Brazil’s Bolsonaro pledges action to ‘restore democracy’ in Venezuela

(L-R) Brazilian foreign minister Ernesto Araujo, exiled Venezuelan supreme court justice Miguel Angel Martin, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Organization of American States representative Gustavo Cinosi during a meeting with members of the Venezuelan opposition in Brasilia on January 17, 2019. (Brazilian presidency press office handout via AFP)
Updated 18 January 2019
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Brazil’s Bolsonaro pledges action to ‘restore democracy’ in Venezuela

BRASILIA: Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro said on Thursday he would do all he could to “to re-establish order and democracy” in Venezuela, while his foreign minister met with Venezuelan opposition leaders.
The right-wing government of Bolsonaro on Saturday said it recognized Juan Guaido, a Venezuelan opposition leader who is head of the congress, as the rightful president of Venezuela — even though Guaido himself has not proclaimed himself president.
Socialist President Nicolas Maduro began a new term last week under a cloud of international criticism by governments around the world, who have described him as an illegitimate leader whose policies have plunged Venezuela into its worst ever economic crisis.
“We will continue doing everything possible to re-establish order, democracy and freedom there,” Bolsonaro said in a video, in which he stood next to the head of the opposition-appointed Supreme Court in exile, Miguel Angel Martin.
“We asked the people of Venezuela to resist and have faith, because I believe a solution is coming soon,” Bolsonaro said in the video issued by his office.
Guaido, a lawmaker from the hard-line Popular Will opposition party, said last week he was prepared to assume the presidency on an interim basis and call elections, but would only do so with support of the armed forces.
Since taking office Jan. 1, Bolsonaro has stepped up criticism of Maduro’s government, the United States’ biggest ideological foe in Latin America.
Also at the meeting was a representative for Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States who has said Venezuela should be suspended from the regional forum.
Bolsonaro’s foreign minister Ernesto Araujo spent the morning huddled with a group of Venezuelan opposition leaders, led by the exiled former mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, to analyze the situation and Guaido’s readiness to take over as acting president, a Brazilian foreign ministry statement said.
Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The meeting also discussed ideas for “concrete action” to re-establish democracy in Venezuela, the statement said, without giving further details.
The opposition leaders said 300,000 people were starving and more than 11,000 newborn babies were dying each year due to the lack of medicine in what they called a “silent genocide perpetrated by the Maduro dictatorship,” the statement said.
Maduro, who says that a US-directed “economic war” is trying to force him from power, has so far had consistent support from the armed forces at home.


Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

Updated 4 min 46 sec ago
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Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

COLOS, Portugal: More than 1,000 firefighters battled a major wildfire Monday amid scorching temperatures in Portugal, where forest blazes wreak destruction every summer.
About 90% of the fire area in the Castelo Branco district, 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) northeast of the capital Lisbon, was brought under control during cooler overnight temperatures, according to local Civil Protection Agency commander Pedro Nunes.
But authorities said they expected heat in and winds to increase again in the afternoon, so all firefighting assets remained in place. Forests in the region are tinder-dry after weeks with little rain.
The Portuguese Civil Protection Agency said 321 vehicles and eight water-dumping aircraft were deployed to tackle the blaze, which has raced through thick woodlands.
Nunes told reporters that the fire, in its third day, has injured 32 people, one seriously.
Police said they were investigating what caused the fire amid suspicions it may have been started deliberately.
Temperatures were forecast to reach almost 40 C (104 F) Monday — prolonging a spell of blistering weather that is due to hit northern Europe late this week.
Recent weeks have also seen major wildfires in Spain, Greece and Germany. European Union authorities have warned that wildfires are “a growing menace” across the continent.
In May, forest fires also plagued Mexico and Russia.
Huge wildfires have long been a summer fixture in Portugal.
Residents of villages and hamlets in central Portugal have grown accustomed to the summer blazes, which destroy fruit trees, olive trees and crops in the fields.
In the hamlet of Colos, 50-year-old beekeeper Antonio Pires said he had lost half of his beehives in the current wildfire. Pires sells to mainly Portuguese and German clients, but also to Brazil and China.
“(I lost) 100 out of 230 (hives), so almost half,” Pires said. “A lot of damage.”
The country’s deadliest fire season came in 2017, when at least 106 people were killed.
The average annual area charred by wildfires in Portugal between 2010 and 2016 was just over 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres). That was more than in Spain, France, Italy or Greece — countries which are significantly bigger than Portugal.
Almost 11,500 firefighters are on standby this year, most of them volunteers. Volunteers are not uncommon in fire brigades in Europe, especially in Germany where more than 90% are volunteers.
Experts and authorities have identified several factors that make Portugal so particularly vulnerable to forest blazes. Addressing some of them is a long-term challenge.
The population of the Portuguese countryside has thinned as people have moved to cities in search of a better life. That means woodland has become neglected, especially as many of those left behind are elderly, and the forest debris is fuel for wildfires.
Large areas of central and northern Portugal are covered in dense, unbroken stretches of forest on hilly terrain. A lot of forest is pine and eucalyptus trees, both of which burn fiercely.
Environmentalists have urged the government to limit the area of eucalyptus, which burns like a torch. But it is a very valuable crop for Portugal’s important paper pulp industry, which last year posted sales worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion). The government says it is introducing restrictions gradually.
Experts say Portugal needs to develop a diversified patchwork of different tree species, some of them more fire-resistant and offering damper, shaded.
Climate change has become another challenge, bringing hotter, drier and longer summers. The peak fire season used to run from July 1 to Sept. 30. Now, it starts in June and ends in October.
After the 2017 deaths, the government introduced a raft of measures. They included using goats and bulldozers to clear woodland 10 meters (33 feet) either side of country roads. Property owners also have to clear a 50-meter (164-feet) radius around an isolated house, and 100 meters (328 feet) around a hamlet.
Emergency shelters and evacuation routes have been established at villages and hamlets. Their church bells aim to toll when a wildfire is approaching.
With 98% of blazes caused by human hand, either by accident or on purpose, officials have also been teaching people how to safely burn stubble and forest waste. Police, army and forest service patrols are also increased during the summer.