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Briefly: Americas

- - Monday, December 19, 2011

VENEZUELA

Obama criticizes Chavez's ties to Iran, Cuba

CARACAS — President Obama criticized the Venezuelan government's rights record and its ties to Iran and Cuba in comments to a Venezuelan newspaper.

Mr. Obama said the U.S. is concerned that actions by President Hugo Chavez's government "have restricted the universal rights of the Venezuelan people, threatened basic democratic values, and failed to contribute to the security in the region."

Mr. Obama made the comments in written responses to questions from the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal. The newspaper published his comments on Monday.

Mr. Obama also said he thinks "the Venezuelan government's ties to Iran and Cuba have not served the interests of Venezuela or the Venezuelan people."

PERU

Paroled activist Berenson can leave Peru: Father

LIMA — The father of paroled U.S. activist Lori Berenson said Monday that Peruvian migration officials have given her permission to leave the country with her toddler son to spend the holidays with her family in New York City.

Mark Berenson told the Associated Press by phone from New York that his daughter called with the news on Monday afternoon.

Despite a court's approval for her to leave the country for the first time since her 1995 arrest, authorities barred her from boarding a flight to New York on Friday night.

When she was paroled last year, Lori Berenson had served three-quarters of a 20-year prison term for aiding leftist rebels.

CHILE

Girl dies after split from conjoined twin

SANTIAGO — A 10-month-old girl who was surgically separated from her conjoined twin died Sunday after suffering general organ failure, said the director of a Chilean children's hospital.

Doctors at Luis Calvo Mackenna Hospital had separated Maria Jose Paredes Navarrete from her twin sister Maria Paz late Tuesday at the thorax, abdomen and pelvis in a marathon 20-hour surgery.

Maria Jose ran into cardiac problems that required her to be revived three times afterward, and Maria Paz continues clinging to life, said hospital director Osvaldo Artaza.

A hospital statement said Maria Jose had suffered "a flaw in the right side of the heart as a consequence of pulmonary hypertension that afflicted her since her birth."

The statement said Maria Paz was in a stable condition, with her kidneys starting to function.

Chileans have closely followed news about the twin girls, with updates about their condition making online and newspaper headlines.

Mr. Artaza said the surgery affected all of the deceased girl's organs and added that while "recognizing the delicate state of Maria Paz, we are hopeful."

"We are conscious that we made every effort," Mr. Artaza said. "It's a moment of deep pain, of deep grieving."

The twins were born in the town of Loncoche, about 470 miles south of the capital of Santiago, and had spent their entire lives under hospital care.

VENEZUELA

Chavez offers sympathies on Kim Jong-Il's death

CARACAS — President Hugo Chavez on Monday offered his "most sincere sympathies" over the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, whom he called a "comrade."

The Venezuelan leader also expressed "confidence in the ability of Koreans to conduct their own future to prosperity and peace," noting his desire for Pyongyang to pursue its "struggle for self-determination and world peace."

North Korean state media announced that Mr. Kim, 69, died of a heart attack, plunging the nuclear-armed and deeply isolated nation into a second dynastic succession and urging people to rally behind Mr. Kim's youngest son, Kim Jong Un.

South Korea put its military on emergency alert but urged its people to stay calm and swiftly closed ranks with its close ally the United States.

Analysts said there likely would be little turbulence in the North - at least for now.

Neighboring China and Russia, both influential players in Pyongyang, sent their condolences, and observers said Beijing would beef up its all-important patronage to prevent an implosion in the communist North.

Mr. Chavez's statement "on behalf of the people and the Venezuelan government expresses its heartfelt sorrow at the death of the president ... comrade Kim Jong Il."

From wire dispatches and staff reports