Mugabe supporters mull his fate: ‘It’s as if their father has died’

The capital may be where Zimbabwe’s political drama is playing out, but beyond the city limits, communities of traditional Mugabe supporters are coming to terms with its implications.

CNN traveled to rural areas just outside Harare, areas that were previously strongholds of Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, the ruling party born out of the struggle for liberation from white rule in the 1970s.

Because of its connection to the country’s liberation, the party’s ideology is deeply ingrained in many people’s heads and hearts. Through the decades, voters mainly in rural areas have bought in to the ruling party’s vision, mostly sold to them as a Zimbabwe for all, with education and land rights at the fore. But for years ZANU-PF has been notorious for cracking down on — and defeating — any real opposition to maintain Mugabe’s grip on power.

Most people we spoke to accepted the army takeover that has almost — but not quite yet — put an end to the 37-year rule of President Mugabe. Some even said it might be an opportunity for a new start.

The atmosphere was not one of jubilation — more resigned acceptance. Mugabe was once a liberation hero, but in recent years the country has been gripped by poverty, drought and an economy in the gutter. Feelings about the “old man” are more ambivalent these days.

Many Zimbabweans prefer not to give their full or real names — hardly surprising in a country where people are afraid to have an opinion. In the rural area of Domboshawa, Andrew, 53, says he’s been chatting with friends and neighbors about what has become of Mugabe and his wife Grace, who hasn’t been seen since the apparent coup. He likens their mood to a family bereavement: “It’s as if their mother and father have died,” he says.

Andrew says he hasn’t voted for ZANU-PF “in a long time,” and that he thinks people here are finally realizing President Mugabe cannot bring them out of their “tough lives.” After all, he says, “this is politics of bread and butter.”

In easier times, Domboshawa would have been teeming with tourists visiting ancient rock paintings found in caves nearby and families would climb the vast, sheer granite rocks that surround the area. The tourists have long stopped coming. Youths loiter around local bars as children return home from school. The young, so far removed from Mugabe’s revolution and the past, want more.

Petrus wasn’t even born when Mugabe came to power. He says he won’t miss the President if he goes. “It’s too difficult,” he explains.

Standing beside him, his friend Norbert agrees saying they’re “suffering,” but “are afraid to talk about those things… we are listening about what he says, we wait for the result, what comes from it.”

On Friday, Mugabe briefly emerged from house arrest and was pushing back on a deal to replace him with an interim leader, a source told CNN. A military commander of the defense forces said the President had until Friday to change his stance before taking more drastic measures.

Further along the road we turn into another small village. Fewer people are outdoors, but we meet a man who knows well where this community’s loyalties lie — Makunde is the secretary for the ruling ZANU-PF party here. In the past he would have been the man encouraging voters to turn out for Mugabe. He’s not so sure now.

Makunde finds it hard to say what he’s thinking, and is clearly torn between his loyalty to the party, and his personal feelings about Mugabe’s reign. We ask him if he will miss his leader if he resigns. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” he replies, smiling uncomfortably.

Makunde knows it’s a game of wait and see. And for now these communities quietly get on with their lives as they wait for the army, not the “old man,” to decide what happens next.

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North Korea sends foreign minister to Cuba

North Korea’s King Jong-un sent Ri Yong Ho, his foreign minister and a delegation to Havana to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro’s administration, the Korean Central News Agency reported Friday

The visit comes at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump nearly halted the previous administration’s attempt at normalizing relations. The Trump administration’s sanction efforts aim to isolate North Korea.

More news from Havana:

FAMILY REUNIFICATION PROGRAM

Cubans wanting to come to the United States through family reunification will have to wait longer. 

The  U.S. State Department announced Thursday on Facebook that they are working with the Department of Homeland Security to respond to requests for visas under the Cuban family reunification program.

All of the interview appointments for the program were cancelled, after the U.S. pulled most of their staff out of the U.S. embassy in Havana in September. Safety concerns over the reported sonic attacks that injured 24 U.S. citizens prompted the U.S. State Department’s precautions. 

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL REPORT

Amnesty International released a report claiming the reason why there is little dissent on the Communist island is because the government is the largest employer. The government also controls Cuba’s emerging, and highly regulated private sector.

“Many cubans feel suffocated by a web of state-control over their daily lives part of that control is: If you want to hold a job, you have to agree with everything the government says,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International

Researchers said the interviewed more than 60 Cuban migrants in various cities in Mexico. Cuba is the only country in the Americas where the international organization is not allowed to officially visit. 

GENERAL’S SON’S BUSINESS 

Cuban police officers shut down the popular Restaurante Starbien Wednesday in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood.

José Raúl Colomé, the son of the powerful Gen. Abelardo “El Furry” Colomé, co-owned the paladar. He and his associate Osmani Cisneros were detained. He reportedly lived there with his mother, Hilda Torres Beltrán. 

Gen. Colomé, 76, was the vice president of the council of state of Cuba, belonged to the 14-member Politburo, the highest authority within the Communist Party, and was also a Cuban minister of the interior. He resigned due to failing health in 2015.

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North Korea sends foreign minister to Cuba

North Korea’s King Jong-un sent Ri Yong Ho, his foreign minister and a delegation to Havana to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro’s administration, the Korean Central News Agency reported Friday

The visit comes at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump nearly halted the previous administration’s attempt at normalizing relations. The Trump administration’s sanction efforts aim to isolate North Korea.

More news from Havana:

FAMILY REUNIFICATION PROGRAM

Cubans wanting to come to the United States through family reunification will have to wait longer. 

The  U.S. State Department announced Thursday on Facebook that they are working with the Department of Homeland Security to respond to requests for visas under the Cuban family reunification program.

All of the interview appointments for the program were cancelled, after the U.S. pulled most of their staff out of the U.S. embassy in Havana in September. Safety concerns over the reported sonic attacks that injured 24 U.S. citizens prompted the U.S. State Department’s precautions. 

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL REPORT

Amnesty International released a report claiming the reason why there is little dissent on the Communist island is because the government is the largest employer. The government also controls Cuba’s emerging, and highly regulated private sector.

“Many cubans feel suffocated by a web of state-control over their daily lives part of that control is: If you want to hold a job, you have to agree with everything the government says,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International

Researchers said the interviewed more than 60 Cuban migrants in various cities in Mexico. Cuba is the only country in the Americas where the international organization is not allowed to officially visit. 

GENERAL’S SON’S BUSINESS 

Cuban police officers shut down the popular Restaurante Starbien Wednesday in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood.

José Raúl Colomé, the son of the powerful Gen. Abelardo “El Furry” Colomé, co-owned the paladar. He and his associate Osmani Cisneros were detained. He reportedly lived there with his mother, Hilda Torres Beltrán. 

Gen. Colomé, 76, was the vice president of the council of state of Cuba, belonged to the 14-member Politburo, the highest authority within the Communist Party, and was also a Cuban minister of the interior. He resigned due to failing health in 2015.

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After daring escape, former Caracas mayor is on his way to Spain

Antonio Ledezma, a prominent Venezuelan political prisoner since 2015, managed to escape from Venezuela and was on his way to Spain Friday.

After crossing the treacherous border with Colombia, Ledezma decided to talk to reporters in Cúcuta, a Colombian city at the Venezuelan border. 

He said his secret “odyssey” included crossing 29 police checkpoints and he apologized to his wife and daughters for not telling them about his plan to escape. 

“I am going to defend the liberty of Venezuela,” the 62-year-old Venezuelan attorney said. “I’m more useful to Venezuela in the street.”

The former mayor of Caracas had been held on house arrest without trial since 2016 on accusations that he had supported an attempted coup. When the government suspected his plot to escape in August, they raided his apartment and interrogated him.  

Ledezma flew from Cúcuta to Bogotá, where he boarded a flight to Europe to be reunited with his family. El Nacional, a Venezuelan newspaper, reported Ledezma’s relatives had also escaped the country.

Armed security officials stood outside Ledezma’s apartment complex in Caracas, as authorities investigated how his escape took place. Jose Castillo, one of Ledezma’s neighbors, questioned the efficiency of the government’s security. He said he had noticed police officers often spent the day distracted on their cell phones. 

According to the Foro Penal, a human rights group in Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro’s administration is still holding 342 political prisoners. 

Leopoldo López, a former presidential candidate who has been a political prisoner since 2014, was also under house arrest. He was accused of inciting violence during anti-government protests. Venezuelan officials stopped his pregnant wife, Lilian Tintori, from leaving the country, and seized her passport.  

The U.S. and the European Union continue to impose sanctions on the oil-rich county. Diplomats have been citing human rights violations, and hold Maduro responsible for the treatment of political prisoners. Maduro consolidated power by establishing an assembly that overwrites congressional powers. 

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Socialist policies can’t satisfy barbecue dreams in Venezuela

Strict food rationing policies and price controls continue to challenge Venezuelans like Maria Joya in the kitchen. “Arroz con Pollo” or “Carne Mechada” are a luxury on their dining table now. 

As the oil-rich country’s devastating inflation spiked meat sector prices, the socialist government started to enforce a price ceiling on beef and chicken. Now Venezuelan consumers can’t find it at all. Yuca and plantains are their main dish.

After the government forced butchers to reduce prices about 30 percent, the handwritten signs saying they were out of beef covered their refrigerated display cases. Aul Landai, a meat vendor at a market in downtown Caracas, said some haven’t been able to stay in business. 

“The butchers are the ones losing,” Landai said. 

Consumers and butchers aren’t the only ones hurting. Restaurateurs and street vendors depend on their providers. Some are opting to risk buying from the black market. Others are having to modify their menus with skyrocketing prices. Burgers have become a luxury for most. 

To stay in business, some entrepreneurs are finding it more profitable to sell “bajo cuerda,” meaning they are choosing to sell to those who are willing to pay more in the black market. They are creating fraudulent receipts to deal with the increased scrutiny from law enforcement, the Venezuela Al Dia reported

Similar policies in the agricultural sector plummeted production and fueled black markets.

Ana Lucrecia Rojas, 33, works at a hair salon in Miami-Dade. She is among the exiled Venezuelans in South Florida who regularly ship food to relatives. Last week, she was getting ready to send boxes to Maracaibo and Caracas in time for Christmas.  

“I send them dry goods, corn flour, beans, rice, sugar, dog food and cans,” Rojas said. “The shipping companies in Doral are basically just sending food. They killed food production and there is a humanitarian crisis.”

 The Venezuelan government denies there is such a crisis. During a recent interview in French media, Delcy Rodriguez, the head of the constituent assembly, said Venezuela rejected child malnutrition aid from the United Nations, because admitting that there is a humanitarian crisis would have paved the way for U.S. intervention.

“It’s a reality that Venezuela is under a U.S. military threat,” Rodriguez said. 

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US experts prepare to release ‘sonic attack’ findings amid Cuba’s denial

While the U.S. State Department reported there were 24 victims of a “sonic attack” in Cuba and an investigation continues, Cuban officials this week continued to deny the incidents. 

After Cuban diplomats complained about not receiving any evidence of such attacks from the U.S. government, they recruited experts to speculate about the possibility of an attack.

The experts didn’t have access to the alleged technology used or the medical history of the 24 victims reported. The Cuban government shared videos on Twitter. 

“In my opinion, it’s not possible a cerebral concussion in the affected diplomats because there was no history of trauma in the affected person,” Dr. Nelson Gomez Viera, a Cuban neurologist, said in English. 

Several sources told Local 10 News that medical experts from the University of Miami and the University of Pennsylvania were getting ready to release their findings by way of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Cuban diplomats have said they believe the “sonic attacks” were a fabrication to push for President Donald Trump’s new policy. Three weeks ago, they released a prime-time special on Cuban TV questioning the validity of the U.S. reports. 

During a recent visit to Washington, D.C.,  Bruno Rodriguez, Cuba’s foreign minister, accused U.S. officials of “deliberately lying” to create a “pretext for damaging bilateral relations and eliminating the progress made.” 

When Chris Allen learned that an invisible attack had hurt a U.S. government worker who was staying at Havana’s Hotel Capri, he finally had a culprit for his unexplained illness. It developed after he stayed at that same hotel in April 2014 and bewildered a half-dozen neurologists. 

“It really, really frightened me,” said Allen, who works in finance. 

U.S. officials said the sonic attacks started in 2016, two years after Allen’s visit to Havana. He also doesn’t remember the agonizing sound that others reportedly heard. 

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in October that investigators were revising assessments based on medical evaluations of the personnel who were affected. 

“To anyone who knows anything about the Cuban government and the past of the Cuban government, it’s hard to imagine that certain things would not be known that they were taking place on that island right there,” Nauert said.

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