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Treasury Sanctions BANDES, Venezuela’s National Development Bank, and Subsidiaries, in Response to Illegal Arrest of Guaido Aide

WASHINGTON. – Today, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Banco de Desarrollo Economico y Social de Venezuela, or BANDES, pursuant to E.O. 13850, as amended, for operating in the financial sector of the Venezuelan economy, as well as four additional financial institutions that BANDES owns or controls.

“The willingness of Maduro’s inner-circle to exploit Venezuela’s institutions knows no bounds. Regime insiders have transformed BANDES and its subsidiaries into vehicles to move funds abroad in an attempt to prop up Maduro. Maduro and his enablers have distorted the original purpose of the bank, which was founded to help the economic and social well-being of the Venezuelan people, as part of a desperate attempt to hold onto power,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.

“The regime’s continued use of kidnapping, torture, and murder of Venezuelan citizens will not be tolerated by the U.S. or the international coalition that is united behind President Guaido. Roberto Marrero and other political prisoners must be released immediately.”

Today’s action designating BANDES and its subsidiaries follows a determination by Secretary of the Treasury, Steven T. Mnuchin, in consultation with Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, that persons operating in Venezuela’s financial sector may be subject to sanctions.

The following entities designated today have been determined to operate in the financial sector of the Venezuelan economy, or are owned or controlled by an entity that operates in the financial sector of the Venezuelan economy:

BANDES is based in Venezuela, and is a state-owned and controlled bank. As Venezuela’s national development bank, BANDES was created in order to promote the economic development and sustained growth of Venezuela, to include providing services such as monetary intermediation, credit, and security and commodity contracts brokerage services, among other financial and trust activities. Simon Alejandro Zerpa Delgado, who was designated by OFAC pursuant to E.O. 13692 on July 26, 2017, is the Chief Executive and President of the Board of the bank.

Banco Bandes Uruguay S.A. is based in Uruguay.

In early 2019, Maduro tried to move over one billion dollars out of Venezuela via BANDES to its subsidiary in Uruguay, Banco Bandes Uruguay S.A.

Banco Bicentenario del Pueblo, de la Clase Obrera, Mujer y Comunias, Banco Universal C.A. is based in Venezuela.

Banco de Venezuela, S.A. Banco Universal is based in Venezuela.

Banco Prodem S.A. is based in Bolivia.

For information about the methods that Venezuelan senior political figures, their associates, and front persons use to move and hide corrupt proceeds, including how they try to exploit the U.S. financial system and real estate market, please refer to Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) advisories FIN-2017-A006, “Advisory on Widespread Public Corruption in Venezuela,” and FIN-2017-A003, “Advisory to Financial Institutions and Real Estate Firms and Professionals.”

As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of these entities, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by this entity, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons.

Concurrent with today’s action, OFAC announced five General Licenses.

U.S. sanctions need not be permanent; sanctions are intended to bring about a positive change of behavior. The United States has made clear that the removal of sanctions is available for persons designated under E.O. 13692 or E.O. 13850, both as amended, who take concrete and meaningful actions to restore democratic order, refuse to take part in human rights abuses, speak out against abuses committed by the Maduro regime, and combat corruption in Venezuela.


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Office of the special rapporteur presents special report on the situation of freedom of expression in Cuba

WASHINGTON DC. - The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presents a special report on the situation of freedom of expression in Cuba. This report contains six main sections, which address the regulatory framework that is at the root of the human rights violations, as well as a brief analysis of the aspects of the constitutional reform introduced by the regime itself for debate in Cuba that refer to the right to freedom of expression.

It also addresses free and independent journalism in Cuba, referring in particular to the public media, the impossibility of establishing private media, and the practices of persecution against independent journalists.

Since journalists are not the only ones who have suffered persecution for expressing their ideas in Cuba, also analyzes the situation of the criminalization of criticism and politically motivated discrimination against different sectors of the population, such as human rights defenders, artists, political dissidents, and others. Also, the report addresses the protests and social demonstrations.

The last part of the report refers to limitations on the right to freedom of expression on the Internet and addresses obstacles in the regulation of the use of networks and communication on the web, connectivity problems and universal access, content blocking and censorship, and surveillance. Finally, based on the analysis of these issues, the Office of the Special Rapporteur presents its conclusions and recommendations to the Cuban State.

For more than half a century, Cuba has been a State governed by a single party that obstructs all avenues of political dissent. The State severely restricts the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, freedom of movement, and due process. For decades the Cuban State has organized the institutional machinery to silence voices outside the regime, and to repress independent journalists, as well as artists or citizens who try to organize themselves to articulate their demands; in all that time the State has maintained a monopoly over the media. As the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression have noted, open debate on ideas and on central aspects of national life has been suppressed.

As the Inter-American Commission has pointed out, this is presented in a context of serious disregard for the essential elements of representative democracy and its institutions. Historically, the IACHR has been critical of the absence of conditions that would allow genuine political participation by sectors with diverse lines of thought in Cuba; in particular, the holding of elections lacking plurality and independence, with insurmountable obstacles that prevent free access to multiple sources of information. The voice of opposition to the government, in its attempts to express itself and participate in the conduct of the country’s affairs, ends up being suppressed in the presence of a single party, the prohibition against association for political purposes, and arbitrary restrictions on freedom of expression and the right of assembly, among other fundamental rights.

For decades, Cuba has remained among the countries in the hemisphere with the worst conditions and least favorable environment for the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. Practicing journalism in Cuba was not even close to a situation comparable to any other country in the region. This is due to the serious risks faced by journalists and other population groups seeking to express opinions, the lack of access to public and official government information, the fear of the population and of those who may potentially be journalists’ sources of information, among other multiple obstacles.

El The control of freedom of expression and political freedoms has been ongoing for almost five decades, but there have been some emblematic episodes of repression such as the one that occurred in March 2003, when people identified as "counterrevolutionaries" for their thinking were arrested en masse.

In recent years, the IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur have continued to receive troubling information about illegitimate restrictions on freedom of expression in Cuba. Of particular concern is the continuing rise in selective and deliberate persecution of independent media and organizations that disseminate information and opinions on matters of public interest outside the control of the State. The acts and threats by authorities and public officials to intimidate anyone expressing critical ideas about the country’s politics and institutions, such as activists, artists, journalists, human rights defenders, and intellectuals, among others, are also very serious.

At present, the intolerance of the Cuban authorities toward any form of criticism or opposition continues to be the main limitation on the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression and association in Cuba. The de facto change of government of the Presidency of the Council of State and Ministers from Raúl Castro to Miguel Díaz-Canel in 2018 had also created expectations of positive steps in the area of human rights. So far, however, the new government has generally shown itself to be a continuation of the former regime in terms of repressing the exercise of freedom of expression in Cuba. Of grave concern is the fact that, shortly after taking office, Diaz-Canel announced that he would maintain a position against press freedom and the legalization of independent media in the country.

Most troubling is the fact that, even in recent times, there has been an increase in repression and intolerance in order to discourage journalism that does not toe the official line, the work of human rights defenders, and criticism voiced by dissidents, as discussed in detail below. For years, repression in Cuba was characterized by maintaining a veneer of legality, which included prosecution indictments, the appointment of public defenders, judicial proceedings, and/or final convictions. Although some of these practices continue, there are variations that seem to be aimed at leaving neither legal traces nor documentation that can be used as evidence of the abuses suffered. During the 169th Session of the IACHR, several journalists in attendance, and others through previously recorded statements, reported what they called a repression of "attrition" that avoids prosecution. These forms of repression are said to include arrests and humiliating interrogations, particularly of women journalists; detentions of up to 72 hours without a warrant or judicial communication; pressures on their families and those around them; confiscation of equipment and theft of materials from journalists; as well as travel bans to keep journalists and activists from leaving the country.

The current model reportedly follows a rationale that is separate from the legal structures, based on State Security or para-State structures that may be more subtle but equally serious in light of international law. In addition to the traditional tools used to repress independent journalism, forms of repression have been reported such as threats to bring criminal action based on the criminal offense of "impersonation of a public official and acting without legal capacity" against those who practice journalism in non-state media and, more recently, the imposition of "aptitude tests" for admission to the journalism program at the State University.

In this context, the Office of the Special Rapporteur also took note of the process of constitutional reform that took place in Cuba. The information available indicates that, at the end of July 2018, the "Draft Constitution of the Republic of Cuba" was published. The IACHR in a press release dated March 4, 2019, reported that the reform process was concluded with the referendum held on February 24, 2019. On this occasion, the Commission expressed its concern, among others, regarding the possibility that the referendum may not have complied with the conditions necessary for free, secret, reliable, independent elections that safeguard the principles of universality and plurality.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur considers that Cuba’s development and openness is closely linked to the indispensable return to democracy and respect for human rights. In that regard, respect for human rights, freedom of expression, and respect for political rights, together with the holding of free elections based on secret and universal suffrage are essential elements of democracy. Freedom of expression accompanies the person as one of the most precious freedoms because it allows each individual to think about the world from his or her own perspective and choose his or her own lifestyle, as well as to build pluralistic societies. For this reason, since the beginning of the current administration, the Office of the Special Rapporteur has given priority attention to the situation in Cuba. To that end, the report analyzes the situation of freedom of expression in Cuba in the light of the standards of the inter-American system and, on that basis, offers recommendations to the State that will enable it to contribute to the effective exercise of this right in the country.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur concluded that Cuba continues to be the only country in the hemisphere where there are no guarantees for the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. A State in which there is a persistent and serious failure to observe the essential elements of freedom of expression, representative democracy, and its institutions. Despite the years that have passed and the repeated recommendations in this regard, intolerance continues to be the norm for the Cuban authorities towards all forms of criticism or opposition, and the main limitation to fundamental rights and freedoms in Cuba.

The State continues to have a monopoly on the media, and it is still against the law to establish private media, all of which is incompatible with international standards on freedom of expression. The selective and deliberate persecution of independent media and journalists continues, and even intensifies at times. This persecution—carried out by State bodies or tolerated by the State—takes the form of arbitrary detentions, threats, and acts of harassment or censorship against journalists who disseminate ideas, opinions, and information critical of the ruling party. It is also reflected in the multiple acts and threats by authorities and public servants to intimidate anyone who expresses critical ideas about the country’s politics and institutions, such as artists, human rights defenders, political dissidents, and others.

Today’s repressive practices seem to be based on a rationale that is outside the legal framework, but they are far from disappearing. On the contrary, they are strongly replicated in the new media. With respect to the Internet, the extremely restrictive and ambiguous legal provisions, the limited connectivity of the Cuban population, the blocking and censorship of critical media, and surveillance seriously impede the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and privacy on the Internet.

The Cuban legal system—from the Constitution itself, to the legal and regulatory provisions outlined in the report—is designed to repress dissent and criticism. Thus, in the opinion of the Office of the Special Rapporteur, the main problem with current legislation is its overtly repressive approach to freedom of expression. Far from protecting the exercise of freedom of expression and other fundamental rights and freedoms, it provides the State with legal tools to repress it. It also facilitates serious discrimination on political grounds in the exercise of human rights, since anyone who thinks or wants to express themselves differently from the socialist regime cannot exercise their rights without repression.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the IACHR to encourage the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system.


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Freedom of Expression experts express alarm over expansion of censorship measures in Venezuela

ZETA.- The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, and the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR, Edison Lanza, raised alarm over censorship measures and blockings of platforms, social networks and online media, as well as the serious restrictions of journalistic coverage, by the  authorities in Venezuela.

During the development of the political and social crisis in Venezuela, various media were blocked on platforms such as YouTube and Google, while users' access to Facebook was intermittent. Also, at different times it was not possible to access news portals through the internet.

During the demonstrations and political events of recent weeks, the National Television of Chile and Radio Caracol were blocked in the schedule of the subscription channels by order of Conatel, the body that regulates the media. The blocking of TV channels by subscription remains, including CNN and several Colombian television channels.

High-profile television and radio journalists reported that their programs were suspended or that the licenses had been revoked, following pressure from the authorities. The deportation of correspondents and foreign press teams has been a constant, and includes the deportation of the Univision network team and its journalist Jorge Ramos due to questions he made to Nicolás Maduro.

“We are deeply concerned at the bleak situation for freedom of expression in Venezuela, in particular the arrest and prosecution of journalists and bloggers under the so-called "Anti-Hate Law,” the experts said. The Law punishes with harsh prison sentences expressions that fall under broadly defined wording on hate speech, discrimination and terrorism.

The experts call on the Venezuelan authorities to cease the measures of censorship and blockings, in particular as used against independent media. "In addition to being a fragrant violation of international law, this affects the right to receive and disseminate information of the Venezuelan population at a critical moment in their life as a society," said Kaye.

"The idea that the State can pressure the media for editorial content, block access to platforms and deport journalists is not typical of a democracy with freedom of the press," said Lanza.

The Special Rapporteurs urge the authorities to immediately release detained journalists, to cease the measures of censorship, and to review the Anti-Hate Law for Peaceful Coexistence and Tolerance. They urge the authorities to refrain from excessive blocking and filtering of content and limit its requests for takedowns to actual cases of incitement, meeting the requirements of article 19(3) and article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and 13 of the Inter-American Convention of Human Rights.

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Office of the Special Rapporteur presents the thematic report Women Journalists and Freedom of Expression

ZETA.- On the occasion of 2019 International Women’s Day, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presents the thematic report Women Journalists and Freedom of Expression: Discrimination and gender-based violence faced by women journalist in the exercise of their profession, which analyzes the situation of women journalists in the region, and examines the obligations of States and the private sector in the elimination of the main obstacles and specific risks faced by women journalists in the exercise of their profession.

Likewise, women journalists are not only more exposed to online attacks than their male colleagues, but in recent years they have suffered an increase in insults, bullying, and online harassment. Among the most frequent forms of online violence are monitoring and stalking, the publication of personal data, trolling, discrediting, defamation, disqualification, and viral hatred. In addition, women who cover issues such as politics, law, economics, sports, and women's rights are at particular risk of being victims of online violence.
Among women journalists, the most common reported cases are rape in retaliation for their work, sexual abuse of journalists in captivity or detention, or sexual violence by mobs against journalists covering public events. In the office, the most frequent practices are unwanted comments about their clothes, whistles, jokes of a sexual nature, and unwanted physical contact.
Violence against women journalists on the basis of gender manifests itself in different ways. Murder, sexual violence, sexual harassment, intimidation, abuse of power, and gender-based threats are some of the most common manifestations of violence. In parallel, women face discrimination in the media and the workplace due to the persistence of the stereotype that journalism is not an "appropriate" profession for women. These discriminatory social norms limit opportunities for women's professional development. Moreover, women are over-represented among those who report news covering issues traditionally related to “female interest”  and under-represented in the coverage of topics considered to be of particular interest, such as those related to politics and government or economics. In addition, indigenous or Afro-descendent women journalists are often disproportionately underrepresented in traditional media.

The report reflects upon the fact that women journalist are two times more likely to be victims of violence for exercising freedom of expression and because of their gender. In addition to the risks of threats and violence faced by all human rights defenders and journalists in the region, women journalists are exposed to additional or specific risks. By challenging chauvinistic stereotypes that disapprove of their participation in public life, they face discrimination based on their gender. In addition, they face a lack of protection and obstacles in access to justice that are also differentiated from their male counterparts.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR recognizes the efforts that have been made by some countries in the region to establish protection programs and mechanisms. However, it is also evident in some countries the absence of specific protection mechanisms or the deficiencies associated with the design and effective implementation of existing mechanisms. Frequently, protection schemes neglect the particularities of the beneficiary's family situation, such as having children of school age, as well as the tasks of domestic work, school supervision, and unpaid care that fall disproportionately on women, which deepens the impact of violence.
In addition, in cases where acts of violence affecting women journalists are reported, impunity remains the norm rather than the exception.

The thematic report systematizes international standards on the safety of journalists from a gender perspective, the state's obligations to prevent, protect and seek justice in the face of acts of gender-based violence against women journalists. It also focuses on the role of the media in preventing gender-based violence, and that related to online platforms giver their role in the prevention and protection of gender-based violence against women journalists.

This report is the culmination of a process initiated in 2017 that was aimed at gathering information which included, in addition to the review of available documentary sources, a series of interviews with experts from the region on freedom of expression, gender and communication. Continuing with this process in February 2018, the Office of the Special Rapporteur convened a consultation of women experts to discuss and strengthen an initial diagnosis and submit a preliminary and non-exhaustive synthesis of the possible contents of a thematic report to the specialists.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the IACHR to encourage the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system.

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Chinese Considered 'Language of the Future' for Young Ugandans

LUWERO, UGANDA, (HALIMA ATHUMANI-VOANEWS).- As Uganda's population increases, many young people are having trouble finding jobs that pay well. A government directive to introduce the teaching of Mandarin Chinese in schools may lead to better employment opportunities.

China is a major trade partner and investor in Africa, and many countries are encouraging their citizens to learn what is considered by many to be the language of the future.

Last year, Uganda's Ministry of Education named 35 schools countrywide where the Chinese language would be taught.

The decision was driven by ties between the countries, says Grace Baguma, director of the national Curriculum Development Center.
"There is a lot of economic activity, infrastructure development, medical, [you] name it, that China is working with Uganda," Baguma said. "And many of our people, the Ugandans, are trading with China. So, China has become a country that we need to get to know and get into it. And the only way we can do it is also through the languages."

Kinene Charles, one of the students learning Mandarin at Everest College in Luwero district, thinks the language will open up job opportunities.

"I am interested in learning Chinese because it can help me to be employed in Chinese companies. And if I have a friend who knows Chinese, he can get a job and invite me to act as an interpreter in Chinese anniversaries," he said.
For the last four years, the Confucius Institute at Makerere University has been instructing students in Chinese. The students are now being assigned to different schools in the country to teach the language.

Namisi Moses Apollo says that he was a poor student in his regular schooling, and he worried about finding employment. But he says learning Chinese was easy, and upon graduation he was asked to start teaching in a pilot class in Luwero.

According to Namisi, there are vast opportunities in Uganda for people who can teach Chinese, though he notes that in most cases, it's the Chinese government paying the salaries, and one has to be very professional.

"The market is vast, open, but you also have to be, I would say, a titan at negotiations to get the best out of it," he said. "You need to give it your best. You need to play your ace at last. That is how you can be able to get the job. So, you not only have to be good at Chinese language, but also at the culture and the communication skill."

Visiting Chinese officials have over the years emphasized what they call the template of Africa-China cooperation.
China has funded many large infrastructure projects in Uganda, including the 600-megawatt Karuma Hydro Power Project, with a price tag of $1.8 billion, and a highway between Kampala and Entebbe, which cost $350 million.

Photo VOA.

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