VIO News Blog

June 30, 2008

Venezuela at the Forefront of Regional Cooperation

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 10:30 am
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President Chavez said last Friday that he and Colombia’s Uribe are “accepting each other with whatever differences there may be.” The AP reports that they will meet in July — the first time since Colombia’s campaign to accuse Venezuela and Ecuador of aiding FARC rebels. Last week, President Chavez signed 21 new cooperation agreements with Brazilian President Lula da Silva (pictured here). According to the Caracas newspaper El Universal, deals were made in energy, trade, the environment, telecommunications, and border security. “We are showing that progress can be made toward actual integration among the peoples,” Lula said.

Also in regional news, leaders of the 7 member countries of the Bank of the South met Friday. They announced that the institution begins with $10 billion in startup capital. The AP reports that the Bank of the South will have interest rates favorable to those of other international financial institutions. It will offset dependence on conditional loans from the IMF and World Bank among member nations Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Meanwhile, the AFP reports that the World Petroleum Congress is taking place in Madrid this week. An IPS article indicates that this meeting and others demonstrate “a new global energy order that is emerging under the weight of soaring oil prices.”

A Washington Post column by Jackson Diehl once again wrongly states that President Chavez is a “dictator” and cheers the opposition. The Post promotes an opposition candidate for mayor who is among many barred from participating in local elections due to corruption charges. The candidate, Leopoldo Lopez, frequently tours Washington to drum up anti-Chavez sentiment, and this time claimed the Venezuelan leader fears that the U.S. “might press for democracy in Venezuela.” However, polls show that Venezuelan citizens are more satisfied with the state of their democracy than most others in the region. A Wall Street Journal briefing also wrongly deems President Chavez a “dictator,” and repeats the unproven claim made by Colombian officials that he aided the FARC.

Finally, the AP reports that a high-ranking military officer in Venezuela took his opposition to the government to the Supreme Court. He challenged the slogan, “fatherland, socialism or death — we will triumph,” as unconstitutional. Apart from the formal legal challenge, the officer vaguely called on Venezuelan troops to “do what they need to do to uphold their duty.” Another challenge comes from the Miami Herald, which reports that a new reformist church in Venezuela that views the president favorably is disparaged by some. The church does not condemn divorce or homosexuality, and is “inclusive, participatory and with a strong Bolivarian spirit that recognizes Jesus Christ as the Lord of History.”

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June 27, 2008

Venezuela’s Local Election Races Heat Up

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 9:34 am
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Polls show that former education minister under President Chavez, Aristobulo Isturiz (pictured at right), is leading the race for mayor of Caracas. Bloomberg reports that a pollster explained: “The people’s affection is still with the president. Even though his popularity has fallen, there is no substitute, no alternative, no other message for the poor.” Meanwhile, opposition candidates are leading in 4 of 5 smaller Caracas municipalities. Local elections will take place in November.

In regional news, Presidents Chavez and Lula meet today in Venezuela. El Universal reports that the leaders will discuss Venezuela’s entry into the trading bloc Mercosur, as well as the possibility of brokering more humanitarian hostage releases in Colombia. Communications ministers from across the region are expected to gather in Venezuela in the coming months, also according to El Universal. Reuters reports that Venezuela’s Vice President Ramon Carrizales was just in Russia, where he met with President Putin.

Two interesting opinion pieces appear today. A column in Axis of Logic argues that President Chavez is not anti-American, and that he provides “solid support for America” through initiatives like the discounted heating oil program under Citgo. Chavez’s “commitment to democracy, egalitarianism and civil liberties” is highlighted. A Washington Post column considers U.S. foreign policy in the Americas, advocating trade relationships in which Latin American business leaders take initiatives.

In cultural news, the San Francisco Chronicle reviews a local Venezuelan restaurant, and the Florida Times-Union writes about how public art in Caracas is allowing Venezuelans to have an active engagement with the history of their country.

June 26, 2008

Venezuela’s Youth Music Programs Praised

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 9:51 am
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The success of Venezuela’s free orchestra programs for children in low-income families is highlighted again today, this time by the AP. The program — called “El Sistema” — has existed for over 30 years, and is currently educating a quarter of a million disadvantaged young people. Because of it, Venezuela has burst onto the world stage as a premier spot for classical music talent, producing greats such as conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who will head the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009. Dudamel says, “‘El Sistema’ has given me everything. It gave me the possibility of having a path in life with music.”

Leaders in Bolivia’s Chapare region are rejecting U.S. anti-drug aid. The AP reports that a coca grower stated: “We want USAID to go. If USAID leaves, we will have aid from Venezuela, which is unconditioned and in solidarity.” USAID gave $87 million in aid to Bolivia in 2007, but chemical eradication schemes and programs to promote alternatives to drug crops have failed.

Also in regional news, Peru’s President Alan Garcia joined other Latin American leaders in speaking out against new anti-immigration laws in the European Union. According to the AP, Garcia called the new laws “abusive,” and said they mistreat immigrants. He plans to unite a group of OAS countries against the measures, including Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Bloomberg reports that the Andean Community trade group has threatened to suspend trade talks with the EU unless the law is revised.

June 25, 2008

Chavez Urges Respect for Democratic Institutions

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 10:02 am
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President Chavez defended a top corruption official’s decision to bar 400 individuals from competing in local elections in November because of pending investigations. Some opposition leaders claim that the measure is meant to threaten their chances at the polls. However, the AP reports that Chavez called on all Venezuelans to respect democratic institutions — including the one conducting the corruption probe. “He makes decisions in accordance with the law and they attack him,” Chavez said of Comptroller General Clodosbaldo Russian.

Yesterday was National Armed Forces Day in Venezuela. President Chavez stressed the importance of Venezuela’s purchase of military equipment from Russia due to a U.S. embargo since 2006. Bloomberg reports that Chavez said Venezuela would otherwise have been prevented from modernizing its military. The AP takes a comment by Chavez out of context, reporting that he touted Venezuela’s “armed revolution,” when in fact, Venezuela’s political process is known to state officials and citizens alike as a “peaceful and democratic revolution.”

In regional news, Wired Magazine writes about the success of Venezuela’s youth music programs and the glowing reception they have received in the U.S. In the Andes, Colombia again avoided restoring diplomatic relations with Ecuador, a country it bombed on March 1st, killing two dozen in an unauthorized raid on a FARC camp. The AP reports that Colombia’s foreign minister said he would not restart talks with the neighboring country, although former U.S. President Carter has offered mediation. Ecuador’s foreign minister said trade restrictions will last longer than expected.

On the economy, Venezuela’s Environment Ministry will reconsider a decision to deny a mining permit to a Canadian company. That firm and others had been barred from extracting minerals in a national reserve because of concerns about the impact on the environment and Indigenous communities. Bloomberg reports that the company’s permit may simply be modified. Finally, OPEC leaders say there is no need to raise the global supply of oil, according to the AP. The New York Times reports that U.S. lawmakers have criticized OPEC, but are now exploring the role played by market speculators in driving up oil prices.

June 24, 2008

Andean Nations Opt for Drug Policies Apart from US

Venezuela’s well-known youth orchestra program is not only being offered in prisons as we reported yesterday, but also it is now being implemented in some of the richest nations of the world. Reuters reports that a pilot project was launched in Scotland last year, and in October, the city of Los Angeles will begin a Venezuela-inspired youth orchestra aimed at helping disenfranchised youth. In Venezuela, the program serves about 300,000 children and has gained fame for producing some of the best musicians in the world, including conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

In regional news, a meeting of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) has been postponed due to scheduling conflicts, according to El Universal. Leaders of member countries Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Brazil will instead meet next week during a summit of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) in Argentina. Reuters reports that some Andean governments are forging news ways to combat drug trafficking. “We are not going to continue sacrificing our foreign policy for U.S. politics,” said Ecuador’s Security Minister, Gustavo Larrea. Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela have all opted to use their own policies rather than those imposed upon them (albeit with a large sum of funds) by the U.S. since, as President Correa points out, the drug war has not worked at all in Colombia.

Research by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that Venezuela will replace Chile as the country with the region’s highest GDP per capita, and that Argentina will become the region’s third-largest economy, according to the Latin Business Chronicle. Venezuela’s GDP per capita will likely reach $11,933 this year. IMF estimates show that Venezuela’s total GDP is set to reach $334.7 billion. While these numbers signal overall improvements for the economy, they do not measure key benefits received by more than half of the population through government-run social programs.

In more economic news, as the U.S. dollar rises, currencies throughout Latin America are weakening, reports Reuters. This is due to the fact that most countries’ exports are bought in dollars. Venezuela’s global bond, one of the most traded in the emerging markets field, fell this week. Analysts chalk this up to “no specific recent debt buy-back mentioned by Chavez” and some new growth measures announced that investors seem wary of.

Finally, CBS News reports on an internet ad in which Republican candidate John McCain describes his energy policy. It equates the Presidents of Venezuela and Iran and deems them “enemies” of the U.S. According to the ad, “Much of the world’s oil supply is controlled by states, regimes and a cartel for which America’s well being is not exactly a priority.” Venezuela’s continuous efforts to foster stability in the US through its oil refining, discounted heating oil program, and emergency injections of oil into the market during Hurricane Katrina are of course not mentioned.

June 23, 2008

Energy Policy Benefits the Public Good

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 10:22 am
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A new program modeled after Venezuela’s revered youth orchestra has sprung up in some of Venezuela’s harshest prisons, the New York Times reported over the weekend. The project, which began a year ago in two prisons, is expanding to five this year. “This is our attempt to achieve the humanization of prison life,” said Kleiberth Lenin Mora, 32, a lawyer who helped create the prison orchestras. “We start with the simple idea that performing music lifts the human being to another level.” The project, jointly funded by the Venezuelan government and the Inter-American Development Bank, comes as prison and police reform take center stage in Venezuela’s national discourse.

On Saturday, Venezuela’s environment minister announced that mining in the Imataca Forest Reserve would come to an end. Citing environmental degradation and water contamination, the minister said that mining policies will from now on favor national interests. According to the AP, underground mining concessions will still be considered, but must take into account “what is left for the country.” U.S. and Canadian mining companies are currently in negotiations. In related news, the BBC looks at an affordable and eco-friendly housing program to help Venezuelans who live in poor barrios. The houses, known as petrocasas, are made using gas, which is turned into plastic, which then becomes recyclable. Watch the news special here.

In energy news, the AP reports that Venezuela’s minister of finance said he expects oil prices to continue to rise, in part due to U.S. refining deficits. Typically, the problem has been portrayed as one originating in producer countries, rather than stemming from a lack of capacity in consumer countries and excessive market speculation. Bloomberg reports that South Korea may invest in Venezuela’s Orinico Belt region, after sending an official delegation last weekend. South Korea and Venezuela are scheduled to sign a preliminary pact to cooperate on natural gas extraction later this year. Finally, a Washington Post editorial supports John McCain’s position that drilling for oil in the U.S. could give the country energy independence.

June 20, 2008

Venezuelan Official: ‘No Terrorists Here’

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 10:14 am
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“There are no terrorists here,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said yesterday in response to U.S. allegations that two Lebanese-born citizens had ties to Hezbollah. The AP reports that the two accused men also publicly denied the charges that led the U.S. Treasury Department to freeze their assets on Wednesday.

After anti-immigration legislation was passed in the European Union yesterday, President Chavez suggested that countries that adopt the new rules could risk losing Venezuelan oil supplies. The AFP reports that the measures crack down on immigrants, detaining them for up to 18 months before deportation. President Morales of Bolivia — the poorest country in South America — also came out against the anti-immigrant laws in an op-ed in the Guardian. Morales writes: “If the return directive becomes law, we will not be morally able to deepen negotiations with the EU.” About half a million illegal immigrants enter the EU each year.

Also in economic news, President Chavez proposed an oil deal with Paraguay yesterday in a meeting with incoming President Fernando Lugo. The AP reports that Venezuela is prepared to supply enough oil to cover Paraguay’s domestic market. In Venezuela, the nationalization of the cement industry took effect yesterday. According to the AP, the state is negotiating the terms of its purchase of a 60% share in three major cement companies. Private firms will remain as minority players.

Finally, debates surrounding Venezuela’s economic policies are taken up in Foreign Affairs Magazine. Venezuelan Ambassador to the U.S. Bernardo Alvarez defends social programs that have helped alleviate poverty under President Chavez. He writes that programs in health, education, and other key areas “helped redistribute the gains of Venezuela’s record economic growth. Unemployment is down, employment in the formal sector is up, and the minimum wage has increased notably. More important, income has grown fastest for Venezuela’s poorest.”

June 19, 2008

Venezuela Aims to Increase Oil Ouput by 8%

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 9:56 am
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Venezuela’s state oil company is upping investments in oil production, and plans to increase output by 8% this year. The AP reports that investments in oil for 2008 will be $15 billion, a 50% increase over last year. Official estimates put current oil output at 3.2 billion barrels per day. The goal is to reach 3.4 million — rising to 4 million barrels in 2010 and 5.8 million barrels in 2021. About 70 new oil rigs have been imported — many from China — and are now operating.

In a bid to reduce crime, the government placed National Guard troops on Caracas city buses yesterday. According to Bloomberg, an army general said: “We’re protecting the cross-town, urban and suburban routes.” Homicide rates have risen dramatically over the last decade, causing crime to become a leading concern among Venezuelans. President Chavez made crime reduction a key policy issue for 2008.

Sources report today that the Bush administration froze the assets of two Lebanese-born Venezuelan men it accuses of having ties to Hezbolla. The move prevents them from doing business with Americans. One of the accused men told the AP: “That’s pure lies… I don’t know the group, don’t know anyone.”

Yesterday, Paraguay’s incoming President Fernando Lugo met with President Chavez. The AP reports that the Paraguayan leader — whose election broke 60 years of one-party rule — seeks to “strengthen fraternal ties” with Chavez. Finally, a ZNet article analyzes freedom of expression in Venezuela. It concludes that the claim made in the U.S. press that Chavez “silenced” the media “raises more questions about the legitimacy of the major English-language media than about the situation in Venezuela.”

June 18, 2008

Venezuela’s Banks Branch Out to the Poor

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 2:34 pm
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Banks in Venezuela are being encouraged by the government to do business in poor neighborhoods which lack access to financial services, according to Reuters. On the rise are small loans to low-income clients, an approach known in the development field as “microfinance.” The Chavez government has practiced microfinance for years, distributing loans of around $200 to many thousands of poor entrepreneurs. Now, major institutions like Banesco and Banco de Venezuela have small loans divisions. Reuters points out that those banks must lend to middle-class and poor clients at the same rates. New regulations on banks also require them to lend to small businesses and control interest rates on manufacturing and agricultural loans.

In international relations, Spain’s Foreign Minister met yesterday with President Chavez and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro. Dow Jones reports that the representatives indicated a willingness to work together and mend a recent diplomatic row. “From now on there will be an intense agenda of contacts at all levels: political, economic, commercial, investment and Latin American issues,” the Spanish rep said. Meanwhile, video footage of Chavez’s trip to Cuba this week is making news because the veteran leader has been out of the public eye since January. The AP reports that Chavez and Fidel discussed energy cooperation and food security.

A Washington Times column today sorely misjudges the Andes region and the policies of elected governments in Venezuela and Ecuador. It asserts that Presidents Chavez and Correa were “forced” to favor disarmament in Colombia, when in fact, they have consistently and quite voluntarily called for peace all along. Despite Colombia’s unfounded claims, Venezuela and Ecuador never had a policy of helping rebels. The Times also wrongly deems the three-times elected Chavez is a “self-appointed” leader, and it exaggerates food shortages and claims anti-poverty programs “squander” oil wealth.

Finally, oil prices remain in the news. The AP reports that a group of U.S. Senators asked the Bush administration to confront the World Trade Organization about OPEC. The Senators claim that “the very existence of OPEC” violates trade rules. The group of oil producing countries dates back to the 1960s. A Washington Post editorial weighs in, saying that production levels are not to blame, but that regulators must guard against the “excessive speculation” that drives prices up.

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