Venezuela’s opposition tries to unite against Maduro

Venezuelan opposition Deputy Juan Matheus (C) of the Primero Justicia (Justice First) party protests against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government and in demand of early elections outside the Supreme Court of Justice in Caracas on Thursday. (AFP / JUAN BARRETO)
Updated 09 February 2017

Venezuela’s opposition tries to unite against Maduro

BRASILIA: A divided opposition in Venezuela is trying to put their differences aside to fight the political repression of President Nicolas Maduro, attempt to stop the country’s economy from sliding even more into depression, and to lower sky-high inflation.
President Maduro, an avid socialist, and protege of the late President Hugo Chavez, who is responsible for Venezuela’s voyage down the road to allegedly become a worker’s republic, has resorted to imprisoning political opponents and protesters. On the economic front, things have not gone well. The economy has been in a downward spiral for the past few years, ever since the international price of crude oil plunged in 2014. The country is dependent on imports for most of its food and goods, and with strict price controls enforced by the government, and forced nationalizations of whole sectors, this has led to widespread shortages of everything from soap, meat, sugar to toilet paper.
Despite opposition parties winning a majority of seats in Parliament in the December 2015 elections, 112 out of 167 seats, the Maduro government refuses to share power with them or even talk with them. For his new year address to the nation, Maduro did not deliver his speech in front of Parliament as is customary, but in front of the Supreme Court which is packed with his supporters.
This has caused regular street protests against the government, and Maduro has responded by having protesters arrested. Foro Penal, an NGO of lawyers who came together to defend protesters who get arrested, estimates that between 2013 and 2016, 429 protesters were arrested, and that 106 were still in jail at the end of December 2016. It estimates that there were 2,732 detentions in Venezuela for political reasons in 2016 alone, and that from January 2014 to December 2016 there were 6,831 political detentions.
“Maduro has created a sort of revolving door, a few leave and many more come in,” said Gonzalo Himiob, one of Foro Penal’s directors, to the Brazilian newspaper O Globo last month. “The economic and social crisis is very serious and will cause many more protests,” he added.
“The government must either file formal charges and try people in open court, or release them. Indefinite holding of individuals without trial makes a mockery of the judicial system,” said Miguel Tinker Salas, a Venezuelan historian and professor of Latin American Studies at Pomona College in California, in an interview with Arab News.
The opposition started a petition last year to have Maduro removed from office for incompetence, but despite getting the required signatures from 20 percent of registered voters, election officials stopped the petition in October 2016. A poll by Datanalisis at the time found that 90 percent of the population believed the country was going in the wrong direction, and 76 percent wanted Maduro to leave office.
In January 2017 Maduro appointed the hard line governor of Aragua, Tareck El Aissami, as his new vice president. By the end of the month he gave Aissami economic decree powers, making him one of the most powerful men in Venezuela. This caused the opposition to rethink their strategy of removing Maduro from president, since the vice president would take over in such a scenario.
Although opposition parties have formed a coalition called the Democratic Unity Roundtable, known by its Spanish acronym MUD, they have been severely divided, able at times to rouse large street protests across the country against Maduro’s rule, and at other times unable to.
“The opposition parties in Venezuela are divided, and there are calls from Maria Corina Machado and others to disband the MUD and form a new organization. Some in the opposition want a recall; while others prefer to oust Maduro through street actions, and yet others would rather confront the government in statewide elections for governor later this year. They hope that regional elections would set the stage for presidential elections where they hope to defeat Maduro,” Salas said.
Both the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and the Vatican have been trying to negotiate an agreement between the Maduro government and the opposition, but to no avail so far. The secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, has been especially critical of Maduro’s repression of opposition protests, and pointed out in an interview to the El Observador newspaper at the end of January that there was a need to act now in Venezuela because the mediation efforts of Unasur and Vatican had been a failure.
“People have been deprived of their constitutional right to recall President Maduro, political prisoners are still incarcerated, violence is rampant, and there is widespread hunger. The international community cannot wait any longer and must act now,” Almagro said.
But Salas believes that the OAS has been sidelined in Venezuela because of its criticism of Maduro’s rule.
“The secretary of the OAS, Almagro, has engaged in sharp personal attacks on the government, while turning a blind eye to issues in other countries such as Mexico. As a result the OAS has been largely sidelined in Venezuela. The key players have been Unasur and the Catholic Church. With Ernesto Samper’s resignation as secretary general of Unasur, it is still unclear what future role the body will play in Venezuela,” said Salas.
After not having much to show for after years of street protests, the opposition MUD coalition is now planning new ways of appealing to the Venezuelan electorate.
Jesus Torrealba, the secretary general of MUD, told the Americas Quarterly that they would be doing more outreach to poorer voters this year. He said they would rotate its leadership and include civil society in its decision making.


Exposed: UK Daesh cell fundraising for jailed jihadi brides

Updated 29 November 2020

Exposed: UK Daesh cell fundraising for jailed jihadi brides

  • Fake donation by undercover reporters reveals sophisticated terror network

LONDON: A Daesh fundraising operation based in the UK seeking to free Western jihadi brides from Syrian refugee camps has been exposed by the Mail on Sunday newspaper.
Undercover journalists spoke with a “fixer” in Turkey before exposing a “courier” in London collecting what he thought was a £4,500 ($5,987) donation to the operation.
But the brown envelope hidden at the “dead drop” by undercover journalists contained only a crossword book. In response to the revelations, London’s Metropolitan Police have opened an investigation.
The Syrian camps targeted by the operation for escape bids include Al-Hol, where Shamima Begum, who fled Britain aged 15 to join Daesh, was held.
A report last week revealed the existence of an Instagram group called Caged Pearls, run by British women detained in Al-Hol who are raising money to finance their escape from the camps.
The page promotes awareness of its mission through a poster reading: “Al-Hol — The cradle of the new Caliphate.”
One woman raising funds in the camp was named as “Sumaya Holmes,” who had been smuggled out of the camp and traveled to Turkey.
Holmes is said to be the widow of a British Daesh fighter who died in Syria, and the current wife of a Bosnian extremist serving jail time in his home country.
Holmes asks for donations on her Facebook page and posts pictures of women holding up posters begging for help.
One poster said: “I am a sister from camp Al-Hol and I need $6,000 so that I can escape from PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party). Please, I ask everyone to help me and donate as much as they can.”
Holmes captioned the image: “This is my friend and she is in need of help. She sent me this photo yesterday. Please, even if you can’t help, pass it to those who can donate to her.”
Another image posted by Holmes shows a woman holding a piece of paper that says: “I am your Muslim sister in Al-Hol camp. I need help from my brothers and sisters to be freed from the hands of the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces). I need $7,000 to be able to get out with my children.” The message added: “You can trust Sumaya Holmes on Facebook, she is trying to help me raise money needed.”
A Mail on Sunday reporter posed as a drug dealer who had converted to Islam. They messaged Holmes on Facebook to offer support and money.
Holmes then requested to communicate on Telegram, an encrypted messaging app favored by extremists and criminals for its high levels of security and privacy.
She asked for a Bitcoin donation but the undercover reporter declined. She then suggested making a bank deposit in an associate’s account in Jordan, and then hawala, an Islamic method of transferring money that uses a broker system. But the undercover journalist declined again.
Holmes finally provided details of a man called “Anas” in London who could collect funds in person. When an offer to donate was made, Holmes accepted.
In the meantime, she had been actively posting her support for Daesh on Facebook. In one post, she described the Chechen who beheaded teacher Samuel Paty last month as a “hero.”
In London, a second undercover reporter set up a meeting with “Anas” to deliver cash for the operation.
But the reporter changed the plan and left an envelope containing only a crossword book at the agreed-upon location.
As the journalists watched carefully, a man wearing a white crash helmet soon arrived on a scooter.
He found the package and messaged the reporter: “File received, let me check the money and tell you.”
He soon discovered the ruse, telling the undercover reporter: “There are no money in the envelope, there is only a book? It seems that you are not serious about your subject.”
When confronted again, “Anas” denied any involvement in the exchange, which would be illegal under British law had the envelope contained cash. “No, no, I don’t take anything, you are wrong,” he said.
Later, Holmes also denied her involvement. “That’s not true, good luck with publishing your lies,” she said.
The latest estimates suggest that about 300 of the 900 Britons who traveled to Syria to join Daesh are back on British streets.
Dr. Vera Mironova, a Daesh expert and research fellow at Harvard University, said: “To escape from the camps costs about $18,000 and the success of these campaigns shows the sheer amount Daesh are able to raise online.”
She added: “Once the women are smuggled out, it is impossible to monitor them. The women who collect money online are still with Daesh and are trusted and supported by members worldwide. They work with a network of supporters globally.”