VIO News Blog

September 30, 2008

Venezuela Pursues New Energy Avenues, Ecuador Renews Democracy

Spain’s foreign minister said Monday that he supports Venezuela’s decision to pursue nuclear energy as long as “it meets all the safeguards and protections” established by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and it is not for “military purposes,” according to the Caracas newspaper El Universal. President Chavez has affirmed that the nuclear power would indeed be for peaceful purposes only. Meanwhile, the AP reports that Costa Rica is promoting a nuclear test-ban treaty for Latin American countries that would ensure peaceful conduct, a treaty Venezuela already ratified in 2002.

More news comes today on Venezuela’s deal with Portugal to purchase 1 million kid-friendly laptops for use in schools across the country (at right, President Chavez and Portugal’s Socrates check out a model). The BBC reports: “The deal to buy the machines is the largest yet for laptops created for school children.”

After voters in Ecuador overwhelmingly approved a new constitution in a national referendum last Sunday, sources allege that President Correa is “tightening his grip” on the economy with new laws that give the state a broader role in setting monetary and oil policy. Reuters reports that opposition groups say Correa has “too much authority.” For most, though, the vote was seen as a democratic renewal that demonstrated the strong legitimacy of the government. Such legitimacy has been a long time coming; Correa is set to be the first leader in over a decade to serve a full term in office. The Christian Science Monitor says Correa is “not a lackey” of Venezuela’s Chavez, when in fact, neither are any of the other the popularly elected leftist Latin American presidents.

The recent expulsion of US Ambassadors from Bolivia and Venezuela are the subject of a Bay State Banner article which points out that “Chávez has consistently alleged that U.S. officials have been involved in efforts to destabilize the Venezuelan government.”


September 29, 2008

Venezuela Has Good Credit, Donates Laptops to Schools

President Chavez was in Portugal last Saturday, where he and Prime Minister Socrates signed deals worth $3 billion on technology, housing, and other issues. The AP reports that Venezuela purchased 1 million low-cost laptops from Portugal for use in schools.

In Russia last Friday, Chavez signed deals to create an oil and gas consortium and purchase $1 billion worth of military equipment. Sources do not report that Venezuela’s military purchases in Russia are partly the consequence of an embargo imposed by the US in 2006. Reuters reports that Russia and Venezuela may also work together on nuclear energy, according to Chavez, “for peaceful purposes, for medical purposes, for purposes of electricity generation.” Sources, however, emphasize the strategic dimensions of this issue, claiming that the move is “anti-US.” Venezuela, though, maintains stable trade relations with North America, and President Chavez has said he looks forward to improved diplomatic relations with a new US administration.

On the economy, Reuters reports that Standard & Poor’s gave Venezuela a good credit rating. According to Reuters, Venezuela has “robust external and fiscal balance sheets, which continue to improve as a result of high and increasing oil revenues.” Meanwhile, IPS reports on the expanding role of Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, in the region.

Finally, voters in Ecuador overwhelmingly approved a new constitution in a national referendum yesterday (seen at right), bolstering the mandate of President Correa. The AFP reports that exit polls showed 65-70 percent approval of the new charter. The Washington Post reports that Correa said, “Today Ecuador has decided on a new nation. The old structures are defeated… This confirms the citizens’ revolution.”

September 26, 2008

Chavez and Putin Form Links for a Multi-Polar World

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 2:26 pm
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President Chavez arrived in Moscow yesterday, to discuss increasing cooperation between Venezuela and Russia. The AP reports that President Chavez and Prime Minister Putin discussed the need for a multi-polar world, with Putin noting that “Latin America is becoming a noticeable link in the chain of the multi-polar world that is forming.”

Bloomberg reports that the two leaders agreed to create a joint company which Venezuela would control, investing billions of dollars to develop oil fields in Latin America and elsewhere.

In related news, The Boston Globe reports that Russia is ready to consider helping Venezuela develop peaceful nuclear energy, but mentions that the United States will be displeased with such a development in its “backyard.” Such offensive terminology by The Boston Globe harkens back to the age of gunboat diplomacy and direct intervention in the internal affairs of Latin American countries.

Finally, The New York Times reports that Russia has extended a $1 Billion line of credit to help facilitate military cooperation programs.

September 25, 2008

Venezuela Promises Oil to China and Elsewhere, Calls Bush “Comrade”

Venezuela’s new commitment to increased oil shipments to China will not affect its ability to deliver elsewhere, according to the AP. “This is not going to affect supplies to any other country,” President Chavez said. “Venezuela is one of the few countries whose oil reserves allow them to take up enormous commitments around the world.” The AP also reports that new oil tankers and refineries indicate Venezuela’s increased production. “While the world enters an energy crisis, we are investing,” Chavez said.

China and Venezuela also addressed new cooperation on aircraft purchases and a telecommunications satellite, according to sources. After the visit to China, the Venezuelan leader moves on to Russia. Two opinion pieces today take issue with the tour. The New York Post labels Chavez a “petro-tyrant” and cites military equipment purchases from Russia, but fails to point out that a weapons embargo prevents Venezuela from acquiring such goods from the US. The Boston Herald wrongly claims that the Venezuelan leader is “a dangerous thug” with “enablers here in the U.S.” No mention is made, of course, of the thousands of low-income families across the US that rely on millions of dollars in discounted heating oil from Venezuela’s Citgo each winter.

In related news, President Chavez recently referred to President Bush as a “comrade” for his Wall Street bailouts and pointed out that the US leader had finally recognized the “financial tsunami” long warned of by Venezuela. Reuters reports that Chavez sang “You are so like me” at a news conference. Indeed, the New York Times has labeled recent Wall Street bailouts “Socialism, 21st Century Style,” and many commentators have pointed out the hypocrisy of the costly move by the free-marketeering Bush White House.

In Venezuela, the AP reports that two men have been detained on suspicion of plotting to kill the president. Grenades and an anti-tank weapon were seized by authorities, who have not yet released the identities of the men.

Finally, Bolivian President Evo Morales spoke at the UN Summit in New York Yesterday, where he reassured investors and indicated that talks with the opposition are restoring political stability to his country. According to the AP, Morales also repeated criticisms of US Ambassador Goldberg, who was expelled from Bolivia recently for holding repeated secret meetings with the same opposition groups that initiated the violence. A delegation of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) will visit Bolivia to conduct an independent investigation of the events that caused scores of peasant deaths and an economic upset.

September 24, 2008

Venezuelan Local Election Campaigns Begin as Latin American Leaders Discuss Global Economy

Campaigning for local elections began yesterday in Venezuela. According to the AP, the mayoral and gubernatorial races will be “a key test” for the political party of President Chavez (the PSUV) and for opposition groups. A war of words has already begun, with opposition leaders claiming that it is unfair for the government to have “exclusive use” of state television, even though most private networks are staunchly anti-Chavez. Meanwhile, the Caracas mayoral candidate Jorge Rodriguez appealed to the opposition to “Leave behind the violent behavior.” Voting will take place on November 23rd.

In China yesterday, President Chavez promised to raise Venezuelan exports to the fast-growing country to 1 million barrels a day by 2012, according to the AP. Reuters reports that a preexisting joint development fund between China and Venezuela will be doubled to reach $12 billion, and that the countries will create two joint oil refineries. Forbes claims that these economic ties are spurred by Venezuela’s supposed desire to “cozy up to left-leaning rivals of the United States,” though the US certainly does more trade each year with China than Venezuela does.

The trial of Venezuelan businessmen accused by the US government as acting as unregistered foreign agents continues in Florida. The BBC and AP report that one of the accused men, who have plead guilty, now says that the funds in question totaled $4.2 million. US prosecutors refuse to see the trial as a politically motivated move by the US against Venezuela, though experts point out that the circumstances are suspect and that no similar trial would likely be brought against any other country in the region.

At the UN Summit in New York, Latin American leaders from many countries decried government bailouts in the US and expressed fears about the volatile “casino” economy of the northern nation, according to the Miami Herald. “We must not allow the burden of boundless greed of a few to be shouldered by all… The economy is too serious an undertaking to be left in the hands of speculators. Ethics must also apply to the economy,” said Brazilian President Lula da Silva. Meanwhile, Cristina Fernandez of Argentina lamented the fact that “In South America, they told us that the market would solve everything.”

September 23, 2008

Venezuela’s Chavez Goes to China, Not New York

President Chavez arrived in China today to discuss trade agreements, including the construction of two joint oil refineries, according to the Wall Street Journal. A Chinese spokesman said, “China-Venezuela relations are normal state-to-state relations, (they) are not based on ideology, are not targeted against any third party and will not affect other countries’ relations with Venezuela.” Reuters notes the Venezuelan leader is not attending the UN Summit in New York. “The only thing we demand is that our nation be respected… We’re no longer the backyard of the United States,” Chavez said. He will also visit Russia, France, and Portugal this week.

A Miami Herald editorial bashes the decision by Venezuelan officials to expel the staff of Human Rights Watch after its unfavorable evaluation of the Chavez administration. The Herald deems this “intolerance” and wrongly states that Chavez has an “anti-democratic agenda.” The act, however, was according to a law on defamation that pre-dates the Chavez government. The Foreign Ministry explained that it considered the report, which was conducted and released in secret, an example of “meddling in internal affairs” by the US group. Recently, Venezuela expelled its US Ambassador in solidarity with Bolivia after an alliance there between the US ambassador and violent anti-government groups was exposed. In an NBC interview, the former Venezuelan Ambassador to Washington Bernardo Alvarez discusses his own expulsion from the US.

President Bush will meet opposition leaders from countries including Venezuela at this week’s UN Summit to “discuss the freedom agenda,” according to AFP. The so-called “dissidents” include Marcel Granier, the wealthy media mogul and president of RCTV, a station that lost its right to broadcast on the public airwaves and moved to cable after inciting violence during the 2002 coup against Chavez.

Finally, sources report today on the foreign policy agendas of the US presidential hopefuls. AFP points out that Obama is willing to speak with the leaders of Spain, Venezuela, and other countries, while McCain is not. The BBC reports that Obama is well received among Afro-descendant Latin Americans, who see him as representing minorities in much the same way that President Chavez does in Venezuela.

September 22, 2008

Venezuela Deepens Foreign Relations As McCain Attacks

“Gratuitous attacks” is how President Chavez described a new ad campaign by Republican hopefuls McCain-Palin that features the Venezuelan leader, the AP reports. “I don’t respond to candidates,” Chavez said. He has not commented on the US elections except to say that he hopes for better relations with a new administration. Also according to the AP, the Venezuela Information Office in Washington stated that the ad is an “attempt at fear-mongering” and that the words and image of Chavez “were taken out of context and used as a baseless attack.” The Boston Globe prints a transcript of the ad. Also in US-Venezuela relations, the AP reports that President Chavez said over the weekend that Venezuela is moving away from the use of the US dollar for its foreign currency reserves, and now has less than one percent of its $39.2 billion in US banks.

Last week, two Human Rights Watch staff were expelled from Venezuela after that group released a harshly critical report on the Chavez administration. A pre-Chavez law forbids foreigners from attacking Venezuela’s democratic institutions. The Foreign Ministry explained that the country “will not tolerate any meddling or interference in its internal affairs.” The Financial Times reports that Human Rights Watch reacted by claiming that Venezuela is seeing a “descent into intolerance.” Meanwhile, the Venezuela Information Office called the view put forth by the organization “incomplete and biased.”

In regional news, President Chavez is visiting Cuba today before moving on to tour China, Russia, Portugal and France. AFP reports that he said the week-long trip is “of great strategic interest” to Venezuela. New trade deals in oil and other areas are expected to be signed in China. Venezuela’s joint military exercises with Russia are in the news today. Reuters reports that a spokesman for the Russian navy said that the maneuvers are “aimed at training rescue drills and operations against sea terrorists.” The New York Times says that this is a strategic effort by Russia to boost its Latin American ties, but Russian reps say that the idea is not new, and will not affect any other country.

Finally, the Miami Herald reports on the continuing trial against Venezuelan businessmen accused by prosecutors of acting as unregistered foreign agents. Several experts indicate that the charges are politically motivated. “There is something bigger going on here. I have no doubt this is coming from the U.S. government”, said Peter Hakim of the Inter-American Dialogue.

September 19, 2008

HRW Attacks Venezuela, McCain Follows Suit

Venezuela’s net oil earnings for the first half of 2008 have risen 961 percent over last year, the AP reports. During that same interval, spending on social programs by the state oil company PDVSA declined to 1.8 billion from last year’s 4.1 billion. President Chavez has been criticized in the US press for “lavishing” funds on the programs, but the practice has caused an unprecedented 35% drop in poverty in Venezuela. This year, PDVSA has been investing more of its funds in oil exploration and production.

According to the AP, a new report by Human Rights Watch released yesterday is being regarded by the Venezuelan government as “attacking the institutions” and “illegally interfering in the internal affairs of our country.” Two Human Rights Watch staff in Venezuela on tourist visas — including Americas Director Jose Vivanco, pictured here — were told to leave.The report wrongly claims that human rights guarantees set out in the constitution are not enforced in Venezuela, and that civil liberties have deteriorated during the Chavez administration. The AP, Miami Herald, and the Guardian quote the Venezuela Information Office as saying that the report is biased and limited in its scope, ignoring progress made under Chavez on guaranteeing all Venezuelans health, education, food, shelter and other needs. “Their reports on Venezuela have typically been politicised. They don’t highlight real advances,” Director Olivia Goumbri told the Guardian. To read the VIO fact sheet, click here.

In a tone similar to that seen in the Human Rights Watch Report, Republican presidential candidate John McCain condemned Venezuela yesterday, making the empty claim that “as we all know, Chavez is moving into an autocracy. He is depriving people of their democratic rights.” He also claimed to “know” that Spain is in Latin America, according to another AP report. During the Chavez administration in Venezuela, elections have occurred more regularly and with more fairness than under Bush in the US. Local and regional politics in Venezuela have incorporated more citizen voices and popular input through new mechanisms such as communal councils.

Finally, ties between Venezuela and Russia remain in the news. The AP reports that US pressures have aimed to disrupt those ties, but that new cooperation is planned in oil, military equipment, and information technology. Bolivia has also just signed oil deals with Russia. The Washington Post reports that, despite this, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice predicted yesterday that Russia is heading for “self-imposed isolation and international irrelevance.”

September 18, 2008

Chavez Says ‘Capitalism is Sinking’

Today’s top news is on the economy, due to a slide in the US that is affecting many other parts of the world. The AP reports that President Chavez encouraged Venezuelans yesterday to save money and said that government agencies would do the same. He predicted, “capitalism is sinking, and it’s going to hit the world hard.” The US Federal Reserve has recently shouldered the bankruptcies of major insurance and lending firms by purchasing massive shares of them using taxpayer dollars, a process Bush called “adjustments,” according to AFP.

Meanwhile, Bush’s Deputy Assistant defended the record of the White House in the region while insulting regional leaders, saying “The president has established strong relations with the countries of Latin America… Unfortunately, Venezuela and Bolivia are more interested in using the US as an excuse so they don’t have to confront their own problems.” On the contrary, after expelling the US ambassador for colluding with violent opposition groups, the Bolivian government initiated talks with those same groups. AFP reports that facilitators are present from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Roman Catholic church, the EU and the UN.

In other regional news, Reuters reports deems the success of left-leaning elected governments in Latin America a “feisty” challenge to the US. One expert says this is because the US “doesn’t care” about the region, while another explains: “Latin Americans are stepping in and managing their own crises, some of which the United States played a role in generating — but not so much resolving.” In a similar story, Bloomberg reports that the US has lost some influence over Latin America to Russia. New cooperation on military issues and trade between Russia and countries in the region is seen as a “threat,” but in many ways, it is a response to US actions; Venezuela’s purchases of military equipment from Russia came only after the Bush administration banned all sales to Venezuela. In another example, Reuters reports today that Cuba has refused emergency hurricane assistance from the US in protest of its longstanding economic embargo against the island.

Finally, the Financial Times reports today on Venezuela’s energy assistance in Nicaragua. New power plants that run on Venezuelan oil have ended blackouts there so that, as one woman put it, “Now we can live normally again.”

September 17, 2008

Bush White House Condemns Venezuela, Bolivia on Drugs

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 1:53 pm
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The Bush administration released its annual drug report yesterday, blacklisting Bolivia and Venezuela as countries that “failed to comply” with counter-narcotics efforts. This comes after Bolivia expelled its US ambassador for colluding with violent anti-government groups, and Venezuela did so, too, in solidarity. The Wall Street Journal reports that this “raises the heat” on leaders there. The report cites “inaction” on drugs by Venezuela despite clear progress such as a more than 50% rise in  narcotics seizures and frequent arrests of drug kingpins. White House drug reports often serve political ends, and are used to sanction countries. Reuters reports, though, that Bush declared, “support for programs to aid Venezuela’s democratic institutions and… bilateral programs in Bolivia are vital to the national interests of the United States.” To read the report, click here.

In Bolivia, the Morales government has offered dialogue with the opposition groups responsible for massacring at least 30 peasants and seizing government buildings and gas pipelines. The AP reports that a pact signed Tuesday requires the violent factions to cease their deadly actions, while peasant groups will end peaceful “counter-demonstrations in support of Bolivia’s first indigenous president.”

Finally, the Washington Post reports on recent changes in crude prices, which skyrocketed this year before falling by about 37%. The Post claims that high oil prices “emboldened confrontational oil exporters” like President Chavez in Venezuela. The AP reports, though, that the drop in the value of oil has not ruffled the Venezuelan leader, who simply said he hopes prices will stabilize. When President Chavez was first elected in 1998, oil was around $14 per barrel — compared to $100 or more. Since then, windfall oil profits have been used to reduce poverty in Venezuela.

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