TIME Venezuela

Venezuela Is Slowly Coming Apart—and President Nicolas Maduro May Pay the Price

A boy with blood on his chest kneels in front of police after 14-year-old student Kluiver Roa died during a protest in San Cristobal, Venezuela, Feb. 24, 2015.
Carlos Eduardo Ramirez—Reuters A boy with blood on his chest kneels in front of police after 14-year-old student Kluiver Roa died during a protest in San Cristobal, Venezuela, Feb. 24, 2015.

Hyperinflation and shortages of basic goods have Venezuelans angry—and looking for new leadership

CARACAS – Amid the death of a 14-year-old boy killed by a policeman during anti-government unrest, the arrest of a key opposition mayor by armed government intelligence agents and talk of a coup plot against the government spearheaded by Washington, this last week also saw another another turn in Venezuela’s growing crisis. At DolarToday, a website little known outside of Venezuela that has become a key indicator of the country’s black market exchange rate, the bolívar local currency passed the psychological barrier of 200 per greenback. Four years ago, the dollar cost eight bolívares per dollar; five months ago it was 100; now it is already at 221 and counting. This rapid deterioration in the value of the local currency, 61% drop against the dollar over the last year, is one of the best indicators of just how much trouble Venezuela—and President Nicolas Maduro—is in.

While many in Venezuela have little direct engagement with the dollar—the country’s foreign exchange is strictly controlled—the currency crisis pervades everyday life. It means many doctors and engineers earn the equivalent of just a dollar a day and prefer instead to drive taxis or smuggle pasta or gas across the border to Colombia. It means that those who want to buy basic goods for their families must line up for hours every day due to shortages, and hoping all the time that shelves won’t be empty. It means that stealing is more valuable than working, fueling one of the world’s highest crime rates and the murder of one police officer nearly every day.

It means that people like Yormina Alguilera, a street cleaner earning the same as the minimum wage of doctor or engineer, are giving up. “We’re in crisis,” she said, taking a break from the sun at a fruit stall in the square at Caracas’ 23 de enero barrio, as murals of Che Guevara and Hugo Chávez loom over. Alguilera voted for Maduro and his predecessor Chávez, “but never again,” she said. “At least under Chávez I could get things. It’s a mess with Maduro and there’s no end in sight. Things are getting worse every day.”

Maduro, who was elected after the death of Chávez in 2013, is in serious trouble. His approval ratings are in the low twenties, according to Datanálisis, a respected local pollster. This time last year, the president faced down Venezuela’s biggest anti-government protests in more than a decade, and now they appear to be starting up again. In San Cristóbal, on the country’s border with Colombia and where unrest was sparked last February by similar though less severe economic problems, 14-year-old Kluiberth Roa was killed with a rubber bullet by police. That tragedy has only sparked further public anger.

Supermarket lines often run into the hundreds if not thousands due to shortages of the most basic goods, from shampoo to condoms. Inflation last year was near 70%. The economy, which has long been propped up by high crude prices, is crumbling as oil has tumbled over the last few months. (A barrel of Venezuela oil sells for half what it did a year ago; the country obtains 96% of foreign currency from oil.) Maduro has blamed this on an “economic war” being waged by the opposition with a hand from the United States, but many ordinary Venezuelans don’t believe that. “They talk about an economic war but we’re certainly not winning it,” said Aida Guedez Álvarez, a 61-year-old housewife buying a watermelon in 23 de enero. “I voted for Maduro but I’ve been deceived, like everybody else.”

Maduro’s government faces tough legislative elections later this year. “The government isn’t necessarily falling but it is weak and losing its leadership,” said Reinaldo Manrique, 24, an accounting student and student leader who was one of the very first detained for protesting in San Cristóbal, last year, sparking nationwide unrest. “But you know what? The leaders of the opposition are even more weak.”

Though former Chavistas are much angrier than they were a year ago, they do not see the opposition, led loosely by two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, as a viable alternative. “Of course I’d never vote for Capriles,” said Alguilera, the street cleaner. “I give up. No one will change things.” Rather than protest, students are talking of finishing their studies and leaving the country. Many who took to the streets last year have left. “I’m studying to become a primary teacher,” said Leonardo Díaz, 25, in Caracas’ Plaza Altamira, a bastion of protest. “But as soon as I graduate, I’ll leave. All my friends at university are the same.”

Capriles, who stood against both Chávez and Maduro in presidential elections, is the more moderate face of the opposition. He continues to govern the state of Miranda and at least on paper lead the opposition. The government has cracked down on its more hardline critics. Leopoldo López, a major opposition heavyweight, has remained behind bars for more than a year for his role in inciting last year’s protests. “The government is working in a barbaric way to steal from public funds, destroy the country, rob the country’s oil while it says it’s constructing a homeland!” López’s father, also called Leopoldo, told TIME. Antonio Ledezma, Caracas’ mayor, was arrested and charged earlier this month in a conspiracy to overthrow Maduro.

María Corina Machado, another more radical leader, was charged in December with involvement in a plot to assassinate Maduro. “With Maduro there is more persecution than ever,” she told TIME. Next on the government’s list appears to be Julio Borges, an opposition party coordinator. The government requested a probe into his alleged conspiracies against Maduro this week. “Every year there are elections but this is the first time the government is up with a political crisis of this magnitude,” Borges told TIME. “In Venezuela everyone is scared—including the government.”

Maduro has remained tough. “Every fascist has his day,” the president said on Ledezma’s arrest. And he still has some support. As he completed a crossword on a park bench in the wealthy La Castellana area of Caracas, Emilio Neumann backed the government’s stance. “Lopez and Ledezma are exactly where they deserve to be, behind bars,” said the 69-year-old public administrator. “After calling so many people to the streets and committing who knows how many murders.”

President Maduro must hope, if he is to see out the next couple of years, that he can persuade people like Neumann to stay on side. To do this he must turn the country’s economy around, though with three official exchange rates as well as a black market on the dollar — with a spread between the highest and lowest of them of some 3,400 per cent — it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so. Pragmatic moves such as consolidating those exchange rates or raising the price of gas, currently the world’s lowest at just a few cents per tank, are politically dangerous especially when Chavistas are turning away from Maduro.

TIME Greece

Violence Erupts in Greece Ahead of German Vote on Bailout

Minor clashes in Athens
ORESTIS PANAGIOTOU—EPA Riot policemen try to avoid a molotov cocktail during clashes after the end of an antigovernment protest called by leftist groups in Athens on Feb. 26, 2015

Protesters clashed with police, throwing stones and setting cars on fire

Violence broke out in Greece’s capital, Athens, on Thursday for the first time since the new government came to power a month ago, and one day before Germany is set to vote on whether to extend the European bailout of the debt-ridden country.

Around 50 of the 450 protesters that took to the streets on Friday clashed with riot police, throwing stones and petrol bombs and burning vehicles, the BBC reports.

The outrage is directed toward new Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who came to power promising to end austerity measures imposed on the country because of its spiraling debt. Tsipras is now defending a four-month financial-aid extension on the condition of government reforms, causing dissent even within his own Syriza party.

Although the bailout extension has been approved by the euro zone’s Finance Ministers, it will only go into effect following votes from the parliaments of several European nations.

[BBC]

TIME On Our Radar

Turkish Photographer Wins Two Top Awards at World Press Photo

http://time.com/66907/execution-stopped-iran-balal/
Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images A young girl is pictured after she was wounded during clashes between riot-police and protesters in Istanbul on March 12, 2014.

World Press Photo, the premiere photojournalism competition, has recognized Agence France-Presse Bulent Kilic as one of the best wire photographers of the year

Last year was a great one for Agence France-Presse photographer Bulent Kilic. For this work in 2014, he was named Wire Photographer of the Year by TIME and by The Guardian, he won First Place in the Pictures of the Year International competition, and has now bagged the first and third prizes in the Spot News Singles category at World Press Photo, the most prestigious photojournalism contest.

Kilic’s winning image was the moody and powerful portrait of a girl wounded during clashes between riot police and protestors in Istanbul in March 2014. Just days before he shot that image, Kilic had come back from two months of reporting in Ukraine. He had planned to take a few days off to rest. That’s when a 15-year-old Turkish boy, Berkin Elvan, who had been in a coma after being hit by a gas canister during street protests in June of 2013, died. “I felt that I needed to shoot this situation,” Kilic told TIME. “It was my responsibility, and I didn’t ask for any time off and just went to photograph the boy’s funeral.”

Those photos helped defined the 35-year-old photographer as one of the best wire photographers of 2014 – a distinction only made stronger in October when he captured, in a series of four photos, an airstrike on Islamic State militants on the Tilsehir hill in Syria near the Turkish border. One of these frames won Kilic Third Prize in the Spot News Singles category at this year’s World Press Photo.

“A lot of people ask me if it was easy to see these people killed in front of me. They ask me if I felt something,” Kilic told TIME. “It wasn’t easy. But this is war, and these people are also killing other people. Sometimes, you can’t really feel anything. Sometimes, you don’t want to talk about it.”

Read TIME LightBox’s interview with Bulent Kilic, TIME’s Wire Photographer of the Year 2014.

TIME Crime

Ferguson Authorities Look to Identify, Prosecute Looters

US-CRIME-POLICE-RACE-UNREST
Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images People walk past a collapsed building where protesters and looters rampaged businesses following the grand jury decision of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo., on Nov. 25, 2014.

Law enforcement officials are combing through surveillance footage to identify looters

Investigators in Ferguson, Mo., are working to identify arsonists and looters in order to potentially bring charges against them. A trail of destruction was last in the city during protests over the killing of Michael Brown last year.

Police are searching for the people responsible for setting over two dozen fires in the wake of a grand jury’s decision in Nov. 2014 not to indict former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the death of the 18-year-old Brown. Federal investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are assisting in the arson investigations.

The looting investigations are being handled by the St. Louis County Police Department. Police are watching surveillance videos, a spokesperson for the police department said. Law enforcement officials are taking screenshots every time they get a clear image of someone’s face. Five hundred images have been captured so far, but only about 10 individuals have been positively identified, the spokesperson said, and no arrests have been made yet. Police are distributing 250 screenshots to local media and posting them on social media in order to identify the looters.

Police will be releasing videos to the public every Tuesday to see if they can help identify any suspects. Right now, the spokesperson said, they’re focused on finding repeat offenders. If identified, some of the more egregious offenders could face prosecutions, although authorities specified that non-looters who were caught in mass-arrests would not face charges.

TIME Behind the Photos

The Story Behind the Photo of Shaimaa al-Sabbagh’s Dying Moments

Egyptian photographer Islam Osama captured the moment Shaimaa al-Sabbagh was killed during peaceful protests in Cairo on Jan. 24

In the week since her death, Shaimaa al-Sabbagh has become a symbol against Egypt’s military rule.

The leading member of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party died on Jan. 24 after suffering shotgun pellet injuries while peacefully marching to commemorate the hundreds of demonstrators killed during the Arab Spring uprising of 2011.

Egyptian photographer Islam Osama, 23, captured her dying moments. His powerful portrait of Sayyed Abu el-Ela holding the severely injured protestor has drawn international attention, taking on an iconic status similar to the footage of Neda Agha-Soltan’s dying breath during the 2009 Iranian protests.

Osama, a photojournalist with the Egyptian Youm El Sabea newspaper, was covering a press conference in Cairo when he heard about the Socialist Popular Alliance Party’s march, and headed over to cover it. “It was an ordinary day,” Osama told TIME. “We didn’t expect any clashes or violence from the police. The streets were almost empty.”

The march was on one side of a street leading to the iconic Tahrir Square, and the police stood on the other side. “[There were] only 25 people, and the demonstration only lasted two minutes,” Osama said. “Suddenly, without any warning, the dispersal began with the shooting of teargas and birdshot [pellets].”

Osama believes the police didn’t purposefully target Al-Sabbagh. “[They] fired in the general direction of the march.” The photographer, who was behind Al-Sabbagh when she was hit, saw her fall to the ground. He took six photos in a sequence.

At first, Osama didn’t realize he had captured such a powerful image. “The most important thing in that moment was Shaimaa herself,” he said. “I realized immediately that I had to leave. I had to send the photos to the newspaper, fast. If I waited a moment too long there was a chance that my camera could be taken and the memory card erased by the police.”

Using a USB data dongle and his laptop, he uploaded the photographs to his editor at Youm El Sabea. “From a human perspective, [my editor] had a strong emotional reaction to the image,” which has dominated the paper’s coverage since the incident.

Osama never expected to see his photograph make international headlines. “It was a big surprise,” he said. “I didn’t expect this kind of reaction. When I see this, of course I feel proud. But the most important thing is that I was able to bring Shaimaa’s message to the world… As a photographer, it’s my job to transmit this reality to the world.”

And, the current political situation in Egypt hasn’t made his job easy. “Photojournalists [here] are not safe. If you carry a camera in the street, you’re a target. People consider anyone with a camera [to be] with Al Jazeera, the Muslim Brotherhood, or a traitor to the nation.”

For Osama, his job is not to take sides, he said. “I’m not against the police. I’ve photographed policemen who [were] injured and killed, who [were] targeted by terrorism. My photos show reality.”

Interview by Jared Malsin in Cairo

TIME On Our Radar

A Personal Exploration of Egypt’s Turbulent Years

Laura El-Tantawy's photobook In the Shadows of the Pyramids is out now

Laura El-Tantawy’s newest book, In the Shadow of the Pyramids, might appear to be a straight-up exploration of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, but when asked to describe the project, she finds it easier to explain what it’s not about.

“It’s not a book about Egypt,” she tells TIME. “It’s a personal exploration; dark, chaotic, sentimental and passionate. It’s not informational or educational [either]. It is a factual book that explores a place of personal significance through imagery that is predominantly impressionistic.”

El-Tantawy — who grew up in Cairo but left with her family in 1998 — has spent most of her life outside the country. But in 2011, when the revolution began, she felt a deep urge to return, to both document what was happening, and to explore her own relationship with its people and culture.

This book, she says, expresses the conflict she experienced in trying to establish a sense of belonging in a place that was going through massive political upheaval, and one that she had been absent from for many years. “The juxtaposition of past and present is key,” she continues, nodding to a series of self-penned, diary-like recollections that pepper the work, “since these memories have been my strongest tie to Egypt.”

She hopes readers will gain insight into the inner workings of her mind through a project that reveals fragilities she would normally keep secret. “I couldn’t compromise the honesty of the book by hiding,” she adds. “The book is an experience, the images guide you through it and the text punctuates it. It is edited to look like it is all happening in one night,” El-Tantawy says. “Peace and tranquility by day turning to chaos and darkness [like] something really nasty is happening. Then a new day begins.”

In the Shadow of the Pyramids will have a relatively small print run (just 500 copies) because she says it is a special, and very personal, project. “There is attention to the finest details and it all fulfills the delicate and personal nature of the work,” she adds. “I see this book appealing to book collectors, art lovers, people with a specific interest in Egypt.” She is also keen to produce an alternative and cheaper version of the book for an Egyptian audience.

“I decided to go at it alone,” she adds, speaking about her decision to self-publish. “I did all the work and invested all the money to make sure I produce a beautifully realized book. I made sure to work with the best in the business, from design (SYB), to the lithography (Colour & Books), printing (Jos Morree) and binding (Handboekbinderj Geertsen). At the start of the process I had cold feet because I was terrified of failure since this is my first book. The response I received based on the dummy version was impressive and this made making hard decisions easy,” she says.

Her advice to photographers who may be thinking of self-publishing? “The most important is being confident in what you want and having a good reason to make a book to start with. This allows you to make brave decisions. The work never stops. [So] I made sure to surround myself by people who knew much more about book making than I ever will.”

And the potential payback for all the hard work, for both El-Tantawy and other self-publishers? “The book gives me a sense of personal closure,” she says. “I feel released and now I can move on.”

Laura El-Tantawy is an Egyptian photographer. Her book In the Shadow of the Pyramids is available for order now.

TIME celebrities

Demonstrators Picket Bill Cosby’s Performance in Canada

Canada Cosby Shows
Hannah Yoon — AP Protesters stand against doors at the entrance to the Centre in the Square theater in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada on Jan. 7, 2015 to protest Bill Cosby.

His show took place uninterrupted, however

More than a dozen demonstrators weathered subzero temperatures to protest Bill Cosby’s appearance in Kitchener, Canada on Wednesday night with signs deriding the comedian and chants aimed at fans attending his performance.

Inside the venue, Cosby took the stage donning a sweater that read “hello friend” and greeted the crowd with a “thank you” before beginning his routine with remarks about the cold weather, according to the Associated Press. No disruptions were reported during Cosby’s routine.

The iconic comedian has been immersed in a firestorm of allegations from at least 15 women who claim he sexually assaulted them in the past. Cosby has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Earlier this week, three women, who claim to have been assaulted by Cosby, filed a defamation lawsuit against the comedian, after he publicly described them as liars.

[AP]

TIME Germany

German Politicians, Celebrities Denounce ‘Islamization’ Protests

80 public figures say "Nein" to nationalist protests

A petition backed by 80 public figures in Germany slammed the “hollow prejudices” of Pegida, a protest movement that has organized a series of demonstrations against the “Islamization of the West.”

The petition was published in the Tuesday edition of the Bild, a German Daily. Its authors slammed Pegida, saying the movement “appeals to hollow prejudices, xenophobia and intolerance,” the BBC reports.

“A look at our past and economic sense tells us Germany should not spurn refugees and asylum-seekers,” said the petition, which was organized by former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and signed by prominent actors, politicians and athletes.

The statement comes after rival rallies broke out across Germany on Monday evening, with an estimated 18,000 Pegida supporters gathering in Dresden and thousands of counter protesters rallying in Berlin.

TIME Germany

Counter-Protesters Rally in Germany Against Anti-Islam Movement

BERLIN, GERMANY - JANUARY 05 :  A man holds a placard reading "We all say, stop the hate against Islam" during a protest against Pegida (Patriotische Europaeer Gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes) movement in Berlin, Germany on January 05, 2015.  (Photo by Cuneyt Karadag/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Cuneyt Karadag—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images A man holds a placard reading "We all say, stop the hate against Islam" during a protest against Pegida movement in Berlin, Germany on January 05, 2015.

Germans in four cities gathered by the thousands to oppose anti-Islam demonstrations

Thousands of protesters rallied across four cities in Germany on Monday to denounce a recent wave of demonstrations by nationalist parties against immigration and the “Islamization of the West.”

The counter protest movement was expected to draw a crowd of 10,000 in Berlin and several thousand more in Dresden, Stuttgart and Cologne, the Associated Press reports.

Protest organizers said they would endorse a message of tolerance and urge Germans to reject the nationalist ideology of a movement that has united under the name Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, or PEGIDA.

“You’re taking part in an action that, from its roots and also from speeches, one can see is Nazi-ist, racist and extremist,” the provost of Cologne’s famous cathedral, Norbert Feldhoff, told AP. Churches and city hall in the cities agreed to darken their lights in solidarity with the counter protest.

[AP]

TIME Crime

Ezell Ford Had ‘Muzzle Imprint’ After Fatal Police Shooting

LAPD Releases Autopsy Report On Police Shooting Of Mentally-Ill Man
David McNew—Getty Images Activists look at a mural of Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old mentally ill black man at the site where he was shot and killed by two LAPD officers in August on Dec. 29, 2014 in Los Angeles.

Autopsy report on Los Angeles man's death released Monday

A mentally ill man who died in a summer police shooting in South Los Angeles was shot three times, including once at very close range, according to an autopsy report released Monday.

The Los Angeles Police Department is investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of Ezell Ford on Aug. 11, two days after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., sparked nationwide police protests.

Authorities claim that Ford, 25, was involved in an altercation with two officers and was shot as he struggled with them and attempted to reach for one of their weapons. But, the Los Angeles Times reports, a family friend who saw part of the encounter alleges there was no struggle. Ford was shot once in the right side, once in the right arm and once in the back. The latter wound showed signs of a “muzzle imprint,” the report details, suggesting the gun was fired at a very close range.

Police had asked the coroner’s office to withhold the report, claiming it could influence statements by witnesses in the ongoing case, but Mayor Eric Garcetti called for it to be released earlier this month. Ford’s family has filed a wrongful-death suit against the police department.

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