The men willing to die for Maduro’s cause

In this yet-to-be-finished building in a suburb of Caracas, Hugo Chávez is very much alive. A statue of Venezuela’s late president, dressed in military uniform, stands prominently at a corner of the main room as if welcoming everyone who enters.

Glued to the decaying wall, a picture of him smiling, printed on the yellow, blue and red colours of the national flag, looks over the table where Subero and his men spend hours in meetings.

Subero’s decades-old links to Chávez go far beyond ideology. The 47-year-old retired sergeant fought in the attempt Chávez led on 4 February 1992 to overthrow then-President Carlos Andrés Pérez. The movement failed, and Subero, Chávez and others spent some of the following years in jail.

Subero’s loyalty to his leader, however, was left unshaken.

He now leads one of the dozens of groups called colectivos, or collectives, which see themselves as the defenders of Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution and vow to defend his successor, President Nicolás Maduro, as he faces his biggest challenge yet.

The embattled leader has resisted mounting pressure to step down and call early elections while Juan Guaidó, head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, gathers international recognition after declaring himself interim president.

But Subero and many others in his colectivo, by no coincidence called 4 de Febrero, seem ready to stand up for Mr Maduro, who has been in power since 2013.

“I’m willing to fight until my death,” says Subero.

‘Foreign interference’

The colectivos emerged during Chávez’s years and, with government backing, spread across communities as social organisations supporting the implementation of official aid programmes. They are believed to have a few thousand members all around the country.

But some have been accused by the opposition and human rights groups of acting as paramilitary groups, often using force to impose their control over neighbourhoods and attack government critics, protestors and journalists.

As discontent with Mr Maduro grows, fuelled by an economy in freefall and widespread shortages of food and medicine, some fear things could turn even more violent with the armed colectivos, working alongside security forces loyal to the president, playing a key role in the streets.

At least 40 people were killed across the country in a week alone last month, according to the United Nations, with pro-government forces blamed for most of the deaths.

For Subero, a father of three who did not want to give his real name, the crisis here is “being induced by foreign powers”, a claim often made by Mr Maduro and his allies, and an invasion is being planned, a fear consistently fanned by the government though it has never happened.

“I’m ready and willing to go to war,” he said, surrounded also by religious sculptures and placards with the face of another local hero, 19th Century independence leader Simón Bolívar, who Chávez claimed to be his “revolutionary” inspiration.

In a dimly lit room next door, the old television, as usual, was tuned to Venezuela’s state broadcaster, which devotes much of its time to the latest about Mr Maduro and his government.

As Jorge Navas watched it, Diosdado Cabello, a key Chavista, was passionately warning thousands of supporters of a possible international operation in the country.

“We’re a militia and when the moment arrives, we’ll take up arms,” Mr Navas said, despite most colectivo members usually denying having any involvement in armed violence.

Earlier this week, Mr Maduro said he could not rule out the possibility of civil war as a result of the impasse, and warned US President Donald Trump, whose government is backing Mr Guaidó, that he risked a repeat of the Vietnam War if he intervened.

From 1965 to 1973, hundreds of thousands of US soldiers were sent to help fight communist forces in a costly and unsuccessful war which brought domestic civil unrest and international embarrassment.

“Who said Venezuela cannot be the new Vietnam?” wondered Mr Navas.

Mr Guaidó has rubbished the threat of a civil war in Venezuela as an “invention”.

Opposing a ‘coup’

Sombra, also not his real name and Spanish for “shadow”, is a member of a different colectivo, Guerra a Muerte, its name taken from the Decree of War to the Death issued by Bolívar in 1813 during Venezuela’s war for independence.

For him, the problems his “beautiful nation” has faced are a result of its people not recognising “the huge legacy left by the eternal commander”, meaning Chávez.

Sombra, who also works as a security guard, said Mr Maduro was the legitimate president – despite his re-election last year being disputed by many inside and outside the country – and that the efforts by the opposition to oust him constituted a coup.

“We want things to be resolved through dialogue,” he said. “[But] I’d give my life to the revolution, of course.”

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Families of Mexico military abuse victims fear new security law

Rights groups and families worry new law that regulates and expands military’s policing powers ‘will make things worse’.

    Mexico City – Yolanda Moran was supposed to meet her son, Dan Jeremeel Fernandez Moran, at the bus station in their hometown of Torreon, in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila, on December 19, 2008.

    But when she arrived, only her daughter-in-law and younger son were waiting, with news that they had not heard from Dan Jeremeel for several hours.

    “It was in the time when there was a lot of violence going on in Coahuila, especially in Torreon, so I immediately got very worried,” she told Al Jazeera. “We went looking for him right away, and made a report to the police.”

    A few weeks later, something happened that is somewhat unusual in Mexico, where about 90 percent of crimes go unsolved: an arrest was made.

    Coahuila state police had discovered a man in possession of Dan Jeremeel’s red Volkswagen Jetta.

    The suspect, Ubaldo Gomez Fuentes, was a lieutenant in the Mexican Army, assigned to an anti-drug intelligence unit in Torreon.

    He confessed to being part of a kidnapping gang – made up of soldiers and civilians – that abducted Dan Jeremeel.

    But he would not say what happened to Moran’s son.

    More than nine years later, and still without answers, Moran and human rights groups fear that the recently passed Internal Security Law, which formally regulates the use of the military in police roles, will only lead to more cases like that of Dan Jeremeel. 

    Military deployed in ‘war on drugs’

    The soldiers who kidnapped Dan Jeremeel had been deployedto Torreon in January 2007 to fight organised crime in the region, where violence was on the rise as the Zetas Cartel – itself founded by army deserters – tried to wrest control of Torreon from the Sinaloa Cartel, then led by “El Chapo” Guzman. 

    But the violence only got worse over the next few years as more soldiers were deployed in the Torreon area, according to the magazine Proceso.

    Some soldiers were accused of corruption and human rights abuses, including arbitrary detention and extrajudicial executions.

    In June 2007, Juan Jose Barrientos Amador, a 35-year-old taxi driver, was found dead after witnesses saw him being arrested by soldiers. The killing led to several protests in front of military installations, but no one was prosecuted, and the military refused to comment on the case.

    The deployment of the military to fight crime was part of a strategy of then-President Felipe Calderon, who argued that local police were ineffective and corrupt. But complaints of human rights violations by the military quickly began piling up.

    The army has been on the streets for 10 years, and violence has only increased … And now, with this Interior Security Law, which was designed by the army itself, things can only get worse.

    Yolanda Moran, victim’s mother 

    In 2008, there were more than a thousand complaints of human rights violations against the army to the National Human Rights Commission. Cases like that of Dan Jeremeel and Jose Barrientos led many to question the effectiveness of the military strategy in the so-called war on drugs.

    ‘Things can only get worse’

    Such questions reemerged late last year with the passage of the Interior Security Law.

    “The army has been on the streets for 10 years, and violence has only increased,” Moran said. “And now, with this Interior Security Law, which was designed by the army itself, things can only get worse.”

    The law, signed by President Enrique Pena Nieto last December, formalises and expands the participation of Mexico’s armed forces in internal security.

    The Mexican military has been fighting crime on a large scale since December 2006, when then-President Felipe Calderon ordered it onto the streets to fight drug trafficking. 

    But until the Interior Security Law was passed, the military was operating in a state of questionable legality.

    According to the Mexican Constitution, the military should only be deployed within the country in situations of foreign invasion or rebellion.

    The recently-passed law provides a clear legal justification for the military to exercise police powers, the law’s proponents argue. 

    Under the law, the president can make an “interior security declaration” when he considers that interior security is at risk, and send in the military.

    The law also expands the military’s ability to carry out surveillance of Mexicans and allows the military to administer its own operations, with limited oversight from state and local civilian authorities.

    The passage of the law was applauded by military authorities, who had asked Congress for a legal framework for military action in the drug war. After the law was passed, Secretary of National Defence General Salvador Cienfuegos thanked Congress, saying the law will give the military the framework it needs to effectively fight drug cartels.

    The law was criticised by human rights organisations, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which pointed to widespread rights violations by the military during the ongoing drug war.

    The law now faces several constitutional challenges by civil society groups, as well as state and municipal governments. Pena Nieto has said he will not invoke the law until the court challenges are resolved.

    ‘A failed model’ 

    Santiago Aguirre, sub-director of the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center, told Al Jazeera that the law also represents the continuation of a failed anti-crime strategy.

    “This legislation elevates a failed model of security to the level of law,” he said. 

    “The evidence is clear that the deployment of the military has only led to more violence and human rights violations.”

    Between 2006 and 2011, the murder rate in Mexico tripled, according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

    Although the murder rate declined after its first peak in 2011, violence spiked again in 2017, when over 23,000 people died violent deaths, making last year the deadliest in modern Mexican history, according to government data.

    “In 2006, Calderon’s government could have argued that we don’t have enough empirical evidence to know what this policy could lead to,” Aguirre said.

    “But now, after 11 years, we have clear evidence that the deployment hasn’t reduced violence, and that it has increased human rights violations. So, instead of an Interior Security Law that petrifies that policy, we need to strengthen civilian authorities and withdraw the armed forces.”

    Carlos Ventura, of the Vitoria Human Rights Centre, questioned the premise that the military is less susceptible to corruption than police forces.

    “Curiously, they’ve tried to present the army as an almost impeccable actor,” he told Al Jazeera. “But we’re not convinced, because we have documented the direct participation of the armed forces in human rights violations, and also the high levels of impunity that they enjoy.”

    A study by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) from November 2017 found that complaints of human rights violations against the military almost always go unresolved. A 2014 reform allows civilian prosecutors to investigate human rights violations committed by soldiers, but it has not been fully implemented. According to the WOLA report, the Interior Security Law will further weaken civilian authorities’ ability to investigate and prosecute soldiers.

    ‘Nothing ever changes’

    Moran said Dan Jarameel’s story shows that soldiers are far from incorruptible. And although the initial investigation into his disappearance seemed promising, brutal networks of secrecy and impunity between the military and organised crime have prevented her from finding her son.

    The army lieutenant who was arrested with Dan Jeremeel’s car and confessed to kidnapping him implicated several other soldiers and civilians, some of whom were also arrested in January 2009.

    The army refused to cooperate with the investigation. Less than a month after the arrests, an armed commando broke into the jail where the suspects were being held and killed them. 

    The evidence is clear that the deployment of the military has only led to more violence and human rights violations.

    Santiago Aguirre, sub-director of the Agustin Pro Human Rights Center

    Another alleged accomplice was arrested by the military near Mexico City in 2010. He was brought back to Torreon and put in the same jail where his accomplices had been killed. He suffered the same fate.

    Another suspect is still at large, and rumoured to have recently deserted the army to join the Zetas.

    Moran said she doesn’t feel justice has been served, nor does she have the closure of knowing what happened to her son. Her only hope is that the one surviving fugitive be caught, but she added that the case is not being actively pursued.

    “The army hasn’t taken any kind of responsibility, even though it was their people who made my son disappear,” she said.

    Since 2008, Moran has dedicated herself to searching for her son and advocating for the families of the disappeared. Along with other families, she founded United Forces for Our Disappeared (FUND), a civil organisation that groups hundreds of families of disappeared people.

    For Moran and the other families at FUND, the military is fundamentally unsuited for policing, and any attempt to regulate or reform military policing, like the Interior Security Law, is fundamentally flawed.

    “We’ve had so many meetings with military leaders, we’ve been to these human rights courses that the soldiers are taking now,” she said.

    “But nothing ever changes,” she added.

    “This Interior Security Law isn’t the solution – we need to strengthen civilian authorities so we can get the soldiers off the streets.”

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    Michel Temer signs security decree to stem Rio violence

    Brazil’s President Michel Temer signs an emergency decree for the armed forces to take over policing in Rio de Janeiro.

      Sao Paulo, Brazil – Brazil’s President Michel Temer has signed an emergency decree authorising the country’s armed forces to take over policing duties in Rio de Janeiro.

      The emergency measure, the first of its kind since Brazil returned to democracy after the end of a military dictatorship in the mid-1980s, comes amid rising violence and a spike in crime.

      It takes effect immediately and will last until the end of the year, the government announced on Friday.

      Temer, who officially signed the order during a televised ceremony, said his government “will take all necessary steps to confront and defeat organised crime and gangs”.

      “There is no way out, we can’t wait one more day,” Rio de Janeiro Governor Luiz Fernando Pezao also said, as quoted by Brazilian newspaper O Globo.

      The order was quickly criticised by opposition figures, however, who derided it as a cynical move by the widely unpopular and scandal-plagued Temer, whose approval rating hovers around five percent, to look presidential in an election year.

      Brazil’s security crisis will likely be a deciding factor in October’s general elections, with law-and-order candidates gaining in popularity.

      It is also understood that a long-awaited pension reform vote, thought necessary to get Brazil’s public finances in check, will be delayed because of the security intervention.

      “Temer uses a very serious problem, which is security in Rio de Janeiro, to try to take his government from the mud. He doesn’t have the votes for pension reform and sought a way out to camouflage his failure,” Ivan Valente, a left-wing opposition congressman, said on Twitter.

      Violent deaths mounting

      Violent deaths in Rio de Janeiro state – home to 16 million people, with 6.5 million living in Rio de Janeiro city – have steadily climbed in recent years. 

      Twenty-nine violent deaths were recorded per 100,000 residents in 2012 – the lowest total on record – but then jumped to 38 per 100,000 residents in 2016, when Rio hosted the Summer Olympics, according to government figures.

      By September 2017, the number had increased even further, to 40 violent deaths per 100,000 residents.

      During the carnival celebrations, which began last week and ended on Tuesday, images of mass robberies and looted supermarkets made national headlines.

      In the lead up to the popular festival, at least two children were shot and killed, the first by an armed gang and the second during a shoot-out in a favela during a police operation, while three military police officers were also shot dead in violence unrelated to carnival.

      Last year, 134 police officers were killed in Rio, while police killed more than 1,000 people, the highest tally in nearly 10 years, according to government figures.

      Heavy gun battles happen on an almost daily basis in the city of Rio, especially in the favelas – poor, mostly unregulated shanty towns inside and around the city – and other peripheral neighbourhoods, where three main drug gangs and several militia groups battle for control of territory and against the police.

      A much-heralded police pacification programme, launched before the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics in some of Rio’s favelas to take back territory from organised crime, has largely failed.

      Some of the highest numbers of violent deaths have been recorded in favelas where the scheme was implemented, often the result of brutal police incursions.

      Financial crisis

      A lack of adequate resources “has led to a drop in police morale and the quality of policing, with their salaries often going unpaid or late, as well as unpaid bonuses”, said Rafael Salies, a risk advisory consultant based on in Rio de Janeiro.

      In fact, Rio’s spike in violence is broadly blamed on an acute fiscal crisis, the result of Brazil’s broader economic downturn, a drop in state oil revenues and widespread unemployment in the construction industry after the city hosted the Olympics two years ago.

      State government corruption and economic mismanagement have also been blamed, as former Governor Sergio Cabral is currently serving decades in prison on corruption charges.

      Today, it remains one of the most indebted states where Brazil’s economic crisis has hit hardest, despite it being one of the richest.

      But Rio is far from one of Brazil’s most violent states.

      In 2016, according to the Brazilian Forum for Public Security, the northeastern state of Sergipe led the ranking with 64 violent deaths per 100,000 residents.

      Meanwhile, Ignacio Cano, a professor and head of the Violence Analysis Lab at Rio de Janeiro State University, derided the emergency decree as question of image control as well as the militarisation of public security.

      Cano told Al Jazeera that a recent change in Brazilian law now means that armed forces personnel who kill civilians can only be judged in military courts, which are notoriously slow and non-transparent.

      He said he envisioned two possible scenarios: armed forces would be deployed across Rio at a high cost, but with little effect, or they will take up an aggressive strategy that “could be very bloody”.

      “The problems of public security are different from national security and cannot be fought with tanks and heavy gunfire; you need investigation and the army is not prepared for that,” Cano said.

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      Venezuelan opposition calls for boycott of election

      The opposition is facing the threat of losing the only branch of government that they control: the National Assembly.

        Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro wants what he calls a “mega” election – urging people to come out early to vote, not just for the next president, but for candidates in congressional elections as well.

        Opposition parties have called for a boycott of the presidential race and called on the government to drop the ban on candidates, and take steps to reassure people the elections would not be rigged.

        But now, the opposition is facing the threat of losing the only branch of government that they control: the National Assembly.

        Al Jazeera’s Mereana Hond has more.

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        Venezuela presidential election ordered by end of April

        Nicolas Maduro expected to run again as Constituent Assembly votes unanimously to fast-track elections.

          Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has said he is “ready to be a candidate” after the country’s Constituent Assembly unanimously voted to hold a presidential election by the end of April.

          The move on Tuesday came amid growing speculation that elections would be held in the first part of 2018, as the ruling Socialists hope to take advantage of a deep political crisis hampering the divided opposition.

          Last year, Maduro faced months of protests for presiding over a debilitating economic crisis that has seen a high inflation rate and shortages of food and other basic amenities. The rallies, however, failed to unseat him.

          “The electoral process should be called in the first four months of the year 2018,” Diosdado Cabello, the Socialist Party’s number two, told the pro-government legislative superbody which ordered the election. 

          “We won’t have a problem, we only have one candidate to continue the revolution,” Venezuelan media quoted him as saying. 

          “If the world wants to apply sanctions, we will apply elections,” added Cabello, referring to the economic measures on himself and six other senior Venezuelan officials which were introduced by the European Union on Monday. 

          After the vote at the assembly, Maduro told reporters that he would stand for re-election if the Socialist Party asked him to.

          Divided opposition

          Venezuela’s constitution dictates that a new six-year presidential term must begin in January 2019. 

          It is unclear who from the fragmented opposition will stand against Maduro. Its most popular leaders are almost all sidelined from politics – jailed, in exile or barred from holding office.

          Maduro announced on December 10, 2017, that the country’s main opposition parties would be banned from taking part in the elections. His statement came as his party scored a landslide victory in municipal elections on the same day, winning at least 90 percent of the 335 mayoral seats. 

          The local elections were boycotted by several opposition leaders. Maduro said that those who had participated in the boycott were no longer part of the political landscape and would not be able to contend in future voting. 

          ‘Many people worried’

          Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman, reporting from Santiago, Chile’s capital, said the move by the constituent assembly was “a very serious development”. 

          She added that this had “a lot of people very worried”, including members of the opposition who have been calling for “fair, transparent and internationally supervised elections which they believe could not take place before the end of the year”.

          Paraguay’s Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga told Al Jazeera that the Latin American community would not recognise any elections that come from a decision made by the constituent assembly. 

          “We do not recognise the national constituency assembly. We don’t recognise any decision that they are taking,” Loizaga said. 

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          Honduras: 7.6 earthquake triggers Tsunami alert

          A magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck near the coast of Honduras, briefly prompting a tsunami warning.

            A magnitude 7.6 earthquake has struck near the coast of Honduras, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS), which said it was registered at 20:50 local time.

            The earthquake on Wednesday was felt across northern Central America, briefly prompting a tsunami warning in Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean Islands.

            The tremor occurred in the sea between the island of Cuba and the coasts of Honduras and Belize, according to maps published by USGS.

            The epicenter was located 202 kilometres from the Honduran town of Barra Patuca, and 245 kilometres from the municipality of Puerto Lempira (Honduras). 

            Translation: In face of the earthquake registered in our country, we have activated the emergency system, please remain calm, report any emergency to @ 911Honduras, Honduran president Juan Orlando tweeted. 

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            Chile: Pope arrives to protests over sex abuse scandal

            Pope Francis arrives in Chile for first leg of Latin American tour, with more unrest expected in Santiago.

              Pope Francis has arrived in Chile for the first leg of his Latin American papal tour, with protests over alleged sexual abuse within the Catholic Church marking his visit.

              Demonstrations are expected to take place throughout the capital, Santiago, on Tuesday, where the pope is scheduled to conduct an open-air mass at 13:30 GMT.

              More than 500,000 people are expected to attend the ceremony in Santiago’s O’Higgins Park, according to Chilean newspaper The Santiago Times.

              Chilean parishioners criticised the Argentinean pontiff, the first Latin American leader of the Catholic Church, for his decision to appoint Juan Barros as Bishop of the Chilean city of Osorno in 2015.

              They say Barros covered up the sexual abuse of dozens of minors by Catholic priest Fernando Miguel Karadima, who was found guilty by the Vatican in 2011.

              Almost 80 Chilean priests, deacons and religious brothers who have been accused of molesting children were named in a database published by the Boston-based research group bishopaccountability.org on January 10.

              Anger grows

              Before the pope’s visit, his first to Chile since assuming the papacy in 2013, protesters vandalised four Catholic churches using firebombs in Santiago on January 12.

              They left a note at one site warning the Pope Francis “the next bomb will be in your robe”, according to Latin American broadcaster Telesur.

              Other messages called for “autonomy and resistance” from Chile’s indigenous Mapuche people, according to the Catholic News Agency.

              Roughly two-thirds of Chile’s 1.5 million Mapuches live in urban squalor and the remainder in impoverished rural communities. They are the country’s poorest and most marginalised segment of society.

              Outgoing Chilean President Michelle Bachelet described the attacks as “very strange” and said authorities had been unable to tie the incidents to a “particular group”, Telesur reported.

              “In a democracy, people can express themselves as long as it’s done in a pacifist way,” she said and called for a “climate of respect” during the pope’s upcoming visit.

              The pontiff will also visit Temuco, where he is expected to meet Mapuches, and Iquique, before travelling to Peru.

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              Defiant Maduro dismisses fresh vote calls

              Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro has dismissed calls for new presidential elections ahead of fresh protests against his leadership.

              In a show of defiance, he insisted his victory in polls last spring had been legitimate.

              Opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president last week, prompting an escalating power struggle.

              In an interview with a Russian news agency, Mr Maduro said he was prepared to hold talks with the opposition.

              “I am ready to sit down at the negotiating table with the opposition so that we could talk for the good of Venezuela,” he told Russian news agency RIA in Caracas.

              Mr Maduro said that if the US and others wanted a fresh vote, they would have to wait until 2025, but added that he would support early parliamentary elections as “a good form of political discussion”.

              His comments came ahead of a two-hour peaceful protest called by Mr Guaidó.

              The opposition leader, who is head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, says the constitution allows him to assume power temporarily when the president is deemed illegitimate.

              The US and more than 20 other nations have backed Mr Guaidó. The White House said on Wednesday that he and President Trump had agreed to maintain regular communication to “support Venezuela’s path back to stability”.

              Venezuela’s Supreme Court has banned Mr Guaidó from leaving the country, however, and frozen his bank accounts.

              Though the international community is divided over Mr Maduro’s legitimacy, he has the backing of Russia, China, Mexico and Turkey.

              Russian officials have denied reports that mercenaries from the country have been sent to protect his life.

              US officials have previously stated that all options “are on the table” to resolve the crisis in Venezuela, which observers have taken to include possible military action.

              In a tweet, US President Donald Trump claimed Mr Maduro had agreed to negotiate following US sanctions.

              Curbs were imposed on the country’s state-owned oil firm PDVSA on Monday, which US National Security Adviser John Bolton said was to ensure that President Maduro could “no longer loot the assets of the Venezuelan people”.

              Mr Bolton also appeared at a news briefing with a notepad showing the words “5,000 troops to Colombia” – which borders Venezuela.

              Mr Maduro said on Wednesday that he was not prepared to accept ultimatums or blackmail, and insisted that he has the backing of Venezuela’s military.

              He accused military deserters of conspiring to plot a coup.

              “Military deserters have become mercenaries of the Colombian oligarchy and conspire from Colombia to divide the armed forces,” he said, without providing further details.

              Why is there opposition to President Maduro?

              Venezuela is facing acute economic problems and there has been an upsurge in violence in recent weeks.

              Protests have been held across the country since Mr Maduro began his second term on 10 January. He was elected last year during a controversial vote in which many opposition candidates were barred from running, or jailed.

              At least 40 people are believed to have died and hundreds have been arrested since 21 January, the UN says.

              Hyperinflation and shortages of essentials such as food and medicine have forced millions to flee the nation.

              Why is Guaidó claiming the presidency?

              “My duty is to call for free elections because there is an abuse of power and we live in a dictatorship,” Mr Guaidó told the BBC on Monday.

              He added: “In Venezuela, we either accept domination, total oppression and torture… from Maduro’s regime, or we choose freedom, democracy and prosperity for our people.”

              Mr Guaidó said the Maduro administration was “killing young poor people” in the streets.

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              Anger grows towards Brazil dam mine firm

              Senior Brazilian politicians have called for Vale SA to be held to account for last week’s dam disaster, as anger grows towards the mining firm.

              Vice-President Hamilton Mourao said those to blame should be punished, and a top prosecutor said executives could be held personally responsible.

              Vale, which owns the complex, says safety procedures were followed.

              Firefighters say 60 people are now confirmed dead after a sea of mud engulfed a canteen and nearby houses.

              Nearly 300 are still missing, and rescuers say they are very unlikely to find more survivors.

              No-one was rescued alive on Sunday near the south-eastern town of Brumadinho.

              The cause of the dam burst remains unclear.

              Shares in Vale, the world’s largest iron ore producer, fell by more than 20% on the Sao Paulo stock exchange on Monday.

              Search operations were suspended for hours on Sunday amid fears that a separate dam, also owned by Vale, was at risk of giving way in the area.

              What is being said about Vale?

              Vice-President Hamilton Mourao, who is standing in for President Jair Bolsonaro as he undergoes surgery, said the government would need to investigate and punish those found responsible for the disaster.

              He added that the government would set up a working group to look at the company’s management.

              “If there was malpractice, recklessness or negligence on the part of someone inside the company, that person has to answer criminally,” O Globo website quoted him as saying.

              Meanwhile top prosecutor Raquel Dodge said it was important to hold the company “strongly responsible”.

              The comments came after state prosecutors said they had frozen a total of 11bn reais ($2.9bn; £2.2bn) of assets belonging to Vale.

              Brumadinho Mayor Avimar de Melo Barcelos has also criticised authorities in the state of Minas Gerais, which he blamed for poor oversight.

              What does the company say?

              In a television interview, Vale president Fabio Schvartsman said the disaster had happened even after the company followed safety recommendations by international experts.

              “I’m not a mining technician. I followed the technicians’ advice and you see what happened. It didn’t work,” he said.

              Mr Schvartsman promised “to go above and beyond any national or international standards… We’ll create a cushion of safety far superior to what we have today to guarantee this never happens again.”

              On Sunday the company suspended payouts to shareholders and executive bonuses.

              What is the latest on the search effort?

              Firefighters said 292 employees, contractors and residents were still missing. Some 192 people have been rescued alive.

              So far 19 of the 60 dead have been identified.

              “After 48 hours of work, the chance of finding [someone] alive is very low,” Col Eduardo Angelo, who is leading the search operation, told relatives of the missing.

              “[But] we’re working with the possibility that we’ll find people alive.”

              The dam break caused a sea of muddy sludge to bury the site’s cafeteria where workers were eating lunch, before engulfing nearby houses, vehicles and roads.

              Interactive

              Dam collapse in Brazil

              25 January 2019

              CBMMG

              Earlier this month

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              Access to the areas is difficult – in some places, the mud is up to 15m (49ft) deep. Search teams have been using helicopters and earth-moving machinery.

              “I still have hope,” Nélia Mary Fonseca told the BBC as she waited for details about her husband, Adriano, who worked as a contractor at the site.

              An Israeli group of engineers, doctors and members of the navy’s underwater missions unit has joined the efforts.

              Has this kind of thing happened before?

              Unlike dams used for water, tailings dams – like that in Brumadinho – are used to store by-products from mining operations.

              There have been a number of high-profile disasters involving tailings dams in recent years – and there have been calls, including from the UN, to institute better safety and building regulations around them.

              In November 2015, a dam owned by Vale, along with BHP Billiton, burst in Mariana, also in Minas Gerais. It killed 19 people in what was considered Brazil’s worst environmental disaster at the time.

              After a lengthy court case, the companies reached a settlement worth at least 6.8bn reais ($1.8bn) with the Brazilian government.

              Have you been affected by the collapsed dam? If it is safe to do so please share your experiences by emailing [email protected].

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              Deaths as rare tornado hits Cuba’s capital

              Three people are dead and more than 170 injured after a rare tornado ripped through Cuba’s capital, Havana.

              The governing communist party described the powerful twister, the first to hit the city in decades, as an “extraordinary” event.

              President Miguel Diaz-Canel met emergency crews on the streets before dawn on Monday, and tweeted that the damage was “severe”.

              Pictures posted on Twitter showed homes destroyed and trucks overturned.

              The tornado hit a number of poorer districts late on Sunday night with wind speeds of up to 100km/hr (60 mph), uprooting trees and cutting electrical power.

              Staff at the Hijas de Galicia maternity hospital had to evacuate due to building damage.

              Photographers for the AFP news agency said parts of a balcony had been torn off one building and lay blocking the street in the Luyano neighborhood.

              “We are touring areas affected by the atmospheric phenomenon of great intensity. The damage is severe and up to now we regret the loss of three lives and we are attending to 172 injured,” Mr Diaz-Canel said on Twitter.

              Cuba’s state media had forecast high winds and thunderstorm conditions in the west of the country, caused by a cold front from the north and gusts from the south.

              “Those of the island accustomed to these warnings did not suspect the magnitude of what was coming,” state-run newspaper Granma said.

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