Things That Matter

Venezuela’s President Maduro And Opposition Leader Guaidó Are Allegedly In Secret Talks And The World Wants To Know The Details

Despite a global pandemic – or maybe because of it – Venezuela’s two governments are holding high-level talks, according to several sources – as reported by Reuters.

The breaking development comes as the U.S. ratchets up pressure on the Venezuela and a growing number of countries now recognize the opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.

The two sides are discussing everything from the Coronavirus pandemic to fuel shortages and hyperinflation.

Credit: Venezuelan Presidency / Getty

According to a report by Reuters, the two sides have come together to discuss a variety of issues despite a growing bitterness between the two leaders.

Obviously, Venezuela faces ongoing crises but the global health pandemic has heightened fears within the country of all out chaos. The country is barely equipped to handle normal, everyday health emergencies let alone a global pandemic.

The U.S. and its international allies have also tightened the already unprecented sanctions on the country and has issued an arrest warrant for Maduro. Many within the government, according to sources, say this has motivated them to seek political survival under a possible change of government.

Other than the Coronavirus and ongoing domestic economic issues, the talks are said to have no clear agenda.

Credit: Felipe Escobedo / Getty

It’s not entirely certain what either side is hoping to achieve with these talks. “There are two extremes: Maduro and those who believe that the virus will end Guaido’s leadership, and those on the other side (who) hope this crisis will bring down Maduro,” said an opposition legislator in favor of the discussions.

Maduro and Guaidó are competing with one another to help combat the effects of the pandemic, with each side convinced the outbreak will undermine the other politically. But it remains to be seen which side will come out ahead given the vacuum of leadership and the growing crisis everyday Venezuelans face.

Activists and rights groups around the world have urged the two factions to seek a truce in order to coordinate the delivery of aid and boost gasoline imports.

Meanwhile, the United States has put ‘maximum pressure’ on the Maduro regime to try and force a change of government.

The US state department in March offered to begin lifting parts of the sanctions if members of the Socialist party formed an interim government without Maduro, a plan backed by Guaidó but quickly shot down by the government.

The U.S. has also issued an international arrest warrant for Maduro – accusing him of drug trafficking and money laundering. This allegedly has members of his government looking for an exit strategy.

Venezuela has so far escaped the worst effects of the Coronavirus.

Venezuela is particularly vulnerable to the wider effects of the pandemic because of its ongoing socioeconomic and political crisis causing massive shortages of food staples and basic necessities, including medical supplies. The mass emigration of Venezuelan doctors has also caused chronic staff shortages in hospitals.

So far, the country has seen just 311 confirmed cases and 10 deaths related to the virus – but these numbers are suspected to be unreliable because of a lack of testing in the country.

Maduro has reacted to the pandemic by reversing his opposition to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and asking for $5 billion in international aid to help his government combat the virus. The county has also suspended all international flights and borders between Venezuela and Colombia and Brazil have been closed since mid-March.

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Just After Congress Approves $600 Stimulus Checks, Trump Threatens To Veto The Bill

Things That Matter

Just After Congress Approves $600 Stimulus Checks, Trump Threatens To Veto The Bill

Pixabay

Updated: December 23, 2020

Just days after the U.S. Congress approved legislation that would send millions of Americans much-needed stimulus checks – even though they were only $600 – Donald Trump has thrown the entire plan into chaos.

Donald Trump threatens to veto historic spending bill.

Trump is holding a veto threat over recently passed, bipartisan legislation that was aimed at stimulating a suffering economy. Trump says that he wants lawmakers to boost the $600 direct payments to checks for $2,000 but his own party is basically united against increasing the size of checks.

Many point out that Trump is simply holding up the legislation, not for the stimulus checks, but because he objects to other parts of the law. Within the spending package, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle approved spending for arts and cultural programs as well as aide to developing countries across the world.

Original Story Published: December 18, 2020

So it looks like millions of Americans may end up getting that long overdue second stimulus check after all. So long as Congress doesn’t screw things up again.

As part of the latest round of negotiation between Democrats and Republicans, it looks a like a proposal for $600 direct payments is back on the table. However, $600 is literally half of the amount that was sent out to millions of Americans back in April and May.

A new stimulus package could include direct payments to millions of Americans.

Congressional leaders are considering a new deal to help stimulate the economy which has been battered by the Coronavirus pandemic. And although it appeared, as recently as last week, that a second stimulus check was off the table, that seems to have changed.

The new deal under consideration included new stimulus checks and enhanced federal unemployment benefits, according to reports by Politico. Even President Trump said in a TV interview over the weekend that he wants stimulus checks in the deal, saying he wants to “see checks—for more money than they’re talking about—going to people.”

Millions of workers aren’t getting any help from the largest emergency aid deal in US history.

The bill, known as the CARES Act, delivers direct payments to most taxpayers, vastly expands unemployment benefits, and makes testing for the virus free, among other provisions.

But although unauthorized immigrants are no more immune from the effects of the current crisis, the stimulus bill conspicuously leaves them out in the cold — potentially putting them at greater economic and health risk, and impeding public health efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus.

There are an estimated 10.7 million undocumented immigrants in the USA who are ineligible for emergency federal benefits or state unemployment insurance because they don’t have valid work authorization. 

That’s left an extra layer of anxiety for immigrants without legal status who have lost their jobs or seen work hours reduced amid the statewide shutdown of “nonessential” businesses. Many turned to local organizations for help to put food on the table and pay other expenses. 

Undocumented residents are already at greater risk of being affected by Covid-19 because of inadequate resources and access to health care.

The unauthorized worker population is particularly vulnerable to the virus due to inadequate access to health care. Noncitizens are significantly more likely to be uninsured compared to US citizens, which may dissuade them from seeking medical care if they contract the virus.

Compounding matters are the Trump administration’s hardline immigration policies — including wide-scale immigration raids and a rule that can penalize green card applicants for using Medicaid — which have made noncitizens afraid to access care. These factors pose a problem for America’s efforts to slow the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 12,000 in the US as of April 7.

Where the government is failing, advocates and organizations are stepping up to help.

Some immigrant advocates lobby for the undocumented to be included by allowing payments to those who file taxes using individual tax identification numbers, which are often used by workers without legal immigration status. 

“They should include at least the individual taxpayers,” said Diana Mejia, founder of the Wind of the Spirit, an organization that helps immigrants in New Jersey’s Morris County.  “They are paying taxes,” she added in an interview with CNN.

Filers who use ITINs contribute about $11.74 billion in state and local taxes each year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a Washington think tank.

Aside from millions of undocumented migrants, millions of others are also being left out of the stimulus:

Credit: Department of Treasury

College Students and 17-Year-Olds: If someone else claims you as a dependent on their taxes, you won’t get your own check. Parents will get an extra $500 payment per child, but that’s only for kids under 17.

Most 17-year-olds, some young adults and many of the country’s roughly 20 million college students are claimed by their parents as dependents. They won’t get checks, and their parents won’t get an extra $500.

Disabled People: People who get disability benefits from the Social Security Administration or Veterans Affairs are eligible for the payments — but not disabled adults who are claimed as dependents by their parents or other relatives on their taxes

Seniors Who Live With Family: Senior citizens who are on Social Security or make less than the income cap are eligible. But the “dependent” rule applies to them, too. Some seniors who live with their adult children or other relatives are claimed by them as dependents on their taxes. Those seniors won’t get checks.

Immigrants are eligible for some free testing.

Credit: Pixabay

Here’s one thing the bill does offer to unauthorized immigrants: free coronavirus testing at government-funded community health centers through a $1 billion federal program. But some community health centers have already reported shortages of tests.

There is also a larger, state-level testing program funded through Medicaid, but that’s only available to Medicaid-eligible immigrants — green card holders who have lived in the US for at least five years, immigrants who come to the US on humanitarian grounds such as asylum, members of the military and their families, and, in certain states, children and pregnant women with lawful immigration status. Those groups, however, make up only a small proportion of immigrants living in the US. 

US Citizenship and Immigration Services has announced that it won’t consider use of free testing services when evaluating whether immigrants will likely end up relying on public benefits under the “public charge” rule, which went into effect in February

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The Coronavirus Has Changed Our Holiday Plans But Posadas Are Adapting To The ‘Nueva Normal’

Culture

The Coronavirus Has Changed Our Holiday Plans But Posadas Are Adapting To The ‘Nueva Normal’

RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP via Getty Images

For many Latinos, the word posada, evokes chilly nights surrounded by family and friends, singing, enjoying a warm meal (of tamales and ponche, of course), and spreading holiday cheer all around. If you have never been lucky enough to be invited to one of these celebrations, you know just how special these parties are.

Obviously, 2020 is totally different. The Coronavirus pandemic has completely changed our typical holiday plans and forced us to rethink our annual traditions. In some places, such as Mexico City, posadas are explicitly banned out of the risk that they’ll increase COVID-19 infections.

But from going digital to keeping it in the home, families are adopting to the new normal and helping keep the tradition alive.

Posadas are a huge part of the holiday season, but this year they’re canceled.

Posadas involve a reenactment of Joseph and Mary’s search for a shelter where the Virgin Mary could safely give birth to Jesus in Bethlehem.

Posadas are a distinctly Mexican Catholic tradition, which is also celebrated all over Latin America and even across the world.

The tradition has spread to places like Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salavador, and many other Latin American countries, but it originated in Mexico as a Spanish celebration used by friars to convert indigenous people into Catholicism.

Posadas are a celebration of the novenario before Christmas.

‘Novenario’ means nine days, which means that posadas take place during the nine days before Christmas Eve. The nine days running up to Christmas, represent the nine months of The Virgin Mary’s pregnancy.

In Colombia, this period of time is called ‘La Novena’, and it’s turned into a celebration similar to posadas but that in Colombia, Venezela and Ecuador is known as ‘La Novena de Aguinaldos’.

Posadas in Mexico began as a way for the Spaniards to force Indigenous people to celebrate Christmas.

During the nine days leading up to Christmas Day, masses would include representations of Mary and Joseph. Following mass, there would be a party where people were blindfolded before hitting a piñata with a stick, a representation of faith defeating temptation with the help of virtue. The fruits and sweets that poured out of the piñata represented the joys of union with God.

At the beginning of a posada, people are divided in two groups, the ones “outside” representing Mary and Joseph, and the ones “inside” representing innkeepers.

Then everyone sings the posada litany together, re-enacting Mary and Joseph’s search, going back and forth until they are finally “admitted” to an inn. After this traditional part, the actual party starts. Posadas have spread to other countries — such as Guatemala, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela; and the celebrations vary by location.

Piñatas are a quintessential part of posadas.

Although they have mostly lost their original religious meaning, piñatas remain an essential part of las posadas. Mexico. Piñatas come in all shapes and sizes, but star shaped pinatas are the ones traditionally used in posadas.

In fact, these star-shaped piñata’s 7 points represent the seven deadly sins. Most Mexicans are catholic and piñatas were a way to teach children about religion in a fun way. Piñatas represent being tempted by evil and the tradition of hitting them blindfolded symbolizes overcoming evil through blind faith.

At the end of the litany, when the innkeeper finally decides to give Mary and Joseph a place to stay; both parties celebrate.

As per tradition, the pilgrims carry colored candles and sparklers that symbolize the light that leads the way to the manger, and everyone gets to light sparklers in celebration at the end of the litany. After the litanies and the pilgrimage are over, everyone goes back to the house, where the real party starts.

Obviously, this year all of that will look different. Many organizations that typically host large posada events are now turning to the Internet to host virtual posasdas. And families are planning on using Zoom and other webcam services to stay in touch with families amid the holidays.

How do you plan on celebrating this year?

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