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Magnitude 7.7 Earthquake Hits Between Cuba and Jamaica

A powerful magnitude 7.7 earthquake struck in the Caribbean Sea between Jamaica and eastern Cuba on Tuesday, shaking a vast area from Mexico to Florida and beyond, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or heavy damage.The quake was centered 139 kilometers (86 miles) northwest of Montego Bay, Jamaica, and 140 kilometers (87 miles) west-southwest of Niquero, Cuba, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It hit at 2:10 p.m. (1910 GMT) and the epicenter was a relatively shallow 10 kilometers (6 miles) beneath the surface.Dr. Enrique Arango Arias, head of Cuba’s National Seismological Service, told state media that there had been no serious damage or injuries reported.The quake was felt strongly in Santiago, the largest city in eastern Cuba, said Belkis Guerrero, who works in a Roman Catholic cultural center in the center of Santiago.”We were all sitting and we felt the chairs move,” she said. “We heard the noise of everything moving around.”She said there was no apparent damage in the heart of the colonial city.”It felt very strong but it doesn’t look like anything happened,” she told The Associated Press.It was also felt a little farther east at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on the southeastern coast of the island. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damages, said J. Overton, a spokesman for the installation, which has a total population of about 6,000 people.Several South Florida buildings were evacuated as a precaujtion, according to city of Miami and Miami-Dade County officials. No injuries or road closures had been reported.The quake also hit the Cayman Islands, leaving cracked roads and what appeared to be sewage spilling from cracked mains. There were no immediate reports of deaths, injuries or more severe damage, said Kevin Morales, editor-in-chief of the Cayman Compass newspaper.Witness reportsThe islands experience so few earthquakes that newsroom staff were puzzled when it hit, he said.”It was just like a big dump truck was rolling past,” Morales said. “Then it continued and got more intense.”Dr. Stenette Davis, a psychiatrist at a Cayman Islands hospital, said she saw manhole covers blown off by the force of the quake, and sewage exploding into the street, but no more serious damage.Claude Diedrick, 71, who owns a fencing business in Montego Bay, said he was sitting in his vehicle reading when the earth began to sway.”It felt to me like I was on a bridge and like there were two or three heavy trucks and the bridge was rocking but there were no trucks,” he said.He said he had seen no damage around his home in northern Jamaica.The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the quake could generate waves 1 to 3 feet above normal in Cuba, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, Honduras, Mexico and Belize.The USGS initially reported the magnitude at 7.3.

Powerful Earthquake Hits between Cuba and Jamaica

The U.S. Geological Survey says a powerful magnitude 7.7 earthquake has struck south of Cuba and northwest of Jamaica.
It was centered 125 kilometers north-northwest of Lucea, Jamaica, and hit at 2:10 p.m. (1910 GMT) Tuesday. The epicenter was a relatively shallow 10 kilometers (6 miles) beneath the surface.
It’s not immediately clear if there are damage or injuries.
The USGS initially reported the magnitude at 7.3.

Europe Tour Boosts Venezuela’s Guaido in Struggle Against Maduro

Efforts by Venezuelan parliamentary leader Juan Guaido to garner European support to unseat president Nicolas Maduro revealed divisions among EU governments as the United States ramped up pressures on Venezuela last week.It was Guaido’s first European visit since he proclaimed himself Venezuela’s acting president a year ago with support from the United States and most Latin American countries, which have backed repeated uprisings that failed to gain support from Venezuela’s military.Nicolas Maduro’s leftist government has managed to remain in power with security assistance from Cuba, Russia and Iran, according to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who met with Guaido at an Anti-Terrorist Summit in Colombia from where he flew to Europe.While most EU member states have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president and denounced Maduro’s human rights violations, they have refrained from implementing the type of wider sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump who has left open the use of military force.A U.S. airborne unit has conducted joint exercises with Colombian forces along a border region with Venezuela over recent days, according to the Pentagon. Venezuela’s government claims to have intercepted a U.S. warship near its coast.Since leaving Venezuela, Guaido’s offices in Caracas have been raided and several of his top aides arrested by Venezuelan police officials, who accuse him of violating restrictions they imposed on his travel.The leader of Venezuela’s political opposition Juan Guaido addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 23, 2020.Guaido urged tougher measures against Maduro in personal meetings with European leaders and in an address to the annual world community conference in Davos, Switzerland.German Chancellor Angela Merkel and prime ministers from the Netherlands, Austria and Greece talked briefly with Guaido on the sidelines of the Davos conference, where his staff set up a workshop to promote Venezuela’s reconstruction.”We are confronted with an international criminal conglomerate and we can’t fight it alone,” he told the conference. “We need tools from the international community to bring pressure on the regime from various centers,” he said.Guaido specifically asked officials and bankers gathered in Davos to block Venezuela’s international trade in gold extracted from mines which, he said, Maduro has turned over to key army generals to secure their loyalty.Guaido’s tour got off to a promising start with a surprise welcome from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who received him under the glow of cameras at 10 Downing Street. French President Emmanuel Macron met him more privately at the Elysee Palace.But momentum was lost in Spain, where Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez failed to meet Guaido citing scheduling problems. He instead sent a newly appointed foreign minister to see him away from government premises.The awkwardness was exacerbated by revelations that a chief Spanish minister had secretly met Maduro’s vice president, Delcy Rodriguez, when she stopped at Madrid’s airport on her way to Turkey some days earlier.Conservative opposition leaders accused the government of violating existing EU sanctions that include entry restrictions of Maduro’s top officials. The U.S. State Department also issued a strong protest.Spain is especially important to Venezuela because of its deep economic, political and cultural ties to its former colony. Venezuela’s political leverage has grown recently with the inclusion of members of the far-left party Podemos in Sanchez’s cabinet.Sanchez has advocated a “dialogue” to resolve Venezuela’s crisis and his ex-foreign minister Josep Borrell, who is now EU chief of external affairs, has worked to promote negotiations with Maduro.An  EU communique following a meeting between Guaido and Borrell in Brussels said the two “have signaled the urgent necessity to find a common focus as much between the Venezuelan actors as with the international community which could lead to a significant political process.”  Guaido said in Madrid that EU-backed mediation efforts had been “degraded by the dictatorship” in Bogota, which was using them to “gain time.” 

Rio Residents Try to Bring Green to a Concrete Jungle

Ale Roque wanders the untamed orchard in Rio de Janeiro, pushing aside leaves to point out what she helped plant last year. “This is cacao, developing well … Look at this lime tree, it’s full … Lots and lots of tomato … That one’s acai …,” she says. It seems there’s always more. “Ginger… Avocado… Pineapple… Sweet potato.”She crouches toward a plump yam, and stops to make a mental note to pick it with the children she’s teaching to garden here and in several other spots in the community. In addition to providing free produce to residents, there’s another benefit: it’s markedly cooler in this blessed shade — a rarity in this part of the city, far from the sea breeze of Copacabana and Ipanema.
The scarce scrap of vacant land is just outside downtown on the slope of Providencia, Rio’s first favela, where working-class homes cram up against one another at slipshod angles and bullet holes attest to the presence of drug traffickers.This Jan.6, 2020 photo, shows an area where trees and plants were gardened by Ale Roque in Rio’s first favela Morro da Providencia, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.It’s one of dozens of places where people are starting projects to create a greener version of a tree-starved urban landscape that contrasts with the verdant rainforest looming over the city. The activist group Catalytic Communities has mapped sustainable projects across the city, and is trying to foster a support network.
“There seems to be now, all of a sudden, in the last six months even, a growth in interest,” said Theresa Williamson, the group’s executive director.
Roque argues that if kids spend their waking days exposed only to alleys, bullets, empty drug capsules and trash, they’ll struggle to contribute good to the world. They need places to play and pick flowers.
“How are you going teach kids about Mother Nature if they don’t have contact with it?” says Roque, 49. “This could be happening in places all over the world, in other favelas, other little areas.”
Rio is famed for magnificent views of its coastal rainforest’s wild topography. Look outside the postcard, though, and there’s a picture of urban dystopia after decades of slapdash sprawl and government neglect. It’s said even the Christ the Redeemer statue, perched atop a jungle peak near the coast, has his back turned to most of the metropolis.
Whole neighborhoods have severed connections with the forest and, during Rio’s summer, residents feel the lack of greenery in their flesh.
The sun beats with discrimination, sparing leafy neighborhoods that tend to be affluent while punishing expanses of aluminum and asbestos roofs. Rio’s dense neighborhoods have among the least vegetation in Brazil; 80 of them have less than 1% tree cover, most in the industrial North Zone. Without shade or evapotranspiration, so-called “heat islands” make summer even more brutal.
This month, the city’s top temperatures breached 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius), but people focus instead on “apparent temperature,” a measure that includes wind and humidity — “sensacao” — that spiked as high as 131 degrees (54.8 degrees C) on Jan. 11, just shy of the record.
In Rio’s North Zone, the Arara Park favela is so packed that a string of one-room shops were built over an open sewage canal. They’re brick kilns under the baking sun. Inside one, a beauty salon, Ingrid Rocha, 20, slouches beneath a whirring ceiling fan with another on the floor. Her air conditioning unit does nothing to cut the heat, so clients only show up after 4 p.m. That means Rocha, who’s pregnant, needs to work more than 12-hour days to hit her targets.
Deeper inside the favela, Luis Cassiano is sitting in a garden atop his home’s roof. As more and more houses cropped up over the last three decades, he felt the temperature rise to a point that became unbearable. The sun would set behind the far-off rainforest, but his home’s interior wouldn’t cool until after midnight.
Online research for a solution led him to install a green roof  — with bromeliads, succulents and a small, flowering quaresmeira tree — and he wants to do the same for neighbors. There’s an aesthetic bonus, too; the favela needs to mix some calming green into the scenery, he says, to offset the angry red of the homes’ bricks and the melancholic grey of their roofs.
So far he’s had few takers, but “if God wills, people will understand that it’s necessary and urgent and it will be a job that will be really useful,” he said, sitting in his rooftop garden just after midday. “I think people will, one day, really wind up joining. We’ll need it. Just look at the heat of all those roofs together!”
The nascent greening from such projects is a break with Rio’s recent past, according to Washington Fajardo, a visiting housing policy researcher at Harvard University. A Paris-inspired policy to plant shade trees fell by the wayside as modernism became Brazil’s reigning aesthetic. Lately, public works have resorted to palm trees that are resilient, but do little to reduce temperatures.
“To get a tree to grow in an urban environment requires irrigation, because pollution makes it much harder for a sapling to reach adulthood,”  Fajardo, the prior mayor’s special advisor on urban issues, said by phone from Cambridge, Massachusetts. “We knew how to do that better at the start of the 20th century than we do today, strangely.”
Rio’s public policy for green spaces trails far behind other cities including Seoul, Lisbon, Durban and Medellin, and even Brazilian state capitals like Recife and Belo Horizonte, according to Cecilia Herzog, president of Inverde, an organization that researches green infrastructure and urban ecology. So people are taking matters into their own hands, she added.
The city has begun paying attention. Rio this month started planting native tree species to create 25 “fresh islands” in the city’s West Zone.
Meantime, it’s only getting hotter in Brazil, as in the rest of the world. Its southeast region — where Rio is located — has recorded three of its steamiest five years on record since 2014.
The heat can be felt at a plaza in the Providencia favela, where, though it’s still morning and there’s hilltop wind, Ale Roque uses a towel to dab sweat from her forehead, upper lip and chin. The passion fruit and acelora trees she planted are starting to gain stature. Those and other saplings now receive water from a rudimentary irrigation system.
Later that day, it’ll grow even hotter as she teaches preteens to compost, which will entail lugging more than 10 loads of old soil up two flights of stairs to a home’s back patio.
Why does Roque endure the labor and the heat?
“I want to make the world green!” she says and laughs, then collects herself. “It’s because someone has to do it, truthfully that’s it. Someone has to do it.”    

Heavy Rain Causes Flooding, Landslides in Brazil; 30 Killed

Two days of heavy rains caused flooding and landslides in southeast Brazil that have killed at least 30 people, authorities said Saturday. Civil Defense officials said 17 people were listed as missing and 2,600 were evacuated from their houses in Minas Gerais state, which had been buffeted by 48 hours of torrential rains. Deaths were reported in the capital of Belo Horizonte and in the state’s interior. On Friday, Belo Horizonte received the greatest quantity of rain ever registered in 24 hours in the city. A view of flooded houses caused by heavy rains in Sabara municipality, Minas Gerais state, Brazil, Jan. 24, 2020. The rains led to flooding and landslides that killed dozens, authorities said Jan. 25.State Governor Romeu Zema will fly over the affected areas on Sunday to evaluate damages. More rain is expected in Minas Gerais as well as other parts of Brazil, including Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. The announcement of the deaths came the same day as mourners elsewhere in Minas Gerais observed the first anniversary of a deadly mining dam collapse. 

Thousands Support Venezuela’s Guaido at Madrid Rally 

Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido joined thousands of supporters at a demonstration in Madrid on Saturday after arriving in Spain on the last leg of a European tour. Speaking in a central square packed with supporters holding signs calling for “democracy,” Guaido emphasized the importance of international support in unseating Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. “We need the support of the world to fight against the groups operating in Venezuela. We have the opportunity to get Venezuela back because we are together. We can heal Venezuela,” he told a crowd of people waving Venezuelan flags and chanting, “Yes, we can.” “It is the struggle of a whole country in favor of democracy,” he said. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez did not meet Guaido, a decision that angered right-wing opposition parties but was welcomed by Unidas Podemos, the far-left coalition partners of Sanchez’s Socialists. Podemos members have voiced support for Venezuela’s leftist ruling party in the past. Instead, Guaido met Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya as well as Madrid’s mayor and regional president, both from the conservative People’s Party (PP). Guaido’s visit coincided with a political spat in Spain over reports that Transport Minister Jose Luis Abalos secretly met a senior Maduro aide who is subject to a European Union travel ban at Madrid’s Barajas airport on Monday. PP leader Pablo Casado criticized Sanchez for not meeting Guaido and called on him to dismiss Abalos. Sanchez told reporters earlier in the day that Spain’s government wanted elections in Venezuela “as soon as possible,” but he criticized Spanish opposition parties for using the crisis in Venezuela “against the government.” He also voiced his backing for Abalos, saying “he put all his efforts into avoiding a diplomatic crisis and succeeded.” Guaido has defied a travel ban to seek support in Europe, where he has spoken at the European Parliament, attended the World Economic Forum in Davos and met with leaders including Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson. 

Normalcy Returns to Guatemala-Mexico Border After Caravan

From the roadside stand where his family sells mole, barbecue and chicken stew, Miguel Ángel Vázquez has seen all the caravans of Central American migrants and asylum seekers stream past his front door in recent years, throngs of people driven to flee poverty and violence in hopes of a better life in the United States.After watching armored National Guard troops and immigration agents break up the latest one right on his doorstep, loading men, women and wailing children onto buses and hauling them off to a detention center in the nearby city of Tapachula, he’s sure of one thing.Mexican National Guards block a highway in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico after a group of Central American migrants crossed the nearby border from Guatemala to Mexico, Jan. 23, 2020.“I can see that these caravans are no longer going to pass,” said Vásquez, 56.On Friday morning, life was back to normal at the river border between Ciudad Hidalgo and Tecun Uman, Guatemala.Carmelino Sánchez Cumes, 54, left his home in Champerico Guatemala at 4 a.m. to come buy medicine for two elderly aunts that’s not available back home.The partial closure of river crossings “was tough” on people accustomed to doing so as part of daily life, he said.The international bridge reopened at 5 a.m. and cars and motorcycles were crossing freely.National guard troops stood watch in groups of about a half dozen, visibly fewer than before, and said privately that the tension of recent days had vanished.One said it’s easy to distinguish local Guatemalans who cross for ordinary workaday reasons for their manner of speaking, and they’re welcome “because they’re neighbors.”Where the first caravans were allowed to pass through Mexican territory and even given humanitarian aid or transportation by many communities and some officials, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration changed that beginning last year in response to steep trade tariffs threatened by Washington.The result was on display Thursday on a rural highway in the far-southern Mexican city of Frontera Hidalgo, just across the river border between Mexico and Guatemala that the hundreds of migrants, mostly Hondurans, crossed before dawn.The migrants walked for hours before stopping at the crossroads where Vázquez’s stand lies, taking advantage of the copious shade on a road otherwise largely exposed to the beating tropical sun. They bought all the food the family and refreshments the family had and behaved respectfully, according to Karen Daniela Vázquez Robledo, his daughter.Then hundreds of national guard troops advanced their lines to within 100 yards (meters) of the migrants. A brief negotiation stalled, and the migrants knelt to the ground in prayer and began to chant “we want to pass.”National guardsmen advanced banging their plastic shields with batons and engaged the migrants. There was shoving and pepper spray as migrants were rounded up.Many of the people allowed themselves to be escorted to the buses without resistance. Women cradling small children or holding kids’ hands wept as they walked toward the buses. In all, 800 migrants were detained, according to a statement from Mexico’s National Immigration Institute.Others resisted and were subdued. One man dragged by three guardsmen and a migration agent shouted “they killed my brother, I don’t want to die,” presumably in reference to the possibility of being returned to his country.A paramedic attended to an injured woman lying on the highway shoulder.The road was left littered with water bottles, plastic bags and clothing. An irate man in a blue shirt yelled at the agents “this is a war against the Hondurans.”On Friday, López Obrador said he had been briefed about the operation and commended military commanders for not resorting to force, without explaining what he considered to be force.“I have information that the National Guard has acted well,” said López Obrador, who said he was briefed by Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard. “He told us there had not been injured, had not been wounded, that the problem has been resolved well.”López Obrador went on, as he has before, to describe the migrants as being “tricked” by unscrupulous organizers in Honduras who lead them to believe they will pass without problems. He added that his political adversaries, “the conservatives,” had hoped it would go badly for the Mexican government.“Clearly there is a need,” López Obrador said. “But there’s a management, we’ll say political. Fortunately, human rights have been respected.”Thursday’s confrontation was a sudden climax after the day had seemed to be winding down.Central American migrants cross the Suchiate River from Tecun Uman, Guatemala, to Mexico, Jan. 23, 2020.The migrant caravan had been diminishing since its last concerted attempt to cross the border Monday was turned back by Mexican National Guardsmen posted along the Suchiate River, which forms the border here.The national guardsmen intercepted the caravan on the edge of the community of Frontera Hidalgo, near Ciudad Hidalgo where the migrants crossed the river at dawn.In previous caravans, Mexican authorities have allowed caravans to walk for awhile, seemingly to tire them out, and then closed their path.Mexico and Guatemala have returned hundreds of migrants from the caravan to their home countries since the caravan set out last week, mostly to Honduras.Back at the roadside food stall in the southern state of Chiapas, Karen Vázquez, 26, was dismayed by what she saw unfold — the pepper spray, children running and crying.“It was something very unpleasant, seeing how the people are taken away, and us hiding as well so they don’t take us away,” she said. “It makes us sad because they don’t take them in the right way. In truth, they take them very badly.”

Lack of Progress Leaves Venezuelan Students Disillusioned

For the past 20 years, young people in Venezuela have been on the front lines of protests to demand change in the socialist-run country.  But many university students interviewed by VOA in Caracas say they are disillusioned by the lack of change and have stopped taking part in protests because of government repression and fears for their safety.  From Caracas, reporter Adriana Nunez Rabascall has the story, narrated by Cristina Caicedo Smit. 

Pompeo Calls on Haiti to Set Date for Elections

Haiti should set a date for elections, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday, more than a week after Haiti’s president began ruling by decree. Pompeo did not specify which elections he was referring to, but Haiti failed to hold scheduled legislative elections last year. “We need to have the elections. That is important,” Pompeo said in an interview with the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. “Once those elections will be held, there’ll be a duly elected government. We won’t have to be concerned about ruling by decree.” The U.S. State Department provided a transcript of Pompeo’s interview with the newspapers. Pompeo said he voiced concerns about the political situation with his Haitian counterpart in a meeting in Kingston, Jamaica, on Wednesday. The Haitian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Moise rules directlyHaitian President Jovenel Moise is three years into a five-year term, which began in 2017 after the results of an initial vote, in October 2015, were scrapped over fraud allegations. Moise’s support in the country has never been overwhelming. Electoral turnout for the rerun election was low, with Moise receiving only 600,000 votes in a country of 10 million people. FILE – Anti-corruption protesters fill the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, June 9, 2019.Last year, the country was mired in anti-corruption protests for months, with the opposition calling for Moise to step down. Nevertheless, Moise has outlived his political opposition for now. The mandate of all deputies and most senators expired earlier in January and there were no successors as parliament failed to approve an electoral law last year necessary for holding legislative elections. In this situation, under Haitian law, the president rules directly. Accusations tradedMoise has blamed parliament for failing to approve the electoral law last year, though his opponents have accused him of trying to take advantage of the law. The last two elected Haitian presidents, Rene Preval and Moise’s political benefactor, Michel Martelly, both ruled by decree at some points. Moise has said he wanted to overhaul the constitution. Though the precise changes he is seeking are not clear, the process would be aimed at strengthening the presidency, which was weakened after the 30-year Duvalier family dictatorship. 

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