A.M. Costa Rica's
Fifth news page
San José, Costa Rica || Friday Edition, May 26, 2017 || Vol. 17, No. 104
are on the security forces
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
Venezuelan security forces are culpable for at least half of the 57 deaths recorded in nearly two months of massive anti-government protests, authorities there say.
Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz, speaking at a news conference Wednesday in Caracas, said her office had found the national guard responsible for last month's death of a 20-year-old demonstrator in Caracas. Juan Pernalete died after he was hit in the chest by a tear gas canister.
Her office issued the report tallying the deaths and injuries to roughly 1,000 others in demonstrations roiling Venezuela almost daily since April 1. At least three of the dead were security troops, the Miami Herald reported.
Ms. Ortega reminded security troops that citizens have a right to peacefully protest and that applying excessive force violates internal and international laws. "Use of violence as a political weapon does not contribute to a climate of trust and tranquility in society," she said, underscoring her growing distance from socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
Ms. Ortega also said it was unconstitutional for military tribunals to conduct trials for the civilians it has detained. She announced late Wednesday that her office was opening seven investigations into the detention of anti-government protesters.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights earlier this month condemned the rise in deaths, injuries and mass detentions accompanying the Venezuelan government's militarization in controlling protests. The commission also noted a series of allegations of torture and ill treatment of detainees.
On Thursday, students marched to demand the release of young people, professors and others taken into custody.
In Caracas, Lustay Franco said she was betting that the opposition would bring change in her own and the country's economic prospects, so that it is possible to survive.
Nicolas Bianco, vice chancellor for the central university of Venezuela, demanded the release of imprisoned students and teachers.
"We came to support them and to stand side by side for the struggle and freedom of Venezuela," Bianco said. "We are facing a genocidal dictatorship that has systematically murdered young people."
Crimes against people and property have soared as the economy has fallen. Severe shortages of food, medicine and other basic goods in the oil-rich country have fueled a political and economic crisis building for several years. It exploded in late March when the country's supreme court tried to strip the opposition-led national assembly of its legislative powers.
Meanwhile, Venezuela's political opposition on Wednesday denounced Maduro's plan to forge ahead with a controversial constitutional assembly in late July, contending the foundational document would be rewritten to keep the socialist leader in power.
The Maduro administration announced this week that it finally has scheduled regional elections for Dec. 10; they were to have taken place last year.
The president's rivals suspect that the constitutional assembly will represent pro-Maduro interests, and that a revised document might exclude opposition parties and their candidates.
Julio Borges, president of the national assembly, on Wednesday angrily predicted that the constituent assembly will not be elected democratically by the people and would decide which sector votes, when they vote and for whom they can vote.
Maduro early this month called for revising the constitution, saying the move was essential to bring peace and prevent his rivals from staging a coup.
A former U.S. State Department official, Roger Noriega, said he was encouraged by the United States' indication it would work with international bodies to help Venezuela address the causes and roots of the crisis, the regime's mismanagement of the economy in Venezuela and corruption.
In an interview Friday, the former U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States said he recently has seen better U.S. collaboration with the organization. OAS Secretary Luis Almagro has urged the international community to take more comprehensive measures, including in-country monitoring, to help stabilize Venezuela.
U.S. prosecutors file suits
against “green card” scam
By the U.S. Justice Department press staff
Federal prosecutors have filed nine civil complaints that seek the forfeiture of nine real properties across Southern California that were allegedly purchased with proceeds generated by a fraudulent scheme that collected more than $50 million from foreign investors seeking “green cards” through the EB-5 visa program.
The nine lawsuits filed yesterday afternoon in United States District Court allege that much of the money collected from the primarily Chinese investors either was refunded to the foreign nationals or was stolen by participants in the scheme.
The asset forfeiture complaints allege that a business called California Investment Immigration Fund, LLC from 2008 until this year. In April, authorities executed federal search warrants as part of an ongoing investigation.
According to the lawsuits filed yesterday, the group exploited the EB-5 visa program, which provides lawful permanent residence, commonly known as a “Green Card,” to foreign nationals who invest at least $500,000 in a domestic business that creates 10 new American jobs. Those involved in the scheme allegedly convinced more than 100 Chinese nationals to invest over $50 million in CIIF and related companies.
“Rather than legitimately investing the funds into American businesses, CIIF either refunded the funds to the EB-5 investors while the investors’ EB-5 petitions were pending, in direct violation of the EB-5 program, or stole millions of dollars to use for personal expenditures, including buying million-dollar homes,” according to the lawsuits that allege “many foreign nationals were able to improperly obtain U.S. green cards.”
The lawsuits allege that the properties named in the asset forfeiture lawsuits were purchased with proceeds derived from mail fraud, wire fraud or visa fraud and that the purchases themselves constituted money laundering. The lawsuits seek the forfeiture of nine properties.
The asset forfeiture lawsuits contain allegations only. In order to forfeit the properties named in the complaints, the government must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the properties were purchased with proceeds derived from criminal activity.
The FBI and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations are conducting the ongoing investigation into the EB-5 fraud scheme.
Sessions vows to fight
lower court ruling on ban
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday that he would ask the Supreme Court to review an appeals court ruling that blocks President Donald Trump's executive order limiting travel to the U.S. from six predominantly Muslim countries.
"The Department of Justice strongly disagrees with the decision of the divided court, which blocks the president's efforts to strengthen this country's national security,” the attorney general said. “The president is not required to admit people from countries that sponsor or shelter terrorism, until he determines that they can be properly vetted and do not pose a security risk to the United States.”
Sessions was responding to a ruling earlier in the day by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, in which it declined to reinstate the three-month ban on most travelers from the six nations.
The court said the executive order did amount to a Muslim ban. "Laid bare, this executive order is no more than what the president promised before and after his election: naked invidious discrimination against Muslims," the judges said in their 205-page ruling.
A majority of the panel of 13 judges ruling in the case cited Trump's tweets, television interviews and statements posted on his campaign website as evidence of his intent.
Three judges dissented on the ground that the executive order did not mention religion.
"Far from containing the sort of religious advocacy or disparagement that can violate the Establishment Clause, the order contains no reference to religion whatsoever. Nor is there any trace of discriminatory animus," the dissenting judges wrote.
They also criticized the use of campaign material as evidence: "If a court, dredging through the myriad remarks of a campaign, fails to find material to produce the desired outcome, what stops it from probing deeper to find statements from a previous campaign, or from a previous business conference, or from college?"
In March, a federal judge in Maryland blocked the travel ban, which itself was a revised version of one issued in January that was tweaked after encountering legal roadblocks.
The appeals court majority did not think the second version was an improvement.
"Significantly, in revising the order, the executive branch did not attempt to walk away from its previous discriminatory order. Instead, it simply attempted to effectuate the same discrimination through a slightly different vehicle — the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing."
The Trump administration was given 90 days to appeal.
One of the plaintiffs in the suit, the International Refugee Assistance Project, vowed to fight as long as it takes. The project’s director, Becca Heller, said: "Once again, the courts have confirmed that the Muslim ban is discriminatory and harmful. The president cannot simply slap the words 'national security' on an unconstitutional policy and get away with it."
A part of the executive order stopping refugee arrivals for 120 days was not included in Thursday's ruling. But a second appeals court, the 9th Circuit in San Francisco, is reviewing the travel order on a wider basis, including the ban on refugees.
A judge in Hawaii issued the original stay in the 9th Circuit case.
Trump lectures NATO allies
on not paying their fair share
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
U.S. President Donald Trump publicly lectured his fellow North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders Thursday for not paying their fair share for defense, and he urged them to be more focused on terrorism.
Trump was speaking at a ceremony to unveil a memorial symbolizing the commitment of NATO members to the principle of collective defense, as outlined in Article Five of the alliance treaty. The memorial is a twisted piece of metal from the remains of the World Trade Center, a reminder that the only time Article Five was invoked was after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
A conspicuous omission from Trump's speech, however, was any clear affirmation of the U.S. commitment to Article Five. Trump's refusal to endorse that principle on the campaign trail raised fears in Europe about whether the United States is fully committed to its defense.
The president made only passing reference to Article Five, saying we will never forsake the friends that stood by our side. But White House spokesman Sean Spicer clarified afterward that the United States will not waver on collective defense.
Trump was quite clear, however, in scolding alliance members on the defense spending issues. "I have been very, very direct with Secretary Stoltenberg and members of the alliance in saying that NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations," Trump said.
The president noted that 23 of 28 member nations are not paying what they should, something that is not fair to the people of the United States.
Spicer told reporters afterward that the other leaders responded positively to Trump's call for them to work toward meeting NATO spending goals.
In his speech, Trump also said this week's Manchester bombing demonstrates the depths of the evil we face with terrorism.
British Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman told reporters the prime minister used the occasion to express her concern to Trump about leaks in the U.S. media revealing details of the Manchester bombing investigation.
Manchester police were reported to have been furious that the New York Times published unreleased forensic photographs from the crime scene, and U.S. media outlets announced the name of the suicide bomber before British officials released it.
Media reports said British police stopped sharing information with their American counterparts after the leaks. Mark Rowley, head of Britain's counterterrorism unit, said late Thursday that the two countries had shared resumption of intelligence sharing.
In a meeting Wednesday with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel in Brussels, Trump pointed to the Manchester attack as an example of the pressing terror threat.
"We have to be able to increase defense spending when tensions are going up. And tensions are going up," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters Thursday.
NASA photoImage shows cyclones as oval-like shapes.
New photos of Jupiter show
monster cyclones on planet
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
Scientists looking at the first pictures of the planet Jupiter sent by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration probe Juno were shocked at what they saw: monster cyclones, hundreds of kilometers wide, tearing across the planet's north and south poles.
The scientists said the poles are nothing like the planet's familiar placid and colorful equatorial region.
"That's the Jupiter we've all known and grown to love," Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute, an applied research and development organization in San Antonio, Texas, said in an article released Thursday in the journal “Science.”
Along with the fierce storms, the researchers saw a huge river of ammonia gas extending from Jupiter's deep atmosphere down to its interior. They said they thought the ammonia might be part of what's causing the huge storms.
NASA launched Juno in 2011, and it reached Jupiter's orbit last year. The scientists said Juno's next fly-by would come in July, when it will take pictures of the planet's trademark Great Red Spot, a huge, hurricane-like storm that experts say has been raging for hundreds of years.
Lawsuit contends GM
cheated on emissions tests
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
Two truck owners have filed a class-action lawsuit against General Motors, alleging the company rigged diesel pickups to cheat government emissions tests.
The suit was filed Thursday in federal court in Detroit, home of the country's largest car builder.
GM is accused of installing three devices on hundreds of thousands of trucks, allowing them to spew less pollution in tests than they would on the road, under real-life driving conditions.
Plaintiffs Andrei Fenner of Mountain View, California, and Joshua Herman of Sulphur, Louisiana, said they wouldn't have purchased, or wouldn't have paid as much for, their vehicles — a 2011 GMC Sierra and a 2016 Chevrolet Silverado, respectively — had they been aware of the alleged rigging.
The lawsuit also names the German-based Bosch company for allegedly working with GM to develop the devices.
GM called the allegations baseless, while Bosch refused to comment on an outstanding legal matter. The price of GM shares fell about 2 percent Thursday.
GM is the latest automobile giant charged with trying to fix emissions tests. The U.S. Justice Department sued Fiat Chrysler this week, claiming it used illegal software to fake emission test results on its diesel vehicles, and Germany's Volkswagen paid billions of dollars after admitting it had cheated on government emissions tests.
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