Venezuelans ‘dying slowly’ in rat- and roach-infested homes

Fourteen families live without electricity, ventilation, running water or bathrooms in the basement of a government building in Caracas, which makes them specially vulnerable to the coronavirus. (AFP)
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Updated 23 October 2020

Venezuelans ‘dying slowly’ in rat- and roach-infested homes

CARACAS: Sunlight cannot penetrate, the air is fetid and fellow residents include rats and cockroaches — but that’s how 14 families are “dying slowly” in government accommodation in Venezuela’s capital Caracas.
They live on the ground floor of a ministry building a stone’s throw from the Miraflores presidential palace.
“Here, we’re dying slowly. It’s shameful that humans” have to live this way, resident Johan Medina told AFP, as his skinny arms rested on the wheelchair he’s used since an accident seven years ago damaged his spine.
There are hundreds of families living in state-supplied shelters in crisis-wracked Venezuela.
Many lost their homes to flood damage, although six years of economic meltdown under President Nicolas Maduro has also left millions in abject poverty, while basic services have been paralyzed.
They’re hoping for state aid from the socialist government that boasts of having delivered three million homes since launching a massive housing plan in 2011 under the late president Hugo Chavez — figures disputed by the opposition.
At the entrance to the building that houses the women’s ministry, among other state institutions, there are pictures of Chavez and his successor Maduro.
Signs on the walls read: “No more Trump,” and “Vote Chavez.”
With no services such as running water, residents like Medina are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic — but that’s the least of the 31-year-old’s worries.
“Why bother using a mask?” he said bitterly, pointing to filth and stagnant water around him.
It’s mandatory to wear face masks in the country of 30 million that has registered 86,000 cases and 736 deaths, according to official figures.
The first residents were brought to the ministry building by a socialist organization called the Popular Organized Anti-Corruption Interpellation that has an agreement allowing it to use state facilities for free.
The group, which did not reply to AFP requests for comment, organizes assemblies and then puts up participants that have come from afar for the night on mats.
At some point, “people started living” there after being told they would be rehoused, said Norelis, a 40-year-old teacher living with her daughter.
Conditions worsened, and now “it’s like a sewer;” but Norelis, who declined to give her surname, still hopes to be moved to “a dignified site.”
Government officials come and go in the 11-story building constructed in 1956.
“They pass in front of your face all day long,” said Medina, who arrived five years ago after a friend told him he could get help there.
He was run over by a motorcycle in April 2013 just hours after voting in Maduro’s first presidential election.
With no alternative housing options materializing, Medina and Norelis fear they will be turned out onto the streets. Their accommodation was never meant to be permanent.
“We feel marginalized,” said Norelis.
Lacking ventilation, the building can provoke respiratory problems among inhabitants.
“My daughter completely lost her sense of smell about a year ago,” Carla, who declined to give her full name, told AFP.
“We live in a room that was meant to be a bathroom. When the plumbing is flushed, imagine the smell,” added the agroecology expert, who currently works as a waitress.
She’s put up blinds and mosquito nets to try to keep out the cockroaches. She also has to deal with rats.
Carlos, who has lived in the shelter the longest, insists that everyone there is waiting to be rehoused as part of the “Housing Mission” launched almost a decade ago.
A strict curfew is imposed by authorities.
“At 7:00 p.m. they close it up with a padlock and if you’re outside, you stay outside. At 6:00 am, they reopen,” said Carlos, 49, who also withheld his surname.
“It’s like a day release prison.”


Belgium tries Iranian diplomat over bomb plot

Updated 6 min 31 sec ago

Belgium tries Iranian diplomat over bomb plot

  • In June 2018, Belgian authorities thwarted what they said was an attempt to smuggle explosives to France to attack a meeting of one of Iran’s exiled opposition movements

BRUSSELS: An Iranian diplomat goes on trial in Belgium on Friday accused of plotting to bomb an opposition rally outside Paris, in a case that has stoked tensions with Tehran.
The case shines another uncomfortable light on Iran’s international activities just as it hopes to ease tensions with the United States after President Donald Trump tore up the 2015 nuclear deal signed by both countries and other world powers.
It also comes a day after a prisoner swap that saw the release of three Iranians jailed over a 2012 bomb plot in Thailand, in exchange for the freeing of an Australian-British lecturer imprisoned by Tehran for alleged spying.
In June 2018, Belgian authorities thwarted what they said was an attempt to smuggle explosives to France to attack a meeting of one of Iran’s exiled opposition movements.
Later that year, the French government accused Iran’s intelligence service of being behind the operation, a charge the Islamic republic has furiously denied.
Assadollah Assadi, a 48-year-old Iranian diplomat formerly based in Vienna, faces life in prison if convicted.
The National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), which includes the People’s Mojahedin of Iran or (MEK), organized a rally in Villepinte outside Paris on June 30, 2018.
Several well-known international figures — including former US and British officials and Franco-Colombian former senator Ingrid Betancourt — and NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi were to attend.
On the same morning, Belgian police intercepted a Belgian-Iranian couple driving from Antwerp and carrying half-a-kilo of TATP explosives and a detonator.
The arrested couple, 36-year-old Nassimeh Naami and 40-year-old Amir Saadouni, join Assadi in the dock, alongside another alleged accomplice, Mehrdad Arefani, 57.
All four are charged with attempting to carry out a terrorist attack and taking part in the activity of a terrorist group. All face life sentences.
Assadi was arrested while he was traveling through Germany where he had no immunity from prosecution, being outside of the country of his diplomatic posting.
Arefani, an Iranian poet who had lived in Belgium for more than a decade, was arrested in France in 2018 after Belgium issued a European arrest warrant.


Counsel representing those targeted by the alleged attack say Arefani was close to Assadi, said to be the architect of the plot, and point to an Austrian SIM card found in his possession.
The two men deny any connection.
“We are looking at a clear case of state terrorism,” said lawyer Georges-Henri Beauthier, who is representing the interests of the NCRI, along with French colleague William Bourdon.
Dimitri de Beco, defense counsel for Assadi, has accused the civil plaintiffs of trying to turn the case into a political trial on behalf of the opposition movement.
According to Iran expert Francois Nicoullaud — a former French ambassador to Tehran — Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was surprised to learn about the failed attack.
“Visiting Europe at the time, he was absolutely furious to learn about this intelligence service operation, on which he hadn’t been consulted,” the diplomat told AFP.
At the time of the alleged plot, Rouhani was trying to maintain the support of European capitals for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal abandoned by the Trump administration.
When Paris pointed the finger at Iranian intelligence, an Iranian spokesman voiced denial and alleged that opponents of the deal in “certain quarters” were attempting to frame Tehran.
That idea was dismissed by observers like Nicoullaud as a smokescreen. “It’s not serious,” he said.
The trial is scheduled to take two days, Friday and then Thursday next week. The court is then expected to adjourn to consider its verdict before ruling early next year.