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Jurors in ‘El Chapo’ Trial Told of Mexico’s Drug Wars, Corruption

A key prosecution witness in the U.S. trial of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman on Thursday told jurors that there were “a lot of deaths” as the accused Mexican drug lord and his associates built the Sinaloa Cartel in the 1990s through bloody conflict with rival drug traffickers.

Jesus Zambada told the jury that his brother, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, and Guzman used armies of sicarios, or assassins, to kill their enemies. Zambada, who has pleaded guilty to U.S. criminal charges, was testifying for a second day in Brooklyn federal court under an agreement to cooperate with prosecutors.

Guzman is accused of directing massive shipments of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana to the United States. He faces life in prison if he is convicted of the 17 criminal counts against him.

One of Guzman’s lawyers, Jeffrey Lichtman, told jurors in his opening statement that Ismael Zambada, who remains at large, actually controlled the cartel, and Guzman was a scapegoat framed with the help of corrupt Mexican officials.

Zambada on Thursday told the story of the Sinaloa Cartel’s emergence in the early 1990s. He said Guzman formed an alliance with several other drug lords to take on the powerful Arellano Felix drug trafficking family.

“There are always a lot of deaths,” he said of the cartel’s wars.

Victims included patrons shot at a nightclub in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, where Zambada said Guzman tried, and failed, to kill one of the Arellano Felixes in 1992.

Zambada admitted he took part in several murder plots himself, though he said he never personally killed anyone.

He was wounded in a gunfight with enemy sicarios, and another one of his brothers, who had no involvement in the drug trade, was shot at his doorstep in Cancun, he said.

Dressed in dark blue prison clothing and speaking through an interpreter, Zambada also testified that the Sinaloa Cartel bought off officials at every level of government, including Mexican state governors, national attorneys general and members of the international police organization Interpol, to ensure safe passage for its products.

While in charge of cartel operations in Mexico City, Zambada said, he personally paid about $300,000 in bribes every month.

On one occasion, he said, he paid a $100,000 bribe to a general at the explicit direction of Guzman.

Guzman was an equal partner with Ismael Zambada within the cartel, said Jesus Zambada.

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Jurors in ‘El Chapo’ Trial Told of Mexico’s Drug Wars, Corruption

A key prosecution witness in the U.S. trial of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman on Thursday told jurors that there were “a lot of deaths” as the accused Mexican drug lord and his associates built the Sinaloa Cartel in the 1990s through bloody conflict with rival drug traffickers.

Jesus Zambada told the jury that his brother, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, and Guzman used armies of sicarios, or assassins, to kill their enemies. Zambada, who has pleaded guilty to U.S. criminal charges, was testifying for a second day in Brooklyn federal court under an agreement to cooperate with prosecutors.

Guzman is accused of directing massive shipments of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana to the United States. He faces life in prison if he is convicted of the 17 criminal counts against him.

One of Guzman’s lawyers, Jeffrey Lichtman, told jurors in his opening statement that Ismael Zambada, who remains at large, actually controlled the cartel, and Guzman was a scapegoat framed with the help of corrupt Mexican officials.

Zambada on Thursday told the story of the Sinaloa Cartel’s emergence in the early 1990s. He said Guzman formed an alliance with several other drug lords to take on the powerful Arellano Felix drug trafficking family.

“There are always a lot of deaths,” he said of the cartel’s wars.

Victims included patrons shot at a nightclub in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, where Zambada said Guzman tried, and failed, to kill one of the Arellano Felixes in 1992.

Zambada admitted he took part in several murder plots himself, though he said he never personally killed anyone.

He was wounded in a gunfight with enemy sicarios, and another one of his brothers, who had no involvement in the drug trade, was shot at his doorstep in Cancun, he said.

Dressed in dark blue prison clothing and speaking through an interpreter, Zambada also testified that the Sinaloa Cartel bought off officials at every level of government, including Mexican state governors, national attorneys general and members of the international police organization Interpol, to ensure safe passage for its products.

While in charge of cartel operations in Mexico City, Zambada said, he personally paid about $300,000 in bribes every month.

On one occasion, he said, he paid a $100,000 bribe to a general at the explicit direction of Guzman.

Guzman was an equal partner with Ismael Zambada within the cartel, said Jesus Zambada.

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Mattis Cuts US Troop Numbers in Africa by 10 Percent

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is cutting hundreds of U.S. troops from Africa so he can use those resources for potential future conflicts with Russia and China.

Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Cmdr. Candice Tresch told VOA the move will cut roughly 700 counterterrorism troops and their enablers from West Africa. That is about 10 percent of U.S. Africa Command’s presence on the continent.

“Operations in Libya, Somalia and Djibouti remain largely unchanged,” she said.

The Pentagon’s new National Defense Strategy (NDS) emphasizes near-peer competition over counterterrorism.

When asked whether the reduction was a result of the October 2017 attack in Niger that killed four U.S. troops, one military official said the deadly incident did not play a role in the decision.

“Discussions about this shift were under way before that incident occurred,” the official said.

The military’s “adjusted approach” to West Africa will decrease emphasis on tactical-level advice and assistance. Instead, the U.S. will rely more heavily on regional-level advising, assisting and sharing of intelligence, Tresch said.

As Mattis rolled out the NDS in January, he said the United States was losing its competitive military advantage over China and Russia.

“Great-power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security,” Mattis said.

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Mattis Cuts US Troop Numbers in Africa by 10 Percent

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is cutting hundreds of U.S. troops from Africa so he can use those resources for potential future conflicts with Russia and China.

Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Cmdr. Candice Tresch told VOA the move will cut roughly 700 counterterrorism troops and their enablers from West Africa. That is about 10 percent of U.S. Africa Command’s presence on the continent.

“Operations in Libya, Somalia and Djibouti remain largely unchanged,” she said.

The Pentagon’s new National Defense Strategy (NDS) emphasizes near-peer competition over counterterrorism.

When asked whether the reduction was a result of the October 2017 attack in Niger that killed four U.S. troops, one military official said the deadly incident did not play a role in the decision.

“Discussions about this shift were under way before that incident occurred,” the official said.

The military’s “adjusted approach” to West Africa will decrease emphasis on tactical-level advice and assistance. Instead, the U.S. will rely more heavily on regional-level advising, assisting and sharing of intelligence, Tresch said.

As Mattis rolled out the NDS in January, he said the United States was losing its competitive military advantage over China and Russia.

“Great-power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security,” Mattis said.

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Statue of Liberty’s Original Torch Moved to Museum Site 

The Statue of Liberty’s original torch, which has been housed in the base of the statue since a replica replaced it in the 1980s, was moved across Liberty Island on Thursday to its new home in a museum that will open next year. 

Visitors watched as the base and the detached flame of the 3,600-pound (1,633-kilogram) torch were trucked slowly and carefully to the museum construction site about 100 yards (91 meters) from the statue. 

Officials with the National Park Service and the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation said the torch was removed in 1984 because it was too badly damaged to restore. 

“Taking it down was very frightening,” said Stephen Briganti, president and chief executive of the foundation. “We had the largest freestanding scaffolding that at that point had ever been built.” 

Thursday’s brief trip to the museum site was the latest chapter for an icon that “has crossed many miles in its lifetime,” Briganti said. 

The torch left France in 1876 for the United States, where it was exhibited at the Centennial celebration in Philadelphia and then in New York City’s Madison Square Park. The trip was intended to raise funds to pay for the statue’s pedestal, Briganti said. 

It went back to Paris in 1882, then returned to the New York Harbor along with other crated pieces of the statue in 1885. 

The torch was held high by Lady Liberty from 1886 to 1984, but modifications to the flame changed its original design over the years. 

The flame resembled a stained-glass sculpture lying on its specially designed flatbed truck. That’s because the sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who also designed Mount Rushmore, “put all the holes in it with amber glass” during a 1916 redesign, park Superintendent John Piltzecker said. “It led to the flame’s deterioration.” 

The torch was further weakened in July of that year by the Black Tom explosion, an act of German sabotage at a munitions plant nearby in Jersey City. 

The 1980s gilt flame that the statue is holding now restores sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi’s original design, officials said. 

The old torch, meanwhile, made another fundraising trip at the end of 1984, traveling to Pasadena, where it starred in the Rose Parade. 

A trench was dug under the statue so that the 16-foot (4.9-meter) original torch could be moved into the pedestal when it returned to New York. 

It couldn’t depart the pedestal that way Thursday, Piltzecker said. “It had to come out in two pieces.” 

Joining the torch’s two pieces was a full-scale copper replica of the statue’s face. The torch and the face will be highlights of the new $100 million museum, which is scheduled to open in May 2019. 

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Migrants Reach US-Mexico Border, Likely Face Long Wait

Several hundred Central American migrants arrived Wednesday in the Mexican border city of Tijuana after a month of traveling away from poverty and violence at home in hopes of entering the United States.

About 800 migrants are now in Tijuana, and many said they would stay there and wait for the rest of their caravan to arrive and for leaders to advise them on their options for seeking U.S. asylum. Some of the early arrivals went to the border fence to celebrate.

The bulk of the migrant group, about 4,000 people mostly from Honduras, is making its way through the state of Sonora and is expected to arrive in Tijuana in a few days.

100 asylum claims a day

The San Ysidro port linking Tijuana to the U.S. city of San Diego, is the busiest crossing on the border. But it only processes about 100 asylum claims per day, meaning those in the caravan who seek that route face a long wait.

Tijuana could also feel the strain with migrant shelters there already at or near capacity.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Monday it was closing some vehicle lanes at the San Ysidro crossing and the nearby Otay Mesa crossing in order to install additional security “in preparation for the migrant caravan and the potential safety and security risk that it could cause.” Those measures include barricades, fencing, jersey walls and concertina wire.

​U.S. President Donald Trump has sharply criticized the caravans, casting them as a “national emergency.” On Saturday, he signed a proclamation declaring migrants who enter the country illegally ineligible for asylum. That goes against laws that state anyone is eligible for asylum no matter how they entered the country.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups quickly filed a legal challenge and sought an injunction against the new rules while the case makes its way through the courts. The government is expected to file a response to the case Thursday, and a federal judge has set a hearing on the injunction for Nov. 19.

Trump has also ordered thousands of troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to support border patrol agents.

​Mattis, Nielsen visit

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen visited the eastern part of the border Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters en route to McAllen, Texas, Mattis stressed that “border security is part of national security.”

“It’s obviously a moral and ethical mission to support our border patrolmen,” the defense secretary said. “Our units are in a position to enable the border patrol’s law enforcement operations.”

More than 5,600 active duty U.S. troops and another 2,100 National Guard troops have moved to the U.S.-Mexico border area in response to requests for help from the Department of Homeland Security.

The military personnel assigned to help with border security have been helping with barriers, fencing and aerial support. They are legally prohibited from engaging in domestic law enforcement, such as arresting migrants crossing the border.

Mattis told reporters Wednesday the U.S. military has a long history of border deployments. He highlighted 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson deployed troops to stop the threat of Pancho Villa’s troops during the Mexican Revolution, and 1995, when National Guard and several hundred active duty personnel were assigned to assist law enforcement.

Mattis did not mention a deployment in 1997, when an active duty Marine corporal shot a Texas teenager during an anti-drug operation along the Texas-Mexico border, causing the Pentagon to suspend its anti-drug operations there.

In addition to the caravan at or nearing the border, two others have made their way to Mexico City with more than 2,000 people.

Mexico said last week it had issued 2,697 temporary visas to individuals and families allowing them to work while their refugee applications proceed.

VOA Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb and News writer Chris Hannas contributed to this report.

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Migrants Reach US-Mexico Border, Likely Face Long Wait

Several hundred Central American migrants arrived Wednesday in the Mexican border city of Tijuana after a month of traveling away from poverty and violence at home in hopes of entering the United States.

About 800 migrants are now in Tijuana, and many said they would stay there and wait for the rest of their caravan to arrive and for leaders to advise them on their options for seeking U.S. asylum. Some of the early arrivals went to the border fence to celebrate.

The bulk of the migrant group, about 4,000 people mostly from Honduras, is making its way through the state of Sonora and is expected to arrive in Tijuana in a few days.

100 asylum claims a day

The San Ysidro port linking Tijuana to the U.S. city of San Diego, is the busiest crossing on the border. But it only processes about 100 asylum claims per day, meaning those in the caravan who seek that route face a long wait.

Tijuana could also feel the strain with migrant shelters there already at or near capacity.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Monday it was closing some vehicle lanes at the San Ysidro crossing and the nearby Otay Mesa crossing in order to install additional security “in preparation for the migrant caravan and the potential safety and security risk that it could cause.” Those measures include barricades, fencing, jersey walls and concertina wire.

​U.S. President Donald Trump has sharply criticized the caravans, casting them as a “national emergency.” On Saturday, he signed a proclamation declaring migrants who enter the country illegally ineligible for asylum. That goes against laws that state anyone is eligible for asylum no matter how they entered the country.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups quickly filed a legal challenge and sought an injunction against the new rules while the case makes its way through the courts. The government is expected to file a response to the case Thursday, and a federal judge has set a hearing on the injunction for Nov. 19.

Trump has also ordered thousands of troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to support border patrol agents.

​Mattis, Nielsen visit

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen visited the eastern part of the border Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters en route to McAllen, Texas, Mattis stressed that “border security is part of national security.”

“It’s obviously a moral and ethical mission to support our border patrolmen,” the defense secretary said. “Our units are in a position to enable the border patrol’s law enforcement operations.”

More than 5,600 active duty U.S. troops and another 2,100 National Guard troops have moved to the U.S.-Mexico border area in response to requests for help from the Department of Homeland Security.

The military personnel assigned to help with border security have been helping with barriers, fencing and aerial support. They are legally prohibited from engaging in domestic law enforcement, such as arresting migrants crossing the border.

Mattis told reporters Wednesday the U.S. military has a long history of border deployments. He highlighted 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson deployed troops to stop the threat of Pancho Villa’s troops during the Mexican Revolution, and 1995, when National Guard and several hundred active duty personnel were assigned to assist law enforcement.

Mattis did not mention a deployment in 1997, when an active duty Marine corporal shot a Texas teenager during an anti-drug operation along the Texas-Mexico border, causing the Pentagon to suspend its anti-drug operations there.

In addition to the caravan at or nearing the border, two others have made their way to Mexico City with more than 2,000 people.

Mexico said last week it had issued 2,697 temporary visas to individuals and families allowing them to work while their refugee applications proceed.

VOA Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb and News writer Chris Hannas contributed to this report.

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Sigrid Nunez’s Novel ‘The Friend’ Wins US National Book Award

Sigrid Nunez’s “The Friend,” a meditative novel about grief, books and, not least, a Great Dane named Apollo, has won the National Book Award for fiction.

Other winners Wednesday included Jeffrey C. Stewart’s “The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke” for nonfiction and Justin Philip Reed’s “Indecency” for poetry.

On a night when those honored had roots throughout the world, from Peru to Japan, Elizabeth Acevedo’s “The Poet X” won for young people’s literature, and Yoko Tawada’s “The Emissary,” translated by Margaret Mitsutani, won for translation, a category newly revived.

Nunez, author of such previous novels as “Salvation City” and “The Last of Her Kind,” noted in her acceptance speech that she didn’t seek community when she became a writer, but unexpectedly found it.

“I thought it (writing) was something I could do alone and hidden, in the privacy of my own room,” she said. “How lucky to have discovered that writing books made the miraculous possible, to be removed from the world and be part of the world at the same time.

“And tonight how happy I am to feel a part of the world.”

Judges, who include writers, critics and other members of the literary community, chose from more than 1,600 books submitted by publishers when considering the awards. Winners in the competitive categories each receive $10,000. In translation, the prize money is divided between the author and translator.

Honorary medals were presented to novelist Isabel Allende and to Doron Weber of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “Parks and Recreation” actor Nick Offerman hosted the ceremony and benefit dinner in Manhattan, presented by the National Book Foundation.

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