US military planes land near Venezuela border with aid

A US Air Force C-17 cargo plane loaded with humanitarian aid after landing at Camilo Daza airport in Cucuta, Colombia, Saturday. (AP)
Updated 18 February 2019
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US military planes land near Venezuela border with aid

  • Guaido spoke to a crowd of supporters gathered in eastern Caracas on Saturday and vowed to form caravans of activists to reach the border and bring in aid on Jan. 23

CUCUTA, Colombia: The US military airlifted tons of humanitarian aid to a Colombian town on the Venezuelan border Saturday as part of an effort meant to undermine socialist President Nicolas Maduro and back his rival for the leadership of the South American nation.
Three scheduled Air Force C-17 cargo planes that took off from Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida had landed in Cucuta. That border city, swollen by a flood of migrants from Venezuela, is a collection point for aid that’s supposed to be distributed by supporters of Juan Guaido, the congressional leader who is recognized by the US and many other nations as Venezuela’s legitimate president. He has called for the aid.
“This wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last,” said USAID administrator Mark Green, standing on the tarmac in Cucuta at a ceremony to receive the aid. “More is on the way.”
Commercial planes had been used for earlier shipments of aid, which is aimed at dramatizing the economic crisis — including hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine — gripping Venezuela. Critics say last year’s re-election was fraudulent, making Maduro’s second term illegal.
“We are saving lives with these airplanes,” said Lestor Toledo, an exiled politician who is coordinating the international aid effort for Guaido.
Maduro has been using the military, which remains loyal, to help him block the aid from entering Venezuela, describing it as “crumbs” from a US government whose restrictions have stripped his administration of control over many of its most valuable assets.
“They hang us, steal our money and then say ‘here, grab these crumbs’ and make a global show out of it,” Maduro told The Associated Press on Thursday. “With dignity we say ‘No to the global show.’ Whoever wants to help Venezuela is welcome, but we have enough capacity to pay for everything that we need.”
His vice president has alleged, without evidence, that the aid packages are contaminated. Green on Saturday called the allegations “absurd.”
Saturday’s 180-ton shipment includes high-energy food products or hygiene kits of soap, toothpaste and other goods for more than 25,000 people.
Guaido spoke to a crowd of supporters gathered in eastern Caracas on Saturday and vowed to form caravans of activists to reach the border and bring in aid on Jan. 23. He also called for people to gather in cities across the country to receive the aid — and called for the armed forces to allow it into the country.
In the crowd was Anibrez Peroza, a 40-year-old nurse, who said she was ready if necessary to go to Cucuta in a caravan to bring in the aid.
“We have to do something to save so many people who are suffering and dying for lack of medicine,” she said. Peroza wept as she described a dehydrated child dying in her arms for lack of a catheter to rehydrate him.
The US and widespread European recognition of Guaido complicates Maduro’s efforts to find funds to keep his government, and its own food programs, running.
The US has placed Venezuela’s US assets, including oil company Citgo, under Guaido’s control and bans financial transactions by Maduro-controlled entities. Scores of Venezuelan officials also face personal financial sanctions in the US.


Case dropped against US actor accused of hate attack hoax

Actor Jussie Smollett speaks to reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago after prosecutors dropped all charges against him, Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (AP)
Updated 47 min 27 sec ago
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Case dropped against US actor accused of hate attack hoax

  • Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the deal “a whitewash of justice” and lashed out at Smollett for dragging the city’s reputation “through the mud” in a quest to advance his career
  • Authorities alleged that Smollett, who is black and gay, knew the men and arranged for them to pretend to attack him

CHICAGO: Infuriating Chicago’s mayor and police chief, prosecutors abruptly dropped all charges against Jussie Smollett on Tuesday after the “Empire” actor accused of faking a racist, anti-gay attack on himself agreed to do volunteer service and to let the city keep his $10,000 in bail.
Authorities gave no detailed explanation for why they abandoned the case only five weeks after filing the charges and threatening to pursue Smollett for the cost of a monthlong investigation. Prosecutors said they still believe Smollett concocted the assault. Smollett insisted he told the truth all along.
The dismissal drew an immediate backlash. Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the deal “a whitewash of justice” and lashed out at Smollett for dragging the city’s reputation “through the mud” in a quest to advance his career. At one point he asked, “Is there no decency in this man?“
Smollett’s attorneys said his record was “wiped clean” of the 16 felony counts related to making a false report that he was assaulted by two men. The actor insisted that he had “been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one.”
“I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I was being accused of,” he told reporters after a court hearing. He thanked the state of Illinois “for attempting to do what’s right.”
In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Cook County prosecutors’ office said the dismissal came “after reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case.” Tandra Simonton called it “a just disposition and appropriate resolution” but said it was not an exoneration.
When dropping cases, prosecutors will sometimes insist that the defendant accept at least a measure of responsibility. Outside court, neither Smollett nor his legal team appeared to concede anything about his original report in January .
Defense attorney Patricia Brown Holmes said Smollett was “attacked by two people he was unable to identify” and “was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator.”
Authorities alleged that Smollett, who is black and gay, knew the men and arranged for them to pretend to attack him.
Emanuel, who is in his final weeks in office after two terms, said the hoax could endanger other gay people who report hate crimes by casting doubt on whether they are telling the truth.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson stood by the department’s investigation and said Chicago is “is still owed an apology.”
“I’ve heard that they wanted their day in court with TV cameras so that America could know the truth. They chose to hide behind secrecy and broker a deal to circumvent the judicial system,” Johnson said at a graduation ceremony for new police cadets.
Chicago’s top prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, recused herself from the investigation, citing conversations she had with a Smollett family member.
Many legal experts were surprised by the dismissal, especially since it did not include any condition that Smollett apologize and admit he orchestrated the attack.
“This situation is totally bizarre. It’s highly, highly unusual,” said Phil Turner, a Chicago defense attorney and former federal prosecutor with no ties to the case.
He said it would be wrong to argue leniency on the grounds that no serious harm was done.
“The damage done was worse than a broken arm or money lost in a fraud,” Turner said. “The reputation of the city has taken a tremendous blow.”
Because Chicago was the primary victim, Turner argued, it would have been appropriate for prosecutors to consult the mayor and the police chief in advance.
“That prosecutors didn’t seem to do that is an insult to the city and police,” he said.
Smollett reported that he was attacked around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 in downtown Chicago. Investigators said he made the false report because he was unhappy with his pay on “Empire” and believed it would promote his career.
The actor plays the gay character Jamal Lyon on the hit Fox TV show, which follows a black family as they navigate the ups and downs of the recording industry.
He reported that he was assaulted on his way home from a sandwich shop. Smollett said two masked men shouted racial and anti-gay slurs, poured bleach on him, beat him and looped a rope around his neck. He claimed they shouted, “This is MAGA country” — a reference to President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. He asserted that he could see one of the men was white because he could see the skin around his eyes.
Police said Smollett hired two men, both of whom are black, to attack him. Smollett allegedly paid the men $3,500.
The men were brothers Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, and one of them had worked on “Empire.” An attorney for them has said the brothers agreed to help Smollett because of their friendship with him and the sense that he was helping their careers.
Holmes refused to answer questions about whether Smollett’s team would seek legal action against the two.
Before the attack, police said, Smollett also sent a letter threatening himself to the Chicago studio where “Empire” is shot. The FBI, which is investigating that letter, has declined to comment.
Smollett said he wanted “nothing more than to get back to work and move on with my life.” But his future with the show was unclear. Shortly after the charges were filed, producers announced that his character would be removed from the final two episodes of the season.
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