Young Hong Kong Democrats Face Jail Amid Fears Of Broader Crackdown
The democracy movement in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong is facing a dark era, student protest leader Joshua Wong said on Wednesday, a day before an appeal court decides whether to send him and two other activists to jail. The former British colony, which last month celebrated 20 years under Communist Party rule, was gridlocked by nearly three months of street protests in 2014 that failed to convince Beijing to allow full democracy in densely populated city. The protest cemented the then 17-year-old Wong’s role at the forefront of the democracy movement, which has been on a roller coaster over the past year. The ride peaked with young candidates being elected on to the local legislature, before crashing down with a series of government-initiated lawsuits that ended with several being stripped of their seats. Wong, now 20, who was sentenced to 80 hours of community service for illegal assembly connected to the 2014 protests before prosecutors sought a harsher sentence, said the legal challenges had hit morale hard. “It is the darkest era of the Hong Kong democratic movement,” Wong said. “Hong Kong is not Hong Kong anymore and now we’re suffering from a serious threat because I guess in the next few years there will be nearly a hundred youth activists who will be sent to prison.”
Hong Kong Jails Land Protesters After They Served Their Sentences
RADIO FREE ASIA
Hong Kong’s court of appeal on Tuesday jailed a group of environmental protesters who broke into the city’s legislature over government plans to build on rural land. Those jailed included Raphael Wong, deputy head of the pan-democratic League of Social Democrats party, and Ivan Lam of Demosisto, a party formed by former leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy movement. The group had already been found guilty of “unlawful assembly” and handed community service sentences by a magistrate, but the city’s department of justice appealed on the basis that the sentences weren’t stiff enough. Twelve of the 13 activists were jailed on Tuesday for 13 months, while the 13th received a sentence of eight months. They were protesting a controversial development plan for the northeastern part of the New Territories, which would have seen the displacement of thousands of rural residents and the demolition of several farming communities to make way for high-density residential areas. Campaigners have argued that the government’s North East New Territories Development Plan is based on flawed estimates of future population growth and includes scant provision for lower-income groups. The loss of farmland would make Hong Kong entirely dependent on imported produce, while only property moguls will benefit from the luxury residential project. The prosecution told the court how the group had attempted to storm the Legislative Council building, using objects such as bamboo sticks to try to force open the doors, government broadcaster RTHK reported. The Court of Appeal “agreed that deterrent sentences were needed,” it said.
China Tells US And North Korea To Cool It
Zachary Cohen and Joshua Berlinger, CNN
China urged the US and North Korea to urgently “put the brakes” on provocative actions and words on Tuesday after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appeared to back away from a threat to fire missiles toward the US Pacific territory of Guam. Speaking with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday in a phone conversation, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said peacefully solving the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula is in the interest of all relevant parties, including China and Russia. Wang also agreed to coordinate closely on the nuclear issue, strengthening the countries’ strategic communication, working together to manage and control the situation in order to prevent an “August crisis,” according to statement from the Chinese foreign ministry. During the call between Lavrov and Wang “the ministers stressed that there is no alternative to a political and diplomatic settlement” the Chinese statement said. A statement on the Russian foreign ministry’s website said Russian and China discussed “possible ways out of the confrontational spiral on the Korean Peninsula,” and that “military adventures and threats of force” against North Korea were “unacceptable.” The call for a de-escalation comes just hours after state media KCNA reported that Kim had reviewed a previously announced plan to fire four missiles on a trajectory over western Japan, but had decided not to go ahead with the proposal for now.
Cuban Trade With Venezuela Plunges Over Two Years
Marc Frank, REUTERS
Cuban trade with socialist ally Venezuela has fallen 70 percent since 2014 due to the South American oil producer’s inability to meet delivery contracts and purchase goods as it struggles with low oil prices and a resulting economic meltdown. A cash crunch and lower oil supplies from Venezuela have forced the Communist-run Caribbean island to slash imports and reduce the use of fuel and electricity, helping tip its centrally planned economy into recession in 2016 for the first time in nearly a quarter century. Merchandise trade with Venezuela fell to $2.2 billion in 2016, compared with $4.2 billion the year before and $7.3 billion in 2014, the Cuban National Statistics Office reported on its website this week. A strategic alliance formed by the two countries’ former leaders, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez—who have since died—resulted in the Caribbean island importing all its oil from Venezuela in exchange for medical and other professional services, with the oil factored in as merchandise in trade reports. Under the agreement, Cuba also began exporting pharmaceuticals and other products to Venezuela.
Elian Gonzalez: “I’m Involved With The Work Of The Revolution”
Patrick Oppmann, CNN
When little Elian Gonzalez returned to Cuba in 2000 following a poisonous custody battle and a federal raid on his Miami relatives’ home, it was to resume a life far from the glare of the media spotlight. At least that’s what Cuban officials and his father said at the time. Seventeen years later, it hasn’t worked out that way. Gonzalez, 23, remains one of the most identifiable figures on the island and one of his generation’s most outspoken supporters of the Cuban Revolution. The little boy who was found clinging to an inner tube in the Florida Straits, and became famous playing in the yard of his Miami kin’s home while two countries battled over his fate, graduated from a military academy in 2016 with a degree in industrial engineering. “I don’t do anything different than other young people,” Gonzalez said in 2015 in an interview with the Cuban Communist Party daily Granma. “I have fun, play sports, but I am also involved with the work of the revolution and realize that young people are essential for the development of the country.”
Cuba’s Castro Faces Tough Choices On The Island’s Fledgling Economy
John Caulfield, THE HILL
As the Trump administration rewrites the rules on Cuba’s economic sanctions, President Raúl Castro and other senior officials addressed Cuba’s National Assembly on the economic challenges their country faces. Castro reviewed progress on the “lineamientos,” or guidelines on Cuban economic reforms he launched after he was elected president in 2010. The guidelines are a document of the Cuban Communist Party proposed by himself and other top party leaders to rescue the Cuban economy from the Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy imposed by former president Fidel Castro that replicated the economic system of the former Soviet Union. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of its subsidies to Cuba, the failure of that model became apparent. The election of President Hugo Chávez in Venezuela in 1998 brought a new patron and delayed the inevitable abandonment of the Soviet model. As Venezuela endures its own crisis, it has cut oil shipments in half and abandoned economic joint ventures between the two countries. The guidelines allow private Cubans to own and sell their personal residences and cars, and to become self-employed in a number of blue-collar and service jobs, but not professions. The formation of private companies was not authorized, although successful self-employed restaurant, beauty salon, and other business owners hired employees to help them. This business creation was viewed suspiciously by the party, but it was tolerated. Later, Cuba authorized the formation of “cooperatives” at former state-owned companies.
North Korea Is Executing, Torturing and Enslaving Those Who Practice Religion, US Says In New Report
The North Korean regime has continued to position itself as one of the world’s worst persecutors of the religious, torturing and killing people who practice their faith, according to a State Department report released Tuesday. The 2016 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom determined that the government led by dictator Kim Jong-un continues to delineate brutal punishments for those who engage in faith-bound acts outside of worshipping the country’s leadership. The punishment includes “executions, torture, beatings and arrests.” “An estimated 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners, some imprisoned for religious reasons, were believed to be held in the political prison camp system in remote areas under horrific conditions,” the report stated.
North Korean Hackers Target US Military Contractors
Idrees Ali and John Walcott, THE HILL
Hackers linked to North Korea are targeting US military contractors, including those interested in the missile defense system protecting South Korea, according to a Monday report from Palo Alto Networks. The announcement comes as President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un trade threats over North Korea’s nuclear program. Palo Alto has observed hackers using the same infrastructure and tools as earlier attacks from the Lazarus Group, which is believed to be sponsored by North Korea, through July. North Korea’s two most recent missile tests were held on July 4 and July 28. Lazarus is best known in the United States as the group that hacked Sony Pictures in an apparent response to the film “The Interview,” which depicted Kim’s assassination. The group sent malware-laced files to employees of US contractors, according to the report, that were designed to look like job ads. One of them was for a management position concerning the terminal high altitude area defense missile system, the same system the US is working to erect in South Korea to shoot down potential missile attacks. North Korea’s July 28 missile test demonstrated that Pyongyang now has missiles hypothetically powerful enough to reach the western United States, although it is unclear if those missiles can survive the journey.
The Real Reason North Korea Is Threatening Guam
Richard Parker, POLITICO
On a steamy May afternoon at Anderson Air Force Base in Guam, military air traffic converges from all over the world: gray B-52s from North Dakota, KC-130 tankers from Pennsylvania and C-130s from South Korea. This is Anderson Air Force base, one of the busiest military outposts in the world—and a place that Kim Jong-un, the young hermit king of North Korea, wants to blow up. This is not just a far-flung dot on the map, a forgotten colonial trophy seized during the Spanish-American war. It’s a pillar of America’s benevolent global empire, and Kim—for all his buffoonish ways, from his Macklemore haircut to his bulging belly to his comic-book villain threats—knows that taking it out would be a triumph for the ages. But the base and its island home of Guam are strategically important, in Asia and around the world, for another reason: The base is home to the largest American munitions depot in the world, supplying bombs and missiles to US forces everywhere from Korea to Afghanistan. If Kim can credibly threaten Guam, he threatens the United States’ ability to fight all but a short war on the Korean Peninsula—not to mention the US’s ability to fight another major war elsewhere. As threats go, this one is surprisingly precise, credible and strategic.
Pence Downplays Possibility Of Military Intervention In Venezuela
Emily Tillett, CBS NEWS
During a joint press conference in Argentina with President Mauricio Macri, Vice President Mike Pence said the Trump administration wants to help protect democracy in the embattled nation of Venezuela, while downplaying the possibility US military intervention. “In Venezuela, we are seeing tragedy of tyranny play out before our own eyes in our own hemisphere,” said Pence at the Tuesday press conference. “The US will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles,” he added. As Macri told reporters he was reassured by the “levels of agreement” between the US and Argentina on how to tackle the issue of Venezuela, he also urged an emphasis on “diplomatic and economic skills” instead of military options. Venezuela has been stricken by violent protests in recent months amid massive inflation, food shortages, and efforts to quell dissent by the country’s socialist government. “We do not see force as an option to resolve the conflict in Venezuela,” Macri said flatly. Pence said Mr. Trump has “made clear the US has many options, and we reserve those options” when it comes to dealing with Venezuela. “The United States will continue to bring the full economic power to bear on Venezuela,” said Pence. “The president and I remain confident we will achieve a peaceable solution to the crisis facing Venezuelan people. And know this, Mr. President, what we do for Venezuela, we will do together.”
Top US General Says Committed To Working Through Difficulties With China
Michael Martina, REUTERS
There are many difficult issues between the United States and China but both share a commitment to work through them, the United States’ top general said on Tuesday during a visit to Beijing amid tension over nuclear-armed North Korea. “I think we have to be honest. We have many, many difficult issues where we don’t necessarily share the same perspective,” Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Fang Fenghui, chief of the Joint Staff Department of the People’s Liberation Army. “We share a commitment to work through these difficult issues,” he added, without elaborating. Fang said China attached great important to his visit and had arranged for him to observe a military exercise. In a later statement, China’s Defence Ministry said the two discussed North Korea, Taiwan and the South China Sea and signed a framework agreement on a China-US military dialogue mechanism, though it gave no details. Fang said cooperation was the only correct choice for the two countries, and their two militaries could certainly become good cooperative partners, the ministry added.
Vietnam Tells Officials To Avoid Graft And Live Modestly
Mi Nguyen, US NEWS
Vietnam’s Communist Party has set out rules for top officials with an emphasis on fighting corruption, avoiding nepotism and living modestly, the government website said on Tuesday. The announcement, agreed by the politburo on Monday, comes against the backdrop of a growing crackdown on corruption in the one-party state since security-minded conservatives won greater influence early last year. The crackdown took on an international dimension this month when Germany accused Vietnam of abducting a former oil official from Berlin who is wanted over losses at a state firm. Top officials must display “no corruption or opportunism… and be determined to push back against the degeneration in political ideology.” They must have “absolutely no ambition for power,” “absolutely not let relatives and acquaintances benefit from their positions” and should lead “an honest, modest, sincere, transparent, simple and generous life.” The crackdown on alleged corruption and mismanagement has focused on inefficient state-owned companies and has led to the rare dismissal of a member of the politburo and calls for the sacking of a vice-minister for her role at an electricity firm. Trinh Xuan Thanh, the former PetroVietnam official Germany says was abducted from Berlin, is wanted on charges of financial management that caused losses or around $150 million at the state oil firm. He was shown on state television saying that he had decided to turn himself in, but the government has never given details as to how he returned from Germany.
Violin-Playing Protester Freed From Jail In Venezuela
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
A Venezuelan violinist who is a well-known face of protests against his country’s socialist government has been freed after more than two weeks in prison. The office of Venezuela’s chief prosecutor said Tuesday night that a court granted its request for Wuilly Arteaga to be let out on parole. He was detained last month during a protest and his lawyers have said he was beaten with his violin while during custody. The 23-year-old musician skyrocketed to fame after he and his violin were dragged to the ground by national guardsmen during a confrontation with protesters. Arteaga was often seen playing somber renditions of Venezuela’s national anthem while standing amid clouds of tear gas. He even was invited to Washington to perform for members of Congress.
Armed Venezuelan Soldiers Caught In Guyana Begging For Food
Jim Wyss, MIAMI HERALD
A handful of Venezuelan soldiers—armed and in uniform—were caught in neighboring Guyana last week begging for food, local police reported, another sign of Venezuela’s deepening hunger crisis. Guyanese Police Inspector Christopher Humphrey said he’d gone to the border along the Amacuro river, which divides the two nations, to investigate reports that the Venezuelan military was stealing food from locals. But the three soldiers he encountered—two carrying military assault rifles—said they had come to beg for meals and hadn’t harmed anyone. Humphrey said the men had crossed into Guyana on a wooden raft and seemed genuinely hungry. “They were desperate,” he told the Miami Herald. “They were here for some time and they showed me a can of sardines and the place where they had cooked it over a fire.” The Guyana Guardian newspaper, which first reported the story, said the men had been given some additional food and then sent back across the border. Hunger is on the rise in Venezuela, amid triple-digit inflation and the government’s inability to import basic goods. And neighboring Colombia, Brazil and Guyana have seen a spike in Venezuelans looking for food.
Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly Orders Civilian Trials For Detained Protesters
Venezuela’s controversial Constituent Assembly on Tuesday ordered that cases of protesters detained this year be held in civilian rather than military courts, following complaints from various rights groups and the United Nations. The country underwent four months of nationwide unrest, in which more than 120 people were killed. Venezuelan rights group Penal Forum estimated that at least 120 people were detained during protests since April and tried in military courts. Government critics say the trials were held under military jurisdiction in order to scare people from protesting. One of the Assembly’s first moves last week was to fire dissident chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega. She is now on the run from authorities.