Venezuela Vows to Jail Protest Leaders as US Urges S. American Pressure on Maduro

Venezuela's chief prosecutor Tarek Saab talks to the media during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela August 16, 2017. (Reuters)
Venezuela's chief prosecutor Tarek Saab talks to the media during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela August 16, 2017. (Reuters)
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Venezuela Vows to Jail Protest Leaders as US Urges S. American Pressure on Maduro

Venezuela's chief prosecutor Tarek Saab talks to the media during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela August 16, 2017. (Reuters)
Venezuela's chief prosecutor Tarek Saab talks to the media during a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela August 16, 2017. (Reuters)

Venezuela vowed on Thursday that it would crackdown and jail the leaders of violent protests that have been taking place in the country since April as the US Vice President called on Latin American countries to step up pressure on Caracas.

Venezuela’s new top prosecutor Tarek Saab pledged to track down the leaders of the protests that have left more than 120 people dead.

He made his vow a day before a hate crimes law was expected to be approved despite fears that it will be used to crush dissent. The new law "against hate and intolerance," denounced by rights groups as a sham aimed at persecuting the opposition, was set to be approved on Friday by a new legislative superbody elected last month at the behest of President Nicolas Maduro.

Maduro loyalist Delcy Rodriguez, head of the body known as the constituent assembly, said the law would be passed before the weekend.

"It will be a point of honor for the public prosecutor's office to identify who was responsible for each of the hate crimes that occurred in this country," Saab, Maduro's ex-human rights ombudsman, shouted during a speech to the assembly.

"We will search the cameras, videos, photographs. We will get images of each one of them to make sure they pay for having killed, for having hurt people and left orphans behind," he said to a standing ovation by the Socialist Party-dominated assembly.

The international community, however, has pointed at the Maduro government, not opposition demonstrators, when assigning blame for deaths.

Venezuelan security forces and pro-government groups were believed responsible for the deaths of at least 73 demonstrators since April, the United Nations said in an August 8 report.

Abuses of protesters, including torture, were part of "the breakdown of the rule of law" in the oil-rich but economically-ailing nation, the report said.

Those found guilty of expressing hate or intolerance will be punished with up to 25 years in jail, according to the vaguely worded hate crimes bill.

Groups like Human Rights Watch say it would give Maduro's government carte blanche to take opposition leaders out of circulation ahead of October gubernatorial elections.

The assembly has established a truth commission to investigate opposition candidates to ensure that any who were involved in violent protests would be barred from running for governorships, Rodriguez said.

The opposition, which won control of congress in 2015 only to see its decisions nullified by Maduro's loyalist Supreme Court, boycotted the July 30 election of the constituent assembly. The body has sweeping powers to re-write Venezuela's constitution and even give Maduro permission to rule by decree.

Meanwhile, US Vice President Mike Pence urged Latin American leaders to intensify pressure on the Venezuelan government, which many fear is on the cusp of dictatorship and civil war.

He made his remarks during a tour of the newly expanded Panama Canal Thursday as he wrapped up a trip to Latin America. Pence met with Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela before departing for Washington Thursday evening.

Pence has spent much of his visit working to assure Latin American allies that the United States remains invested in the region despite President Donald Trump's "America first" rhetoric.

That mission was complicated by Trump's surprise suggestion right before Pence left that a "military option" might be on the table for Venezuela. Leaders across the region made clear to Pence that they strongly rejected the suggestion.

"Chile will do its utmost to support Venezuela to find a peaceful way out," Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said Wednesday. "But Chile will not support military interventions, nor coup d'état."



Putin Signs Deals With Vietnam in Bid to Shore Up Ties in Asia

Russia's President Vladimir Putin, who soon begins a visit to North Korea, last traveled to the isolated country in 2000. NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA / AFP
Russia's President Vladimir Putin, who soon begins a visit to North Korea, last traveled to the isolated country in 2000. NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA / AFP
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Putin Signs Deals With Vietnam in Bid to Shore Up Ties in Asia

Russia's President Vladimir Putin, who soon begins a visit to North Korea, last traveled to the isolated country in 2000. NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA / AFP
Russia's President Vladimir Putin, who soon begins a visit to North Korea, last traveled to the isolated country in 2000. NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA / AFP

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a series of deals with his Vietnamese counterpart To Lam on Thursday, during a state visit that comes as Moscow is seeking to bolster ties in Asia to offset growing international isolation over its military actions in Ukraine.
The two signed agreements to further cooperation on education, science and technology, oil and gas exploration and health. They also agreed to work on a roadmap for a nuclear science and technology center in Vietnam, The Associated Press said.
Following the talks, Putin said that the two countries share an interest in “developing a reliable security architecture” in the Asia-Pacific Region based on not using force and peacefully settling disputes with no room for “closed military-political blocs.”
This was echoed by Vietnam's new President To Lam, who said they seek to further “further cooperate in defense and security to cope with non-traditional security challenges” while implementing energy projects and expanding investments. He also congratulated Putin on his re-election and praised Russia's “domestic political stability.”
The agreements between Russia and Vietnam were not as substantial as an agreement Putin signed with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un the previous day, pledging mutual aid in the event of invasion said Nigel Gould-Davies, a senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, and a former British ambassador to Belarus.
Putin arrived in Hanoi early Thursday morning from North Korea, where he and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed an agreement that pledges mutual aid in the event of war. The strategic pact that could mark the strongest connection between Moscow and Pyongyang since the end of the Cold War comes as both face escalating standoffs with the West.
Putin also met Vietnam’s most powerful politician, Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, as well as Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, according to the official Vietnam News Agency. He is also scheduled to meet parliamentary chief Tran Thanh Man.
Putin drove to Vietnam’s Presidential Palace on Thursday afternoon, where he was greeted by school children waving Russian and Vietnamese flags. There, he shook hands with and embraced Lam before a bilateral meeting and a joint briefing to the media.
Russia is keen to maintain “close and effective cooperation” in energy, industry, technology, education, security and trade, Russian Ambassador to Vietnam Gennady S. Bezdetko said on Wednesday, according to Vietnamese official media.
The trip has resulted in a sharp rebuke from the US Embassy in the country.
Much has changed since Putin's last visit to Vietnam in 2017. Russia now faces a raft of US-led sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine. In 2023, the International Criminal Court in Hague issued an arrest warrant for Putin for war crimes. The Kremlin rejected it as “null and void,” stressing that Moscow doesn’t recognize the court's jurisdiction.
Putin's recent visits to China and now North Korea and Vietnam are attempts to “break the international isolation,” said Nguyen Khac Giang, an analyst at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
The US and its allies have expressed growing concerns over a possible arms arrangement in which Pyongyang provides Moscow with badly needed munitions for its use in Ukraine, in exchange for economic assistance and technology transfers that could enhance the threat posed by Kim’s nuclear weapons and missile program.
Both countries deny accusations of weapons transfers, which would violate multiple UN Security Council sanctions that Russia previously endorsed.
Meanwhile, Russia is important to Vietnam for two reasons, Giang said: It is the biggest supplier of military equipment to the Southeast Asian nation, and Russian oil exploration technologies help maintain its sovereignty claims in the contested South China Sea.
“Russia is signaling that it is not isolated in Asia despite the Ukraine war, and Vietnam is reinforcing a key traditional relationship even as it also diversifies ties with newer partners,” said Prashanth Parameswaran, a fellow with the Wilson Center’s Asia Program.
It is unlikely that Vietnam will supplying significant quantities of weapons to Russia, because that would risk progress the country has made with NATO members on military equipment, particularly the US, which has donated naval patrol vessels and is in talks to supply aircraft, said Ridzwan Rahmat, a Singapore-based analyst with the defense intelligence company Janes.
“There is progress that you wouldn’t have imagined just 10 years ago,” he said. “So I would imagine Vietnam wouldn’t want to take a risk, inviting the wrath of Western countries by supplying the Russians.”
Hanoi and Moscow have had diplomatic relations since 1950, and this year marks 30 years of a treaty establishing “friendly relations” between Vietnam and Russia.
Evidence of this long relationship and its influence can be seen in Vietnamese cities like the capital, where the many Soviet-style apartment blocks are now dwarfed by skyscrapers and a statue of Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union, stands in a park where kids skateboard every evening. Many of the Communist Party's top leadership in Vietnam studied in Soviet universities, including party chief Trong.
In an article written for Nhan Dan, the official newspaper of Vietnam’s Communist Party, Putin vowed to deepen the ties between Moscow and Hanoi and hailed Vietnam as a “strong supporter of a fair world order based on international law, on the principles of equality of all states and non-interference in their domestic affairs.”
He also thanked “Vietnamese friends for their balanced position on the Ukrainian crisis,” in the article released by the Kremlin.
Given Putin's international isolation, Vietnam is doing the Russian leader a “huge favor and may expect favors in return,” wrote Andrew Goledzinowski, the Australian ambassador to Vietnam, on social media platform X. He said that it would have been hard for Vietnam to decline the visit since Putin was already in Asia and Vietnam has historical ties with the former Soviet Republic, but said that it was unlikely that the two would be strategic partners again. “Vietnam will always act in Vietnam’s interests and not anyone else’s,” he wrote.
Vietnam's pragmatic policy of “bamboo diplomacy” — a phrase coined by Trong referring to the plant's flexibility, bending but not breaking in the shifting headwinds of global geopolitics — is being increasingly tested.
A manufacturing powerhouse and an increasingly important player in global supply chains, Vietnam played host to both U.S. President Joe Biden and the leader of rival China, Xi Jinping, in 2023.
The visit was important for Hanoi on a diplomatic level, said Gould-Davies, the former ambassador.
“Perhaps for Vietnam it’s a matter of just showing that it’s able to maintain this very agile balance of its bamboo diplomacy,” he said. “Already in the course of a year they’ve hosted visits by the heads of state of the three most powerful countries in the world, which is pretty impressive."
Similarly, for Russia the visit seems to have been more about optics than anything else, he said, as Moscow seeks to engage and influence other countries, particularly in the so-called Global South.