VIO News Blog

September 16, 2008

South American Leaders Support Bolivia’s Democracy

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 10:41 am
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At a meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in Chile yesterday, South American leaders met and unanimously backed Bolivia’s President Morales in his rejection of violent secessionist groups and call for respect for constitutional order. AFP reports that their statement expressed “full and firm support for the constitutional government of President Evo Morales, whose mandate was ratified by a big majority.” AP reports that Chile’s President Bachelet (pictured at right) praised the role of the regional group in responding quickly to crises and producing accords. Bolivia’s Morales was inspired by the show of solidarity and called it “the first time in history that we South Americans are deciding to solve the problems of South America.”

A Washington Post editorial claims that President Morales is dividing Bolivia, when in fact the leader has consistently advocated national unity and has never used force against separatist factions. He also extended an olive branch opposition groups last week, holding talks to cool tensions, but those same leaders failed to attend yesterday’s UNASUR meeting in Chile. Morales, who has a strong mandate and won 67% of the popular vote in a recent referendum, is not “forcing through” a constitutional proposal, but instead plans a national vote in which citizens can accept or reject the new charter. In the Guardian, a letter to the editor signed by British Members of Parliament urge respect for Bolivia’s democracy and constitutional government.

In other regional news, on the anniversary of Central America’s independence from Spanish rule, Honduran President Zelaya on Monday decried poverty and advocated the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) as the “true independence” of Honduras. According to the AP, he also defended his decision to withhold accreditation of the new US ambassador, an act of solidarity with Bolivia.

Finally, President Chavez plans to visit China later this month to discuss trade and cooperation in other areas including sports. The AP reports that China currently imports only 4% of its oil from Venezuela. Reuters reports that a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry said, “Chinese and Venezuelan cooperation in this sphere will not affect Venezuela’s oil supplies to other countries.”


September 15, 2008

Venezuela’s Chavez Lowers Tone of Andean Skirmish

President Chavez has sought to “lower the tone” of a dispute between the US and Venezuela that began when that country joined Bolivia in expelling its US ambassador due to secret meetings between the Bush envoy and violent opposition groups. Reuters reports that President Chavez called the decision “a strong diplomatic gesture taken with a brother country.” He also explained that trade ties between the US and Venezuela would not be affected. “Only the United States can change our energy and commercial relationship,” Chavez said.

Leaders in Honduras and Nicaragua have followed suit with similar moves, refusing to meet with Bush reps. Others in the region, including Brazil, have rallied behind Bolivia’s President Morales, saying they would not tolerate an overthrow of his constitutional government. Morales has initiated talks with the opposition sects responsible for causing 28 deaths. An emergency summit of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) is taking place in Chile today, and will likely result in a condemnation of the violence in Bolivia.

The US, though, is stepping up its threats against Venezuela for its support for Bolivian democracy. The outgoing US Ambassador to Venezuela said publicly that Venezuela will face “serious consequences,” according to AFP. The Associated Press reports that the US “stopped trying to be polite” with Venezuela by slapping sanctions on two government officials that it accuses of funding rebels in Colombia. The US Treasury froze the assets of the two men on Friday, a move that does not require any ruling on whether the individuals are in fact guilty. The New York Times reports that an anonymous Bush administration official warned, “Our expelling their ambassador is not the end of things.”

A Los Angeles Times editorial also takes aim at Venezuela and Bolivia. It makes the claim — attributed to “experts” — that Presidents Chavez and Morales are underhandedly trying to help Republicans win the US elections in order to ensure future disputes with the North. This is unlikely, however, as both leaders have openly called for dialogue with the US and expressed their desire to improve ties under a new US administration. The Times suggests that the US should focus on “relieving poverty through trade and assistance” in Latin America. Meanwhile, the groundbreaking anti-poverty programs and regional cooperation initiatives spurred by South America’s leftist governments are often dismissed in the media as “populist” and “anti-US.”

Finally, Reuters reports that communal councils designed to give citizens a voice in local politics are delivering real benefits to poor communities in Venezuela. Projects in housing and infrastructure that are administered through the councils are “seen by many as a godsend.” According to Reuters, “the new community councils allow local residents to quickly execute the projects they most need, rather than what officials want.”

September 12, 2008

Coup Attempts in Bolivia and Venezuela, US Envoys Out

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 11:47 am
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After the US Ambassador to Bolivia was expelled for holding secret meetings with opposition members involved in inciting civil unrest in that country, Venezuela’s President Chavez followed suit yesterday, dismissing Ambassador Patrick Duddy from Caracas. The AP reports that Chavez explained the move as an act of “solidarity” with Bolivia. The Venezuelan leader also recalled his envoy in Washington, Bernardo Alvarez, but Reuters reports that US officials are say they will “kick him out.” Bolivia’s ambassador to the US was also declared “persona non grata,” according to the AP in what it refers to as an “escalating tit-for-tat.”

Reuters points out that tensions date back to 2002, when a coup against President Chavez “was initially welcomed by Washington.” A new plot to assassinate Chavez has been uncovered in Venezuela, the New York Times reports, and officials claim that it had the backing of the Bush administration. According to the AP, several individuals have been detained after taped telephone conversations revealed that they were discussing overthrowing the government. During a speech yesterday, President Chavez played some of those conversations back on live television as evidence.

In Bolivia, eight peasants and farmers have been killed in the eastern province of Santa Cruz at the hands of fascist opposition groups (pictured here). The violence has continued for days, and AFP reports that it has raised fears about a civil war. President Morales, who ordered the police not to use force against the violent groups, said “We are going to be patient and cautious.” The Brazilian government has also rallied behind the Morales administration, saying it would not tolerate an overthrow of the elected leader or a rupture of constitutional order.

Finally, in Florida, a trial continues regarding alleged spying by Venezuelan businessman accused by the US of acting as unregistered foreign agents. Rulings on the case have so far consistently favored the prosecutors. The men are pleading guilty to helping funnel money from the Chavez government to political campaigns in Argentina, which remains a tenuous claim. The judge, however, has not allowed the case to be seen as a politically motivated action by the US against Venezuela. News came today that the US Treasury is also sanctioning two Venezuelan officials they claim helped the FARC rebels in Colombia, and has frozen their assets. This is the latest in a string of harsh measures by Bush officials who wrongfully accuse Venezuela of supporting terrorism.

September 11, 2008

Venezuela Deports Drug Suspects, Greets Russian Fleet

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 11:03 am
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Venezuela is preparing to deport two suspected drug traffickers recently detained by the National Anti-Drug Agency. According to the AP, the Colombian men, Orozco Wilches and Aldo Alvarez Duran, may be extradited to the U.S. U.S. officials have criticized President Chavez on the issue of drugs, but INTERPOL praised Venezuela’s efforts to stop trafficking after the recent arrests.

Sources report today that Russian aircraft have landed in Venezuela for joint military exercises. According to the AP and Reuters, Russian officials said that the Tu-160 bombers are not carrying nuclear weapons. President Chavez called the exercises “training flights.” Also in international news, the AP reports that Venezuela is helping the small Caribbean nation of Dominica to build a new power plant to offset electricity shortages. The assistance comes through ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas), a regional cooperation agreement that now comprises six member countries.

Bolivian President Evo Morales dismissed the U.S. Ambassador yesterday on suspicion that he was acting as an advocate for opposition groups. AP reports that this occurred shortly after fascist anti-government groups in Santa Cruz attacked a gas pipeline that cut exports to Brazil by 10 percent. “We don’t want separatists, divisionists,” Morales said. Anti-government groups also stormed local agriculture and treasury offices and took over media outlets which they used to promote more violence (image at right courtesy of the L.A. Times). Many of the tactics of this “civic coup” are similar to those in used the short-lived 2002 coup staged by the opposition in Venezuela.

Finally, the Los Angeles Times reports on that city’s new youth orchestra program, which was inspired by the Venezuelan system which educated the famous conductor Gustavo Dudamel. 150 young people from low-income families now participate in Youth Orchestra L.A., which makes music an “agent of change.” Venezuela’s Dudamel will begin conducting the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra in 2009.

September 10, 2008

As in Venezuela, Bolivia’s Democracy Threatened

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 2:44 pm
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The AP reports that Venezuela’s aviation agency rejects the TSA’s decision to warn passengers that flights “may not be safe” even though airports in that country comply with all international standards. The U.S. TSA imposed its own inspection regime on countries after 9/11, a policy that Venezuela has questioned.

Venezuelan officials have detained an Italian man wanted on drug trafficking charges by France, according to the AP. Meanwhile, the drug czar for the Bush White House, John Walters, continues to issue attacks against Venezuela. The AP reports that Walters said yesterday that President Chavez’s alleged failure to curb drug trafficking “is not only threatening the safety and security of the people of Venezuela… It is a growing global threat; he is putting Europe at risk.” Walters’ claims about inaction and corruption on the part of Venezuelan officials do not stand up to scrutiny, however, for Caracas has a strong record on seizures and arrests. The statements from the Bush spokesperson correspond with the political goals of that administration, rather than reality.

OPEC leaders did the unexpected yesterday, agreeing at a summit in Vienna to lower oil output slightly. Reuters reports that Venezuela takes a “hard-line position” on oil prices, but Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez has advocated stability and a fair rate — which he currently sees as around $100 per barrel.

The Wall Street Journal reports that unions in Venezuela irk the government because they “march to their own drummers.” The Chavez administration, which supports the cause of labor and seeks in many of its policies to empower the working class, has often faced threats from unions aligned with the opposition. Powerful business federations were instrumental in organizing the coup against Chavez in 2002.

In a strikingly similar story elsewhere in the region, Bolivia is wracked by violent anti-government protests and paramilitary action in energy-rich Santa Cruz. The opposition has seized government media outlets and stormed the Ministry of Agriculture and an NGO in that city after calls from the media inspired these illegal mobilizations. The secessionist protesters claim to be pro-democratic, but reject the national referendum last August 10th in which 67% of Bolivians turned out in support of their elected president. U.S. media have been slow to cover these events and downplayed the violent role of opposition leaders, such as an opposition senator who today threatened more violence if the government moves forward with approving the new constitution.

September 9, 2008

Venezuela Says OPEC Oil Output OK

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 10:44 am
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OPEC leaders agreed today to keep oil output levels steady, according to the Dow Jones. Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said current levels are “sufficient,” and suggested: “Maybe we could arrive at an equilibrium at a price close to $100 a barrel.”

After yesterday’s news that Russia and Venezuela will pursue joint naval exercises, sources report that the maneuvers will include Russian long-range patrol planes. However, Russian leaders sustain that the exercises will in no way affect any third country. U.S. officials also appear unconcerned. “We exercise all around the globe and have joint exercises with countries all over the world. So do many other nations,” a Pentagon official told AFP. Indeed, Venezuela and the Netherlands were conducting joint naval exercises just last weekend to improve strategies for fighting drug smuggling.

A trial began today in Florida regarding an alleged corruption scandal involving Venezuela in which five men are accused by the U.S. government of acting as unregistered foreign agents. The New York Times reports that a lawyer for one of the men stated in court that “U.S. officials pursued the case to try to embarrass the Chavez government.” The allegations have been consistently denied by leaders in Venezuela and Argentina (also accused) and are seen as fabricated.

Finally, the AP reports that the Transportation Securities Administration (TSA) has been unable to convince its Venezuelan counterparts to allow them to inspect all planes under new guidelines it imposed on countries after 9/11. Travelers will receive an advisory stating that “the U.S. cannot vouch for the security of those flights.”

September 8, 2008

Venezuela, Russia Announce Joint Naval Exercises

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In the headlines today are joint naval exercises planned between Venezuela and Russia. According to Reuters, the exercises will include a nuclear-powered battle cruiser, but officials in Moscow say they are “not in anyway connected to current political events… [and] will in no way be directed against the interests of a third country.” President Chavez affirmed that the Russians would be welcomed, and brushed off criticisms from Washington. The Los Angeles Times reports that the maneuvers come in the wake of NATO’s decision to deploy warships in the Black Sea, as well as in the context of the U.S.’s arms embargo against Venezuela and re-installment of a naval fleet in Latin America.

Also in international news, Venezuela’s National Guard has detained a former Colombian senator who facing charges of conspiring with paramilitaries to conduct kidnappings. The AP reports that the man was captured in Venezuela’s western city of Maracaibo. About one third of Colombia’s current lawmakers have been accused or convicted of similar offenses, which have fueled that country’s ongoing civil war.

Venezuela’s National Electoral Council will draw up new campaign protocol this week in response to complaints from opposition leaders. The AP reports that questions surround Chavez’s political pronouncements during his weekly presidential address. Information Minister Andres Izarra explained that, in the face of “hostile and manipulative private press, it’s our duty to take advantage of the public media.” Venezuela TV, radio, and newspapers remain largely private-owned and are dominated by opposition voices.

Finally, a Washington Post editorial about Thailand criticizes Venezuela and Bolivia, wrongly calling their leaders “populists… [who] sought to entrench themselves in power and eliminate competition.” Presidents Chavez and Morales have repeatedly won elections because they deliver on their promises to the poor and have designed better policies than their political challengers. A letter in the Washington Times refutes similarly ill-informed arguments.

September 5, 2008

Venezuelan Government “Dealt Blows to Drug Trafficking”

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 9:08 am
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President Chavez responded yesterday to US criticisms by saying that his government has “dealt many blows to drug trafficking.” The AP reports that the Venezuelan leader indicated that US officials ought to curb demand for drugs at home, rather than criticize other nations. The US says that the amount of cocaine passing through Venezuela has risen, while seizures have dropped, but bases this only on its estimate of suspected drug flights. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan government’s own National Anti-Drug Office cites rising seizures and arrests. Over three tons of drugs were incinerated on Wednesday.

Venezuela’s National Assembly voted yesterday to approve a bill asserting state control over wholesale gas distribution, while allowing 67 percent of the country’s gas stations to remain privately owned, AP reports. Though media outlets call this a “seizure,” private wholesalers will be compensated by the state for their assets. According to the government, state distributors will be as effective or more effective in reaching all areas of the country. BBC News reports that the measure may also help stop the cross-border smuggling of fuel between Venezuela and Colombia.

Finally, in international news, Venezuela’s navy has conducted joint exercises with the Netherlands to improve its crisis response and rescue abilities, AP reports. After this week’s agreements in oil and gas between Venezuela and South Africa, IPS reports that the countries are forging a “strategic alliance.” The accords signed Tuesday established a shared “commission for the areas of energy, mining, agriculture and other economic and social issues.”

September 4, 2008

Dominica Gets $21 Million for Development Through ALBA

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 10:48 am
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The small Caribbean nation of Dominica will soon receive $21 million in development funds through ALBA, the regional integration initiative spearheaded by Venezuela. According to the AP, Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said the aid is “testament to the strong bonds of friendship between Dominica and Venezuela within the ALBA.” Honduras joined ALBA last week, becoming its sixth member.

Bush’s White House drug czar continues to issue wild accusations against Venezuela. AP reports that the Bush rep claimed that more cocaine is leaving Venezuela and less is being seized, and also made the vague prediction that “what’s coming is mafias taking over at least sections of the country if not whole institutions of government.” The claim that Venezuela has seen more cocaine trafficking remains unsubstantiated by any reliable figures, particularly because US drug agencies track only “suspected” drug flights. Caracas officials maintain that their anti-drug efforts have increased and been complemented by far-reaching corruption purges. El Universal quotes the head of Venezuela’s National Anti-Drug Office, Nestor Reverol, who calls the US accusations “irresponsible.”

A Washington Times op-ed repeats the drug accusations against Venezuela and makes the exaggerated claim that the country is a “clear and immediate security threat.” It wrongly calls Venezuela a “dictatorship,” when in fact democratic institutions and norms have been maintained and reinforced under President Chavez. Voter turnout in regular free and fair elections, for example, has reached almost 75 percent. Open debates occur in civil society and in the media, which is still dominated by opposition voices. Finally, “terrorist” groups such as Hezbollah are not permitted to “raise funds freely” in Venezuela, nor is the Chavez administration anti-Semitic. After President Chavez met with Jewish leaders last month, the head of the Latin American Jewish Congress called the Venezuelan leader “a great friend of the Jewish community… who wants to fight anti-Semitism.”

In a speech at the RNC yesterday, Republican VP nominee Palin slammed US dependence on foreign oil. Reuters reports that Palin said, “Venezuela might shut off its oil deliveries.” This has never occurred, and most expert analysts rule out the possibility entirely. In recent months, President Chavez has in fact vowed that Venezuela’s vast reserves can supply the US market for decades to come.

September 3, 2008

Chavez Recalls Colonial Genocides in Africa and the Americas

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 1:07 pm

Agreements on oil and gas were finalized between Venezuela and South Africa yesterday, AFP reports, a sign of increased cooperation between the Chavez administration and African states. Reuters reports that South Africa’s PetroSA will have a stake in Orinoco Belt reserves, and in turn, Venezuela’s PDVSA will invest in crude refining and storage in South Africa. During his visit, President Chavez urged a recognition of genocides committed by colonial powers in Africa and the Americas. “It is our duty to tell future generations about what really happened,” Chavez said.

Venezuela’s oil agreements abroad are the subject of yet another Reuters article, which continues to exaggerate Venezuela’s alleged “anti-U.S.” orientation. President Chavez is said to be “a top benefactor even to Washington allies who welcome his aid offers to offset rising energy and food import bills.” Venezuela’s humanitarian aid and trade deals in oil and other goods are not a bid to “steal allies” from the U.S., but rather, to forge new kinds of cooperation. Anti-poverty programs that operate across Latin America, the Caribbean, and the U.S. are an attempt to build solidarity and help give all countries equal chances to develop.

After President Chavez defended Venezuela’s record on counter-drug operations last Sunday, U.S. officials say they will keep the pressure on, according to Reuters. The State Department claims that the Venezuelan leader asked Washington’s Ambassador in Caracas to resign, and a spokesman said it will “continue to speak out on the state of U.S.-Venezuelan relations … (and) what we see happening inside Venezuela.” Unfortunately, the U.S. take on anti-drug efforts in Venezuela has vastly underestimated the number and effectiveness of programs designed to stop trafficking.

Two news stories today involve the state of Florida. The Sun-Sentinel reports that some right-wing Cubans argue that the ex-CIA agent Luis Posada Carriles, who has committed several deadly bombings and now languishes in Miami, should be above the law. This small but vocal group argues that crimes for which he has been convicted in Venezuela — such as the death of over 70 civilians aboard an airliner — are simply “too old” to matter, and that he would face torture if extradited. Though there is no basis for that claim, the U.S. continues to ignore extradition requests for the man.

Finally, a trial begins today for Franklin Duran, one of five Florida-based Venezuelan business men pleading guilty to acting as unregistered foreign agents. The U.S. says the men allegedly funneled campaign funds from Venezuela to Argentina. As Time Magazine reports, officials from both countries dispute the charges and deem it a conspiracy.

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