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‘Brazil is back,’ Lula hails at Latin America leaders summit

Photo: Luis Robayo / AFP

January 25 | By AFP | Philippe Bernes-Lasserre / Mauricio Rabuffetti |

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva declared Tuesday that his country is “back in the region” after joining more than a dozen other Latin American leaders at a summit in Buenos Aires.

Less than a month after his inauguration, Lula arrived in the Argentine capital looking to rebuild bridges after his far-right predecessor Jair Bolsonaro had pulled out of the grouping.

“Brazil is back in the region and ready to work side-by-side with you with a very strong feeling of solidarity and closeness,” said the 77-year-old leader during the seventh Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit, which brings together 33 nations.

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Lula, who previously served as Brazil’s president from 2003-10, was one of the founders of CELAC during the first “pink wave” of leftward political shifts on the continent over a decade ago.

But Bolsonaro pulled Brazil out of the group over what he perceived as its support for undemocratic governments in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba.

Lula spoke Tuesday about the “multiple crises” affecting the world — from the pandemic to climate change, geopolitical tensions, food insecurities and threats to democracy.

“All this happens in the midst of an unacceptable rise in inequality, poverty and hunger,” said Lula, the only leader to publicize his speech at the summit.

Democracy and its threats — especially from the far right — were a central theme of the summit.

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“We cannot allow the recalcitrant and fascist far right to put our institutions and our people in peril,” said the host of the forum, Argentina’s center-left President Alberto Fernandez, in opening remarks.

He pointed to the riots by Bolsonaro supporters at the seats of power in Brasilia earlier this month and the alleged attempt to assassinate his vice president, Cristina Kirchner, in September.

But Fernandez made no mention of communist Cuba or the accusations of political oppression made against radical leftist regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia.

In fact, with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in attendance, Fernandez called for an end to the US-led blockade of Cuba and Venezuela.

They are “a perverse method of punishment, not of the governments but of the people,” Fernandez said.

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‘Latin America is bankrupt’

Host Argentina this week hailed a “new climate in Latin America,” with the region ushering in a fresh wave of left or center-left governments since 2018 — including Mexico, Argentina, Honduras, Chile, Colombia and Brazil.

A forum for consultation and cooperation, CELAC has no power to enforce any agreements between its members.

And while Fernandez stressed the need to “strengthen the institutions in our region,” CELAC is struggling to unite members over successive regional crises, such as in Peru.

“Latin America is bankrupt from the institutional point of view,” Ignacio Bartesaghi, an international relations expert at the Catholic University of Uruguay, told AFP.

“There is not even certain basic consensus in Latin America, as on the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship,” he stressed.

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“There are (at CELAC) presidents who do not even recognize each other,” he noted, alluding to situations such as Paraguay’s Mario Abdo Benitez, whose country broke diplomatic relations with Nicolas Maduro’s Venezuela in 2019.

‘Absence of dialogue’

Maduro called off his own trip to the gathering at the last minute, citing “a risk of aggression” from “the neo-fascist right,” a possible reference to some Argentine opposition politicians calling for him to be arrested on arrival.

He was due on Monday to meet with Lula, who instead held talks with Diaz-Canel.

He sent a message to the forum blasting the “criminal sanctions” against his government, in particular against the state oil company PDVSA.

Other significant absentees in Buenos Aires include Mexico’s left-wing President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, leader of the second largest economy in Latin America and host in 2021 of the last CELAC summit.

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CELAC however remains the partner of choice for China and the European Union to negotiate when cooperating with the region.

But the last joint-EU summit was in 2015, highlighting the lack of regional consensus, says Bernabe Malacalza, researcher at the CONICET Argentine national research center.

In this sense, the return of Lula could give a boost to certain sub-regional issues, such as the free-trade agreement between the EU and the Mercosur group which comprises Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

The deal was finalized in 2019 but never ratified, due in particular to concerns about Bolsonaro’s environmental policy.

Lula has indicated a willingness to resume contacts.

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Meanwhile, Uruguayan president Luis Lacalle Pou proposed a free-trade zone extending from “Mexico to the south of South America.”

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International

Putin promotes deputy prison chief Amid Navalny’s death, opposition claims

Russian President Vladimir Putin promoted the deputy director of the prison service (FSIN) just three days after the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in an Arctic prison, according to his associates’ claims today.

“The deputy director of the FSIN, Valery Boyarinov, was promoted to the rank of colonel general of the Interior Services. The decree (…) was signed three days after the death in prison of politician Alexei Navalny,” his team wrote on Telegram.

Supporters of the deceased opposition figure claim that this decision is “a clear reward from Putin for the torture” of Navalny.

“Boyarinov personally coordinated the torture inflicted on Alexei Navalny in prison. The restrictions imposed on Navalny’s accounts so he could not buy food, along with the rest of the torture, were personally ordered by Boyarinov,” the team added.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin, which has consistently denied responsibility for the death of the Russian opposition leader, today described as “unfounded” and “coarse” the accusations of Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, that Putin murdered her husband.

“These are unfounded and gross accusations against the head of state,” said the spokesman for the Russian Presidency, Dmitry Peskov, in his daily telephone press briefing.

Peskov insisted that the accusations against the Russian leader “are not based on anything.”

At the same time, he stated that he did not want to make any further comments for “ethical reasons,” as Navalnaya “became a widow a few days ago.”

In any case, he assured that Putin has not seen the message released by the politician’s widow.

On the other hand, the Kremlin spokesman asserted that Moscow also completely rejects calls for an international investigation into Navalny’s death, “even more so” if they come from the head of the European Union’s diplomacy, Josep Borrell.

Navalny’s widow, who was in Brussels yesterday, stated that she will continue her husband’s fight against the Kremlin, blaming its occupant for his murder.

In a video posted on the late opposition leader’s YouTube channel, the widow of Russia’s number one political opponent denounced that “Putin not only killed the person, but also wanted to kill our hopes, our freedom, our future.”

In Russia, Navalny’s mother demanded on Tuesday that Putin hand over her son’s body “so that I can bury him properly.”

“I am addressing you, Vladimir Putin. The solution to this issue depends solely on you. Let me see my son once and for all!” said Lyudmila Navalnaya in a video posted by Navalny’s team on YouTube.

“It’s the fifth day that I can’t see him, they don’t give me his body, and they don’t even tell me where he is,” she said.

The video was recorded outside the “Polar Bear” prison in the Arctic town of Yarp, where the opposition figure suddenly died last Friday, according to prison authorities.

Navalny’s team published on Telegram the letter addressed to the Presidential Administration and handwritten by Lyudmila Navalnaya, in which she denounces that the Investigative Committee of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District does not allow her access to her son’s body.

The opposition figure’s mother arrived in that inhospitable area of Russia on Saturday, but both prison officials and morgue employees refused to address her requests.

Navalny’s associates accuse the Russian authorities of refusing to hand over the body to “cover up” the crime.

According to his spokesperson, Kira Yarmish, Russian investigators argue that they need to perform a “chemical examination” on the corpse and require at least another 14 days.

The organization that advocates for the rights of detainees assures that more than 60,000 people have already signed a popular petition for the authorities to hand over the body to the family.

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International

Assange seeks appeal as extradition decision nears

The two hearings to decide whether Julian Assange can appeal his case in the UK or be extradited to the United States began on Tuesday at the High Court in London.

Amid great anticipation from the public and press, Judges Victoria Sharp and Adam Johnson commenced the session, which will conclude on Wednesday, by hearing arguments from the defense of the 52-year-old Australian.

Assange was unable to attend the hearing in person, despite the court authorizing it, as he was not feeling well, according to his lawyer, Ed Fitzgerald.

The British prosecution will represent the US Justice Department, which is seeking the founder of WikiLeaks on 18 charges of espionage and computer intrusion for the disclosures made by his platform, which exposed US human rights violations in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011.

Fitzgerald began his plea by listing the reasons why his client should be allowed to appeal again, arguing that if extradited to the United States, his rights to a fair trial and freedom of expression, among others, would be violated.

“The prosecution is politically motivated. Assange exposed serious wrongdoing. He is being prosecuted for engaging in ordinary journalistic practice, obtaining and publishing classified information, information that is both true and of obvious and significant public interest,” he argued.

At the request of the defense, the two judges will review, between Tuesday and Wednesday, the decision made on June 6, 2023, by a single magistrate, Jonathan Swift, who denied him permission to continue appealing in this country and upheld the extradition order to the US.

After hearing from the parties, the judges could deliver their ruling immediately or postpone it.

If they ultimately authorize him to appeal the aspects of his case that the defense did not address in previous trials, a new trial would commence before the London Court of Appeal.

If, on the other hand, they agree with Swift in denying him permission, the extradition mechanism to the US, overseen by the British Home Office, would be activated.

In the latter case, his lawyers have already stated that they will immediately request urgent interim measures from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) under Article 39 of its regulations to halt the extradition while lodging an appeal with the European court.

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International

U.S. Investigates Alleged Airstrike Killing of Cuban Doctors in Somalia

The United States is investigating whether a US airstrike against Al-Shabab killed two Cuban doctors held by the jihadist group in Somalia last week, as claimed by the terrorist organization.

A spokesperson for the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) confirmed to EFE that “an airstrike against the Al-Shabab network was conducted on February 15 near Jilib, Somalia,” where the doctors were allegedly killed.

“We are aware of reports about an attack that allegedly killed two civilians,” the source admitted, emphasizing that AFRICOM “will continue to assess the results of this operation and provide additional information when available.”

“We do not have more information at this time about these reports, but we take all claims of civilian casualties seriously,” the spokesperson added.

Al-Shabab claimed on Saturday that two Cuban doctors kidnapped by the organization in 2019 died last Thursday in a US Army airstrike in Somalia, although this has not yet been officially confirmed by the authorities in the African country.

“The airstrike, which began at around 00:10 local time (21:10 GMT), targeted a house in Jilib and instantly killed Assel Herrera and Landy Rodríguez, captured on April 12, 2019,” in northern Kenya, the jihadist group said in a statement.

Al-Shabab stated that “American crusaders conducted multiple drone strikes in the city of Jilib (…) killing the two Cuban prisoners.”

The statement also included the alleged photograph of one of the deceased Cuban doctors.

Surgeon Landy Rodríguez Hernández and general medicine specialist Assel Herrera Correa were kidnapped on April 12, 2019, in the Kenyan city of Mandera (northeast), bordering Somalia and a target of jihadist attacks in the past.

That day, the two doctors were traveling, as was their custom, in a convoy to the Mandera hospital protected by armed escorts when they were intercepted after a shootout in which one of the policemen guarding them was killed.

In May 2019, traditional leaders from Kenya and Somalia who traveled to the Somali region of Jubaland, controlled by Al-Shabab, to negotiate on behalf of the doctors, confessed to having seen the doctors providing medical assistance to the local population.

According to the mediators, the kidnappers demanded 1.5 million dollars as a condition for their release, the Kenyan press reported at the time.

Herrera and Rodríguez were part of a contingent of a hundred Cuban professionals who arrived in Kenya in 2018 under a bilateral agreement to improve access to specialized healthcare services in the African country.

The United States has been involved in military operations against Al-Shabab, in cooperation with the Somali Army, since at least 2007.

Somalia has seen an intensification of military offensives against the terrorist group since Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud announced a “total war” against the jihadists in August 2022.

Affiliated with Al-Qaeda since 2012, Al-Shabab often carries out attacks in the capital, Mogadishu, and other parts of the country to overthrow the central government – backed by the international community – and establish a Wahhabi-style Islamic state (ultra-conservative).

The group controls rural areas of central and southern Somalia and also attacks neighboring countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia.

Somalia has been in a state of war and chaos since 1991, when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown, leaving the country without an effective government and in the hands of Islamist militias and warlords.

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