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UN Report Says Venezuela Dissidents Were Tortured On Orders From ‘highest Political Levels’

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The president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, at the Miraflores Palace this week.
The president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, at the Miraflores Palace this week.Rayner Peña R. (EFE)

Detainees were taken to a place known as el cerro (the hill), 30 minutes by car from the headquarters of the Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) in Caracas. Once there, they were given a shovel and forced to dig their own graves. Then, officials simulated shooting them by firing a few shots into the air. This place, as well as 16 other locations that include sheds, farms and ministry headquarters, have been used as covert detention centers by Venezuelan intelligence agencies, both civilian and military, according to a new report by the United Nations Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (FFMV).

One victim told the mission that in another one of these houses, located in a Caracas suburb known as La Mariposa, he sat next to another detainee who repeatedly begged for his life. After a while, the witness, who was hooded and unable to see, heard a shot and the sound of a body falling to the ground. “The DGCIM agents who took him there started laughing and using homophobic insults before taking him back to [DGCIM headquarters] Boleíta,” says the report.

The new report, presented on Tuesday, describes patterns of action in a system designed to persecute dissidents of the government of Nicolás Maduro. The analysis is based on 122 cases that occurred in 2017, 2018 and 2019 – the years with the most arrests – after interviewing victims, witnesses and former officials of intelligence agencies.

“Our investigations and analysis show that the Venezuelan State relies on the intelligence services and its agents to repress dissent in the country. In doing so, grave crimes and human rights violations are being committed, including acts of torture and sexual violence. These practices must stop immediately, and the individuals responsible must be investigated and prosecuted in accordance with the law,” said Marta Valiñas, chair of the UN Fact-Finding Mission.

“The human rights violations by State intelligence agencies, orchestrated at the highest political levels, have taken place in a climate of almost complete impunity. The international community must do everything to ensure that victims’ rights to justice and reparations are guaranteed,” added Francisco Cox, a member of the mission.

The researchers presented previously unknown details about the chain of command used to commit torture, as well as the system of economic incentives based on number of arrests. Recruitment of torturers took place within the ranks of security agencies and also among the so-called collectives, the armed groups with sympathies for Chavismo. Among those responsible identified by interviewees are President Nicolás Maduro, First Lady Cilia Flores, the vice-president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Diosdado Cabello, and Tareck El Aissami, the current Minister of Petroleum, all of whom allegedly ordered the arrest of individuals.

The officials with the most mentions in the report, however, are Iván Hernández Dala, director of the DGCIM and head of the military department that guards Maduro, and Gustavo González, director of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service. For years they have been the target of complaints about human rights violations without being removed from their posts.

Regarding the chain of command, the report specifies: “A former FANB officer told the Mission that the orders related to non-political objectives follow the regular chain of command within the DGCIM. However, according to various sources, in the case of political objectives, President Maduro approves and sometimes also orders the detention of real and perceived opponents of the Government. A former DGCIM employee told the Mission that Hernández Dala was taking investigative reports to President Maduro for his approval.” According to the report, in 2013 Venezuelan authorities began to investigate all officers who traveled abroad to countries considered hostile, such as the United States.

So far there have been no reactions from the Maduro administration to the harsh accusations that also support a complaint of crimes against humanity that is being investigated by the International Criminal Court. Maduro instead posted a tweet to remember the late president Hugo Chávez’s notorious 2006 speech at the United Nations, in which he criticized the United States as the eternal ideological rival of the left, pointing out that the podium “smelled of sulfur” after George W. Bush’s speech.

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Rare Diamond Destined For A Jewelry Store Has Precious Geological Value

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Gemologist Tingting Gu was working at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in New York when a diamond came to her for analysis and appraisal. It was to be set in a ring and sold in a jewelry store before she realized the geological significance of the gem under her microscope. It was the second ringwoodite diamond ever discovered.

To validate her find, Gu contacted Fabrizio Nestola, a professor with the Department of Geosciences at the University of Padua (Italy). The IaB-type diamond is very rare because it shows a mineral accumulation of ringwoodite with ferropericlase and enstatite. “This is the first time that this combination has occurred, which validates our laboratory experiments and provides us with exceptional new knowledge about the composition and structure of one of Earth’s most inaccessible and remote places,” said Nestola, co-author of the study published in Nature.

The 1.5 cm diamond comes from the Karowe mine in Botswana (southern Africa). A chemical analysis of the gem indicates that it originated 410 miles (660 kilometers) below the Earth’s mantle where it came in contact with water. This finding changes scientists’ current understanding of the Earth’s subsoil in that water is now believed to be much more prevalent at that depth than previously thought.

This discovery provides us with exceptional new knowledge about the composition and structure of one of Earth’s most inaccessible and remote places

Fabrizio Nestola (Department of Geosciences, University of Padua, Italy.

Detailed plane of the diamond, where the analysis highlights a composition of ferropericlase (bluish center), ringwoodite (upper edge) and enstatite (lower edge).
Detailed plane of the diamond, where the analysis highlights a composition of ferropericlase (bluish center), ringwoodite (upper edge) and enstatite (lower edge).Nathan D. Renfro y Tingting Gu (GIA)

Diamonds are (geological) time machines. High pressure and temperatures formed diamonds in Earth’s depths millions of years ago. Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tectonic plate movements then brought them up to the Earth’s crust. Diamonds are one of the best sources of information about what is happening deep inside the Earth, an environment to which scientists have no direct access.

The diamond that came into Tingting Gu’s hands contains ringwoodite, which is a magnesium silicate mineral first discovered in 1969 in a meteorite that struck Australia. The first terrestrial ringwoodite sample was excavated in 2014 from the Juína mine in Brazil, sealed inside a “super-deep” diamond, according to Nestola. The discovery confirmed scientific theories about the Earth’s mantle, which can only be studied via the deposits expelled by geological cataclysms. It most likely emerged millions of years ago from the depths through a “chimney” of kimberlite volcanic rock. “This was very helpful,” says Nestola, “because the longest manmade shaft ever built only goes 7.5 miles deep.”

Ringwoodite is nothing more than an olivine, one of the most common minerals in the Earth’s upper mantle, just below the crust, “… to which great atmospheric pressure has been applied,” says geologist Javier García Guinea, of Spain’s National Museum of Natural Sciences. García Guinea, who was not involved in the rare discovery, says the study is “continuist” in nature, but acknowledges that “this is science, which is done step-by-step.”

The analysis of the IaB-type diamond indicates that it comes from a transition zone between the second and third layers of the Earth, at a depth of between 250 and 420 miles. The diamond was formed at a pressure of 23.5 GPa (gigapascals), and a temperature of about 3,000ºF (1,650ºC). To help us comprehend these facts, Nestola explained, “The pressure that crushes the atoms of the mineral into a diamond is immense – a single gigapascal is equivalent to four Mount Everests on top of your head.”

The presence of H₂O in the Earth’s lower mantle has implications for the structure and evolution of the planet

Geologist Antonio García Casco (Department of Mineralogy and Petrology, University of Granada, Spain).

The chemical composition of the IaB-type diamond suggests that there are oceans of water between the Earth’s substrata, “… which is not new information – this has been known for decades,” said geologist Antonio García Casco (Department of Mineralogy and Petrology, University of Granada, Spain). But at those extreme depths, water is not the liquid we see on the surface. “It [H₂O] is transformed into a fluid that’s half-liquid and half-gas. It adheres to minerals and can comprise between 10-20% of their weight,” said García Casco.

García Casco says the study about the IaB-type diamond is significant because it leads us to “infer the presence of free-flowing H₂O in the lower mantle,” which has implications for “the structure and evolution of the planet. For example, implications for mantle convection and plate tectonics, which permanently change the planet.” For García Casco, this study is an opportunity for mineralogists to observe transformation processes that only occur “at depths that will be forever inaccessible.”

The diamond, saved in the nick of time from ending up in an engagement ring, “freezes and captures its environment, and then ferries it up from the depths until it reaches the light of day,” says Nestola. For geologists like him, the more material a gem absorbs, the more valuable it is to science. “Just the opposite for a jeweler,” he laughs.

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Abanderado: The Unlikely History Of A T-Shirt Men Wore Because Women Told Them To

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A short-sleeved white t-shirt displays little hint of transgression, yet it is capable of defining its wearer’s personality to a large extent. In the case of Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, the garment eroticized the protagonist, underlining his status as a paragon of the prototypical masculine ideal of the era. On the opposite end is Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski, dressed in a grimy, faded white tee in keeping with his carefree and lazy character. Between both those extremes lie endless possibilities. Fashion brands have riffed limitlessly on the timeless potential of the simplest of designs. In Spain, the success of the white t-shirt came about through Abanderado, a brand founded in the 1960s that managed to consecrate its shirt as a symbol synonymous with success.

From Mataró to the world

Abanderado was founded by Pere Sans in 1963 in Mataró, one of the hubs of the textile industry in Spain. In its early days, the company produced underwear for women, men and children. Before long, its white men’s t-shirt had triumphed. Maruca García Paredes, director of the fashion department at Madrid’s University School of Design, Innovation and Technology (ESNE), points out that the popularity of this basic item has fluctuated throughout history: “Its origins date back to the Middle Ages, but its spread began with the dawn of mass textile production. Curiously, its popularity plummeted in 1934 when Clark Gable appeared without an undershirt in the movie It Happened One Night. Marlon Brando restored its notoriety in A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Succeeding at selling a product as ubiquitous as the white t-shirt is not an easy task: there aren’t many obvious ways to stand out from competitors. So what made Abanderado different?

History of advertising in Spain

Decades before Calvin Klein revolutionized the fashion industry with provocative underwear ads starring a teenaged Kate Moss and a chiseled Mark Wahlberg, Abanderado had already made history on Spanish television: advertising was one of the brand’s strengths. At that time, the viewing audience was not as diversified as it is today and broadcasts on non-state run and regional channels had not yet begun. A TV advertisement was guaranteed to reach hundreds of thousands of potential customers. Thus, Abanderado became the first brand to advertise men’s underwear in Spain in the 1970s and sales skyrocketed.

The spots were hardly innovative. They extolled the values of the time by glorifying the “masculine” man. Although Abanderado’s clothing was designed for men, some of its advertisements were nonetheless directed at women. What is perhaps one of its most remembered spots ended with an eloquent musical slogan: “Men wear Abanderado because women buy Abanderado.” In the space of a few seconds, that song synthesized and legitimized a chauvinistic idea rooted in the era: that men wouldn’t dream of buying their underwear. This was a task reserved for women, that is, their mothers or wives.

The brand’s white t-shirts, with short sleeves or straps, became a consumer favorite. Children wore them to school and through adulthood. The lyrics of one of the jingles, sung by a woman, emphasized that idea of Abanderado as a signature present in the key moments of your life: “Since you were little you have always carried Abanderado within you. On the most important day, when serving as a soldier, when you fall in love, Abanderado.” The song alluded to the first communion and military service, two essential pillars for the most conservative sectors of Spanish society.

The message came at a time when Spain was facing great societal change following the death of the dictator Francisco Franco and the transition to democracy. On its website, the brand cites a 1980s study that listed Abanderado as the leader in men’s underwear sales, with a 37% market share. At that time, the company had more than 600 workers in its Mataró factory, making it one of the most important companies in the Catalonian municipality.

Michael Jordan signs with Abanderado

The turn of a new decade provided a huge boost for the brand. In 1991, Abanderado was sold to the American company Sara Lee. Its campaigns had borne fruit and Abanderado ads were already part of the collective imagination, although the firm ran the risk of appearing somewhat dated. The new parent company ensured it would reach a whole new generation by signing the biggest sports star in the world at the time: NBA star Michael Jordan wore Abanderado shorts in a spot that has become part of history. It was 1992 and Jordan and the Dream Team had just returned from the Barcelona Olympics with gold medals. According to the commercial, Jordan had also discovered Abanderado briefs while at the Games. The campaign signaled a powerful change in the brand’s mentality: women were no longer identified as the primary audience and an influential male figure was chosen to appeal to the interests of men, the primary wearers of Abanderado products.

At the beginning of the 2000s, Abanderado changed hands again. It was acquired by the Sun Capital fund, which moved its headquarters from Mataró to Madrid. Shortly afterward, the brand’s t-shirts ceased to be manufactured in Spain. As of 2014, Abanderado has been owned by the American multinational Hanesbrands, the parent company of other underwear labels including Dim, Wonderbra Champion and Playtex.

Where is Abanderado today? Has the company managed to keep its shirts relevant? Is the brand name familiar to younger generations outside of television and traditional advertising? The brand’s golden age may be in the past but the current panorama works in its favor. The white tank top has grown ever more popular among followers of current fashion trends. Luxury brands such as Prada and Bottega Veneta have not passed up the opportunity to include simple white shirts in their latest collections – with three-figure prices. “That has been the major change,” says stylist Inés Marinero, “the transition from an undershirt to a trendy garment. It’s something that started in 1990s and it’s now back in fashion. Sporty luxury is now a part of our lives, which is why the white shirt is now also worn with more elaborate and sophisticated fabric designs.” A few weeks ago, the style section of The New York Times dedicated an expansive article to the garment entitled: “Reinventing the Humble Tank Top.” García Paredes also links the popularity of the white t-shirt to “the informalization of the intimate garment”, adding that it has become “a staple whose versatility can go from elegance and sophistication to daring, comfort and simplicity.”

Almost six decades after announcing itself on the market, Abanderado is now just a shadow of what it was in its heyday, citing economic problems and a constant trickle of layoffs. But its white shirt remains ingrained on the minds of a large part of Spanish society. Its next task is to try and repeat its marketing success on the new generation.

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Russia Annexes Ukrainian Territories, Escalating Rhetoric Against The West

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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday inaugurated a new phase in the Ukraine offensive by proclaiming the annexation of four provinces that he has illegally occupied. With their incorporation, equivalent to 15% of the Ukrainian territory, Putin has blown up the bridges to an immediate peace negotiation.

“We will defend our land with all the force and means at our disposal and we will do everything possible to ensure the safety of our people. This is the great liberating mission of our people,” Putin said to the applause of senior regime officials. The annexation, though widely anticipated for days, was met by immediate condemnation from the European Union and the United States.

The Russian president also warned that his country has embarked on a historic struggle. “The destruction of Western hegemony that has begun is irreversible. Nothing will be the way it used to be. The battlefield to which destiny and history have called us is the battlefield of our people, for a great historic Russia,” he proclaimed.

After holding pseudo-referendums in the occupied territories of Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk to justify the annexation, Putin demanded from Kiyv “an immediate cease-fire and a return to the negotiating table,” although he warned that “Russia will not address at the talks the return of Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia.” The only thing the Kremlin is offering in return is the pledge not to use its most destructive weapons in battle.

Early on Friday, Russian troops once again launched an attack on civilian targets. At least 25 people have been killed and a further 50 wounded in a missile attack on a convoy of civilian vehicles in the Zaporizhzhia region of southern Ukraine, the Prosecutor General’s Office in Kyiv said in a statement. It is the largest single civilian fatality count of the war since the massacre at the Kramatorsk train station in Donetsk on April 8, which left more than 50 people dead. The attack occurred at 7.15am local time and targeted a used vehicle market where dozens of civilian cars and vans were waiting to “leave the temporarily occupied territory, pick up their relatives and bring help,” the governor of Zaporizhzhia province, Oleksandr Staruj, confirmed via Telegram.

Air raid sirens had been sounding throughout the night and numerous explosions were heard in the area. Ukrainian anti-aircraft units worked for hours to prevent the impact of Russian missiles but three managed to get through the barrage and hit the dozens of vehicles that were waiting for a pause in the attack to resume their journeys. A huge crater, several meters deep, marks the site of the main explosion where a missile that apparently caused most of the deaths struck. “The occupiers launched 16 missiles in a single morning against Zaporizhzhia and the surrounding district. Only terrorists who have no place in the civilized world could do something like this,” Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy wrote on his Telegram account.

By mid-morning the victims of the attack, covered with blankets and plastic sheeting, had not all been removed. At least a dozen corpses were still lying on the floor – on the blanket covering one of them, where a large pool of blood had formed, the number 17 was written in black. Many more bodies remained in the vehicles they had traveling in, some of them also containing pets. People of various ages could be seen in the destroyed convoy, sitting in the front and back seats and surrounded by the possessions they had been carrying.

Murdered civilians lie on an esplanade in Zaporizhia, this Friday after a Russian missile attack.
Murdered civilians lie on an esplanade in Zaporizhia, this Friday after a Russian missile attack.KATERYNA KLOCHKO (AFP)

At least 30 cars were damaged in the attack, their windows shattered and their doors ripped out. The Ukrainian civilian and military police, as well as members of the War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office, arrived on the scene in the aftermath to begin an investigation. However, their work has been hampered by the need to keep evacuating the area: air raid sirens continued to warn of another attack throughout the day, forcing everyone to take shelter, including relatives who have been searching the devastation for family members. “We were just sitting here, and then something unexplainable happened; everything went flying,” said Natalia, a survivor of the attack. We got out of the car and ran. I don’t remember anything, I’m in shock. There are a lot of dead people. The car isn’t important. What’s important is that we are alive.”

The area targeted by the Russian bombardment is well-known. The main road running from the south of Ukraine, which follows the Dnieper River and is the most habitual route for refugees seeking to escape the occupied zones, ends there. Nearby is a disused shopping center, where the car park now serves as a reception area for NGOs, humanitarian aid agencies and Ukrainian authorities to help and process refugees arriving from the regions that were the subject of the annexation treaties signed by Putin on Friday.

Russia denies the attack

The Russian administrator of the occupied Zaporizhzhia region, Vladimir Rogov, has denied Russian forces were responsible for the massacre and blamed the attack on the Ukrainian military. “They have fired on a group of cars waiting to move to liberated territory at the exit of Zaporizhzhia,” Rogov wrote on his Telegram account.

“It is classic Anglo-Saxon provocation against a disloyal civil population,” Rogov continued, suggesting that the convoy had been hit by friendly fire so that Russia could be accused of the attack afterward. According to Rogov, the convoy “had been blocking the road for two days asking for permission [from Russia] to enter the liberated territories.”

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