Venezuela

Beauty Queen Murder Shines Light On Venezuelan Violence

Jan 8, 2014
AP file photo

  Venezuela got a tragic New Year reminder of one of its most pressing problems: violence. Mónica Spear, 29, a former beauty queen and a popular soap opera star who was raised in Orlando, was killed Monday night during a presumed highway robbery.

Authorities said her partner Thomas Henry Berry, 49, reportedly from the U.K., was also killed and that their five-year-old daughter was injured in the incident.

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Gringos like me don’t forget their first hallaca.

Mine was lying on a simple white plate, in the coastal town of Lecherías, Venezuela, on the patio of my future in-laws’ home. It was a soft Caribbean Christmas Eve in 1985.

The tawny tamal was swaddled in smoked banana leaves that reminded me of the lush, exotic foliage of an Henri Rousseau painting. I unwrapped it, cut into it, took a bite – and rediscovered Christmas.

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When it comes to Latin American oil, South Florida’s attention seems exclusively fixed on South America. We focus on petro-titans like Venezuela and Brazil because we do so much trade with and receive so many immigrants from that region. But this week it was hard not to look west – across the Gulf of Mexico, at one of the most important oil reforms in almost a century.

Late Wednesday night, Mexico’s Congress approved President Enrique Peña Nieto’s plan to allow private and foreign participation in the country’s state-run oil industry for the first time in 75 years.

Pedro Portal / El Nuevo Herald

When socialist Nicolás Maduro eked out last April’s special presidential election in Venezuela, I wrote:  “Even if Maduro won, he lost.”

Maduro defeated the opposition candidate – the same challenger Maduro's mentor Hugo Chávez had trounced just six months earlier by an 11-percent margin – by only 1.6 percent of the vote. Maduro’s lame performance shook the socialists’ claim that Chávez’s revolution would be just as dominant without Chávez, who had died of cancer in March after ruling Venezuela for 14 years.

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What do Miss Universe and Miami Herald South America correspondent Jim Wyss have in common? Not a heck of a lot physically. But quite a bit symbolically: Left-wing Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro would have liked to use both of them recently to distract voters from his so-far disastrous administration.

Anyone who’s traveled to Caracas in the past few years knows the drill. As soon as you clear customs, you scan the airport terminal for the guys in trench coats.

They’ve got the good stuff: bolívares, the Venezuelan currency, which they exchange for your dollars at the black market rate. That means what the bolívar is actually worth -- about six times less than the laughably overvalued official rate of 6.3 to the dollar.

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I know Henrique Capriles speaks decent English. So because I work for English-language radio, I asked him during his visit to Miami last week if I could put a question to him en inglés.

“Go ahead,” he told me. “But I’ll answer it in Spanish.”

I’d forgotten one of Capriles’ rules as the political opposition leader of Venezuela: To keep the ruling socialist revolution back home from branding you as a puppet of the U.S. “empire,” it’s best to avoid being recorded speaking yanqui – especially when you’re in Miami, the counterrevolutionary capital.

Book on Bolivar
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During his glorious military career he logged 75,000 miles on horseback. Some might slyly suggest he also logged 75,000 lovers.

But as "The Liberator" that his admirers call him, or as the libertine that his detractors call him, Simón Bolívar’s life was epic – and so were the paradoxes that marked that life. Was South America’s 19th-century independence hero, best known to Americans as the George Washington of Latin America, the founder of his continent’s democracy? Or was he the archetype of its long line of dictatorial caudillos?

JOSE A. IGLESIAS / El Nuevo Herald Staff

Former Venezuelan presidential candidate Henrique Capriles — who has been criticized by certain segments of the opposition that would like to see him take a more radical position against Nicolás Maduro’s regime — came out Sunday to convince nearly 5,000 people at a Miami convention hall that he knows exactly what he’s doing.

Capriles, who ran against the late Hugo Chávez in an election in October and then did it again versus Maduro in April, said he feels that change will come soon to his country and called on Venezuelans to continue supporting him and join the fight.

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I’m becoming more certain that leftist Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro keeps a Ouija board on his desk at Miraflores Palace in Caracas.

Besides the horrific carnage inside Port-au-Prince, one of my most vivid memories of the 2010 Haiti earthquake is military helicopters idling out in Port-au-Prince Bay.

From the bridge of the Navy aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson, I watched H-53 and Seahawk choppers waiting for rescue and relief supplies that seemed agonizingly slow in arriving from U.S. and other foreign aid sources. International coordination, in fact, felt as wanting in those first few post-quake days as the food and medicine.

(This story was last updated at 5:17 p.m. ET)

Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor accused of leaking classified surveillance information, has asked Ecuador for asylum, the country's foreign minister says.

Snowden left Hong Kong earlier Sunday bound for a "third country," the government in the Asian hub said. He later landed in Moscow.

Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino Aroca, who is on an official visit to Vietnam, said:

It's dusk on a recent day in Venezuela's capital, Caracas, and for many, that's a signal to get inside. Crime and violence have become so widespread here, many people simply shut themselves in.

"Your house becomes your own prison," says Arturo Hidalgo. After about 8 or 9 at night, he says, "you better be home because otherwise you can get in trouble."

Hidalgo would know: He's been robbed before. The result, he says, is a deep-seated fear. For an avid runner, that's a problem.

The story of Venezuela's Eloisa Barrios is especially revealing because so many of her relatives have been killed. Revealing because of who she believes pulled the trigger.

Some weeks ago, Barrios climbed into our van for a drive to a cemetery. The burial ground is outside a village in the Venezuelan countryside. We went there to visit the Barrios family dead.

She told us nine relatives had been killed in shootings over the past 15 years. All nine were young men.

El Mundo/Flickr

Last week a Venezuelan-American friend in New York sent me an e-mail raving about a new, free mobile phone app called Abastéceme. Its most important use: locating toilet paper. Well, that and about two dozen other basic everyday items, from rice to deodorant, which are in chronically short supply these days in Venezuela.

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