Man held after Dutch family found locked away in secret farmhouse room

Man held after Dutch family found locked away in secret farmhouse room
By Hilde Verweij

RUINERWOLD, Netherlands (Reuters) – A man who paid the rent on a Dutch farmhouse where six members of a family were found locked away in a secret room will appear in court on Thursday on charges of unlawful detention and harming others’ health, prosecutors said.

Five siblings, estimated to be aged between 18 and 25, and a man they identified as their ailing father were found at the farm near Ruinerwold, a village in the province of Drenthe where they had apparently lived in isolation for years.

The 58-year-old suspect, who lived nearby and whose name has not yet been released by authorities, was to be brought before a judge on Thursday, prosecutors said in a statement.

“The man is suspected at this stage of the investigation of involvement in unlawful detention and injuring the health of others,” the statement said.

The mayor of Ruinerwold, Roger de Groot, said the suspect was not the father of the family.

“The man is still in custody and is being questioned,” said Drenthe police spokeswoman Grietje Hartstra. “A lot is still unclear and we are investigating exactly what happened there.”

The family was discovered after one relative, a 25-year-old man and the eldest of the siblings according to local media, sought help at a nearby cafe.

In a statement, police said they found the family in a “small space in the house which could be locked” and that it was unclear whether they were being held against their will.

Investigators have not commented on published reports that the family may have held apocalyptic “end of days” beliefs.

“There is a lot of speculation in the media about what happened, but as police we deal with facts. We still have a lot of unanswered questions,” Hartstra said.

The mother of the children was believed to have died before the family moved to the Dutch farm in 2010, De Groot told reporters. None of the family members was registered as a resident with the municipality, the police statement said.

REMOTE SPOT

The farm is located on a secluded plot of land on the outskirts of the village. Residents were surprised that anyone could have been hidden away for so long in their tiny community without being noticed.

“It’s possible here … (it) is such a remote spot, in the middle of fields,” said neighbor Roelie van Dijk. “You see it can happen anywhere. Not only in a big city but also in the countryside. And perhaps even more in the countryside, where you can hide completely.”

Van Dijk said she and her husband had seen a man driving in and out of the property for years and doing construction work. He always kept the gates closed and never socialized, she said.

Her husband Sjon said he once asked to see how the renovations were coming along, but the man yelled “no” and sped off.

“We tried to make contact, my husband just last week, with the man in the car…(But) he drove on. He went through the gates and locked them again.”

The siblings had apparently lived in makeshift rooms inside the farm and survived partly on vegetables and animals from a secluded garden on the property, local TV RTV Drenthe reported.

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Stephanie van den Berg Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

With Venezuela in collapse, towns slip into primitive isolation

A man weighs coffee beans, given as a means of payment, in a hardware store in Guarico, Venezuela April 24, 2019. Picture taken April 24, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

By Corina Pons

PATANEMO, Venezuela (Reuters) – At the once-busy beach resort of Patanemo, tourism has evaporated over the last two years as Venezuela’s economic collapse has deepened and deteriorating cellphone service left visitors too afraid of robbery to brave the isolated roads.

Gone are the vendors who once walked the sands of the crescent-shaped beach hawking bathing suits and empanadas – a traditional savory pastry.

These days, its Caribbean shoreline flanked by forested hills receives a different type of visitor: people who walk 10 minutes from a nearby town carrying rice, plantains or bananas in hopes of exchanging them for the fishermen’s latest catch.

With bank notes made useless by hyperinflation, and no easy access to the debit card terminals widely used to conduct transactions in urban areas, residents of Patanemo rely mainly on barter.

It is just one of a growing number of rural towns slipping into isolation as Venezuela’s economy implodes amid a long-running political crisis.

From the peaks of the Andes to Venezuela’s sweltering southern savannahs, the collapse of basic services including power, telephone and internet has left many towns struggling to survive.

The subsistence economy stands in stark contrast to the oil boom years when abundance seeped into the most remote reaches of what was once Latin America’s richest nation.

“The fish that we catch is to exchange or give away,” said Yofran Arias, one of 15 fishermen who have grown accustomed to a rustic existence even though they live a 15-minute drive from Venezuela’s main port of Puerto Cabello.

“Money doesn’t buy anything so it’s better for people to bring food so we can give them fish,” he said, while cleaning bonefish, known for abundant bones and limited commercial value.

In visits to three villages across Venezuela, Reuters reporters saw residents exchanging fish, coffee beans and hand-picked fruit for essentials to make ends meet in an economy that shrank 48% during the first five years of President Nicolas Maduro’s government, according to recent central bank figures.

Venezuela’s crisis has taken a heavy toll on rural areas, where the number of households in poverty reached 74% in 2017 compared with 34% in the capital of Caracas, according to an annual survey called Encovi carried out by private Venezuelan universities.

Residents rarely travel to nearby cities, due to a lack of public transportation, growing fuel shortages and the prohibitive cost of consumer goods.

In some regions, travel requires negotiating roads barricaded by residents looking to steal from travelers. At one such roadblock in eastern Venezuela, a Reuters witness saw a driver fire gunshots in the air to disperse a crowd

“I haven’t been to the city center in almost two years. What would I do there? I don’t have enough (money) to buy a shirt or a pair of shorts,” said a fisherman in Patanemo who identified himself only as Luis.

“I’m better off here swapping things to survive.”

COFFEE FOR FUEL

Venezuela is suffering one of the worst economic collapses in modern history. Inflation has topped 1 million percent, according to figures released by the opposition-run congress. The United Nations says 4 million citizens have fled Venezuela, 3.3 million of them since 2015.

A fisherman carries a plastic bag full of fish that can be used as a means of payment at a fishermen's camp in Patanemo, Venezuela May 17, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero

A fisherman carries a plastic bag full of fish that can be used as a means of payment at a fishermen’s camp in Patanemo, Venezuela May 17, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero

Maduro blames the situation on an “economic war” waged by his political adversaries as well as U.S. sanctions that have hobbled the oil industry and prevented his government from borrowing abroad.

The central bank in April released economic indicators for the first time in the nearly four years, showing a less severe cataclysm than figures published by Congress. But the bank’s data underscored a dramatic contraction and spiraling consumer prices, nonetheless.

The bolivar has lost 99% of its value since Maduro took office in 2013.

In the mountains of the central state of Lara, residents of the town of Guarico this year found a different way of paying bills – coffee beans.

Residents of the coffee-growing region now exchange roasted beans for anything from haircuts to spare parts for agricultural machinery.

“Based on the cost of the product, we agree with the customer on the kilos or number of bags of coffee that they have to pay,” said hardware store manager Haideliz Linares.

The transactions are based on a reference price for how much coffee fetches on the local market, Linares said. In April, one kilo (2.2 pounds) of beans was worth the equivalent of $3.00.

In El Tocuyo, another town in Lara state, three 100 kilo sacks of coffee buy 200 liters (53 gallons) of gasoline, which is in increasingly short supply in the OPEC nation due to chronic operational problems at state oil company PDVSA.

Keila Ovalles works in her garden to harvest vegetables and fruit, which she uses to for bartering, in Borburata, Venezuela May 17, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero

Keila Ovalles works in her garden to harvest vegetables and fruit, which she uses to for bartering, in Borburata, Venezuela May 17, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero

In Borburata, another town a few miles from Patanemo, Keila Ovalles harvests eggplant, tomato and passion fruit in the backyard of her modest home. She said it was similar to the way her family lived in the early 20th century.

She stopped drinking coffee after being unable to pay for it, and now makes tea out of lemongrass instead.

“I tell the guys that I’m swapping passion fruit for something else, they spread the word and someone always comes,” said the 55-year-old woman.

(Reporting by Corina Pons; additional reporting by Keren Torres in Guarico, Tibisay Romero in Valencia and Angus Berwick in Cumana; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Tom Brown)

The digital drug: Internet addiction spawns U.S. treatment programs

Danny Reagan,a former residential patient of the Lindner Center of Hope, which admits only children who suffer from compulsion or obsession with their use of technology, sits in a common room at the center in Mason, Ohio, U.S., January 23, 2019. REUTERS/Maddie McGarvey

By Gabriella Borter

CINCINNATI (Reuters) – When Danny Reagan was 13, he began exhibiting signs of what doctors usually associate with drug addiction. He became agitated, secretive and withdrew from friends. He had quit baseball and Boy Scouts, and he stopped doing homework and showering.

But he was not using drugs. He was hooked on YouTube and video games, to the point where he could do nothing else. As doctors would confirm, he was addicted to his electronics.

“After I got my console, I kind of fell in love with it,” Danny, now 16 and a junior in a Cincinnati high school, said. “I liked being able to kind of shut everything out and just relax.”

Danny was different from typical plugged-in American teenagers. Psychiatrists say internet addiction, characterized by a loss of control over internet use and disregard for the consequences of it, affects up to 8 percent of Americans and is becoming more common around the world.

“We’re all mildly addicted. I think that’s obvious to see in our behavior,” said psychiatrist Kimberly Young, who has led the field of research since founding the Center for Internet Addiction in 1995. “It becomes a public health concern obviously as health is influenced by the behavior.”

Psychiatrists such as Young who have studied compulsive internet behavior for decades are now seeing more cases, prompting a wave of new treatment programs to open across the United States. Mental health centers in Florida, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and other states are adding inpatient internet addiction treatment to their line of services.

Some skeptics view internet addiction as a false condition, contrived by teenagers who refuse to put away their smartphones, and the Reagans say they have had trouble explaining it to extended family.

Anthony Bean, a psychologist and author of a clinician’s guide to video game therapy, said that excessive gaming and internet use might indicate other mental illnesses but should not be labeled independent disorders.

“It’s kind of like pathologizing a behavior without actually understanding what’s going on,” he said.

A room at the Lindner Center of Hope's "Reboot" program in Mason, Ohio, U.S., January 23, 2019. REUTERS/Maddie McGarvey

A room at the Lindner Center of Hope’s “Reboot” program in Mason, Ohio, U.S., January 23, 2019. REUTERS/Maddie McGarvey

‘REBOOT’

At first, Danny’s parents took him to doctors and made him sign contracts pledging to limit his internet use. Nothing worked, until they discovered a pioneering residential therapy center in Mason, Ohio, about 22 miles (35 km) north of Cincinnati.

The “Reboot” program at the Lindner Center for Hope offers inpatient treatment for 11 to 17-year-olds who, like Danny, have addictions including online gaming, gambling, social media, pornography and sexting, often to escape from symptoms of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

Danny was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder at age 5 and Anxiety Disorder at 6, and doctors said he developed an internet addiction to cope with those disorders.

“Reboot” patients spend 28 days at a suburban facility equipped with 16 bedrooms, classrooms, a gym and a dining hall. They undergo diagnostic tests, psychotherapy, and learn to moderate their internet use.

Chris Tuell, clinical director of addiction services, started the program in December after seeing several cases, including Danny’s, where young people were using the internet to “self-medicate” instead of drugs and alcohol.

The internet, while not officially recognized as an addictive substance, similarly hijacks the brain’s reward system by triggering the release of pleasure-inducing chemicals and is accessible from an early age, Tuell said.

“The brain really doesn’t care what it is, whether I pour it down my throat or put it in my nose or see it with my eyes or do it with my hands,” Tuell said. “A lot of the same neurochemicals in the brain are occurring.”

Even so, recovering from internet addiction is different from other addictions because it is not about “getting sober,” Tuell said. The internet has become inevitable and essential in schools, at home and in the workplace.

“It’s always there,” Danny said, pulling out his smartphone. “I feel it in my pocket. But I’m better at ignoring it.”

IS IT A REAL DISORDER?

Medical experts have begun taking internet addiction more seriously.

Neither the World Health Organization (WHO) nor the American Psychiatric Association recognize internet addiction as a disorder. Last year, however, the WHO recognized the more specific Gaming Disorder following years of research in China, South Korea and Taiwan, where doctors have called it a public health crisis.

Some online games and console manufacturers have advised gamers against playing to excess. YouTube has created a time monitoring tool to nudge viewers to take breaks from their screens as part of its parent company Google’s “digital wellbeing” initiative.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said internet addiction is the subject of “intensive research” and consideration for future classification. The American Psychiatric Association has labeled gaming disorder a “condition for further study.”

“Whether it’s classified or not, people are presenting with these problems,” Tuell said.

Tuell recalled one person whose addiction was so severe that the patient would defecate on himself rather than leave his electronics to use the bathroom.

Research on internet addiction may soon produce empirical results to meet medical classification standards, Tuell said, as psychologists have found evidence of a brain adaptation in teens who compulsively play games and use the internet.

“It’s not a choice, it’s an actual disorder and a disease,” said Danny. “People who joke about it not being serious enough to be super official, it hurts me personally.”

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; editing by Grant McCool)

Squeezing North Korea: old friends take steps to isolate regime

Friendship bridge between China and North Korea

By Ju-min Park and Tony Munroe

SEOUL (Reuters) – From kicking out North Korean workers and ending visa-free travel for its citizens, to stripping flags of convenience from its ships, Cold War-era allies from Poland to Mongolia are taking measures to squeeze the isolated country.

More such moves, with prodding from South Korea and the United States, are expected after North Korea recently defied U.N. resolutions to conduct its fifth nuclear test.

North Korea’s limited global links leave most countries with few targets for penalizing the regime on their own.

Mounting sanctions over the years have made Pyongyang more adept at evasion and finding alternative sources for procurement, a recent paper by experts at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found.

Nonetheless, South Korea has been especially active in pushing the North’s allies for unilateral action in hopes of reining in Pyongyang’s arms program.

“If long-standing friends of North Korea continue to publicly curb their ties with the country, Pyongyang will have fewer places overseas where its illicit networks can operate unhindered or with political cover from the host capital,” said Andrea Berger, deputy director of the proliferation and nuclear policy program at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

South Korean officials have declined to say whether they have made inducements to countries to punish North Korea.

“Presumably in the course of that diplomatic interaction it is also being made clear to Pyongyang’s partners that deeper trade ties with economies like South Korea will not be fully realizable” without taking steps against North Korea, Berger said.

Angola, for one, has suspended all commercial trade with Pyongyang, banning North Korean companies from operating there since the U.N. toughened sanctions in March, a South Korean foreign ministry official told Reuters recently.

Angola was suspected of buying military equipment in 2011 from North Korea’s Green Pine Associated Corp, which is under U.N. sanction, according to a 2016 U.N. report. North Korea had also cooperated with Angola in health care, IT and construction, South Korea’s embassy there said in December.

Angolan officials did not respond to requests for comment, but the country told the U.N. in July it had not imported any light weapons from North Korea in recent years.

North Korea’s export of cheap labor has also been targeted.

Earlier this year, Washington urged countries to curb the use of North Korean workers, who number roughly 50,000 and generate between $1.2 billion and $2.3 billion annually for Pyongyang, according to a 2015 U.N. report.

Poland, which hosted as many as 800 North Korean workers, according to some estimates, this year stopped renewing visas, as did Malta.

Travel restrictions have also increased, with Ukraine recently revoking a Soviet-era deal that allowed visa-free visits for North Koreans.

Singapore, which has been a hub for North Korea-linked trade, will require visitors from the country to apply for visas starting next month, its immigration authority said in July.

DE-FLAGGED

The vast majority of North Korea’s trade is with China, and experts warn sanctions will have limited impact without Beijing’s backing. China condemns Pyongyang’s nuclear program but is also its chief ally and is unwilling to pressure leader Kim Jong Un’s regime too far, fearing a collapse that would destabilize the entire region. That means agreeing significantly tightened U.N. sanctions could be difficult.

Some of the most tangible results of recent efforts to isolate North Korea have seen countries ban its ships from their registries. North Korean-owned vessels are suspected of using other flags to camouflage the movement of illicit cargo.

Landlocked Mongolia, which is among Pyongyang’s steadiest allies but also has close ties with Seoul, canceled the registrations of all 14 North Korean vessels flying its flag, according to a report it submitted to the U.N. in July, even though sanctions compelled it to act on just one of them.

Cambodia, once the most popular flag of convenience for North Korea, ended its registry scheme for all foreign ships in August, although it did not single out North Korea.

The flags of 69 North Korean ships, none of them on a U.N. blacklist, have been de-registered since the U.N. tightened sanctions in March, South Korea’s foreign minister said last month. The North’s merchant fleet is estimated by the U.N. at roughly 240 vessels.

Still, one-off measures by various countries mean Pyongyang can simply shift its business elsewhere – a shortcoming of unilateral actions in general.

China and Russia employ the bulk of North Korean workers and have publicly shown no inclination to halt the practice.

Last week, North Korean state media announced the Sept 19 “inauguration” of its embassy in the Belarusian capital Minsk. However, on Monday, the Belarus foreign ministry said there was no North Korean embassy there, although it did not immediately give further information.

Pyongyang has been known to use diplomatic personnel, several whom have been caught with large amounts of gold or cash, to procure banned equipment or fund illegal activities.

China, experts say, remains the key.

“Rather than being efficient, unilateral actions put psychological pressure on the North,” said Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University. “But like criminal gangs, North Korea won’t cringe much under psychological pressure.”

(Additional reporting by Andrei Makhovsky in Minsk, Herculano Coroado in Luanda and Prak Chan Thul in Phnom Penh; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

I Am Somebody!

I wondered why somebody didn’t do something. Then I realized, I am somebody. ~Author Unknown

I’ve heard so many people say that this task of getting prepared for disasters is just too much for them. Some have no support or backing whatsoever from anyone in their family, and consider it a daunting task to go it alone. Some have made a gallant start and then run into resistance by financial circumstances or other situations beyond their control. Some wouldn’t be caught dead (pun unintended) prepping, afraid that others would think they were really “out there.” And others have good intentions to do it someday.

But recently, those who have never been preppers before are starting to get prepared now. There’s something going on in people’s hearts that tells them it’s time and no more procrastinating!   Continue reading