Dismantling Unasur Would Be a 'Historical Error': Ex-Chief

Samper argued the regional integration body is more necessary today in the face of threats by 'foolish Donald Trump.' 

Ernesto Samper, the former secretary general of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), has warned that allowing the regional integration body to be dismantled or disappear would be a “historical error,” and would “weaken our countries when it is most needed to face the threats to the region and the world since the foolish Donald Trump presides over the United States.”  

ANALYSIS: How Lima Group Undermines Unasur's Regional Sovereignty Mission

Unasur entered a prolonged impasse in late April when six countries, all belonging to the United States aligned Lima Group, announced they were temporarily withdrawing from the South American integration body.

According to a joint letter sent to Bolivia, which holds the pro-tempore presidency of Unasur, the withdrawal was a response to the incapacity of Unasur countries to choose a secretary general since early 2017 when Samper, a former Colombian president (1994-1998), ended his term.

In an op-ed written for EFE, Samper detailed U.S. policies that threaten the region and said destroying Unasur will be akin to suicide.  

“Trump’s ‘axe of war’ contemplates the expulsion of Latino migrants who have lived in the United States for years; the construction of divisive walls in the border with Mexico; non-compliance with environmental regulation, that due to global warming increases the risk of natural disasters in the Caribbean; increasing taxes for our key exports; or questioning Colombia’s peace accords,” Samper explains.

RELATED: Ex-Unasur Chief: 'Aggressive' US Threatens Regional Integration 

“To disregard the joint response to such challenges is like jumping overboard when the storm rages,” Samper said.   

Despite the formal justification, some fear the intention is to dismantle Unasur. In a previous interview, Samper acknowledged the United States would prefer to have the Organization of American States as the only regional body.

The creation of Unasur did not only represent a regional body that excluded the U.S., but it also challenged U.S. military hegemony in the region.

The South American Defense Council “reiterated its commitment against foreign military bases in South America when former president Alvaro Uribe authorized the presence of several bases in the border between Colombia and Venezuela. Its implementation could’ve taken us to the brink of unseen levels of hemispheric conflict” Samper explained.

After presenting other Unasur accomplishments in the fields of migration, health, and education, Samper warned: “Lowering our guard against what has been achieved over the years, transforming what is now a space of integration into a field of controversy would be, as well as unforgivable, a serious historical error.”

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Nicolas Maduro Wins Venezuelan Presidential Elections

President and candidate Nicolas Maduro won the Sunday elections.

Nicolas Maduro won the Venezuelan presidential elections Sunday, gaining a second presidential term for six years with more than 5.8 million votes, the National Electoral Council (CNE) announced Sunday night.

With 92.6 percent of the votes counted, Maduro had 5.8 million votes, while his closest rival, former governor Henri Falcón getting 1.8 million votes, said CNE President Tibisay Lucena who added that in total, 8.6 million Venezuelans voted, out of an electoral registry of 20.5 million people.

"We are the force of history turned into popular victory," Maduro told his supporters after the CNE announcement. "Thank you to facing so many aggressions and lies, thank you for overcoming it, and for making me president of Venezuela for the next term."

The president further thanked the Venezuelan people for their support and voting him into a second term with 68 percent of the vote. "The people in Venezuela has to be respected."

As results came out, Maduro supporters let off fireworks in poor Caracas neighborhoods and danced to Latin pop around the downtown Miraflores presidential palace. He took 5.8 million votes, versus 1.8 for his nearest rival Henri Falcon, the board said.

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Argentine Opposition Warns of Crisis Amid Macri's Return to IMF

In 2001 an IMF-induced crisis left one in five Argentines without a job while people flooded the streets in protests that saw more than 20 people killed.

The block of deputies of the Peronist-Kirchnerist alliance Frente para la Victoria (Front for Victory) criticized the decision of the Argentine President Mauricio Macri to request a financing for US$30 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

RELATED: IMF to Argentina: Implement More Austerity, Privatization

"We demand from the Executive Branch that any possible agreement with the IMF, prior to its approval, be widely discussed in the National Congress, and nothing that the Fund [MF] wants to agree on has to be done behind the backs of the Argentine people," the block said in a statement.

"The decision on Tuesday means a serious setback. Within two and a half years of the Néstor Kirchner administration, Argentina canceled the debt with the IMF, 13 years later, two and a half years into the government of Mauricio Macri, [he] send us to the Fund.”

The lawmakers further warned that the IMF deals have always resulted to austerity measures and cuts to social programs.

"The agreements with the Fund have always been detrimental to our people, meaning cuts in salaries, retirements, privatizations, layoffs in the public sector and an increase in poverty among Argentines, leading the country to very deep economic and social crises," the statement added..

“The Fund” is the word used by many Argentines to refer to the IMF and carries negative connotations as many in the country associate the organization with crisis after several right-wing governments borrowed millions of dollars from it over the years. The most recent crisis was the country’s 2001 devaluation and US$100bn debt default.

The IMF-induced crisis left one in five Argentines without a job, while the country's peso, which was tied to the dollar at the time, lost two-thirds of its value and banks froze deposits. Protests engulfed the country in which at least 20 people were killed. In just two weeks, the country had five successive presidents.

That is why when President Néstor Kirchner paid off the IMF debt of almost US$10 billion in 2006, he celebrated it as a way for the country to regain its sovereignty. “With this payment, we are interring a significant part of an ignominious past,” Mr. Kirchner, who would die in 2010, said at the time.

The new IMF loan will include severe conditions, in case the government asks for funds to finance the deficit until 2019. Macri began negotiations with this body to obtain a loan to avoid a serious financial crisis in exchange for freezing retirements for two years and applying mass layoffs, according to the Argentine media El Destape.

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Brazil: 'I'm Calm, But Outraged,' Lula in 1st Letter Behind Bars

"I'm so grateful for your resistance,” former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio 'Lula' da Silva told his supporters.

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio 'Lula' da Silva has released his first public message since being imprisoned at the federal police headquarters in Curitiba, Parana over the past nine days. Addressing supporters through a letter delivered to the president of the Workers' Party encamped outside the prison walls Monday, he said “I've heard your songs. I'm so grateful for your resistance and presence in these acts of solidarity.”

RELATED: Brazil: 'Free Lula!' Protests Continue in Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte

Speaking from his cell, Lula's lawyers continued writing his words. “I'm certain that it won't be long before justice will be worth its name. That is, whomever committed crimes will be punished. And those who did not committ a crime will be absolved. I continue to challenge the Federal Police involved in the Car Wash (investigations), the Public Prosecution involved int he Car Wash (investigations), (judge Sergio) Moro and those involved in my second conviction to prove the crime that they allege that I committed.”

Lula concluded that despite the judicial and mainstream media he has suffered prior to, during and after his conviction, he continues to believe in justice. “Hence, I'm calm, but outraged, as all innocent people are outraged when they are wronged. A big hug and thank you very much.”

The message was read by the Worker's Party President Gleisi Hoffman to Lula's supporters encamped in front of the federal police station in Curitiba.

Lula was sentenced to 12 years and one month in prison on corruption charges by Brazil's Fourth Regional Federal Court. The Supreme Court of Justice rejected two habeas corpus appeals submitted by his defense team.

Legal experts and observers attribute his case to a salacious media campaign coupled with 'lawfare,' where political foes use loopholes in the judicial system to their advantage, neutralizing their opponents.

Despite his conviction and imprisonment, Lula has topped every 2018 electoral poll conducted by Ibope, Vox Populi, Datafolha, Data Poder 360, Instituto Parana, the National Confederation of Transportation/MDA and Ipsos.

Lula's two terms in office were marked by a slew of social programs, lifting millions of Brazilians out of poverty and removing the country from the United Nations World Hunger Map. He left office with a record approval rating of 83 percent in 2011, according to Datafolha.

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Irregularities, Fraud Allegations Mark Colombian Elections

While some voting stations ran out of ballots, social media users also posted numerous videos showing alleged irregularities including vote buying.

Colombia's legislative elections and interparty primaries have created a stir in the South American nation, after major irregularities were reported by NGOs, candidates and social media users.

RELATED: Live Updates: Colombia Polls Close, Irregularities Reported 

The Electoral Observer Mission (OEM) – which had warned of the risk of fraud in hundreds of municipalities in the run-up to the elections –reported numerous inconsistencies as videos surfaced on social media appearing to show vote-buying and other fraudulent activities.

"Unauthorized information desks" had been set up in front of polling stations in various towns "with lists of voters and transportation ready to receive them," the OEM said. 

The OEM also highlighted the lack of accreditation "generating protests": at least 141 towns registered more voters than inhabitants, especially in the provinces of Antioquia, Boyaca and Santander. In addition, 30 percent of voters surveyed by the mission said they could not cast their ballots in secret.

@moecolombia #EleccionesColombia Balance de #ObservaciónMOE en el 30% de los cubículos destinados para que la gente vote no garantizaban que la votación se realizara de manera secreta. #PilasConElVoto 

The National Civil Registry said ballots had run out in Medellin, Cucuta and Manizales, but voters could use photocopies: "An agreement was reached with the political parties and movements, due to the budget restriction and they authorized the continuation of the procedure with photocopies," said Juan Carlos Galindo.

Other users on social media also posted numerous videos showing alleged irregularities including vote buying.

Presidential frontrunner, Gustavo Petro, repeated Sunday that electoral authorities failed to organize the process with transparency, complaining about the shortage of cards for registered voters.

"We already knew that the office of registration was not capable of transparency in the elections," he told reporters after casting his vote in the south of Bogota.

The former mayor of the capital was surrounded by almost 100 people shouting: "I came here because they did not pay for my vote."

"The jury in polling offices have systematically denied left-wing voters the registration card," Petro said, noting that the lack of transparency will affect the election of left-wing and right-wing coalition candidates alike.

3. Hiding Ballots:

Supporters of Gustavo Petro say the ballots for the primaries of the"Social inclusion for peace" were hidden from voters, leaving only those of the right-wing coalition available to voters.

@teleSURtv | Electorado colombiano denuncia por parte de la Registraduría en distintas regiones de la nación. Aquí se observa como los jurados esconden los tarjetones de la consulta

 @teleSURtv | Ciudadano colombiano denuncia que tarjetón de la Consulta de Inclusión Social para la paz era ocultada por algunos funcionarios en las mesas de votación

4. Not extending voting hours:

Despite all the irregularities that delayed the process, some voters had to leave without voting because of the lack of cards as polls closed at 4:00 p.m. local time.

@teleSURtv | "Fraude, fraude, fraude", fueron los cantos que se escucharon contra la Registraduría en distintos centros de votación de la nación

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Venezuela's Arreaza Condemns 'US Interventionism' in UN Speech

Arreaza said Simon Bolivar was right in 1829, when he said the U.S. wanted to "spread misery in the Americas in the name of freedom.”

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza condemned the interventionist actions of the United States and its European allies in his country's internal affairs Monday during his speech at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

RELATED:Venezuela's Maduro Slams US-Led 'Ridiculous' Attacks, Defends Democratic Values

“For nearly two decades we've been harassed by interventionist foreign powers, eager to regain control of our oil, gas, gold, diamond, coltan, water and fertile lands,” said Arreaza before quoting Simon Bolivar when he said the United States wanted to “spread misery in Americas in the name of freedom.”

Arreaza said U.S. President Donald Trump has been threatening Venezuela all this time and imposed sanctions against the country in an attempt to topple President Nicolas Maduro and his government. “We can't allow this Human Rights Council to be hijacked by those who only want to make war,” the Venezuelan top diplomat told high level officials during the meeting in Switzerland.

Arreaza pointed to U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson's recent comments in which he openly suggested an overthrow of Venezuela's democratic government and said he wouldn't recognize the outcome of the next elections. Those are only some of the 105 international verbal attacks Venezuela has endured this year, the foreign minister added.

Maduro has called more than 400 times for the opposition to take part in a dialogue to bring peace to the country, but they have been unwilling to do so Arreaza stressed. The opposition also didn't agree to participate in the elections on April 22, a date they themselves proposed.

He further condemned the U.S. Government for making the world believe there's a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela with the intention of carrying out an intervention in the South American country, while highlighting recent comments by U.N. independent expert Alfred de Zayas.

RELATED: Venezuela Slams 'Ego-Driven' US Attacks on Peace and Stability

De Zayas said last week there was no humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. "Of course there is scarcity, anxiety and shortages but whoever has worked for decades for the United Nations and knows the situation of countries in Asia, Africa and some of America, knows that the situation in Venezuela is not a humanitarian crisis.”

The expert explained that although many think that the country is on the verge of disaster, as media outlets do, "Venezuela suffers an economic war, a financial blockade, suffers a high level of smuggling and, of course, needs international solidarity to solve these problems." 

Arreaza also pointed out that “the Venezuelan people have benefited from social plans such as salary increase and the pension system announced by the president.”

He added that “disabled people have been handed scholarships, unemployment has decreased to six percent, more than six million families have benefited by the Supply and Production Local Committee, and two million homes have been delivered.”

“Venezuela ratifies its commitment with the U.N. in defense of human rights because other countries have abused them and violated them,” Arreaza claimed. “Human rights must be sacred and we can't allow them to be violated, because they're crucial in the defense of our humanity.”

Ahead of his speech at the council the foreign minister held a meeting with U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

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Brazil's Former President 'Unfazed' By Due Corruption Ruling

Luiz Inacio 'Lula' da Silva says there's insufficient evidence to uphold his conviction for corruption and money laundering in Brazil's massive "Car Wash" investigation.

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio 'Lula' da Silva is "not concerned" by an imminent appeals-court ruling after being convicted in July of corruption and money laundering as part of the massive "Car Wash" investigation. 

At a press conference at the Lula Institute, Lula – who continues to lead the polls for next year's presidential elections – told reporters he was unfazed by the ruling's possible outcome, scheduled for January 24, in the southern city of Porto Alegre.

He emphasized that while insufficient proof has been provided to uphold his sentencing by judge Sergio Moro, a number of legal tools remain at his disposal and can be invoked if necesary.

RELATED: Lula Will Call a Constituent Assembly If He Wins Presidency in Brazil

Asked how he would reinvigorate Brazil's economy, the former president said that, in contrast to the line taken during his first two terms in office when he spoke about "distributing income, nowadays we must start talking about wealth distribution."

He also vowed that, if re-elected, he would use the country's international reserves to jumpstart the economy, which would, in turn, incentivize the domestic market.

Lula also reiterated his promise to democratize the media, something he had previously hoped would occur during former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's second term in office.

And he offered his thoughts on the overall political environment in Brazil, which has been rocked by a slew of scandals and corruption cases in the ongoing "Car Wash" graft investigation.

His interview coincided with the release of the latest CNI/Ibope survey, which revealed that a mere six percent of the population considers the administration of Senate-imposed President Michel Temer to be "excellent" or "good."

Renato da Fonseca, executive director of CNI's Research and Competitiveness department, said the survey indicates that "the population, in general, still doesn't perceive" any improvement "in the economy."

The poll, which surveyed 2,000 people in 127 municipalities between December 7 and 10, with a margin of error of two percentage points, also showed that 88 percent of respondants reject Temer and 90 percent distrust him.

Over the past few months, polls undertaken by Vox Populi, Datafolha, Data Poder 360, Instituto Parana, the National Confederation of Transportation/MDA and Ipsos have all shown that Lula enjoys a comfortable lead in Brazil's 2018 presidential election.

His term in office was marked by a slew of social programs, which lifted millions of Brazilians out of poverty and removed the country from the UN World Hunger Map.

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Argentina Navy Confirms Explosion Inside Lost Submarine

Relatives of the officers inside of the submarine in Argentina have strongly criticized the actions of the government and the Navy.

The Argentine Navy has confirmed that there was an explosion in the area where the lost submarine was last seen on Nov. 15, Clarin reported. Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi mentioned that this would explain why the crew didn't use any of the emergency mechanisms.

RELATED: How Did Argentina Lose a Submarine And Its Crew?

Balbi added that information suggests that the submarine could have experienced an implosion, explaining why they haven't found any pieces of the submarine in the sea. They said a sound was detected four hours after the last contact was made with the submarine, which had an electric fault.

Meanwhile, relatives of the officers inside of the submarine in Argentina have strongly criticized the actions of the government and the Navy, saying delays and slow protocol hindered the search. Relatives also stood outside of Navy headquarters, chanting "you lied to us," according to El Pais.

Elena and Federico, the brothers of Cristian David Ibanez, one of the officials inside the ARA San Juan, said they live with pain as they await news on their brother and the rest of the crew.

"We are waiting for a miracle, that our brother appears along with all his crewmates, but I also feel that I am waiting for a wake," said Elena. "I need to hug my brother."

During a visit by President Mauricio Macri to the relatives, they said the application of search protocol was delayed and that the collaboration of other countries should have been accepted days before. The Navy said they complied in time with all protocols in this case.

"If they had accepted the aid as soon as they knew about the communication, they would have already found them," said Ibanez's brother, Federico.

Federico said his brother had sent him pictures from Ushuaia, from where he sailed, and asked his daughter and his wife to wait for him at the Mar del Plata port.

"The anguish of living in uncertainty is the worst," Federico said. "It's impressive that so much time has passed and we still don't know anything".

The relatives await at the Naval Base of Mar del Plata, located in the province of Buenos Aires, where the submarine was expected to arrive between Sunday Nov. 18 and Monday Nov. 19.

RELATED: Argentine Submarine Rescue Hopes Dwindle as New Sound 'Anomaly' Detected

For Psychiatrist Enrique Stein, who leads the support team for the relatives at the base, the situation demands respect and precautions to avoid misinformation.

"At this moment, people suffer the emotional situation based on the cycles of information, which leads to illusions and disappointments, which is logical," Stein said.

Previously, Balbi said one possibility was that the submarine couldn't go afloat and was stranded in the bottom of the sea, or that it could have been navigating on the surface. The submarine was last heard from on Nov. 15 and carried a maximum seven-day supply, a deadline that was met on Wednesday.

"It is a critical situation and the concern is growing. We are all worried, just like the relatives,"

PHOTOS: REUTERS

@Armada_Arg Este es el avión C130 de @CanalOficialFAA operando desde la Base Aeronaval Almirante Zar en el marco de las tareas de búsqueda del

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