VIO News Blog

October 31, 2008

Venezuela Sees Opportunity for Cooperation in Global Financial Crisis

President Chavez spoke again about the world financial crisis yesterday, saying that it should come as an opportunity to create new international institutions. According to the Caracas newspaper El Universal, the Venezuelan leader said the “dictatorship of the dollar” and the IMF has collapsed. Venezuela has played a key role in helping create multilateral institutions for regional cooperation such as ALBA, UNASUR, and the Bank of the South. El Universal also reports today that Venezuela donated $1 million to Paraguay to provide drinking water and health care to Indigenous communities suffering from a prolonged drought.

Venezuela’s Ambassador to Argentina visited the holocaust museum in Buenos Aires yesterday. The head of the World Jewish Congress dispelled false rumors that Venezuela’s government subscribed to antisemitism. He said, “it is gratifying to see this sign of recognition by the Venezuelan government of the dark tragedy that befell the Jewish people, something that President Hugo Chavez himself acknowledged during our meeting with him.”

In oil news, the AP reports that prices have fallen again to $64 per barrel. Meanwhile, Exxon Mobil made history yesterday when it reported record-breaking quarterly profits. Other private oil firms also saw successes; profits for BP jumped 83% and ConocoPhillips rose by 41%. Meanwhile, oil-producing countries are already feeling the negative effects the drop in the value of crude. An Iranian politician said, “The first wave of the crisis are the low oil prices that have reached us. This is a big loss.”

Finally, Bloomberg reports that Venezuela is inviting companies to purchase shares of oil projects in the Orinoco region. The state bought a majority stake in the projects last year. 47 oil companies are considering bidding on the Orinoco reserves (which comprise 1% of global supplies), including Chevron, Shell and Total.


October 30, 2008

Venezuela’s Social Revolution Takes to the Skies

Venezuela’s new “Simon Bolivar” satellite was successfully launched from China yesterday. According to CNN, a government news agency stated that the equipment “is not focused on commercial ends, but on providing a service to the communities which have never enjoyed a modern communication system.” The AP reports that Venezuela joins Brazil and Argentina as the third South American nation to launch a satellite. It will begin transmitting TV, radio, and other data in three months, and should last for 15 years.

No decision could be reached by the jury in “suitcasegate,” the Miami trial of Venezuela’s Franklin Duran, who claims he was set up by the FBI to frame the Chavez government. According to the Miami Herald, the hung jury was told by U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard to try again.

A ludicrous op-ed in the Washington Times by yet another US military figure wrongly claims that President Chavez “buys politicians.” Also contrary to the op-ed, there are no Hezbollah training camps in Venezuela. If, as the op-ed states, the State Department and Navy are “well aware” of such activity, it is curious that it has never been cited in official reports on terrorism for the region. The Venezuelan government does not have links to Hezbollah, nor is it “expanding narcotics and weapons smuggling in the region.” These claims are simply fear-mongering, not fact, and do not belong in a newspaper.

In regional news, sources report that Colombia has dismissed 24 soldiers and three generals for killing civilians near the Venezuelan border. The BBC, this revelation “could just be the first stage in a wider scandal.” The US plays a large role in funding and training Colombia’s military.

Finally, the AP reports that the foreign policy goals of President Bush have been unmet during his administration. In particular, in Latin America, “Bush’s push for democracy and free trade is widely seen as failing to diminish the yawning gap between rich and poor.”

October 29, 2008

Venezuela to Launch “Simon Bolivar” Satellite

Venezuela and China will jointly launch a telecommunications satellite today, the BBC reports. The satellite, named “Simon Bolivar” for the independence leader, is the result of a $400 million accord signed four years ago. The BBC mentions rumors that Venezuela would use the satellite for intelligence purposes. The Chavez government has said, though, that it will be shared with other Latin American countries to provide people in remote areas with TV, radio and internet access and also to expand social programs through tele-education and tele-medicine.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was in Ecuador’s Amazonian region yesterday, where Latin American leaders met to discuss the economy. Chavez advocated production cuts within OPEC to stabilize the price of oil, according to the AFP. AFP also reports that the financial crisis “hangs over” the annual Ibero-American Summit, which begins today in El Salvador. The summit focuses on youth and development.

A column by a former Bush administration official in the New York Post makes the false and damaging claim that Venezuela would make an atomic bomb. Without citing evidence, the op-ed denies that Venezuela’s nuclear energy program is meant for peaceful purposes, as has been consistently indicated by Venezuelan leaders and independent analysts. Empty threats about collaboration with Iran are trumped up, yet the op-ed blatantly ignores the fact that Venezuela plans to work with France — a world leader in the production of nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

Finally, Venezuela is helping Cuba triple its capacity to refine oil. According to Reuters, “Venezuela is revitalizing Cuba’s downstream operations and plans to use the island as a bridge to supply the Caribbean with crude and derivatives with preferential financing.” This is done through the program called “Petrocaribe.”

October 28, 2008

Venezuela Joins Latin American Nations to Urge Reform of International Financial System

Latin American leaders met in Brazil yesterday to discuss the economy, urging reform to the international financial system. Representatives were present from eleven countries and included Venezuela’s foreign minister, finance minister, and central bank president. The AP reports that Brazil’s foreign minister (pictured at right) said, “There’s a consensus that integration will help to mitigate the effects of the international crisis.”

According to Reuters, the value of Venezuela’s currency has reached a one-year low. The BBC looks at oil prices and considers the possibility of economic woes for Venezuela, and like many articles in recent days, trumps up the threat of a bust. The BBC also points out, thought, that “not all analysts paint a bleak picture.” The Houston Chronicle meanwhile reports that Latin America’s economic growth in 2009 will likely suffer due to downturn in the US, but that the region is better prepared to deal with crises today than it has been in the past.

Finally, the jury in the “suitcasegate” trial in Florida continues deliberating today, according to the Miami Herald. Allegations of corruption in the Chavez government have been at the heart of the trial, though they are unrelated to the charges faced by defendant Franklin Duran, who is accused by the U.S. government of acting as an unregistered foreign agent. Venezuelan officials and independent analysts alike see the trial as politically motivated

October 27, 2008

Venezuela Engaged in Anti-Drug Effort with Spain

Spain’s foreign minister announced new anti-drug cooperation with Venezuela over the weekend, according to the Caracas newspaper El Universal. The initiative, proposed by Venezuela, is aimed at increasing the ability to interdict drugs being trafficked to Europe. Venezuela has made significant progress on fighting drugs — despite US criticism — even after cooperation with the DEA ended. A letter in Sunday’s Boston Globe enumerates that progress. Anti-drug policing has been stepped up on the border with Colombia, the world’s largest cocaine producer. The BBC reports though that one Colombian drug kingpin allegedly “bases himself” over the border in rural Venezuela.

Bloomberg reports on the economy, and indicates that President Chavez’s approval rating remained at 58 percent last month according to one source. A Washington Post editorial Saturday delights in the possibility that the US financial crisis could hurt so-called “rogue states.” It suggests that President Chavez is “disturbed” by lower oil prices and mocks his appeal to US leaders to “sit down and talk and come to an agreement because we need each other.” On Sunday, a similar New York Times editorial makes the erroneous claim that Venezuela “is said to be desperate for prices to go back above $100.” Reuters reports that Chavez said he supports a price band for oil that would see OPEC setting the value crude as low as $70 per barrel. The Venezuelan leader also indicated recently that the country could remain solvent at $55 per barrel, citing foreign currency reserves of about $40 billion.

Reuters and the AP report on a comment by Chavez that he would like to see Mayor Manuel Rosales of Zulia state jailed for his alleged role in coup plots. “He cannot continue in office. … He is one of those who wants to see me dead,” Chavez said. Notably, though, members of Venezuela’s opposition have not been actively discriminated against and were pardoned early this year for their roles in the 2002 coup.

Finally, press attention continues to swirl around Venezuela’s ties with Russia. The US has just sanctioned Russia’s state arms trader. The Washington Post reports though that “in an unusual move, it granted the company a partial waiver to permit the sale of nearly two dozen Russian helicopters to Iraq.”

October 24, 2008

“The Real Venezuela” Initiative Will Help Combat Media Terrorism

Venezuela’s Minister of Information and Communications, Andres Izarra, has announced a new initiative called “Venezuela de Verdad” (The Real Venezuela) to combat what he called “media terrorism,” according to the Caracas newspaper El Universal. Izarra spoke out against the “campaign of lies and manipulation” that he said prevents the country’s positive aspects from being known. Venezuela’s opposition-controlled media played an important role in the 2002 coup against Chavez.

Venezuelan officials have rejected as “interference” a resolution by the European Parliament condemning a measure that prevents hundreds of candidates, mostly from opposition parties, from running in regional elections due to pending corruption charges. The AP reports that Venezuela’s comptroller general explained, “It’s not a violation of human rights, it’s a measure against corruption.” Venezuela’s Vice Minister for Europe said that the vote was an inappropriate initiative spearheaded by Europe’s right-wing and stated: “With this resolution, the MEP’s have supported corruption.”

The “suitcasegate” trial is finishing up in Florida, according to the Washington Post and Miami Herald. Proceedings have consistently favored the prosecution, which claims Venezuelan businessman Franklin Duran operated as an unregistered foreign agent. The trial, though, has focused on allegations of corruption within the Chavez administration. “It’s shocking that a man who committed a crime in Argentina becomes a protected witness in Miami to make all kinds of accusations against the Venezuelan government,” said former Venezuelan Ambassador to the US Bernardo Alvarez.

In other international news, Russia is speaking out against US sanctions imposed yesterday on its state arms trader and other firms abroad including the Venezuelan Military Industries Company. This comes a day after US Treasury sanctions against an Iranian bank and its alleged affiliates, including a Venezuelan institution. The AP reports that the Bush administration also moved to press trade sanctions against Bolivia, alleging against all evidence that the country has failed to fight drug trafficking. Meanwhile, China has joined the Inter-American Development Bank in a move that may increase its presence in Latin America, the Los Angeles Times reports.

OPEC member states meet today and are expected to cut oil production in response to lagging demand in the US and globally. The AP reports that Venezuela supports the cut, along with Iran and other nations.

Finally, El Universal reports that President Chavez said that Venezuela would survive a drop in oil prices to $55 per barrel: “you can rest assured that Venezuela will not be affected by the economic crisis, because we can take any necessary steps to save money or to adopt austerity measures.”

October 23, 2008

Electrical Service Continues Uninterrupted in Venezuela

A blackout in Venezuela last Sunday that lasted approximately forty five minutes is still making news. The AP reports that three engineers employed by the state-owned EDELCA were charged with causing the failure. Meanwhile, Reuters claims that because this is the third brief outage this year, Venezuela is “struggling to maintain basic electrical service.” Electricity was nationalized last year in a controversial move that has raised hackles in the private media. However, the state’s new investment in electricity is meant to expand access to infrastructure in rural areas and increase the efficiency and affordability of the service.

Closing statements were held this morning in the trial of Florida-based Venezuelan businessman Franklin Duran. The Miami Herald reports that Duran could face 10 years in jail for acting as an unregistered foreign agent. The Herald points out that experts on Latin America say the trial is politically motivated: Professor Bagley of the University of Miami said, “The United States has gone after this case because they want to embarrass the Ch├ívez government.” A Wall Street Journal article does just this, expounding on the corruption allegations that have surfaced in the trial despite their lack of relevance to the proceedings against Duran.

Caracas newspaper El Universal reports on the escalating use of anti-Venezuela statements by the McCain-Palin campaign in the US. Senator McCain has emphasized the need for so-called “energy independence,” while Governor Palin called President Chavez as a “dictator” and suggested “the imposition of sanctions.” When asked if she supports military intervention in Venezuela, Palin said ambivalently, “Military action must always be the last resort.”

Finally, the US Treasury Department announced sanctions yesterday against Iran’s Export Development Bank, as well as those of banks it claims are affiliates, including Venezuela’s Banco Internacional De Desarollo. The Treasury moved to freeze their US assets and prevent from doing business with US citizens.

October 22, 2008

Venezuelan Poll Shows 75 Percent Approval for Chavez

Venezuelan Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez presented the 2009 budget to the National Assembly yesterday. The AP reports that it is based on an estimated 15 percent inflation for next year and oil prices of $60 per barrel. Official state spending will see a 22 percent increase, because the budget allows for less discretionary use of oil profits. Some 12 percent of funds will go to Venezuela’s renowned social programs that are helping to raise the standard of living.

The Financial Times reports that the success of those social programs has contributed to approval ratings of 75 percent for the Venezuelan leader, according to a new poll. The Times deems Venezuela more vulnerable to a drop in oil prices than other OPEC countries, though. About half of state expenditures come from oil.

According to a column in the Financial Times, the declining influence of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has seen the rise of initiatives like Venezuela’s Bank of the South, which “heralds the emergence of a new wave of alternative institutional structures, not dominated by western powers.” It also notes that Venezuela distributed four times as much aid in South America than the U.S. did last year, which allegedly “drove Americans crazy.”

The Miami Herald reports today that testimony has finished in the trial of Florida-based Venezuelan business men accused of acting as unregistered foreign agents. The trial has become an airing of allegations of corruption in the Chavez government, despite the fact that this has little to do with the question of whether or not the accused men were indeed unregistered foreign agents. Some experts have suggested that the trial is politically motivated and designed to discredit the Venezuelan government. The Herald also reports on a small rally in protest of high crime rates in Venezuela, and takes a cursory view of the student movements there.

In regional news, Bolivia will hold a referendum on a new constitution on January 25, 2009, just as Venezuelans were given the chance to vote on a new charter in 1999. Finally, the U.S. and Colombia are alleging that the FARC have ties to Hezbollah. A Los Angeles Times article mentions U.S. Treasury sanctions against Venezuelan officials that are accused of having helped Hezbollah despite a lack of evidence.

October 21, 2008

Despite Claims to the Contrary, Venezuela’s Anti-Poverty Effort will Survive Global Financial Crisis

President Chavez visited Margarita Island off of Venezuela’s Caribbean coast yesterday, and proposed that it could be the site of a new naval base. The AP reports that the Venezuelan leader indicated that the base would help officials combat drug trafficking.

Sources continue to report on the alleged economic woes of Venezuela due to a drop in oil prices. The New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor eagerly claim that Venezuela will have to scale back its anti-poverty programs at home and abroad, but in fact, those programs began five years ago when oil was valued far lower. Crude prices have lost 40% of its value since hitting a high this summer. The Times uses a military idiom, suggesting that Chavez helped create a “cadre” of regional leaders “intent on eroding once-dominant American influence.” More accurately, new elected leaders in Latin America have asserted national sovereignty and a doctrine of non-intervention, emphasizing the right of each country to determine its path. Regarding the economy, several articles last week reported that Venezuela will not suffer significant consequences due to the global financial crisis.

In regional news, the BBC and AFP report that the government of President Morales in Bolivia has reached a deal with separatist opposition leaders in the country’s natural gas-rich Eastern provinces. The accord requires a referendum on a new constitution in January, followed by another round of elections in December 2009. Morales agreed to face another electoral test despite having emerged victorious from a national referendum just last August, in which 67% of Bolivians ratified his presidency.

October 20, 2008

On Venezuela, Post and Herald Fan the Flames of Ignorance and Intolerance

Analysts agree with President Chavez’s assertion that Venezuela is well prepared to weather the global financial crisis, according to the Los Angeles Times today. “We have saved and created strategic funds that we will use in a rational manner,” Chavez said. Meanwhile, the Washington Post argues the opposite, warning that Venezuela’s state budget will “feel the pinch” of falling oil prices. Bloomberg and Reuters report that President Chavez said that oil prices of $80 to $90 per barrel will be “more than sufficient” for Venezuela to remain solvent. An emergency OPEC meeting is scheduled for this Friday, and sources report that Venezuela may advocate a cut in production in response to a contraction in global demand for oil.

Venezuela’s regional elections are now nearly a month away. A Washington Times column deems Venezuela’s president a “no-goodnik” and wrongly states that he has “gutted the economy.” Venezuela has seen steady rates of economic growth over the last decade that have outstripped those of many other countries in the hemisphere. A Washington Post opinion piece entitled “Brace Yourselves” claims that Venezuela is under “authoritarian” rule, blatantly ignoring the fact of regular free and fair elections. The Miami Herald cites poll data from a notoriously biased source and makes the erroneous assertion that so-called “anti-U.S.” rhetoric by Chavez is meant to distract citizens from domestic issues ahead of voting, when in fact, there has been a continuous and lively debate about all manner of topics that are relevant at home. Instead, moves like Chavez’s expulsion of the U.S. ambassador in solidarity with Bolivia are responses to direct attacks.

One of those attacks has been the White House “majors list” of countries deemed to be failing in the “war on drugs.” Venezuela and Bolivia were named this year by the Bush Administration, and Bolivia has been slapped with trade sanctions that will deliver massive job losses in that country. The AP reports that Bolivians believe the sanctions to be politically motivated and not reflective of the reality of anti-drug efforts there. Meanwhile, the Boston Globe repeats the U.S. allegations against Venezuela, citing U.S. estimates of suspected drug flights rather than more accurate statistics kept by the Venezuelan authorities that show progress on fighting drugs. A rise in cocaine seizures, the destruction of illicit air strips, and the arrest of five major drug kingpins are among Venezuela’s achievements in the last year alone.

Finally, a brief power outage in Venezuela made news over the weekend. The BBC linked this story to the fact of Venezuela’s recent nationalization of electricity by claiming that the outages are “symbolic” of government failures. The nationalization process is intended to increase efficiency and access throughout the country.

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