Maduro blasts US for ‘stealing’ billions and offering ‘crumbs’

Handout picture released by the Venezuelan Presidency showing Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (C), Venezuelan Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino (C-L) and Venezuelan Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez (C-R) during the closing ceremony and balance of military exercices in Caracas, on February 15, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 16 February 2019
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Maduro blasts US for ‘stealing’ billions and offering ‘crumbs’

  • The country is in the midst of an economic crisis that has left millions in poverty and facing shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicine

CARACAS: President Nicolas Maduro hit out at the United States on Friday for “stealing” billions of dollars and offering “crumbs” in return as humanitarian aid, as Washington sanctioned five officials close to the Venezuelan leader.
Tons of US aid is piling up in Colombia close to the border with Venezuela as opposition leader Juan Guaido has vowed to defy Maduro’s efforts to block the supplies from entering the country.
“It’s a booby trap, they’re putting on a show with rotten and contaminated food,” said Maduro, speaking at an event in the southeastern town of Ciudad Bolivar.
“They’ve stolen $30 billion and are offering four crumbs of rotten food,” added the beleaguered socialist leader, referring to the United States.
Later Friday, Maduro asked the military to prepare for a “special deployment” to reinforce the border with Colombia — and make it “impregnable.”
“I am not exaggerating. In the White House, Donald Trump and Ivan Duque announced plans for war against Venezuela,” he said, referring to a meeting on Wednesday in which President Donald Trump reiterated that “all options” were on the table with regard to Venezuela.
The country is in the midst of an economic crisis that has left millions in poverty and facing shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicine.
Guaido, who is recognized by 50 countries as the interim president, accuses Maduro of causing economic hardship through mismanagement.
Among those countries is Costa Rica, whose foreign affairs ministry on Friday gave three Maduro-appointed diplomats “60 calendar days” to leave the country.
Maduro meanwhile blames Venezuela’s woes on US sanctions.
The 56-year-old, the hand-picked successor to socialist firebrand Hugo Chavez, branded it the “war of the oligarchy.”
US sanctions mostly target regime individuals and state oil company PDVSA, the government’s main source of income, but the US Treasury announced Friday that it was imposing sanctions on five intelligence and security officials close to Maduro.

Those targeted are “aligned with illegitimate former President Nicolas Maduro, who (continues) to repress democracy and democratic actors in Venezuela,” a Treasury Department statement said.
Among the five men is Manuel Quevedo, described by the Treasury as the “illegitimate” president of PDVSA.
Humanitarian aid has become a key issue in the power struggle between Maduro and Guaido.
The opposition leader, who last month declared himself acting president, has promised to bring in the aid on February 23.
Maduro refuses to let it in. And his loyal military has barricaded a border bridge between Venezuela and Colombia.
The socialist leader insists the aid is just a cover for a planned US military invasion, while Guaido says 300,000 people could die without the desperately-needed aid.
Speaking on Friday, Maduro said six million families had benefitted from subsidized food boxes and claimed to have bought 933 tons of medicines and medical supplies from China, Cuba and Russia, his main international allies.
“We paid for it with our own money because we’re beggars to no one,” he said.
Guaido accuses Maduro of being a “usurper” over his controversial reelection last year in polls widely branded as fraudulent.
Maduro says the 35-year-old National Assembly speaker is a puppet to the US, which is trying to secure access to Venezuela’s gold and vast oil reserves — the largest in the world.
He said Guaido’s challenge to his authority is “treason.”
“The worst thing is stimulating the imperial madness of an extremist Ku Klux Klan government in the White House,” said Maduro.
US national security adviser John Bolton announced on Thursday that 25 countries had “pledged $100 million in humanitarian assistance.”
A US defense official said Friday that the American military will transport some 200 tons of humanitarian aid for Venezuela to Colombia in the coming days.


France bans Iran’s Mahan Air for flying arms, troops to Syria, elsewhere

Updated 25 March 2019
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France bans Iran’s Mahan Air for flying arms, troops to Syria, elsewhere

  • The ban will become effective starting April 1
  • The airlines were also banned by Germany since January

PARIS: France has banned flights in and out of the country by Iran’s Mahan Air, accusing it of transporting military equipment and personnel to Syria and other Middle East war zones, diplomats said on Monday, after heavy US pressure on Paris to act.
The decision to revoke Mahan’s license to operate in France was made after Germany banned the airline in January.
Paris had considered revoking its license more than two years ago under the presidency of Francois Hollande, but had backed down because it feared it could harm relations just after a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers was signed in 2015.
The United States imposed sanctions on Mahan Air in 2011, saying it provided financial and other support to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), and Washington has been pressing its European allies to follow suit.
“We knew of their activities from our own intelligence services and after the German move it was a question of credibility,” said a French diplomatic source.
The French ban on the airline, which had four flights a week to Paris from Tehran, takes effect from April 1. The airline’s website is no longer taking reservations and calls to its offices in Paris were not answered.
Tensions between Paris and Tehran have grown in recent months as President Emmanuel Macron and his government have become increasingly frustrated with Iran’s ballistic missile tests, regional activities and a foiled attack on an Iranian exile group in France, which Paris says Iranian intelligence was behind.
Both countries only reappointed ambassadors to each other’s capitals last month after more than six months without envoys.
There are no plans at this stage to ban another airline — Iran Air — said one diplomat.
Mahan Air, established in 1992 as Iran’s first private airline, has the country’s largest fleet of aircraft and has flights to a number of European countries, including France, Italy, Spain and Greece.
European countries have been under sustained US pressure to reimpose sanctions on Iran since President Donald Trump last year pulled Washington out of an international nuclear non-proliferation treaty reached with Tehran under his predecessor Barack Obama.
Along with Iran, the other signatories to the deal — Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China — are still trying to keep it alive and set up in January a mechanism to allow trade with Tehran and circumvent US sanctions.