VIO News Blog

June 18, 2009

Suspects Detained in Killing of Opposition Leader

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 2:22 pm
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The Spanish news agency EFE reports that six individuals suspected of involvement in the recent killing of opposition leader Jhonathan Rivas have been detained by Venezuelan authorities. Rivas, a regional leader of the Primero Justicia opposition party, was shot and killed last Saturday in a public square in the city of El Tigre. According to another opposition leader who suffered a blow to the head, the attack was perpetrated by a group of Chavez supporters. Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami did not identify the detained suspects but stated that the government had no tolerance for violence, no matter the “ideological and political orientation of those who may be affected.”

The Venezuelan foreign ministry released a statement on Tuesday firmly rejecting “the ferocious and unfounded campaign to discredit” the June 12 presidential election in Iran and demanding “the immediate end to maneuvers to intimidate and destabilize the Islamic Revolution.” Though defeated candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi and much of the international media have suggested that massive fraud took place during the election, various independent analysts and pollsters have argued that there is no proof of significant irregularities and that recent polls predicted a large victory for President Ahmadinejad. Whatever the case may be, the current media hype surrounding the Iranian elections and based largely on unsubstantiated claims of fraud and large demonstrations of primarily middle-class Iranians, bears a troubling resemblance to past media-driven electoral controversies in Venezuela.

A smaller media frenzy was generated by rumors that Venezuelan health authorities planned to quarantine a cruise ship anchored at Margarita Island due to the presence of at least three crew members diagnosed with swine flu. Though it was initially reported that the vessel would be quarantined until June 24th, in the end, Venezuelan passengers were allowed to disembark and the ship continued on to the island of Aruba.

El Universal reports on the decision of Venezuela’s Autonomous Service for Intellectual Property (SAPI) to post on its web site all “technical information” linked to patents licensed in Venezuela. The head of the institution explained that the decision was made in order to allow Venezuelan technicians “to change and improve new technologies that have already been developed.” President Chavez has also instructed the former head of SAPI and current Minister of Trade, Eduardo Saman, to recommend revisions to the country’s property rights legislation in order to ensure that “patents cannot be a restriction or a trap.” While some see this move as a threat and “unconstitutional”, there is an increasing consensus in the developing world that patent laws need to be made more flexible in order, for example, to allow for greater access to life-saving medicine for the poor.

Finally, the Miami Herald reports that Venezuelan expatriates in southern Florida are collecting funds to help opposition news channel Globovision pay a $4 million government fine. The fund-raising drive was initially organized by Venezuelan opposition student groups and is apparently now the hottest topic of conversation among Florida Venezuelans. Venezuela’s Chargé d’Affaires in Washington told the Herald that due process has been respected in the case of Globovision and that “attempts to portray the station as a victim are nothing but theater.”

June 17, 2009

Prosecutors Investigate Globovision for Inciting Crime

On Tuesday, Venezuela’s telecommunications regulator CONATEL instructed prosecutors to investigate whether or not the Globovision news channel incited a crime when it aired the comments of a newspaper editor who stated that President Chavez could end up “hanging” like the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. A spokeswoman for CONATEL stated that if the investigation determined that Globovision was responsible for supporting criminal activities, it’s broadcasting license “could be revoked.”

An article posted on CNN’s web site presents a variety of quotes from individuals and organizations that are critical of this and other CONATEL investigations of Globovision. The article, however, fails to present a single contrasting point of view or critical background information regarding, for instance, the role that the news station played during the April 2002 coup against Chavez. CNN also quotes the NED-funded NGO Reporters without Borders making the false claim that Globovision is currently the only Venezuelan television station that has “kept up its criticism of the government.” In fact, as any frequent watcher of Venezuelan television knows, other private channels such as Televen and Venevision continue to frequently air criticism of the government, while the RCTV network broadcasts intensely critical views of the government on cable and satellite television.

In recent weeks, pamphlets threatening to “socially cleanse” communities of transvestites, sex workers and thieves, among others, have been distributed throughout communities in western Venezuela, according to Venezuelanalysis. Signed by a group named “Black Eagles”, believed to be a splinter group of the defunct Colombian paramilitary organization A.U.C., the pamphlets have been accompanied by violent acts, including the brutal murder of a transvestite sex worker in the state of Merida. Venezuela’s national police investigation unit has launched an investigation into the pamphlets and the murders. Meanwhile, President Chavez and the Venezuelan Minister of Interior and Justice have accused the governor of Tachira, Cesar Perez, of conspiring with paramilitary groups to mount a violent plan to secede from Venezuela.

The communications industry research group Telegeography reports that President Chavez has invited Caribbean countries to share the use of Venezuela’s new Simon Bolivar satellite which began to operate in January. Science and Technology Minister Jesse Chacon explained that the satellite would allow Venezuela to provide high speed internet and TV services to remote areas of Venezuela. He also announced that the government would soon launch a free public Wi-Fi network that will cover 50 square kilometres in the city of Barquisimeto.

The Venezuelan government announced Monday that CADIVI – the country’s foreign exchange administrator – would be allocating $2.5 billion to the national car industry to allow for more imports of motor vehicles and car parts following a plunge in car sales during the month of May. The government has limited the amount of dollars made available to the industry in order to decrease car imports and boost national production.

In other economic news, Bloomberg reports that the Venezuelan National Assembly has approved a law requiring all chemical production to be placed under the control of government-controlled joint ventures. A number of strategic industries have been nationalized since 2007, including Venezuela’s steel, cement and electrical industries.

June 12, 2009

Venezuela To Host ALBA Summit

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 2:11 pm

On Thursday President Chavez confirmed that Venezuela will be hosting an extraordinary summit of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of our America (ALBA) on June 24th at the site of the Battle of Carabobo which took place on the same day in 1821 and led to the independence of Venezuela. The summit will officialize the incorporation of Ecuador into ALBA, a group of countries that promotes regional relations based on solidarity, social development and equitable trade. The ALBA group is currently comprised of Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica, Honduras and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

A spokeswoman for Venezuela’s Coca Cola affiliate told the press that the Venezuelan government had communicated its concern over the possible health risks posed by an ingredient in the company’s new Coke Zero soft drink product. The company has begun a “process of demonstrating [to the government] that there are no health risks” the spokeswoman said. On Wednesday Health Minister Jesus Mantilla announced that distribution of the product would be halted while the government investigated its ingredients.

While many stories have appeared recently regarding Venezuela’s Globovision news network and its tense relations with the government, the alternative internet news site Upside Down World focuses on a new “counter cultural” Venezuelan television channel that has received scant attention in the U.S. press. The station, called Avila TV, has a young, progressive staff that “covers the underground culture of Caracas while trying to promote alternative lifestyles.” Created as a response to the April 2002 “media coup” and funded by the government, the station’s programming is aimed at a young audience and uses hip hop and other urban cultural forms to combat consumerism and promote socialist values.

An article published by NACLA and written by Steve Ellner, a U.S. academic based in Venezuela, takes an in-depth look at how Venezuela’s community councils function. Created by law in 2006, there are approximately 20,000 councils in Venezuela today dedicated to planning and managing neighborhood development projects. According to Ellner, they “represent not only the government’s most recent success in jump-starting popular participation, but also a radical break with the past, when these activities were undertaken by city, state, or national government.” We reproduce the first section of Ellner’s analysis here and provide a link to the complete article for those who are interested.

June 11, 2009

Coke Zero Withdrawn from Venezuelan Stores

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 1:35 pm

The Venezuelan Health Ministry announced yesterday that the new soft drink product “Coke Zero” would be withdrawn from national circulation while health authorities investigated its ingredients for potentially unsafe substances. The decision has generated a flurry of articles and television news reports that suggest that the measure is linked to a recent wave of nationalizations or sparked by “anti-U.S. motivations.” No mainstream news outlet, however, has sought to address the real health risks that may be posed by the new product despite the fact that consumer advocacy groups and medical experts have signaled that at least two of Coke Zero’s ingredients – aspartame and acesulfame potassium – are potentially carcinogenic.

President Chavez held a meeting with Jean Ping, President of the African Union, yesterday afternoon, to discuss preparations for the Summit of African and South American leaders that will take place in Caracas at the end of September. The two leaders talked about building “South-South” cooperation between both continents and discussed the implications of the global economic crisis. After the meeting, Ping told the press that he considered that President Chavez has “become a spokesperson for the nations that do not have a voice … especially in Africa.”

The Washington Post once again focuses its attention on the Venezuelan government’s alleged mistreatment of the opposition news channel Globovision in an article published today. The article cites the police search of the home of the channel’s CEO, Guillermo Zuloaga, without explaining that the measure didn’t involve Globovision and was in fact part of an investigation of suspected illicit activities related to Zuloaga’s car dealerships. Interestingly, a spokesperson for the Committee to to Protect Journalists is at first quoted in the article excoriating President Chavez for “a direct attack against freedom of expression” but later recognizes the clear “role the private media played in the [April, 2002]coup” and laments that “there are no judicial sentences against them.”

In response to the many articles in the international media on the Venezuelan government’s alleged attacks on free speech, the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) has posted a piece that suggests that the Chavez administration “has legitimate reasons for holding politically motivated news channels accountable.” The piece also considers that the foreign news media has promoted “local distortions seeking to demonize the Chavez government” rather than carefully examining the legal basis for the measures taken against Globovision.

Finally, the national soccer teams of Venezuela and Uruguay ended a World Cup qualifying match in a 2-2 draw in Puerto Ordaz last night. While Uruguay can no longer qualify as a participant in the 2010 FIFA Cup in South Africa, Venezuela is still in the running.

June 9, 2009

Venezuela Continues to Pay Debt Owed to Oil Service Providers

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 1:09 pm

The Dow Jones Newswire reports today that Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA has paid close to half of the outstanding debt owed to service providers since last year. Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez announced that the debt, which has now been reduced to $7.5 billion, will be fully paid by the end of this year. Ramirez also said that, though more oil-service providers would be taken over by PDVSA, there were no plans to nationalize drill operators as they aren’t seen as exercising a monopoly within their sector of activity.

In other energy news, Brazilian President Lula da Silva said that he was “optimistic” that a long-delayed agreement between Brazil’s state oil company Petrobras and PDVSA would be finalized within 90 days. Presidents Lula and Chavez agreed last year to joint ownership of a refinery in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco that is set to refine 200,000 b/d ofVenezuelan and Brazilian crude. However, talks broke down between the two state firms over the price that will be paid for Venezuelan crude among other issues.

Following a month-long registration drive, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has increased its membership to 6.7 million members, according to party vice-president Aristobulo Isturiz. 40% of the more than one million new members of the pro-Chavez party are under the age of 26, Isturiz told the press. Meanwhile, close to a dozen opposition parties announced the creation of a political alliance called “Democratic Unity Roundtable” that will attempt to form common strategies to address a host of political and social issues. Venezuela’s opposition movement has long been plagued by internal divisions and alliances formed between its key players have tended to unravel rapidly.

The president of Peru, Alan Garcia, has suggested that the governments of Venezuela and Bolivia have played a role in deadly clashes between indigenous protesters and police in Peru’s northern jungle. The embattled leader has provided no evidence of any sort of link between these governments and the protest movement whose demands are focused on repealing a series of decrees that will allegedly result in the exploitation of indigenous lands by logging and oil companies. The decrees were issued by Garcia in order to pave the way for the implementation of a free trade agreement with the U.S. that has been touted as a model by the Obama administration.

May 5, 2009

Venezuelan Authorities Turn Guerrillas over to Colombia

The Spanish news agency EFE reports that 5 ELN guerrilla members were turned over to Colombian authorities yesterday by the Venezuelan Immigration service.  Once in Colombia, the guerrillas, that included three men and two women, were promptly arrested and charged with rebellion and other crimes. According to the Colombian intelligence agency DAS one of the arrested guerrillas is the military and finance chief of the ELN’s northern front.

The Washington Post has published an article entitled “Human Rights Activists Troubled by Administration’s Approach” in which most of the “activists” cited are former government officials. Obama’s courteous engagement of President Chavez at the Summit of the Americas is criticized by a former official named Lorne W. Craner who says “you can’t just offer hope to Castro, Chavez and Mubarak. You have to offer hope to others.”  According to the Post, Craner was assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights under George W. Bush.

Finally, Bloomberg reports that the Venezuelan government has asked local producers to sell twice as much gold to the Central Bank so that Venezuela can increase its metal reserves and decrease its dependence on US dollars. According to the new rules set by the Venezuelan Finance Ministry, 60 percent of locally produced gold must be offered to the Central Bank before other sellers. Financial analyst Philip Gotthelf suggested that these meausres might be the “first step in a regional trend” to bolster gold reserves in anticipation of a decline in the value of the U.S. dollar.

Thousands of Marches Celebrate May Day in Caracas

On Sunday, a Venezuelan military helicopter crashed near the border with Colombia killing a civilian and eighteen soldiers, including a brigadier general.  President Hugo Chavez announced that the Russian-made MI-17 helicopter crashed in the mountainous El Capote region while patrolling the 1400 mile border between Venezuela and Colombia. Referring to the latest State Department report on terrorism, Chavez said, “they say that we don’t patrol the border.  How many lives has Colombia’s conflict cost us Venezuelans?”

On May 1st thousands of Venezuelans marched throughout Venezuela to celebrate International Workers’ Day.  In Caracas, as has been the case for the last 8 years, two marches took place simultaneously along different routes.  The larger of the two marches was made up of pro-government unions while the smaller march was convened by the Venezuelan Workers’ Confederation, a union linked to the opposition party Accion Democratica whose past leadership supported the 2002 coup against Chavez.  A crowd of opposition marchers was confronted with tear gas by Caracas police and National Guard forces after trying to pass through a police barricade.

Also on May 1st, President Chavez strongly rejected the latest State Department report on terrorism that criticizes his government for alleged “sympathy” with the FARC rebel group in Colombia.  He also expressed skepticism regarding President Obama’s agenda of “change” for relations with Latin America, signaling that “if President Obama does not dismantle this savage blockade of the Cuban people, then it is all a lie, it will all be a great farce.”  On Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a group of foreign service officers that the Bush Administration’s attempts to isolate Venezuela and Bolivia “didn’t work” and that the new administration would engage in a more constructive approach.

An Op-ed in the Sunday Washington Post, written by Human Rights Watch Americas Director Jose Miguel Vivanco, recognizes that Venezuela has “competitive elections and independent political parties, media outlets, labor unions and civil society organizations.”   However, Vivanco also alleges that the Chavez government has implemented “authoritarian policies” that “undermined democratic institutions” which should be met with declarations of “concern” by the Obama Administration.  It should be noted that Human Rights Watch’s most recent report on Venezuela received extensive criticism from a group of US academics that questioned the report’s methodology.

Finally, a Washington Post editorial entitled “Beleaguered Mexico” falsely asserts that President Chavez backed a left-wing candidate during Mexico’s 2006 presidential election.  The Post’ editors, in keeping with their policy of extreme bias towards the Venezuelan government, reproduce a baseless claim that was first propagated by right-wing sectors of the Mexican media during the 2006 campaign.

May 1, 2009

Chavez Reaffirms Neutrality Regarding Colombia’s Internal Conflict

Following the killing of 8 soldiers near Colombia’s border with Venezuela, President Chavez declared that his government would not allow FARC rebel forces to use Venezuelan territory to mount assaults inside the neighboring country.  Chavez also reaffirmed his country’s traditional policy of neutrality regarding Colombia’s internal conflict and stated that Venezuela would “not permit any type of armed incursion… wherever it comes from.”  Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro earlier announced that his government would collaborate with Colombia on efforts to capture the FARC guerrilla members responsible for the killing of the 8 soldiers.

Reuters reports that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told foreign service officers today that she did not consider that it was in the US’s interest to attempt to isolate countries like Venezuela and Bolivia, as the Bush Administration had done.  “The prior administration tried to isolate them, tried to support opposition to them, tried to turn them into international pariahs,” said Clinton. “It didn’t work.”  The Secretary of State explained that the failed policy had allowed Iran, Russia and China to make “disturbing” political and economic gains in the region over the last few years.

An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal repeats the worn out claim that the Venezuelan government promotes anti-Semitism, despite the fact that President Chavez and other officials have strongly condemned all forms of anti-Jewish behavior and have engaged with Venezuelan Jewish community groups in a manner that has drawn praise from international organizations like the Jewish Latin American Congress.  Rather than consulting representatives of Venezuela’s established Jewish organizations like the Confederation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela, the author of the piece refers to the extreme views of Pynchas Brenner, a notorious radical opponent of the Chavez government, and US rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld.  The piece also re-hashes the discredited claim that President Chavez made anti-Semitic statements in December 2004, despite the fact that Venezuela’s Jewish community representatives argued against the claim.

Finally, US Republicans have produced a new video featuring the recent handshake between Presidents Obama and Chavez at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad.  The video, that has been broadcast via the internet, suggests that Obama’s decision to have courteous exchanges with Chavez and other leaders deemed to be unfriendly to US interests, has weakened the country’s national security.

April 30, 2009

New Venezuelan Central Bank Head Appointed

Dow Jones reported yesterday that Venezuela’s National Assembly approved President Chavez’s decision to nominate Nelson Merentes to head the country’s Central Bank.  Merentes, who was Finance Minister from 2004 to 2007, was in charge of the purchasing and selling of structured notes made up of sovereign debt from other Latin American countries who sought to end their dependence on the International Monetary Fund.  The presidency of the Central Bank has been vacant since the death of its last president in December of last year.

The Washington Post has published yet another editorial encouraging the Obama Administration to adopt a harder line towards Venezuela.  According to the Post, the judicial measures taken against several government opponents facing corruption charges are evidence of a “a major new campaign against what remains of Venezuela’s democracy”.  Not mentioned in the heavily biased editorial is the fact that pro-government figures, like ex Mayor of Caracas Juan Barreto, are also being prosecuted for crimes involving corruption.

Political comment pieces in the Washington Times and the Kansas City Star include short references to President Obama’s friendly handshake with President Chavez at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad.  The Washington Times refers derisively to the “cerebral president’s” courteous attitude towards “America-hater Hugo Chavez”, despite the fact that the Venezuelan president has often stated that, while he had serious differences with the Bush Administration, he has wished to maintain the best possible relations with the people of the United States.

Finally, the Los Angeles Times has reported that a Florida pharmacy confirmed that a medication given to 21 prized polo horses from Caracas that died at the US Open polo tournament had been incorrectly prepared.   Franck’s Pharmacy of Ocala, Florida announced that “the strength of an ingredient in the medication was incorrect.”

April 29, 2009

Rosales Hides Behind Right-Wing Friends

El Universal reports that the Peruvian government has sent conciliatory signals to Venezuela despite its decision to offer asylum to opposition politician Manuel Rosales who faces charges of corruption in the Venezuelan courts. While the Venezuelan foreign ministry recalled its ambassador in Lima and stated that the relationship with the Andean nation was under “evaluation”, Peru has maintained its ambassador in Caracas. Peruvian President Alan Garcia declared that his government had “a position of friendship with the Venezuelan government” but also had a policy of providing “shelter to whomever feels threatened.” German Saltron, Venezuela’s representative to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, contested the notion that Peru’s offer of asylum was based on “humanitarian reasons”, signaling President Garcia’s “political and ideological affinity” with Rosales and his alleged long-standing friendship with opposition leader Carlos Andres Perez.

On Tuesday, 17 individuals were arrested in Curacao for their alleged involvement in an international drug ring that provided financial support to the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon. According to a statement released by Dutch Authorities, the arrests were carried out thanks to a coordinated operation involving police and judicial organisms from Curacao, the Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia, Venezuela and the United States.

Also on Tuesday, ex President Jimmy Carter announced that he would be meeting with the Presidents of Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru over the coming days.

The AP reports that Iran’s defense minister has held talks with his Venezuelan counterpart in Caracas. The Iranian official told Iran’s state media that his country was developing a long-term cooperation plan with Venezuela; however, Venezuelan officials declined to make any comments regarding the ongoing talks.

In economic news, Dow Jones reports that the value of the Bolivar has strengthened against the dollar in Venezuela’s parallel market as a result PDVSA’s announcement of plans to emit several billion dollars worth of dollar-denominated debt. Meanwhile, President Chavez approved the emission of 12 billion bolivars ($4.8 billion) in treasury notes in order to cover the budgetary gap generated by lower oil prices. The National Assembly has authorized the selling of up to $15.8 billion in local treasury bonds before the year’s end.

Finally, on Tuesday Venezuela’s state oil company announced that the round of bidding on three projects to develop the heavy-oil fields in the Orinoco basin has been delayed three months. The company will announce the bidding results on August 14th rather than May 7 as had been originally announced.

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