VIO News Blog

July 31, 2008

Republican Senator Hopes to Visit Chavez

The Associated Press reports on comments made by Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) yesterday while speaking with journalists on a wide range of topics.  The republican senator said he hopes to meet with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban President Raul Castro during a trip to Latin America later in August. “I’m a firm believer in dialogue,” he told reporters.  Also in Pennsylvania, Golden Valley Farms Commodity Group will market the “Cafe Venezuela” coffee program, launched at a local Citgo gas station in Philadelphia earlier this week.  About 50 metric tons is being imported from Venezuelan cooperatives for the program’s initial phase and could expand to as much as 200 tons.   

In international news, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced Wednesday that his country will increase its natural gas reserves by 10 trillion cubic feet with the help of Venezuela’s state run oil company, PDVSA. Director Eulogio Del Pino  Much of the equipment needed to look for gas and oil, such as exploration rigs and other technology, will be provided by Venezuela.  “We need tools to look for oil (and natural gas), like farmers need tools to work the land … like picks and shovels,” said Morales, a former farmer, before a packed crowd in a Bolivian village. (Pictured here: Bolivia’s President Evo Morales and PDVSA Director Eulogio Del Pino attend the ceremony in Patacamaya.)     

A new fund created yesterday by Venezuela and 18 Central American and Caribbean countries could provide as much as $400 to $500 million annually for agricultural development in poor countries, reports the Associated Press.  The regional food fund known as Petro Food will begin by receiving donations from Venezuela.  For every barrel of oil sold above $100, Venezuela will donate $0.05 to the fund.  In related news, the DOHA Round, designed to facilitate rules and agreements for opening world markets for agricultural and manufactured goods as well as cross-border services, remains at a standstill.  Some developed countries, however, are hoping to use agreements made with selective members in future talks.  The Venezuelan government opposed this yesterday and stated that any arrangements made should not be taken into account, “as they were not dealt with or approved by all of the members, and do not fully reflect the interests of the developing countries.”


July 30, 2008

Cafe Venezuela Hits the US Market

Yesterday, the Citgo-Venezuela Coffee Program was launched outside a Philadelphia gas station and convenience store. The Citgo CEO, Venezuelan Ambassador, and Cafe Venezuela Program Director were on hand to announce the new venture which will provide Venezuelan coffee to the American consumer at an affordable price. The program aims to support sustainable development in rural Venezuela by distributing Cafe Venezuela, which is wholly produced by rural cooperatives, to the American market. For more history about the program visit our VenWorld blog post today.

Reuters takes a look at the opposition Mayor of Chacaou in Caracas as he attempts to circumvent an investigation against him – that has legally removed him as a candidate – and run for mayor of Caracas in November, anyway. The article portrays the investigation into nepotism and embezzlement of public funds that has barred more than 200 others from running, as politically motivated. Yet, Mayor Leopoldo Lopez’s former party endorsed the law in 2001 in a National Assembly vote and of the 260 people currently disqualified to run, the majority come from the government’s coalition, not the opposition.

In energy news, Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez announced plans to contact Barbados to discuss reports that they plan to grant offshore drilling licenses to international companies within waters claimed by Venezuela. “Things are put back in place by conversing directly,” Ramirez said Tuesday. In regards to recent OPEC moves, the Minister said it would be a “mistake to inundate the market with oil” since the recent drop in oil prices shows the problem is caused by speculation, not a lack of volume, he told reporters. Finally, an LA Times blog post reports that some Venezuelans residing in towns along the Colombian border are crossing over to sell gasoline at increased prices. Gas in Venezuela is sold at record low prices making it easy to turn a profit in nearby Colombia.

July 29, 2008

566 Million Approved for Infrastructure Projects

The Concord Monitor reports on a recent decision by New Hampshire politicians to participate in Citgo’s discounted heating oil program, after initially declining the program a few years ago. Senator John Sununu plans to help publicize the aid and get fuel dealers enrolled in the program. The Monitor comments that the lack of adequate fuel aid to the poor by the US government is disturbing and that those who protest the program should hold all citizens, not just the neediest, up to the same standards. Venezuela supplies roughly 15 percent of U.S. oil imports: this includes 10 percent of all gasoline used in the US and a good amount of heating oil used in New England.

The construction of new infrastructure projects and the funds that will enable them were approved by President Chavez on his Sunday talk show. The new projects are part of a nation-wide transportation system being constructed to connect various cities through rail, subway and even cable car transportation, reports A total of $566 million will be allotted to these efforts and will focus on securing contracts with companies that enable technology transfers. “What I am saying is this: foreign companies that don’t want to transfer technology, okay, then there’s no contract for them. Let’s bring other companies that will [transfer the technology]. We have all the raw materials here to produce them.” said the President.

According to the Associated Press, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has instructed his government “to diligently advance in terms of integration and the bilateral agenda with Venezuela.” And that they should use “discreet wording” in all efforts related to Venezuela. A letter by President Chavez to a Cuban newspaper was published this week commenting on the US and international media’s efforts to return to a cold war mentality with Russia and Venezuela. In other international news, in Santiago at a conference on human rights, Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive said that his organization had obtained documents “showing that the US, its intelligence service and its government were aware of the coup well ahead of it.” He also stated that he had no doubt that the US was involved in the coup against President Chavez in 2002, reports El Universal.

July 28, 2008

PetroCaribe Most Influential in Region

Over the weekend the Washington Post reported on the success of a private sugar cane plantation and rum distillery in Venezuela that has successfully created programs to help the poor alongside the government. Housing, education, and even gang prevention programs are just some of the initiatives that have impacted the local community over the years. In other domestic news, Reuters reports on statements made by President Chavez who appeared dismayed yesterday at recent attempts by allies to propose alternatives to the mayoral and gubernatorial candidates chosen by the PSUV (the party created last year to consolidate the progressive coalition in support of Chavez). The President stated that they are “risking division”. The Venezuelan polling firm Datanalisis said the infighting “could complicate the situation for Chavez,” but noted that the opposition is also struggling to unite behind their candidates, according to Reuters.

PetroCaribe Summit

PetroCaribe Summit

In the Caribbean, PetroCaribe appears to be playing a positive economic role, according to the Jamaica Gleaner. From oil to the building of infrastructure, Venezuela is becoming more and more of a stabilizing factor as high oil prices continue to disproportionatly affect the poorest countries. New regional initiatives related to food security, fertiliser and financing are also in the works for the 18 Central American and Caribbean member countries. In other news, Spain will receive 10,000 barrels of oil per day at $100 a barrel in exchange for medicine and other products, according to a Spanish government source. The agreement was reached on Friday while Chavez was visiting the country. During his visit, he met with the King of Spain and the Spanish Prime Minister.

Finally, the Latin Business Chronicle writes about the growing relationship between Venezuela and Russia. It mistakenly views the two countries foreign policy agendas through the lens of the Cold War rather than today’s political and economic realities. Alleging that space for dissent and participation have decreased under Chavez, that state control is growing, and that Venezuela will use energy as a weapon against the United States, the Chronicle’s accusations don’t stand up to the litmus test. More than 75% of the voting public cast their ballots in the most recent Venezuelan election that produced an unfavorable outcome for the Chavez government. However, the vote was respected and upheld. As to the claim that Venezuela could use its energy resources against the US, this would signal a departure from current policy under the Chavez Administration that helped to stabilize the US economy after Hurricane Katrina and continues to provide a steady flow of discounted heating oil and fuel to the American consumer.

July 24, 2008

Allegations Rise As Elections Approach

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 9:53 am

Today Venezuelans celebrate the birthday of national hero Simon Bolivar who is best known for his vision to unite South America.  In world news, President Chavez arrived in Portugal yesterday, following visits to Russia and Belarus to discuss cooperation and future economic agreements.  Although circulated in the press, Venezuela denied yesterday that Russia has been invited to open a military base in its territory.

As Venezuela’s regional elections approach in November, articles discussing the internal dynamics of the country are on the rise.  Yesterday, The Christian Science Monitor provided a glimpse into the “clash” between community churches and Venezuela’s traditional catholic hierarchy.  The article notes that pro-poor churches are growing in popularity and size due to their historic mission and practice of taking politics out of the equation and focusing directly on improving the lives of the communities they serve.  The Catholic Church on the other hand, “wants all of Venezuela to hate Chávez, they are the ones politicizing,” notes Leonardo Marin Saavedra, bishop of the Anglican Latin American Church based in Canada, who has guided the Reformist Catholic Church of Venezuela. 

The Wall Street Journal alleges that anti-Semitism has grown in Venezuela under the Chavez administration in “Hugo Chávez’s Jewish Problem”.  The article highlights voices of openly hostile members of the opposition, regurgitating accusations that have never been proven such as the outrageous claim that Hezbollah openly operates in Venezuela and that Jewish centers have been targeted by police inspections because of their faith.  Just as those who criticize the state of Israel for its Zionist policies are labeled anti-Semitic, in Venezuela those who criticize equally outrageous behavior by opposition members (who happen to be Jewish) are characterized the same.  The Journal also takes a condescending approach when highlighting the sentiment of the Confederation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela who has repeatedly worked with American Jewish organizations to foster better understanding between their two respective communities.  In response to allegations made by the Weisenthal Center, an American based Jewish organization, alleging anti-Semitism by the State, the head of the Confederation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela disagreed and stated, by acting “without consulting us, on issues that you do not know or understand,” you have “interfered in the political status, in the security, and in the well-being of our community.”

In other news, a report by the International Crisis Group finds that democratic stability is being threatened in Venezuela.  The report, titled “Venezuela: Political Reform or Regime Demise?” says Chavez is experiencing increased criticism within his own ranks due to top down leadership which could cause upheaval.  In actuality, under the Chavez administration more attempts to foster international cooperation, development and economic stability at home have been made than ever before, resulting in more than 70 percent approval ratings according to a recent poll. In fact, criticism and accountability from the bottom up have been encouraged with the creation of various local community organizations that have been publicly praised by the President.  To the accusation that compromise should be sought with the opposition, there is not a more compromising government in Latin America today.  From the initial rewriting of the 1999 constitution to the recent amnesty pardon given to opposition members who actively supported the 2002 coup, the Chavez Administration has included and held out an olive branch to the opposition at every stage of the process.

July 23, 2008

Security Issue for South America

During an event at the White House celebrating Colombian Independence Day yesterday, President Bush urged the US Congress to pass a free trade agreement with Colombia that has been stalled for months.  In addition to arguing that the free trade deal would strengthen the US economy he also stated that it would give support to Colombia in the face of its “hostile and anti-American neighbor” Venezuela. 

As news outlets continue to publish articles today hinting at an arms build up in Venezuela after meetings earlier in the week with Russia, a professor at the University of Miami opines on Brazil and Venezuela’s interest in forming a South American Defense Council (SDC) within the newly created Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).  The article, published in the Miami Herald, makes the outrageous claim that Colombian President Uribe’s decision not to back the regional group is based on President Chavez’s hopes to overthrow him.  No regional defense group is possible, concludes the author, because South American countries are fragmented.  Recent history and the numerous initiatives that have come to fruition in the region suggest otherwise.

Finally, two detailed articles in the alternative press highlight steps forward in the union movement and Venezuela’s upcoming regional elections schedule for November of this year.  According to Green Left Weekly, after four weeks of meetings between different factions of the National Union of Workers (UNT) and other key union federations, the UNT has decided to hold a national congress in September that will lead to internal elections hopefully by early next year.  In other domestic news, the facts surrounding a list of candidates who will be bared from participating in Venezuela’s regional elections due to corruption charges are analyzed.  While many news outlets have suggested that this is a political move to reduce the number of opposition candidates running, actually more than half of the original list appear to be supporters of the President. Additionally, pro-Chavez public figures have come out against the move and have publicly expressed their disagreement with it.  Far from being unconstitutional, the Comptroller General is actually implementing legislation that largely precedes the Chavez administration.

July 22, 2008

Venezuela & Russia To Coordinate Energy Policy

Venezuela and Russia agreed to coordinate energy policy today after a meeting between both countries’ heads of state in Moscow.  Future agreements will serve to strengthen this “strategic alliance” that President Chavez often cites as critical in building a multi-polar world.  A range of contracts are likely to be signed in the near future, including the purchase of some military equipment that Venezuela has been restricted from buying from the US since 2006 when an arms ban was imposed. 

The Financial Times takes aim at Venezuela’s energy initiative, PetroCaribe today.  Rather than discussing the merits of the program, launched in 2005 to ease the energy burden on the Caribbean by eliminating the middleman and directly providing countries with oil at market prices made affordable through the use of beneficial financing terms, the article describes it as a “scheme” in existence to gain influence in the region.  To date, 17 countries participate in the program that also aids member countries in developing their energy infrastructure, improving the diversity of their energy sources, and increasing their energy efficiency.    

Closer to home, a Houston Chronicle editorial applauds the Venezuela-Citgo energy efficient lighting program while arguing that acceptance of the aid does not mean acceptance of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.  The program, announced in Houston last week, will provide compact fluorescent light bulbs to Houstonians this summer as well as to thousands of others throughout the United States.  The Chronicle posits that this local-global project was created to smear the Bush Administration.  In actuality, Citgo is simply offering the benefits of a highly successful government sponsored program in Venezuela to Americans. 


July 21, 2008

Child Welfare Taken Seriously in Venezuela

On Sunday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced the launch of a new child welfare program designed to assist children in situations of risk or separation from their families. The three-step social program was highlighted at a ceremony yesterday to mark the annual National Day for Children and Teenagers. For the first nine months of the program $122 million will be allotted to find foster families for 250 children and construct 10 new shelters and communal houses for almost 3,000 at risk youth. The program also covers correctional facilities for 540 children and therapeutic treatment for teenage drug abusers. None of this was reported in the mainstream press, instead the Associated Press focused on comments made by the President suggesting that children should be taught socialist values and more selfless ideals.

In other news, New Hampshire will become the newest state to participate in Citgo’s discounted heating oil program this winter. Originally, the state declined the offer but with rising energy costs local officials are warming up to the idea. The need has been so great that Bill Fuller, general manager of Fred Fuller Oil Co. began delivering fuel for Citizens (the distributor) last winter, when hundreds of New Hampshire residents applied on their own and got 100 gallons free. Fuller said he plans to do it again this year. “It’s actually a pretty good program,” he said. “We get a voucher. We fax it in and get money right away.”

On the campaign trail, the Miami Herald takes a look at Obama’s Latin America policy and the special interests vying to control it, opining that Florida democrats will be crucial. At the same time, the Herald publishes the full text of Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas A. Shannon remarks testifying before Congress last Thursday on US-Venezuela relations. Shannon spoke of the close social, cultural, and political ties that bind the two nations and expressed US desire to work together to improve relations. However, the reasons cited for Venezuela’s willingness to do so is based upon false assumptions: primarily that the Chavez government is losing power and relevancy. Rather, the invitation to forge solutions to common problems, such as narco-trafficking, has always been a desire of the Venezuelan government and was only halted when nefarious activity on the part of the US was discovered.

Finally, President Chavez will continue traveling this week. His first stop was in Nicaragua over the weekend where he joined other heads of state, including the new president-elect of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, to celebrate the 29th anniversary of the Sandanista revotion. Today, he is schedule to be in Moscow and will likely purchase one submarine and some planes, reports Forbes. Next Friday he is scheduled to meet with the King of Spain and Prime Minister Zapatero.

July 18, 2008

Joseph Kennedy: Don’t See Chavez as a Threat

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 4:53 pm
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Houston, Texas celebrated Citgo’s donation of energy-efficient light bulbs to low-income families yesterday, the Houston Chronicle reports. Houston is one of 11 cities slated to receive the assistance, but it claims the largest share, with 140,000 bulbs going to 7,000 families. They are distributed through the Boston-based charity, Citizens Energy. CEO Joseph Kennedy (pictured at right, in background) said: “If we did not view President Chavez as a threat and we had worked with the Venezuelan government instead of trying to overthrow them then we would have a very different relationship than we have today.”

Venezuela begins shipments of oil to Portugal in August, according to Bloomberg. The European nation will start by importing 1 million barrels from Venezuela, and has jointly discussed natural-gas and alternative-energy projects.

In Venezuela, political parties are readying for local elections later this year. The AP reports that President Chavez’s United Socialist Party may seek a constitutional amendment to allow incumbents to seek re-election indefinitely. Specifically, this would allow Chavez to run for office again when his term ends in 2012. The issue was part of a package of reforms that was put before voters last year, but which lost by a narrow margin. Opposition parties in Venezuela have suffered from fragmentation and loss of legitimacy, however, Venezuelanalysis reports that a coalition has chosen candidates for governor for about a third of Venezuela’s states. The opposition has protested a so-called “blacklist” of candidates barred from competing in elections due to corruption charges. Bloomberg reports that Venezuela’s Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of the ban.

Finally, the Los Angeles Times provides more debate on Venezuela. This time, the issue of Colombia-Venezuela relations and the U.S. “war on terror” is raised, as is the question of why Venezuela maintains diplomatic and trade ties with some nations the U.S. considers enemies. Another Los Angeles Times article states that oil-producing countries Venezuela, Russia, and Iran are “gaining clout,” waxing autocratic, and mismanaging their economies. Venezuela, a steady U.S. ally that has been democratic since 1958, can hardly be compared to Russia and Iran. Free and fair elections are the norm under President Chavez, whom supporters credit with reviving democracy and making oil wealth more equitable. The Times suggests that Venezuela’s output is falling, but the country has found new reserves and upped investment in production.

July 17, 2008

Venezuela and the U.S. Discuss Anti-Drug Cooperation

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 6:18 pm
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Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolas Maduro said today that the government is in dialogue with the U.S. about resuming anti-drug cooperation. El Universal reports that he indicated that the U.S. would first need to establish “a policy of respect” in bilateral relations. U.S. anti-drug officials in Venezuela were in the past accused of spying. State Department rep Thomas Shannon called the talks “a diplomatic opening,” the AP reports. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that President Chavez weighed in on the upcoming U.S. presidential elections, saying: “The two candidates for the U.S. presidency attack us equally, they attack us defending the interests of the empire.”

In other international news, President Chavez and Lula da Silva of Brazil will be in Bolivia on Friday to sign development accords. El Universal reports that this show of solidarity on economic issues comes ahead of recall referendum for Bolivia’s President Morales. Chavez, meanwhile, will continue on to visit other nations in Latin America and Europe. According to the AP, the Venezuelan leader will be received by heads of state in Nicaragua, Spain, Russia, Belarus and Portugal.

Citgo’s new community assistance program began in Houston, Texas today, the AP reports. The program is donating half a million energy efficient light bulbs to low-income families in 11 cities. Citgo is a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, which contributed to a similar switch to low-impact lightbulbs in that South American nation. The program is expected to bring savings and reduced energy use to 23,000 U.S. homes. This is in addition to the quarter of a million homes that received reduced-cost heating oil from Venezuelan-owned Citgo last winter.

Finally, the human rights group Amnesty International has questioned the enforcement of a law passed in Venezuela last year to prevent violence against women. The AP and BBC report that the group is pressing the government to make good on its promise to open hundreds of new shelters for battered women. President Chavez has said that Venezuela has “a very machista society and we need to be equal.”

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