant denominations have grown rapidly in some parts of the country. Many Venezuelans also practice folk religions and leave offerings at roadside shrines.
Mixing religion and politics isn't new in Venezuela, even if religious groups generally don't get directly involved in politics. Former President Luis Herrera characterized himself as spiritually pure and promoted social programs for the poor while leading his Copei Social Christian party.
Other Latin American leaders have employed religious symbols while seeking votes.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega highlighted his Christian faith during his re-election bid last year, when his campaign rallies were accompanied by religious processions, chants and the campaign slogan "Christian, Socialist and In Solidarity." Ortega's campaign strategy dismayed Catholic Church leaders, who called his use of spirituality part of a ploy to deceive voters.
Chavez describes himself as Catholic, but his religious beliefs are eclectic. He has at times also expressed faith in folk deities such as Maria Lionza, an indigenous goddess venerated by some Venezuelans who pay homage through candlelit rituals and shrines.
Despite his recent expressions of faith, the president has had a rocky relationship with Catholic leaders. He has accused priests of siding with the country's wealthy rather than the poor and in a particularly heated clash in 2010, suggested that Christ would whip some church leaders for lying after Cardinal Jorge Urosa warned that democratic freedoms were being eroded in Venezuela.
Chavez insists his faith goes back to his days as an altar boy, and long before his illness, he was calling Jesus Christ "the greatest socialist in history."
Still, his increasing appeals for help from Christ have shown supporters a vulnerable side to a leader who for more than 13 years in office has projected power and vigor.
"We'd forgotten for so long that Chavez is simply a man like any other, a man of flesh and blood," said Florencia Mijares, an office worker who prayed for the president at a Caracas church. "For many Venezuelans, Chavez is a savior who arrived to help everybody else and now he's the one who needs help, and many of us fear all will be lost if he dies."
Chavez has been receiving radiation therapy in Cuba over the past week, the latest phase in treatments that since June have included chemotherapy and two surgeries that removed tumors from his pelvic region, though he has not said what sort of cancer he has.
Chavez spoke by phone on Venezuelan state television on Monday, vowing to win re-election and criticizing his opponents in his first such comments since leaving Venezuela a week ago. Last week, he had instead communicated with supporters through Twitter messages.
Despite the long absences, Chavez has been leading opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles by double digits in recent polls.
Some of his supporters said they see Chavez's increased devotion as a natural evolution for a president in a dire situation.
As soon as Chavez revealed he had a tumor removed last year, a pro-Chavez group called the Council of Christian Public Employees organized dozens of prayer meetings across the country, several of which were broadcast live on state television and Christian radio stations.
"The president could have decided to distance himself from God or not believed in him due what he was going through," said Linda Aguirre, the organization's president. "I thank God that he's chosen the most important decision of his life: to embrace our Lord."
Indian shamans wearing parrot feathers and beads also held a healing ritual for Chavez at a Caracas plaza last month, performing traditional dances and chants, and kneeling on the ground in prayer.
"The objective is to inject the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution with positive energy," said Jesus Antonio Juagivioy, a chieftain from the president's home state of Barinas who participated in the ceremony. "We pray for his total recuperation and we know the spirits of our ancestors will help."

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Sunday, May 6, 2012
Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation on the important work of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) with two its Board Members, Pat Griffin and Peter Madigan, respectively.

Griffin and Madigan are among Washington's most brilliant political minds. Griffin served in the White House as President Clinton's Special Assistant for Legislative Affairs, while Madigan served in the Treasury and State Departments under the Reagan and Bush I Administrations as legislative adviser to Secretary James Baker.

And also, an update on Mexico's upcoming Presidential elections with Rodrigo Ivan Cortes, a legislator from the ruling Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) and head of its foreign affairs commission.

Listen to "From Washington al Mundo" live today on Sirus-XM's Cristina Radio (Channel 146) from 4-5 p.m. (EST) and rebroadcast on Tuesday from 3-4 p.m. (EST).

Putin pledges unity on return to Kremlin, protesters held

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Vladimir Putin took the oath as Russia's president on Monday with a ringing appeal for unity at the start of a six-year term in which he faces growing dissent, economic problems and bitter political rivalries.
Parliament is expected to approve to his ally Dmitry Medvedev, 46, as prime minister on Tuesday, completing a job swap that has left many Russians feeling disenfranchised two decades after the Soviet Union collapsed.
Outside the Kremlin's high red walls, riot police prevented protests by rounding up more than 300 people, including men and women in cafes who wore white ribbons symbolizing opposition to Putin, a day after detaining more than 400 during clashes.
But in the Kremlin, 2,000 dignitaries applauded Putin's every step down the red carpet into a vast hall with gilded columns, the throne room of tsars, where he was sworn in with his right hand resting on the red-bound Russian constitution.
"We will achieve our goals if we are a single, united people, if we hold our fatherland dear, strengthen Russian democracy, constitutional rights and freedoms," Putin said in a five-minute speech after taking the oath for the third time.
"I will do all I can to justify the faith of millions of our citizens. I consider it to be the meaning of my whole life and my obligation to serve my fatherland and our people."
The Kremlin's bells pealed, and the national anthem blared at the end of a ceremony which was followed by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church blessing Putin and the president taking charge of the nuclear suitcase.
Although he has remained Russia's dominant leader for the past four years as prime minister, Putin, 59, has now taken back the formal reins of power he ceded to Medvedev in 2008 after eight years as president.
Putin is returning with his authority weakened by months of protests that have polarized Russia and left the former KGB spy facing a battle to reassert himself or risk being sidelined by the business and political elites whose backing is vital.
"We want to, and we will, live in a democratic country," Putin declared, evoking patriotic images of Russia as a great nation and urging people to show a sense of responsibility and national pride to make the country stronger.
Putin made no mention of the protest movement in his speech and no promises of political reform in a series of decrees he signed after the ceremony, most of them focused on economic goals and efforts to improve living standards.
Despite his pledge, riot police, nervous after battling protesters at an anti-Putin rally on Sunday, cracked down on the slightest sign of dissent on the streets of central Moscow, many of which were almost empty.
At least 22 protesters were led away when a crowd of more than 100 started shouting "Russia without Putin" near two luxury hotels 500 m (yards) from the Kremlin.
"This shows that Putin is scared of dissatisfied citizens. Although there are not so many of us, there are not so few either," said 18-year-old student Pavel Kopilkov.
Dozens of others were detained by police on a boulevard near the route of Putin's motorcade to the ceremony, including some who had been sitting outside a French bistro wearing the white ribbon of protest on their jackets and coats.
A Reuters correspondent saw tables and chairs being overturned as the people were hauled away.
"This is shameful. This is not how you celebrate a holiday - this is how you celebrate seizing power," liberal opposition leader Boris Nemtsov said shortly before he was detained.
Police moved in quickly several times through the day and evening as activists sought to gather in various locations for protests, pressing against crowds and detaining people.
Moscow police said 300 had been detained, including some people who were released and then detained when attempting to protest again. In Putin's hometown of St Petersburg, police detained a few protesters in a small crowd on Palace Square.
Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov, two opposition leaders who were detained at Sunday's protest and released on Monday after courts fined them 1,000 roubles ($33) each, gathered at a small central Moscow park near the presidential administration offices after dark with a crowd about 200 and vowed to remain.
Although the protests, sparked by allegations of electoral fraud, had lost momentum before Sunday's rally, they have given birth to a civil society that will press on with attempts to undermine Putin's authority by contesting local elections.
Many of the protesters are angry that Putin is extending his 12-year domination of Russia and fear he will stifle political and economic reform in his third term as president.
He is under pressure to show he can adapt to the new political landscape. Few think he has changed much, if at all.
He has eased up on the choreographed macho antics that long burnished his image in Russia, such as riding horseback bare-chested and shooting a tiger with a tranquilizer gun.
Harder to shake off will be his habit of seeking total control, as political rivals begin to gain status and a rising middle class demands more political freedom.
He has to quell rivalries between liberals and conservatives battling for positions in the new cabinet under Medvedev, who is swapping jobs with Putin. The outcome of the struggle could help determine how far reforms go to improve the investment climate.
The $1.9 trillion economy is in better shape than that of most European countries, but is vulnerable to any drop in the price of oil, the main export commodity. The budget is under pressure from Putin's lavish pre-election spending promises.
Putin has said he wants to attract more foreign investment by improving the business climate, reduce corruption and red tape, and end Russia's heavy dependence on energy exports.
He called for the creation of a "new economy" in the speech and reiterated those goals in economic decrees signed on Monday, but critics say he has had plenty of time to tackle the persistent problems in his years in power.
He set out aims on a range of issues in other decrees, from higher wages for teachers and other state workers to better weapons for the military and a decrease in Russia's death rate.
As in the past, he is likely to use tough anti-Western rhetoric on foreign policy to drum up support if times get tough in Russia. But he never yielded his strong influence over foreign policy as premier, so a major policy shift is unlikely.
Putin struck familiar chords in a decree on foreign policy, emphasizing opposition to foreign interference in sovereign states and saying Moscow wants "strategic" ties with the United States but will not tolerate meddling.
(Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel, Gleb Bryanski, Steve Gutterman and Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Michael Roddy)

The Pentagon Can't Believe 'The Avengers

The Pentagon Can't Believe 'The Avengers
The Pentagon rather hilariously decided that it couldn't cooperate as an adviser on this weekend's big blockbuster superhero flick The Avengers because it didn't think the depiction of the military bureaucracy was realistic, according to Wired's Spencer Ackerman. This is, by the way, the self-same Pentagon that lent its aid to the making of films like Ironman, which revolves around the military industrial complex producing a super-genius who can build flying suits that can take on fighter jets. Which is to say, the bar for "unreality" is set pretty low. So what's tripped up the Pentagon's truth-o-meter for The Avengers? It features an organization called S.H.I.E.L.D., which is a sort of international peacekeeping group made up of superheroes (including Ironman). Ackerman reports:
“We couldn’t reconcile the unreality of this international organization and our place in it,” Phil Strub, the Defense Department’s Hollywood liaison, tells Danger Room. “To whom did S.H.I.E.L.D. answer? Did we work for S.H.I.E.L.D.? We hit that roadblock and decided we couldn’t do anything” with the film.
So, as Ackerman notes, that seems like a small objection in a film that is about regular, realistic people who transform into a giant green monster, travel to other planets by way of hammer, or wield a magic shield, to say nothing of the (persumably) massive flying aircraft carrier that turns invisible. (Perhaps the Navy is working on that?) So, yes, an ambiguous working relationship between the U.S. military and an international peace-keeping organization? That's what tripped them up. Just to give you a sense of what's believable or not for the U.S. military, Battleship, in which the Navy battles aliens, features a cameo by the secretary of the Navy! But international military cooperation in the face of new and unseen threats, totally ridiculous! Ah well. The Avengers seems to be doing fine absent military cooperation, having set the record for an opening weekend box office performance.

Dania Suarez- U.S Secret Service Prostitute Scandal ...

Several agents of President Obama's Secret Service got involved in a prostitute scandal in Colombia, one of the prostitutes is Dania Suarez

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Woman in Secret Service case calls agents 'fools'

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — A woman who says she was the prostitute who triggered the U.S. Secret Service scandal in Colombia said Friday that the agents involved were "idiots" for letting it happen, and declared that if she were a spy and sensitive information was available, she could have easily obtained it.
The woman said she spent five hours in a Cartagena, Colombia, hotel room with an agent, and while she barely got cab fare out of him, she could have gotten information that would have compromised the security of U.S. President Barack Obama if the agent had any. "Totally," she replied when asked.
"The man slept all night," said the woman, who was identified by her lawyer as Dania Londono Suarez. "If I had wanted to, I could have gone through all his documents, his wallet, his suitcase."
She said in the 90-minute interview with Colombia's W Radio conducted in Spain that no U.S. investigator had been in touch with her, although reporters descended on her home a week after the incident when a taxi driver led them to it.
"They could track me anywhere in the world that I go but they haven't done so," she said, speaking in Spanish. "If the Secret Service agents were idiots, imagine the investigators."
That alarmed a U.S. congressman who is monitoring the case.
Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, issued a statement on Friday expressing concern that investigators "have been unable to locate and interview two of the female foreign nationals involved," including Londono. "I have asked the Secret Service for an explanation of how they have failed to find this woman when the news media seems to have no trouble doing so."
Eight Secret Service agents have lost their jobs in the scandal, although there is no evidence any of the 10 women interviewed by U.S. investigators for their roles in it have any connection to terrorist groups, King said earlier this week.
In the interview, Londono called the Secret Service agents caught up in the scandal "fools for being from Obama's security and letting all this happen."
"When I said, 'I'm going to call the police so they pay me my money,' and it didn't bother them, didn't they see the magnitude of the problem?" she said.
Londono said the man she slept with never identified himself as a member of Obama's advance security detail for the April 14-15 Summit of the Americas and said she saw nothing in his room that would have indicated the man's job other than a brown uniform.
Londono said the man had agreed to pay her $800, but that she never would have made a public fuss about his failure to pay had she known he was part of Obama's security detail and realized the repercussions it would have for her.
"My life is practically destroyed," she said. "My name is in the gutter."
Her photo has been splashed all over the Internet since a newspaper took it off Facebook a week after the incident, when she said she fled Colombia fearing for her life.
"I was afraid they might retaliate," she said, saying she feared for herself and her family after looking up Secret Service on the Internet and seeing that some agents were sharpshooters.
The mother of a 9-year-old boy she said she had when she was 17, Londono said she would happily sell her story now and pose nude.
She said she had contracted one of Colombia's top lawyers, Abelardo De la Espriella. He confirmed her identity for The Associated Press and said she called him for the first time earlier Friday, recommended by the radio host who interviewed Londono.
He said he didn't see that there was any criminal infraction in the incident. Prostitution is legal in Colombia.
"Let's see how we can help her," De la Espriella said of Londono.
Londono appeared in the interview, part of which was also broadcast by Colombia's Caracol TV, with just a little makeup, her fingernails painted white and wearing a tight green dress.
W Radio asked that the location of the interview not be disclosed for Londono's security, and she later gave an interview to the Spanish radio network Cadena Ser, which said it was recorded in one of its studios.
Londono giggled nervously and refused to answer prying questions from reporters from several international news media during the W Radio interview on topics such as the nature of her sex act with the Secret Service agent.
She said that the desk clerk at the Hotel Caribe called at 6:30 a.m. to tell her it was time to leave, and the agent addressed her with an insult in telling her to get out.
Dania said it was nearly three hours after the man kicked her out of the room and she alerted a Colombian policeman stationed on the hallway before three colleagues of the agent, who had refused to open his door after giving her $30, scraped together $250 and paid her, she said.
"'The only thing they said was 'Please, please. No police, no police,'" she said.
Later that day, April 12, the agent and 11 other Secret Service colleagues who may have also had prostitutes in their rooms at the five-star hotel were sent home, under investigation for alleged misconduct.
Londono's story agrees with what investigators in Washington have disclosed.
She said she met the man, one of 10-11 agents in a Cartagena bar, and accompanied him back to the hotel, stopping on the way to buy condoms.
She said the other agents at the bar were all drunk.
"They bought alcohol like they were buying water," she said, though she never saw any evidence that any of them used illegal drugs.
She said the man she was with was only moderately intoxicated. She said she did not know his name.
Londono said that she went to Dubai after the scandal broke and spent time with someone she had previously met in Cartagena. She would not say whether that person had been a client.
She said she was charging between $600 and $800 for sex while working in Cartagena and only accepted foreigners as clients, considering herself an "escort."
Asked why she became a prostitute, Londono said "it's an easy life" that would allow her to study and provide for her son.
At one point in the interview, her mother was brought in by phone, and described the shame she felt.
Londono said her mother did not know until the scandal broke that she was a prostitute and had been medicated for depression.
She said her son was unaware of his mother's celebrity, and said she considers herself finished with prostitution.
"This has cured me of it all," Londono said. "Even if I'm not hired for the magazine covers, I will never do it again."
Associated Press writer Frank Bajak contributed from Lima, Peru.

Carlos Garcia Was Right, Dominguez Is Wrong

Sunday, May 6, 2012
Radio and TV Marti's Carlos Garcia recently wrote an editorial criticizing Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega and his cozy relationship with the Castro dictatorship.

It has since been taken down.

We're not sure why. After all, this opinion is shared by most Cuban dissidents, exiles and even some Vatican officials.

However, a Washington Post journalist decided to challenge the editorial and it seems Garcia has sadly backed down.

The journalist, Bill Booth, even described Ortega as someone "who has been negotiating with the communist government to expand religious and political freedom."

Really? How about citing just one initiative he's undertaken for political freedom?

He's definitely sought to create more space for the Cuban Catholic Church to function, but he's arguably done so at a cost for the freedom of others.

But there's plenty of available material for anyone to form their own opinion of Cardinal Ortega, starting with his unholy attacks against Cuban dissidents during his recent speech at Harvard University.

With whom we take greatest exception is with Harvard University Professor Jorge Dominguez -- the same Professor Dominguez who had no problem delivering a speech in Damascus hosted by the Assad regime amidst a genocide -- who stated:

Who freed the political prisoners in Cuba? Not the European Union. Not the U.S. government. And not Radio and TV Marti. It was Ortega who convinced Raul Castro to let them out.”

You're wrong, Professor.

It was the death of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, pursuant to an 86-day hunger strike; the courage and resilience of the Ladies in White, who were beaten and dragged through the streets of Havana; the near death of Cuban pro-democracy leader Guillermo Farinas, pursuant to a 140-day hunger strike; and the ensuing international pressure, that earned the release of the 75 Cuban political prisoners of the Black Spring.

It was earned through their blood, sweat, tears, pain and suffering.

Cardinal Ortega even admitted that his "sudden intervention" at the time was motivated by his desire to preserve stability and cleanse Castro's image abroad.

In other words, to serve as an "escape valve" for Castro.

China dissident Chen expects Beijing to allow U.S. trip

BEIJING (Reuters) - Blind Chinese rights activist Chen Guangcheng said on Monday he expects Beijing to let him and his family travel to the United States without fresh troubles, but remains unsure how long it will take for official approval to come through.
Chen, 40, who took shelter in the U.S. embassy for six days after escaping house arrest, said he was still in hospital undergoing checks, which had identified an intestinal problem as enteritis, or chronic inflammation from an apparent infection.
"I can't move around much but I'm feeling better," he said in a telephone call, sounding more relaxed than last week when he was at the centre of a diplomatic crisis between the two superpowers just as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was visiting Beijing.
After leaving the embassy on Wednesday under a deal that foresaw him staying in China, Chen changed his mind and said he wanted to spend time in the United States to recuperate from the years of imprisonment and harassment that made him one of his country's most recognized representatives of the "rights defence" movement campaigning for expanded civic freedoms.
China's Foreign Ministry said on Friday that Chen could apply to study abroad, prompting an offer of a fellowship from New York University, though it remained unclear if China would cooperate in the dissident's travel arrangements.
Chen said on Monday that Chinese authorities had no reason to try to block him and his wife and two children from going to the United States.
"I still don't know when I'll leave, but it shouldn't be too long," he said.
"The government openly promised to respect my rights as a citizen, and I expect them to live up to that promise," he added. "If they did try to frustrate my plans, then they'd be slapping their own face, and I don't think they will do that."
Any more ructions with Beijing over Chen's future could embolden U.S. critics of President Barack Obama's China policies as the United States gears up for presidential elections in November. They had seized on Chen's pleas for safety and his assertions, later retracted, that U.S. diplomats had left him isolated after escorting him from the embassy to the hospital.
Bo Fu, the president of ChinaAid, a Texas-based Christian advocacy group that has campaigned for Chen, said hospital staff had passed his request for a passport to Chinese officials.
"He said that for a disabled person, like a blind person, they don't have to file papers, they just have to make an oral request for an application," Fu said, describing a recent telephone conversation with Chen.
"I asked whether any friends can help him, he said he needs help but none of his friends can visit him."
Vice President Joe Biden said on Sunday the United States was ready to give Chen a visa "right away" so that he could take up the fellowship at New York University.
Chen's confinement, his escape and the furor that ensued have made him part of China's dissident folklore: a blind prisoner outfoxing Communist Party controls in an echo of the man who stood down an army tank near Tiananmen Square in 1989.
In 2006, Chen was sentenced to more than four years in jail on charges - vehemently denied by his wife and lawyers - that he whipped up a crowd that disrupted traffic and damaged property.
He was formally released in 2010 but remained under stifling house arrest in his home village in Shandong province, which officials turned into a fortress of walls, security cameras and guards in plain clothes who kept Chen isolated.
The village of Dongshigu, where Chen's mother and other relatives remain, was under lockdown on Friday. Reuters journalists who tried to visit were turned away by guards.
During his escape, Chen broke his right foot.
"I have a cast on it," Chen told Hong Kong's Cable News on Sunday. "No major problems came up in other medical tests, just minor problems. I'm undergoing treatment now."
Chen has said he remains worried about family members, who he fears face retribution from officials in Shandong who have accused them of aiding his escape.
(Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Nick Macfie)