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Hugo Chavez dies at 58 (1954-2013)

CARACAS, Venezuela– President Hugo Chavez, the fiery populist who declared a socialist revolution in Venezuela, crusaded against U.S. influence and championed a leftist revival across Latin America, died Tuesday at age 58 after a nearly two-year bout with cancer. Vice President Nicolas Maduro, surrounded by other government officials, announced the death in a national television…

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CARACAS, Venezuela– President Hugo Chavez, the fiery populist who declared a socialist revolution in Venezuela, crusaded against U.S. influence and championed a leftist revival across Latin America, died Tuesday at age 58 after a nearly two-year bout with cancer.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro, surrounded by other government officials, announced the death in a national television broadcast. He said Chavez died at 4:25 p.m. local time.

During more than 14 years in office, Chavez routinely challenged the status quo at home and internationally. He polarized Venezuelans with his confrontational and domineering style, yet was also a masterful communicator and strategist who tapped into Venezuelan nationalism to win broad support, particularly among the poor.

Chavez repeatedly proved himself a political survivor. As an army paratroop commander, he led a failed coup in 1992, then was pardoned and elected president in 1998. He survived a coup against his own presidency in 2002 and won re-election two more times.

The burly president electrified crowds with his booming voice, often wearing the bright red of his United Socialist Party of Venezuela or the fatigues and red beret of his army days. Before his struggle with cancer, he appeared on television almost daily, talking for hours at a time and often breaking into song of philosophical discourse.

Chavez used his country’s vast oil wealth to launch social programs that include state-run food markets, new public housing, free health clinics and education programs. Poverty declined during Chavez’s presidency amid a historic boom in oil earnings, but critics said he failed to use the windfall of hundreds of billions of dollars to develop the country’s economy.

Inflation soared and the homicide rate rose to among the highest in the world.

Chavez underwent surgery in Cuba in June 2011 to remove what he said was a baseball-size tumor from his pelvic region, and the cancer returned repeatedly over the next 18 months despite more surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He kept secret key details of his illness, including the type of cancer and the precise location of the tumors.

“El Comandante,” as he was known, stayed in touch with the Venezuelan people during his treatment via Twitter and phone calls broadcast on television, but even those messages dropped off as his health deteriorated.

Two months after his last re-election in October, Chavez returned to Cuba again for cancer surgery, blowing a kiss to his country as he boarded the plane. He was never seen again in public.

After a 10-week absence marked by opposition protests over the lack of information about the president’s health and growing unease among the president’s “Chavista” supporters, the government released photographs of Chavez on Feb. 15 and three days later announced that the president had returned to Venezuela to be treated at a military hospital in Caracas.

Throughout his presidency, Chavez said he hoped to fulfill Bolivar’s unrealized dream of uniting South America.

He was also inspired by Cuban leader Fidel Castro and took on the aging revolutionary’s role as Washington’s chief antagonist in the Western Hemisphere after Castro relinquished the presidency to his brother Raul in 2006.

Supporters saw Chavez as the latest in a colorful line of revolutionary legends, from Castro to Argentine-born Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Chavez nurtured that cult of personality, and even as he stayed out of sight for long stretches fighting cancer, his out-sized image appeared on buildings and billboard throughout Venezuela. The airwaves boomed with his baritone mantra: “I am a nation.” Supporters carried posters and wore masks of his eyes, chanting, “I am Chavez.”

Chavez saw himself as a revolutionary and savior of the poor.

“A revolution has arrived here,” he declared in a 2009 speech. “No one can stop this revolution.”

Chavez’s social programs won him enduring support: Poverty rates declined from 50 percent at the beginning of his term in 1999 to 32 percent in the second half of 2011.  But he also charmed his audience with sheer charisma and a flair for drama that played well for the cameras.

He ordered the sword of South American independence leader Simon Bolivar removed from Argentina’s Central Bank to unsheathe at key moments. On television, he would lambast his opponents as “oligarchs,” announce expropriations of companies and lecture Venezuelans about the glories of socialism. His performances included renditions of folk songs and impromptu odes to Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong and 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

Chavez carried his in-your-face style to the world stage as well. In a 2006 speech to the U.N. General Assembly, he called President George W. Bush the devil, saying the podium reeked of sulfur after Bush’s address.

Critics saw Chavez as a typical Latin American caudillo, a strongman who ruled through force of personality and showed disdain for democratic rules. Chavez concentrated power in his hands with allies who dominated the congress and justices who controlled the Supreme Court.

He insisted all the while that Venezuela remained a vibrant democracy and denied trying to restrict free speech. But some opponents faced criminal charges and were driven into exile.

While Chavez trumpeted plans for communes and an egalitarian society, his soaring rhetoric regularly conflicted with reality. Despite government seizures of companies and farmland, the balance between Venezuela’s public and private sectors changed little during his presidency.

And even as the poor saw their incomes rise, those gains were blunted while the country’s currency weakened amid economic controls.

Nonetheless, Chavez maintained a core of supporters who stayed loyal to their “comandante” until the end.

“Chavez masterfully exploits the disenchantment of people who feel excluded … and he feeds on controversy whenever he can,” Cristina Marcano and Alberto Barrera Tyszka wrote in their book “Hugo Chavez: The Definitive Biography of Venezuela’s Controversial President.”

Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias was born on July 28, 1954, in the rural town of Sabaneta in Venezuela’s western plains. He was the son of schoolteacher parents and the second of six brothers.

Chavez was a fine baseball player and hoped he might one day pitch in the U.S. major leagues. When he joined the military at age 17, he aimed to keep honing his baseball skills in the capital.

But the young soldier immersed himself in the history of Bolivar and other Venezuelan heroes who had overthrown Spanish rule, and his political ideas began to take shape.

Chavez burst into public view in 1992 as a paratroop commander leading a military rebellion that brought tanks to the presidential palace. When the coup collapsed, Chavez was allowed to make a televised statement in which he declared that his movement had failed “for now.” The speech, and those two defiant words, launched his career, searing his image into the memory of Venezuelans.

He and other coup prisoners were released in 1994, and President Rafael Caldera dropped the charges against them.

Chavez then organized a new political party and ran for president four years later, vowing to shatter Venezuela’s traditional two-party system. At age 44, he became the country’s youngest president in four decades of democracy with 56 percent of the vote.

Chavez was re-elected in 2000 in an election called under a new constitution drafted by his allies. His increasingly confrontational style and close ties to Cuba, however, disenchanted many of the middle-class supporters who had voted for him. The next several years saw bold but failed attempts by opponents to dislodge him from power.

In 2002, he survived a short-lived coup, which began after a large anti-Chavez street protest ended in deadly shootings. Dissident military officers detained the president and announced he had resigned. But within two days, he returned to power with the help of military loyalists while his supporters rallied in the streets.

Chavez emerged a stronger president. He defeated a subsequent opposition-led strike that paralyzed the country’s oil industry, and he fired thousands of state oil company employees.

The coup also turned Chavez more decidedly against the U.S. government, which had swiftly recognized the provisional leader who had briefly replaced him. He created political and trade alliances that excluded the U.S., and he cozied up to Iran and Syria in large part, it seemed, due to their shared antagonism toward the U.S. government.

Despite the souring relationship, Chavez sold the bulk of Venezuela’s oil to the United States.

He easily won re-election in 2006, and then said it was his destiny to lead Venezuela until 2021 or even 2031.

“I’m still a subversive,” Chavez said in a 2007 interview with The Associated Press. “I think the entire world has to be subverted.”

Playing such a larger-than-life public figure ultimately left little time for a personal life.

His second marriage, to journalist Marisabel Rodriguez, deteriorated in the early years of his presidency, and they divorced in 2004. In addition to their one daughter, Rosines, Chavez had three children from his first marriage, which ended before Chavez ran for office.

Chavez acknowledged after he was diagnosed with cancer that he had been recklessly neglecting his health. He had taken to staying up late and drinking as many as 40 cups of coffee a day. He regularly summoned his Cabinet ministers to the presidential palace late at night.

He often said he believed Venezuela was on its way down a long road toward socialism, and that there was no turning back. After winning re-election in 2012, he vowed to deepen his push to transform Venezuela.

His political movement, however, was mostly a one-man show. Only three days before his final surgery, Chavez named Maduro as his chosen successor.

Now, it will be up to Venezuelans to determine whether the Chavismo movement can survive, and how it will evolve, without the leader who inspired it.

Biographical information for this report was contributed by former Caracas bureau chief Ian James.

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CNN Reporter Omar Jimenez Released After Arrest Live On Air During Minneapolis Protest Broadcast; Governor Apologizes

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4TH UPDATE, 12 PM PT: CNN says that it accepts Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s apology after reporter Omar Jimenez and a network crew were arrested early Wednesday while covering the George Floyd protests. Watch the video of the arrest above.

A CNN spokesperson said, “We accept Governor Walz’s apology and appreciate the sincerity of his words about the arrest of our crew this morning.  As journalists, the First Amendment gives us not only the right but also the responsibility to shine light in darkness and hold those in power to account.  With that in mind, we will move forward and continue our work in Minneapolis and everywhere else stories need to be told.”

Jimenez and two members of the crew, producer Bill Kirkos and photojournalist Leonel Mendez, were arrested as they were doing a CNN live shot. They were released, but CNN worldwide president Jeff Zucker spoke with Walz to express his concern over what happened.

The Minnesota State Patrol issued a statement that said, “In the course of clearing the streets and restoring order at Lake Street and Snelling Avenue, four people were arrested by State Patrol troopers, including three members of a CNN crew. The three were released once they were confirmed to be members of the media.”

But CNN responded with a statement that said “This is not accurate — our CNN crew identified themselves, on live television, immediately as journalists. We thank Minnesota @GovTimWalz for his swift action this morning to aid in the release of our crew.”

3RD UPDATE, 9:37 AM PT: Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said that he takes “fully responsibility” for the arrest of Omar Jimenez and a CNN crew as they covered protests in Minneapolis over the death of George Floyd.

“I take full responsibility there is absolutely no reason something like this should happen calls were made immediately,” Walz said at a press conference. “This is a very public apology to that team.”

He added, “In a situation like this, even if you’re clearing an area, we have got to ensure that there is a safe spot for journalism to tell the story. The issue here is trust. The community that’s down there, that’s terrorized by this, if they see a reporter being arrested, their assumption is that something’s going to happen that they don’t want to be seen. And so that is that is unacceptable. We will continue to strive to make sure that accessibility is maintained, that not only that, the protection and security and safety of the journalists covering this is a top priority.”

He said that he spoke with CNN president Jeff Zucker soon after the arrests, and Zucker wanted to know what happened.

“I appreciate his understanding in a situation, that he was rightfully incredibly angry, and that falls squarely on me that apology has been issued, and I think going forward to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Walz said.

Katie Townsend, legal director for the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, said that CNN may have a claim in this situation, as other journalists have sued government agencies and officials in the past for arrests during protest situations. In an email, she said that the First Amendment prohibits government officials, including police officers from interfering with news gathering or retaliating against journalists for protected speech.

“These claims can be difficult to establish, and there have been cases recently … that suggest that the bar for proving that an arrest violated and individual’s First Amendment rights is high.

“That said, having watched the video here, it doesn’t appear that the police had probable cause for an arrest; the CNN crew responded professionally, identified themselves as journalists, and repeatedly asked where they should stand; they were arrested anyway.”

According to the Reporters Committee, there were nine arrests of journalists in the U.S. in 2019, five of which took place at protests. That was compared to 11 in 2018 and 38 in 2017.

SAG-AFTRA, which represents broadcast journalists, issued this statement Friday afternoon: “As journalists it is our job to cover protests, demonstrations, marches and rallies — some peaceful, some not. We do this without interfering with protesters or law enforcement. The arrest of Omar Jimenez, who was clearly identified as a credentialed member of the news media, is unacceptable.”

One of Jimenez’s colleagues also covering the protests, Josh Campbell, said that he received the “opposite treatment” from police. He identified himself and his news outlet and was allowed to remain in a designated area, he told CNN’s John Berman.

“Let me just say something — it is a statement of fact. You Josh Campbell are white. Omar Jimenez is not. I do not know if that played into this,” Berman said.

“There was a lot different here than what Omar experienced,” Berman said.

2ND UPDATE, 4:44 AM: CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his crew have now been released from policy custody after their arrest live on air this morning mid-broadcast from the Minneapolis protests. As per below, state Governor Tim Walz intervened directly in the incident after calling CNN president Jeff Zucker to apologize.

After being released, Jimenez immediately took to the air again to recount the story and update on his situation.

“Everyone was pretty cordial after that [my arrest] happened,” said Jimenez, who added that a police officer told him he was “just following orders”.

“They weren’t violent with me, we were having conversation about how crazy this week has been for every single part of the city. A lot of these people are on edge,” the reporter continued. “The one thing that gave me a little bit of comfort was that it happened on live TV. When you talk within the community about, let’s say what happened with George Floyd, there’s discussion that, what’s happening isn’t new, it’s being filmed. That speaks to the power of having something that happens on camera. You can have people speak up for you without you saying anything.

“You guys [CNN anchors] saw what was happening, I was living what was happening, and the country was seeing what was happening unfold in real time right before their eyes – you don’t have to doubt my story, it’s not filtered in any sort of way, that gave me a little bit of comfort,” said Jimenez.

Twitter has been flooded with condemnation for the incident and praise directed at Jimenez for his professionalism.

UPDATED, 4:28 AM: CNN is now reporting that Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has spoken directly to CNN president Jeff Zucker to take full responsibility for the incident, and is working to have Jimenez and his crew released immediately. “It was totally unacceptable and inadvertent what happened… they clearly had the right to be there, we want the media to cover this [the protests], it is never acceptable for this to happen,” Walz told Zucker, according to CNN’s John Berman.

PREVIOUSLY 3:30 AM: CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez and his camera crew have been arrested during a live broadcast from the Minneapolis protests.

Footage quickly emerged online, and many of Jimenez’s colleagues took to Twitter in outcry.

The incident took place shortly after 6AM EST (3AM PST) during the live filming of CNN’s weekday morning show New Day.

In the footage, Jimenez, sporting a virus protective mask, is being quizzed by his anchors Alisyn Camerota and John Berman in front of a group of riot police as they move to arrest a nearby person. State patrol then approach the presenter and his crew, and Jimenez can be heard telling the officers that the four-strong unit can move “where they would like” to get out of their way in a cooperative and non-confrontational manner. The officers surround the crew as Jimenez continues to report live on air, before he is told that he is under arrest and placed in handcuffs, displaying them to the camera as he is walked away. After a moment, the crew are also placed into handcuffs.

“That is an American television reporter being led away by police officers. He clearly identified himself as a reporter and was respectfully explaining to the police that the CNN team was there and moving away as they would request, and then for some reason he was taken into police custody live on television,” said anchor John Berman off screen.

“I have never seen anything like this,” Berman adds on several occasions. The camera continued to roll after the arrests, sitting on the floor at the feet of the officers.

Fellow CNN Josh Campell, who is white, was also in the area but was not arrested. “I identified myself… they said, ‘OK, you’re permitted to be in the area’… What happened to Omar (Jimenez) was clearly a lot different… I was treated much differently than he (Jimenez) was,” he told the network.

CNN has confirmed the incident and called for the immediate release of its employees. “A CNN reporter and his production team were arrested this morning in Minneapolis for doing their jobs, despite identifying themselves – a clear violation of their First Amendment rights. The authorities in Minnesota, including the Governor, must release the three CNN employees immediately,” a statement from the network read.

Fierce protests have been raging in Minneapolis since an unarmed black man, George Floyd, died in police custody on Monday. Overnight, protesters broke into a police precinct in the city and set it on fire as the violence escalated. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has activated the state National Guard in a bid to restore order. Four officers involved in the incident have been fired but have not yet faced charges, with prosecutors stating they are still gathering evidence.

President Donald Trump tweeted earlier on Friday that the military would “assume control” in the city if the disturbances continue, adding “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. His remarks have provoked a huge blowback and were subsequently flagged by Twitter for violating its rules around “glorifying violence”.

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New video appears to show three police officers kneeling on George Floyd

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New video posted on social media appears to show three Minneapolis Police Department officers kneeling on George Floyd during his arrest.

Previous video from eyewitness Darnella Frazier showed Floyd, 46, being knelt on by one officer–Derek Chauvin.

The new video shows the other side of the Minneapolis police vehicle where the arrest occurred. The video appears to show Chauvin and two other officers kneeling on Floyd.

Chauvin was taken into custody on Friday afternoon, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. He faces charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter, according to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.

Four officers were involved in the incident and all have since been fired from the Minneapolis Police Department.

Floyd was arrested after he allegedly used a counterfeit bill at a convenience store, police have said. Outrage grew after the first video surfaced showing a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck. The 46-year-old, who was unarmed and handcuffed, died after the arrest.

Minneapolis police said in a statement earlier this week that officers had been responding to an alleged forgery on Monday evening and that during the arrest, Floyd “physically resisted” them.

However, surveillance footage from the nearby Dragon Wok restaurant does not appear to support the claim that Floyd resisted arrest during the initial encounter. However, there are several minutes where Floyd’s and the officers interactions cannot be seen from the camera’s vantage point.

This new video appears to have been taken before the Frazier video, but after that surveillance video.

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Veterans Affairs Gives 1,300 Vets Unproven COVID-19 Drug Touted By Trump

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The federal Department of Veterans Affairs has been giving 1,300 veterans hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus since late March — even though the drug has not been proven to be effective against the illness and may even trigger fatal heart problems.

In a study of 100,000 patients with COVID-19 published Friday in the medical journal The Lancet, patients who received hydroxychloroquine had a “significantly higher risk of death” compared to those who were not given the drug. “We were unable to confirm a benefit of hydroxychloroquine” on in-hospital outcomes for COVID-19, the researchers concluded.

An April study of veterans who were given the drug — relentlessly hawked by President Donald Trump — produced similar findings.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a letter Friday to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that despite mounting concerns about the drug, the VA will continue to use hydroxychloroquine for veterans.

Revelations of the use of the controversial antimalarial drug have sparked concerns about the effects it may have on veterans, many of whom are older and have underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to a fatal side effect of the drug: heart arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats.

“Veterans’ groups remain deeply concerned that the VA has made large purchases of this drug and appears to have administered it to veterans despite the well-known, and in some cases, fatal risks,” Schumer wrote Wilkie earlier this month.

After Wilkie’s letter on Friday, Schumer responded in a statement later that day, saying, “This drug may be useless or even harmful for COVID-19 patients, but the VA continues to administer it to hundreds of vets. Why are we just learning this?”

“We need to know what the basis was for using this drug against the consensus of science, which called into question its effectiveness in treating COVID-19,” he continued. “We also need to know who is authorizing these new trials, what facilities are participating and what families are being told.”

Trump has been aggressively pitching hydroxychloroquine since March, even though the drug had not yet undergone clinical trials examining its effectiveness against COVID-19.

“What do we have to lose?” he asked during a briefing.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization have both warned against using the drug to treat COVID-19.

Last Monday, the president attacked a study of veterans treated with the drug that showed no benefits against the coronavirus. He called the findings a “Trump enemy statement,” insisting they were politically motivated. He then claimed that he had been taking the drug for weeks, though he stopped on Friday.

The Trump administration ordered 29 million doses of hydroxychloroquine before it underwent trials for COVID-19 treatment. The VA also bulk-ordered some 6.3 million doses, according to Wilkie’s letter.

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