Venezuela Tense As Unrest Over President Maduro's Government Continues
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5 Things You Should Know About Venezuela's Heightened Political Crisis

If political tensions continue to worsen, Venezuela could see a low-level civil war

Venezuela's opposition (a National Assembly majority since January 2016 until now) has kept up peaceful protests since April. But months of political upheaval in the South American country culminated in a week of tensions intensified with the positioning of a totalitarian constitutional assembly that President Nicolás Maduro claims will bring peace. In a climate riddled with economic ruin and the scarcity of food, it may be difficult for the opposition to carry on in the face of increasingly violent repression by government forces.

After a vote on Sunday (July 30), which many suspect to be illegitimate and is criticized around the world, Maduro perhaps cleared any and all political challenges that the opposition might present in the next coming years. With Marudo calling for the rewriting of the country's constitution and a new legislative body, the left is now in complete control. On Saturday (Aug. 5), independently-minded chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega was abruptly removed from office by soldiers. The following Sunday saw a guerrilla attack on an army base in the central city of Valencia, during which two of 20 intruders were shot dead by military officials. One was injured, seven captured and 10 managed to escape.

If political tensions continue to worsen, Venezuela could see a low-level civil war. Here's what you should know about the growing political crisis and its many variables:

President Nicolas Maduro
Maduro served as Vice President to the late revolutionary Hugo Chavez, before he endorsed Maduro to succeed him in 2013. Early on, the two formed the Fifth Republic Movement, a socialist party in Venezuela. The "Fifth Republic" refers to the 1997 Republic of Venezuela, which was the fourth in Venezuelan history, and the Chavez-led movement aimed to re-found the Republic through a constitutional assembly.

The Opposition
After years of having been outwitted by Venezuela’s left, the opposition had seized control of the National Assembly in 2016. With eyes on a 2018 presidency, it had plans of writing new laws, releasing political prisoners and hauling Venezuela out of economic crisis, but those have been effectively liquidated. Family members of two prominent opposition figures Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma said on Twitter that the men had been taken from their homes by security forces. Both men had been under house arrest.  

Uprooting Democracy
At the heart of Venezuela's political crisis is the economic downfall, shortage of food and medicine, and soaring crime rates. What's more, the Maduro regime is intent on rewriting the country's constitution. The newly formed National Constituent Assembly "aspires illegitimately to usurp the constitutional role of the democratically elected National Assembly, rewrite the constitution, and impose an authoritarian regime on the people of Venezuela."

Military Coup?
The military has historically been an authority of political disputes in Venezuela. While the opposition has called on its army to uphold the constitution and prevent Maduro from further consolidating power, the late Hugo Chavez alongside Maduro spent years winning over military leaders with money and political patronage. Considering that only a handful of officers have publicly expressed disgruntlement, it seems unlikely that the military will play a role in overthrowing the current regime.

Fleeing Refugees
Colombian authorities are scrambling to deal with an influx of Venezuelan migrants across the 1378-mile-long border between the two countries. Officials from Bogotá have traveled to Turkey to learn more about its response to the Syrian refugee crisis. This week, Colombia’s foreign minister María Ángela Holguín reportedly announced a new shelter in the border town of Cúcuta to offer food and shelter to Venezuelan migrants.

 

 

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Government Shutdown Prompts Hunger Strike Inside Manhattan Jail

As the country enters its 26th day since the partial government shutdown, some inmates inside a Manhattan detention center have decided to partake in a hunger strike after family visits were canceled for the second week due to a lack of staffing.

According to the New York Times, inmates at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, or M.C.C have denied their breakfast and lunch meals. The facility, which holds about 800, is one of the most important in the federal prison system and has housed few infamous names including Mexican drug leader El Chapo and terrorists.

Federal public defender Sarah Baumgartel said she learned of the hunger strike from a detainee she represents. Baumgartel declined to identify the inmate out of fear he'd be singled out. "They have already refused a meal — I believe they refused breakfast and lunch.”

Along with canceled family visits, the dispensing of medication to inmates in need has also been affected. The New York Times reports a prosecutor inside a federal court was "informed" that because of the shutdown, there are issues with prescribing medication.”

On Monday (Jan. 16) Bureau of Prisons lawyer Adam Johnson emailed  defense lawyers stating “due to staff shortages,” attorneys would not be able to speak with their clients at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center. "We regret the inconvenience and will notify you immediately once visiting resumes.”

The partial government shutdown is a stand off between Donald Trump's demands for funding to construct a wall along the U.S- Mexican border and a newly elected Democratic Congress refusing to acquiesce.

Since then, more than 800,000 employees have gone without pay.

 

 

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Man Leaves Marijuana In An Uber And Tries To Retrieve It From Cops

A 21-year-old Pennsylvania man is in police custody after attempting to retrieve two pounds of marijuana from a state trooper he believed was his Uber driver.

According to reports, the driver received an email Dec. 29 from Uber about the previous rider Malik Mollett, who left something in the backseat of the vehicle. In the email was Mollett's phone number.

On Jan. 9, a state trooper posed as an Uber driver and called Mollett. Police said Mollett answered the phone, explained he left something in the Uber. The trooper and Mollett then agreed to meet, Mollett said the bag he left was black, the trooper texted Mollett a picture of the black bag and he confirmed that it was indeed his.

TWO pounds of marijuana left behind in an Uber — police say Malik Mollett thought he was meeting up with the driver to get it back, but it was actually state troopers. I’ll have more on this story tonight on #WPXI pic.twitter.com/ZJGP7kU29Z

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The trooper than coordinated a time to meet with Mollett at a local McDonald's. It was there, the trooper gave Mollett the bag. Another trooper reportedly then entered the McDonalds and took Mollett into police custody.

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Florida Pardons Four Black Men Wrongfully Convicted Of Rape In 1949

The state of Florida is attempting to make amends.

Gov. Ron DeSantis posthumously pardoned Samuel Shepherd, Walter Irvin, Earnest Thomas and Charles Greenlee Friday (Jan. 11), decades after the court system destroyed their lives

On July 16, 1949, Shepherd, Irvin, Greenlee and Thomas, known as “The Groveland Four,” were convicted of gang raping a 17-year-old married white woman who claimed that she was attacked on the side of a road in Groveland, Fla.

“For seventy years, these four men have had their history wrongly written for crimes they did not commit,” DeSantis said in a statement.

“As I have said before, while that is a long time to wait, it is never too late to do the right thing,” he continued. “I believe the rule of law is society’s sacred bond. When it is trampled, we all suffer. For the Groveland Four, the truth was buried. The Perpetrators celebrated. But justice has cried out from that day until this.”

The accuser, Norma Padgett, and her husband, Willie, claimed that she had been gang raped after their car broke down. There was no evidence to prove that a sexual assault occurred, and prosecutors were accused of manipulating and withholding crucial information in the case.

Irvin and Shepherd, both 22, were friends and World War II veterans. They acknowledged asking the couple if they needed help after spotting them on the side of the road. Greenlee, a 16-year-old newlywed, was “being detained 20 miles away” from the location where the Padgetts claimed the rape occurred. He was at a train station waiting to go job hunting with Thomas when police arrested him. The teen denied that he and Thomas were involved in the alleged rape.

Nonetheless, Irvin, Shepherd and Greenlee were all charged with rape. Thomas, also a newlywed at the time, was “presumed guilty” but fled before police could arrest him. A violent posse of more than 1,000 men went out to search for him. They caught up with Thomas and killed him in a “hail of gunfire” as he slept next to a tree. His death was ruled a justifiable homicide.

The others were arrested and severely beaten by police, subsequently forcing them into false confessions, with the exception of Irvin who maintained his innocence. Another member of the group had his home burned down by an angry mob.

An all-white jury convicted the men of rape and sentenced Irvin and Shepherd to death. Greenlee was sentenced to life in prison because he was a minor.

Thurgood Marshall, then an Executive Director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, appealed the ruling. A retrial was ordered in April of 1951. Seven months later, Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall shot Shepherd and Irvin during a prison transfer. McCall claimed that he gunned them down because they were attempting to escape. Shepherd died instantly.

Irvin survived after being shot in the neck while laying on the ground, handcuffed to Shepherd.

Irvin was refused medical attention because of his race. He was later retried in court, reconvicted and sentenced to death. The sentence was eventually commuted to life in prison. Irvin was paroled in 1969. He was found dead in his car a year after his release.

Greenlee, the last living member of the four, was paroled in 1960. He died in 2012, at age 78.

Norma Padgett, now 86 years old, opposed the men receiving pardons and maintains her story.

The pardons were approved nearly a year after state legislators issued a resolution urging the governor to move forward with the process. Lawmakers also offered a “heartfelt apology” to the families of Greenlee,  Irvin, Shepherd and Thomas “for the enduring sorrow caused by the criminal justice system’s failure to protect their basic constitutional rights.”

See more on the case below.

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