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Briefly: Vice president optimistic about Chavez’s recovery

- - Monday, December 24, 2012

VENEZUELA

CARACAS — Vice President Nicolas Maduro struck an optimistic tone Sunday for the second day in a row on President Hugo Chavez's recovery from cancer surgery in Cuba.

Mr. Maduro, speaking while touring a pediatric hospital, said Mr. Chavez is "consolidating a recovery process, which fills us with joy."

A day earlier, Mr. Maduro said he had received an update from a ruling party member who visited Mr. Chavez in Cuba and that the Venezuelan leader's "condition is becoming increasingly stable."

"Prayers are always in our mind in this battle for life that is consolidating itself day by day," Mr. Maduro said.

Mr. Chavez underwent surgery Dec. 11, about two months after being elected to another six-year presidential term. It was his fourth cancer-related operation since June 2011.

Bolivian President Evo Morales traveled to Cuba on Sunday morning, but there was no word on whether he visited his close ally Mr. Chavez.

Cuba's government-run newspaper Juventud Rebelde said Mr. Morales visited Havana "to express his support for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Frias."

The Bolivian leader was greeted by Cuban President Raul Castro, and the newspaper published a photograph on its website showing the two leaders smiling.

Despite his optimistic tone, Mr. Maduro offered no hint about when Mr. Chavez might return to Venezuela.

Government leaders have warned Venezuelans that Mr. Chavez might not be back in time for his Jan. 10 inauguration, raising the prospect of a legal dispute about who should take over the presidency.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Authorities seize ton of drugs, arrest 7 in speedboat

SANTO DOMINGO — Authorities in the Dominican Republic have seized more than 2,200 pounds of cocaine and heroin and arrested seven people.

The director of the Caribbean country's National Drug Control Agency, Rolando Rosado, said the drugs were found Friday aboard a speedboat from South America.

Mr. Rosado said Saturday that four Dominicans and three Venezuelans were detained after they threw 30 of 47 drug packets into the sea.

Agents seized more than 2,623 pounds of cocaine and 15 pounds of heroin, along with 110 heroin capsules.

Mr. Rosado said it is this year's second-largest seizure of drugs by Dominican authorities.

He said authorities have seized a total of more than 9 tons of cocaine this year, setting a record.

COLOMBIA

Peace talks with FARC wrap up for holiday break

HAVANA — Colombian government representatives and leftist rebels have recessed peace talks for a holiday respite, with no agreement on what kind of country they want after 21 days and more than 100 hours of negotiations.

The government delegation and negotiators from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, have been sitting across the table in the Cuban capital since Nov. 19 seeking a deal to end the country's violent, decades-old conflict.

Although they are still working on the first point of their six-item agenda, both sides insisted that talks are developing in a respectful atmosphere.

In the past weeks, both sides have made some headway by promoting an agrarian forum in the Colombian capital of Bogota, setting up a website that has elicited more than 2,000 proposals for citizen participation in the peace process, and receiving thousands more ideas collected from Colombians by lawmakers back home.

Both sides said they are looking for points of agreement upon which to build a peace accord.

In a joint statement, they said talks will resume Jan. 14 and continue with agrarian reform, the first item on the agenda.

Formed in the 1960s, the FARC is thought to have about 9,000 members and is the oldest active guerrilla army in the Western Hemisphere.

PARAGUAY

Peasants call truce on land killings, OK government funds

ASUNCION — Family members of 11 Paraguayan peasants killed in a land dispute are accepting monetary help from the government.

They also said Sunday that they will put off until February protests against a prosecutor who has charged their relatives in connection with the clash.

Six police officers also were killed in June, when clashes broke out during the forced eviction of peasants occupying a disputed soy farm.

Politicians opposed to President Fernando Lugo seized on the "Massacre of Curuguaty" to oust him.

A prosecutor filed charges including land invasion and murder against eight of the peasants this month.

Family members say the charges are baseless.

A local judge will decide Feb. 12 whether he accepts or rejects charges presented by the prosecutor.

HAITI

Gold, copper mining permits seen as step against poverty

PORT-AU-PRINCE — Haiti's government has announced that it has awarded permits for the first time in the country's history to allow two companies to openly mine for gold and copper.

The nation's mining director, Ludner Remarais, said he hopes the move will bring a badly needed burst of money to the impoverished Caribbean country of 10 million people, where many live on a $1.25 a day.

Mr. Remarais issued a gold and copper exploitation permit to SOMINE SA, which is owned jointly by Canadian company Majescor Resources Inc. and Haitian investors.

Mr. Remarais issued a second gold exploitation permit to VCS Mining LLC, a North Carolina-based mining company with offices in Haiti.

"It allows us to finally produce and make money, at least get to that step," Majescor CEO Dan Hachey said in a phone interview. "It's also a great step forward for the mining industry in Haiti."

The company still has to submit a preliminary environmental assessment, although obtaining the permit is the final step to allow open-pit mining, Mr. Hachey said. He added that a deadline hasn't been set.

The company will perform additional drilling to better determine where the minerals are, Mr. Hachey said.

PUERTO RICO

$3 million worth of pot seized from suspicious boat

SAN JUAN — Authorities in Puerto Rico said they have seized 3,500 pounds of marijuana worth $3 million.

The U.S. Coast Guard said Friday that the drugs were seized late Tuesday in waters south of the U.S. territory after crews spotted a suspicious boat and investigated.

Officials said three suspects have been arrested.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports