VIO News Blog

August 29, 2008

Venezuela’s Aid Abroad Not “Anti-American”

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 10:44 am
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Three years after Hurricane Katrina hit the city of New Orleans, the still struggling survivors are asking for assistance from Venezuela. The New Orleans Survivor Council is seeking $45,000 to build new homes. The AP reports that Venezuelan Congressman Francisco Torrealba has said that the Venezuelan government will seek to donate those funds.

President Chavez will visit China in two weeks to renew a fund for to finance joint development programs allowing for investment in areas including oil. Bloomberg reports that President Chavez said, “It’s very likely that we will renew the fund for another $6 billion.”

In other economic news, Venezuelan officials say they will create measures to boost the country’s banking sector after a 6.5 percent decline in bank activity during the first half of 2008. The AP reports that the measures will be announced soon. According to Bloomberg, officials also say that new reforms — such as the removal of price caps and taxes on financial transactions — are expected to reduce inflation by the end of this year.

A Wall Street Journal op-ed today claims that Russia, Iran, and Venezuela are a new “axis of evil,” drawing misguided comparisons between the countries and inaccurate parallels with earlier periods in world history. It calls Venezuela a “dictatorship,” when in fact democratic institutions, open debate, and free and fair elections have flourished under President Chavez. Colombia’s war between the military, paramilitaries, and the FARC is highly misrepresented as the fault of Venezuela, when in fact the 60-year internal conflict is fueled by U.S. military strategy in the region. The claim that Venezuela is trying to expand its power beyond its borders to become like the 1930s era Axis powers could not be more wrong; hemispheric cooperation, security, and self-determination are the values Venezuela represents.

Finally, Ecuador has asked Colombia to send troops and international observers to its border to contain its armed conflict, according to the Los Angeles Times.  “Ecuador is doing its part to impede the entry of narcos and armed irregulars and Colombia should do more to impede their departure,” the Foreign Minister said.

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August 28, 2008

Oil Windfall Tax is Good News for Venezuela

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 11:48 am
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Venezuela has earned $4.3 billion in taxes on windfall oil profits so far, according to AFP. Overall, the value of Venezuela’s oil exports have risen to $48.47 billion this year — an increase of 78 percent over last year. The windfall oil tax is a “mandatory contribution” made by all oil companies operating in the country when oil prices rise above $70 or $100 per barrel. The monies are likely to directed toward state-sponsored social programs that aim to reduce poverty and promote human development and citizen empowerment. Reuters reports that President Chavez said yesterday that oil is beginning to stabilize at a fair price of around $100 per barrel, and that Venezuela will closely monitor “the stability of prices and the security of supplies.”

In international news, former London Mayor Ken Livingstone (pictured at right) will advise Venezuelan mayors on urban issues. A deal signed with Venezuela while Livingstone was in office to exchange urban planning expertise for cheap bus fuel was recently canceled. The BBC and the Guardian report that Livingstone said he is “proud and honored” to help, and that he foresees that Caracas can be vastly improved in just two decades; “I believe that Caracas will become a first-world city in 20 years. I have a very extensive network of contacts both domestically and internationally which I will be calling on to assist in this.”

Nationalizations continue to be in the news today. Mexico’s Cemex has finally struck a deal with Venezuelan officials on the handover of cement plants, after compensation talks failed earlier this month. The AP reports that President Chavez said yesterday that a settlement was reached. Meanwhile, the Argentine- and Italian-owned steelmaker, Ternium Sidor, has just reached the end of its own period for negotiations with the Venezuelan government. A compensation amount of perhaps $1.65 billion was agreed upon, Reuters reports, but the pace of the repayment appears undecided.

Finally, Venezuela is set to collaborate on oil exploration with two more Latin American countries. The state-owned oil companies of Ecuador and Chile are expected to sign agreements for joint ventures with PDVSA to explore for crude in the lucrative Orinoco Belt. A deal with Ecuador is planned for tomorrow, according to the AP.

August 27, 2008

Venezuela Debates State Role in Oil Distribution

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 1:23 pm
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Venezuela may seek to increase national control of fuel distribution, according to the AP today. The National Assembly votes today a bill which could require private fuel distributors to sell their assets to the state-owned oil company, PDVSA. Joint ventures between PDVSA and private firms have not been ruled out, however. The Caracas newspaper El Universal reports that government officials in Venezuela have said that gas stations will not be expropriated, and that “It will be a gradual change.” The AFP reports that some experts are concerned about the possibility of reduced private investment in Venezuela, while others say the state’s joint ventures with foreign firms “would make no impact on investment levels in the country.”

A new anti-poverty program in Venezuela, called Mission April 13, was launched this week. Venezuelanalysis reports that the new social program — one of over two dozen that now exist — will work with existing state agencies to improve the infrastructure and public services (such as water, sanitation, and electricity) available in poor neighborhoods. Meanwhile, Reuters reports on Venezuela’s assistance to Honduras. The small Central American nation will receive secure oil supplies from Venezuela through the regional group ALBA. Reuters notes that Honduras is no longer a top U.S. ally as before, but that it is a member of the free trade bloc CAFTA at the same time that it participates in the more progressive ALBA.

Just weeks after President Chavez hosted Jewish leaders at the Presidential Palace to make clear his support for the Jewish community in Venezuela and worldwide, the Los Angeles Times reports that U.S. officials now say Venezuela harbors the radical Islamist group Hezbollah. The Times quotes a single unidentified “anti-terrorism official” to make a case for which there is no concrete evidence. In a politicized move in June, the U.S. Treasury accused two Venezuelan officials of raising money for Hezbollah. Though the charges have been denied and remain unverified, the U.S. State Department has also used them to accuse Venezuela.

Finally, the Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, runs an editorial today accusing President Chavez of being a “dictatorial” leader that has “whittled away” democracy. However, his so-called “authoritarian” measures were all cast aside in December after a fully democratic vote in which Venezuelan citizens narrowly struck down the proposed laws. In contrast, an L.A. Times editorial warns that Colombian President Alvaro Uribe — beloved by the Bush regime — is attempting to unilaterally change laws in order to remain in power.

August 26, 2008

Honduras Joins Venezuela and Others in ALBA Group

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 11:38 am
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Honduras joined the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) Monday, becoming the sixth member of the regional group (Honduran President Zelaya is pictured here at the far right). Energy cooperation is a central part of ALBA, and Honduras is now guaranteed to receive oil from Venezuela. Reuters wrongly calls President Chavez a “U.S. foe” and dismisses ALBA and other agreements as attempts by Venezuela to “expand influence” in the region. Instead, the Chavez administration’s use of oil profits to reduce poverty and create cooperation among Latin countries is a bid to foster unity and stability in the hemisphere. All countries including the U.S. — which receives Venezuelan oil assistance, too — are eligible to join ALBA.

In other energy news, Venezuela will soon sign oil deals with South Africa and Vietnam. A bilateral accord with South Africa planned for next week could produce joint ventures in oil exploration with that country’s national oil firm, according to Reuters. Bloomberg reports that Venezuela’s PDVSA and PetroVietnam are in talks on five shared oil projects. Meanwhile, compensation talks between PDVSA and Conoco regarding last year’s nationalizations in the Orinoco Belt are still progressing, Reuters reports. Officials will meet next week.

An opinion piece in Vermont’s Burlington Free Press criticizes Venezuela’s charity programs in the U.S. through Citgo, which donated $100 million in home heating oil to poor families in 23 states last winter. After a prior op-ed that cheered the assistance, this one rejects it and repeats several falsehoods. It wrongly states that employment is down — it has risen consistently, as have wages — and that “only state control of media outlets presently is allowed,” when in fact the private media still dominates in Venezuela. Colombia’s allegation that Chavez aided the FARC rebels is also repeated, though it remains unproven and is rejected by many experts. Also, President Chavez has never sought to “eliminate legal elected opposition” in Venezuela; regular free and fair elections are a central part of Venezuela’s democracy.

Finally, accusations against Venezuela regarding the media and alleged support for Colombian rebels are also the subject of articles by El Nuevo Herald and the AP today. First, El Nuevo Herald reports that President Chavez is seeking to “crack down” on the free press in Venezuela, and bolsters the empty claim by citing only anti-Chavez sources. Meanwhile, the AP reports that the leader of the National Cattle Ranchers Federation of Venezuela says the government is sheltering Colombian rebels. While Colombia’s armed conflict is still a threat to peace and stability in neighboring Venezuela, many measures have been taken to increase border security.

August 25, 2008

Venezuela Invests in Petrochemicals, Sports Programs

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 10:55 am
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Venezuela has invested almost $1 billion in its petrochemicals sector to boost the production of oil derivatives and become more competitive with other countries such as Brazil. AFP reports that President Chavez explained the new investment, which comes as part of a plan initiated last year, as a means of limiting Venezuela’s dependence on imports. In other economic news, the Mexican cement company Cemex was nationalized last week after refusing to negotiate with the Venezuelan government. However, the AP reports that President Chavez said Saturday that he is still open to talks with the company and that “We want to settle this in a friendly way.”

In international news, Venezuela has been criticized again by U.S. drug officials, who accuse the country of doing to little to stop cocaine smuggling. Situated between the world’s largest cocaine producer, Colombia, an its largest importer, the U.S., Venezuela has consistently battled the flow of drugs. After a Panamanian tanker was seized leaving Venezuela with 4.6 tons of cocaine last Friday, the White House drug czar wrongly told the press that the Venezuelan government has “no willingness” to cooperate with the U.S. In fact, President Chavez has told the U.S. Ambassador on several occasions that he wishes for better relations, and particularly to work together on counter-drug operations. Foreign Relations Minister Maduro also said earlier this month that Venezuela seeks to improve anti-drug cooperation throughout the hemisphere.

The New York Times reports that the U.S. fears worsening relations with Russia, and wrongly counts Venezuela among a list of “anti-American” countries. Venezuela has a long history of good relations with the U.S., and has sought to sustain ties despite threats. Meanwhile, the AP reports that President Chavez said he would accept a Russian fleet in Venezuela if that country chooses to station itself in the region.

Finally, Venezuela’s oil company PDVSA has announced that it will begin a new social program dedicated to training athletes. Venezuela sent over 100 competitors to the Beijing Olympics, according to the AP, but came away with just one bronze medal.

August 21, 2008

Combatting Drugs with Brazil, Energy Agreements with Vietnam

The Associated Press reports on counter-narcotics military excercises underway along the Brazil-Venezuela border today. Troops from both nations are participating in a four day long joint anti-drug training program which will train soldiers to identify drug smuggling planes, a problem faced by both countries given they are major conduits for Colombian cocaine headed to the US and Europe. For some time, US officials have accused Venezuela of not doing enough to combat drug-trafficking. Despite this, Venezuela continues to attack the problem. Yesterday, Venezuela’s Supreme Court stated that it will honor its extradition agreement with Belgium and turn over a Lebanese man convicted of drug trafficking and money laundering.

The Mexican cement company, Cemex, will file an arbitration claim with the World Bank in hopes of receiving “fairer compensation” for its operations in Venezuela, announced a spokesperson for the firm late last night. Venezuela has offered to pay $650 million but Cemex has demanded $1.3 billion. Venezuela’s Vice President recently said this figure was “well above its real value.” Meanwhile, cooperation agreements with Vietnam are moving forward, reports Agence France Presse. The countries will create two joint oil refining companies, “one to transport oil to Vietnam and the other to refine that oil in Vietnam, at a refinery we jointly own,” said Rafael Ramirez, Venezuela’s oil and energy minister. Venezuela and Vietnam also plan to build a production facility to make energy-saving lightbulbs in Venezuela and are expected to announce a new oil exploration agreement in the Orinico belt region on September 15.

The Financial Times takes aim at Venezuela in an editorial today entitled “Containing Chavez”. The Times argues that a new Washington Administration should take heed of Chavez’s growing influence in the region and devise a plan to counter it, while wrongly claiming that President Chavez has betrayed the Venezuelan electorate and is centralizing power. Although the Times does call for some positive measures, such as ending the US trade embargo on Cuba and increasing efforts to support health care and home ownership in Latin America and the Caribbean, it wrongly asserts that inefficiency and mismanagement along with a growing dependence on oil will bring down Venezuela. Meanwhile, efforts to diversify and combat corruption and nepotism in Venezuela are well underway.

Finally, Venezuela won its first medal yesterday at the Summer Olympics in Beijing. To read more visit our blog, VenWorld.

August 20, 2008

Economic Growth Continues, Cement Companies Go National

Venezuela’s Central Bank shows economic growth of 7.1 percent during the second quarter of 2008, reports the Associated Press today. Non-oil related GDP continues to rise at the fastest rate by 7.8 percent, while oil-related GDP grew 3.2 percent. Communications and construction showed the largest expansion at 24.6 percent and 11.7 percent respectively. In related news, Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said that if there appears to be a trend in the decline of oil prices, “Venezuela would have to analyze the possibility of a production cut.” He made the remarks while talking about an upcoming OPEC meeting which Venezuela will attend next month.

In other economic news, the Los Angeles Times covers the negotiation process between foreign cement companies operating in Venezuela and the government, as a two month long negotiation period draws to a close. Although, French and Swiss companies have agreed to new terms and will sell a majority stake of their companies to the Venezuelan government, Cemex, a Mexican owned operation, failed to come to an agreement with Venezuela. Cemex asked for roughly $1.3 billion in compensation, which Venezuela deemed excessive. Despite this, Venezuela took control of the operation yesterday and will pay “fair value for the firm” according to Venezuela’s energy minister, Rafael Ramirez. The government plans to utilize the cement companies in a national project to build homes for the poor.

Finally, the South African press reports that President Chavez will visit South Africa in early September on the invitation of President Thabo Mbeki. According to the Venezuelan embassy there, the visit is scheduled to take place between September 2-3 and aims to bring closer cooperation between the two nations and the creation of a bi-national commission.

August 18, 2008

President Chavez Pledges Oil to Paraguay

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 4:28 pm
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Last weekend, President Chavez was in Paraguay meeting with the newly inaugurated Fernando Lugo (seen here). The two leaders signed a dozen accords, including one in energy that the AP reports will guarantee Paraguay 23,500 barrels of Venezuelan oil per day. According to Bloomberg, President Chavez said “All of the oil that Paraguay needs during this century it will have guaranteed by Venezuela for the development of its people, industry and agriculture.” Chavez addressed a crowd of poor Paraguayans, the Los Angeles Times reports, and demonstrated his desire for strong ties with the new leader of that small South American nation.

In other regional news, Venezuela will sell more gasoline to border areas of Colombia in an attempt to discourage the smuggling of that product. The Information Ministry said that this is part of “a series of measures in the border region of Venezuela will be activated, with the objective of eradicating the illegal extraction of gasoline.” Meanwhile, Venezuelan officials hope to launch an observation satellite within five years to improve telecommunications. Reuters wrongly deems Venezuela a “Washington foe,” when in fact the Chavez administration seeks dialogue with the U.S.

In economic news, nationalizations in Venezuela’s cement industry are going ahead, according to the AP. Compensation talks have been held with foreign companies, and private investment will remain present — the Venezuelan state aims for 60% ownership. Some mining industry activity will be curtailed in the southern region of Venezuela due to environmental concerns, according to Bloomberg. Gold mining, in particular, will be limited to an area the size of 10 million acres.

Finally, Venezuela’s President Chavez weighed in on the Russian attacks on Georgia last week, issuing a critical perspective on the U.S. role. Reuters reports that Chavez said that the Russians were responding to provocation. He also suggested, according to the AP that the Georgian president is “a puppet” of the U.S., which seeks to weaken Russia.

August 15, 2008

Notorious Americas Terrorist Faces Trial for… Immigration Fraud?

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 10:54 am
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Luis Posada Carriles, the notorious bomber that has been called the worst terrorist in the Americas, will finally face a trial in the U.S. — but only for immigration fraud. A New Orleans court of appeals ruled yesterday that his earlier dismissal was unlawful. The Los Angeles Times reports that yesterday’s decision “was expected to take the pressure off the Bush administration to respond to Venezuela’s demands that Posada, who lives in Miami, be extradited to face trial.” Venezuela’s extradition requests for Posada Carriles have gone ignored for over 2 years despite binding treaties that exist between the countries.

In Venezuela, unemployment has fallen yet again. Dow Jones newswires reports that joblessness is down one and a half percentage points over last year to reach 7.2%. The rise illustrates a boost in formal sector employment and a decline in informal sector activity.

A new law approved yesterday by Venezuela’s National Assembly is designed to crack down on kidnapping. According to the BBC, this is the first time that Venezuelan law has made specific reference to the crime, which has risen in recent years but may already be declining. Official figures show less kidnappings occurred in the first part of this year than in the same period last year. The new legislation gives kidnappers a penalty of 30 years in jail. This is one of several government initiatives to fight crime.

Finally, the AP reports that a Jewish organization known as the Wiesenthal Center has issued a stiff warning to President Chavez after he met with Jewish leaders in Venezuela to dispell unfounded claims that he is anti-Semitic. The Center said it expects more action. The allegations of anti-Semitism against Chavez have persisted in the media despite their lack of validity.

August 14, 2008

Venezuela’s Chavez Holds Key Meeting with Jewish Leaders

Yesterday, President Chavez met Jewish leaders in Venezuela (pictured at right). The head of the World Jewish Congress said, “We mentioned our concerns about anti-Semitism and asked him what his position was… And he said he was certainly not an anti-Semite.” This issue has for years been among the worst media misrepresentations of the Venezuelan leader. President Chavez called it “very important meeting,” according to the AP. To read a transcript of statements made at yesterday’s meeting, click here.

In regional news, Bolivian President Evo Morales has extended an olive branch to his political opponents after winning a recall referendum last Sunday. Reuters reports that Morales and opposition leaders agreed yesterday to meet “with an open mind.”

President Chavez is attending today’s inauguration of the new Paraguayan leader, Fernando Lugo. Newsweek prints an interview with Lugo, a former Bishop who says, “I am a centrist, like the hole of a poncho, standing above political parties.” Reuters reports that Lugo plans to help the poor by pursuing land reform and other policies. His administration marks a break from 61 years of one-party rule.

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