VIO News Blog

November 25, 2008

OAS: Peaceful, Exemplary Elections Reflect Venezuela’s Democratic Maturity

Despite the fact that Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won 77 percent of governorships and 81 percent of mayorships in Sundays elections, which were deemed free and fair by observers, news reports emphasize opposition victories and persist in calling the President an “authoritarian” and “strongman.” Only Time Magazine offers a different perspective, saying “his acceptance of Sunday’s results preserved his democratic bona fides.” This sentiment was expressed by Jose Miguel Insulza (pictured here), Secretary General of the OAS, which has observed elections in Venezuela. Insulza is quoted in the Caracas newspaper El Universal, saying that the “peaceful, exemplary” elections reflected “maturity that strengthens democratic institutions.”

A Washington Post editorial today claims that President Chavez had threatened not to recognize opposition victories, which is false. In fact, he said before and during voting, “We are prepared to recognize any result.” In a speech after votes were counted, Chavez stated: “we are consulting the people, the voice of the nation. We have to acknowledge what they say… we will respect the will of the majority.”

A New York Times editorial accuses President Chavez of “authoritarianism and incompetence” and attempts to “skew the elections.” Chavez, though, has one of the highest approval ratings of any elected leader in the hemisphere, and citizens in Venezuela show rates of satisfaction with democracy that are far above average for Latin America. The Times states that the disqualification of candidates facing corruption charges ahead of elections was carried out by a “government watchdog,” when in fact it was done by elected leaders in Congress. It also claims that more than 50 percent of Venezuela’s population will now be under opposition leadership, when in fact that number is 43.5 percent. The Wall Street Journal makes the same error today.

The Miami Herald reports that President Chavez will seek a referendum to remove term limits, allowing him to run in elections again in 2012. To make this case, the paper quotes the same opposition pollster that appears in many stories today, Luis Vicente Leon of Datanalisis. The president of Datanalisis has publicly advocated the assassination of Chavez, though this does not seem to have affected its credibility in the U.S. — the firm is treated as an “independent” source by the AP, Washington Post, L.A. Times, and Christian Science Monitor.

In other news today, Venezuela and Russia will soon conduct joint military exercises. AFP reports that President Chavez said in a news conference yesterday: “They’re not a provocation but an exchange” between “two free, sovereign countries that are getting closer. We carried out maneuvers with Brazil recently, with France, with the Netherlands and now with Russia.” An official from Holland is quoted in the Christian Science Monitor is quoted as saying: “The Dutch point of view is that Venezuela is entitled … to have military exercises with befriended nations.” Mainstream media coverage today, however, suggests that this is not likely the U.S. point of view.


November 24, 2008

Venezuela Sets New Record for Voter Turnout

Venezuela set a new record for voter turnout in regional elections yesterday (65%), and the results show big wins by pro-government PSUV candidates. Lines were long and the polls stayed open late to accommodate voters. Governorships in 17 of 22 states already counted went to the PSUV, while opposition candidates prevailed in three states — Nueva Esparta, Zulia, and Miranda. In Caracas, the metropolitan mayorship went to the opposition’s Antonio Ledezma over former education minister Aristobulo Izturiz. The Los Angeles Times reports that President Chavez said during voting, “We are prepared to recognize any result” and “I learned to manage my defeats years ago.” According to the Washington Post, he reacted to the PSUV’s majority victory by saying: “Today, the people of Venezuela have spoken. Today’s victory is Venezuela’s. The democratic path has been ratified.”

Most of the news coverage portrays yesterday’s elections as an affirmation of continued support for the Chavez government in Venezuela, but with some signs that opposition may be gaining ground. It is not pointed out however that the last time the opposition participated fully in regional elections, back in 2000, they won 7 states, compared to 5 or 6 now.

This eleventh electoral test in a decade confirms the commitment of the country to democracy. While most sources recognize this fact, others like the Chicago Tribune and Washington Times persist in claiming that there has been fraud. The Tribune takes issue with disqualifications that barred candidates under investigation for corruption from running in elections. This law, though, was not the creation of the President or the CNE, but rather was passed by the National Assembly in 2001. The Supreme Court upheld the law in two separate tests, most recently this year.

A Washington Times column makes similar misstatements about the disqualifications, and also wrongly states that voting in Venezuela is open to manipulation. On the contrary, the electronic voting machines used there have been praised as among the most accurate and advanced in the world. International electoral missions have confirmed this fact repeatedly, and consistently deem voting processes free and fair. The Washington Times calls Venezuela a “police state,” when only one week ago, an opposition leader was quoted by Reuters as stating patently: “this is not a police state.”

Finally, in other news, AFP reports that Russian warships will arrive in Venezuela tomorrow for joint maneuvers. The exercises start December 1st, according to the AP. Sources suggest that new Venezuela-Russia ties are proof of a supposed “anti-U.S.” trend, and ignore the fact that Russia’s President met President Bush last week. They also fail to mention that Venezuela’s purchases of military equipment from Russia are the result of an embargo on sales by the U.S. The New York Times reports on a Brookings Institute paper regarding Latin America and President-elect Obama. It recommends lifting the blockade against Cuba and rethinking the unpopular war on drugs, and says relations with Venezuela could improve.

November 21, 2008

Chavez’s United Socialist Party Likely to Retain Most States in Sunday’s Elections

Sunday’s regional elections are top news today as campaigning ends in Venezuela and voters prepare to go to the polls for the 11th time in a decade. The AFP reports that the elections, in which citizens will choose 22 governors and 328 mayors,are a test of the popularity of the president. Chavez’s political party, the PSUV “will likely hold most states and cities, but might lose some posts.”

Several other sources today claim that Chavez’s popularity is slipping despite approval ratings of 60 percent and higher. The worst treatments come from the Washington Post, Bloomberg, and the Miami Herald. The Post predicts that opposition candidates will governorships in 12 states or more in an article that takes a disparaging view of government supporters as mindless “worshipers.” Bloomberg and the Herald provide similarly biased accounts, both of which dismiss the Chavez government as “authoritarian.” This is despite the fact that elections in Venezuela have been deemed free and fair by all international observers. Venezuelans themselves showed a rate of satisfaction with how democracy functions in their country that is second highest in the region in the new poll by Latinobarometro.

A Miami Herald op-ed today says the opposition should “seize victory” against President Chavez, who is portrayed as an “authoritarian and antidemocratic leader who is clinging to power at all costs.” On the contrary, Chavez has altered policy to reflect the will of the people on several occasions, including last December after constitutional reforms did not pass in a national referendum. He has also pardoned political opponents, and revoked unpopular policies such as a national intelligence law and new school curricula.

An opinion piece in the Christian Science Monitor provides a more measured approach to the political scene in Venezuela, raising the question of whether the country will move toward implementing socialism. It mentions, though, without citing examples, supposed new restrictions on civil liberties, free expression, and private property. Venezuela’s constitution guarantees protection of all of these rights, as well as many others that make the charter one of the most progressive in the world.

Finally, Venezuela’s economic cooperation with Vietnam is also in the news today. The AP reports that President Chavez and Vietnamese President Triet signed a $200 billion joint development fund to help build factories for lighbulbs and trucks. The countries also inked 15 cooperation deals, according to AFP.

November 20, 2008

Global Cooperation Abounds as Venezuela Reaches out to Africa and Asia

Reuters reported yesterday on the political scene in Venezuela ahead of Sunday’s elections. President Chavez, it states, is “still popular” with 60 percent approval and “polls show his party will likely hold onto a large majority of states even though the opposition could make some gains.” Chavez’s suggestion that he would pursue more policy changes if his PSUV political party emerges with sufficient support could mark a change from “slowed reforms” in response to the rejection of constitutional reforms by voters in a national referendum last December. One analyst said: “The stakes are high on both sides.”

World leaders are heading to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Peru this weekend. The leaders of Russia and Vietnam planned stops in Venezuela on either side of the meeting. Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet (pictured at right) discussed oil and gas ties with President Chavez yesterday, according to AFP. Dow Jones reports that PetroVietnam may invest $9 billion in oil production in Venezuela. Meanwhile, media buzz has surrounded Russian President Medvedev’s visit to Venezuela. Press accounts such as a Reuters article today deem this an attempt to “rile the U.S.” and revive Cold War-era politics, while downplaying the fact that Medvedev will also go to Brazil and Peru, and will likely meet with President Bush at the APEC meeting.

Venezuela’s expansion of relations with Africa continued yesterday with the announcement of a new cooperation deal with Zimbabwe. According to AFP, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister for Africa, Reinaldo Bolivar, emphasized the importance of “south-south cooperation.” Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s top rep in Brazil said: “Venezuela provides great assistance to our country through donations made through the World Food Program.” Agriculture has been a key area of cooperation for the countries.

Finally, in cultural news, two articles today feature the classical music conductor Gustavo Dudamel, whose origins in Venezuela’s state-funded music program led him to global fame. The Washington Times deems Dudamel “better than the hype.” The L.A. Times reports that the music program, called “el sistema,” receives $29 million from the Venezuelan government each year. It teaches “the values of self-discipline and teamwork in service of social harmony.”

November 19, 2008

Venezuela and England Cooperate in “Connecting Classrooms” Program

A new program called “Connecting Classrooms” lets teachers in England learn from the successes of Venezuela’s “Bolivarian” public education system, according to the BBC. One teacher calls the schools in poor areas “oases of calm and order where children are able to get that one life opportunity to get an education.” Another London-based teacher said: “Where [the Bolivarian schools] are very strong is in the area of values, in instilling in their pupils the belief that when they grow up they must be better citizens… and a better future will mean that the population in general is at less risk of crime and of criminality.”

An AP article today repeats unfounded claims by opposition politicians that they are being “intimidated” ahead of regional elections. Opposition Governor Manuel Rosales of Zulia state faces actual legal proceedings for the misuse of public funds, and has a hearing set for next week. The AP also cites data from the biased polling firm Datanalisis, whose director has publicly called for the assassination of the president. Meanwhile, statements by President Chavez are presented with insufficient context; national law prohibits the media from giving voting results too early, and Chavez once mentioned that he could perhaps use tanks to prevent another violent coup  — not simply if opposition candidates are elected on Sunday.

The President of Vietnam is currently visiting Venezuela on his way to the Asia-Pacific summit in Peru. According to the AFP, the Vietnamese leader will meet President Chavez tomorrow to discuss energy cooperation. Reuters reports that Cuban President Raul Castro may visit Venezuela in the next few days.

The Russia-Venezuela relationship is misrepresented in a Washington Times op-ed today that claims joint naval exercises between the countries are evidence that Russia is “prepared to intrude in the U.S. backyard.” Russian leaders emphasize that the exercises do not involve any third country. Venezuela, for its part, has not “sown instability” in the region, as the op-ed states. Instead, it has been at the forefront of cooperation initiatives such as UNASUR — the Union of South American Nations (wrongly identified in the op-ed as the “South American Cooperation Council”). The op-ed also conveniently avoids reference to the recent re-deployment of the 4th Fleet of the U.S. Navy in Latin America, which had been disbanded in 1950.

Finally, the Christian Science Monitor reports that the new Latinobarometro poll suggests more in the region are identifying as politically “moderate.” In Venezuela, rates of support for democracy are higher than in any other country except Uruguay. The Monitor links this to the defeat of constitutional reforms in a referendum last December, considered a “loss” for President Chavez. However, Venezuela has for years led the region in favoring democracy and had high rates of satisfaction with the state of democracy.

November 18, 2008

Venezuelans Satisfied with their Democracy

Venezuela will host a meeting for members of the regional cooperation agreements Petrocaribe and ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) next Wednesday, November 26th, according to El Universal. The session was announced as a counterpoint to the G-20 summit in Washington. President Morales of Bolivia said that the intention is “not to discuss the financial crisis, but how to enhance and complement our economies to serve our people.”

Immigrants in Venezuela, often hailing from neighboring Colombia, tend to support President Chavez and his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the Miami Herald reports today. The social program called “Mission Identity” is helping extend the benefits of citizenship to this sector. Critics say that it is a bid to gain votes ahead of regional elections this Sunday, but Mission Identity was founded in October 2003. One expert explained: “This is an effort to integrate into society Colombians who have been here for decades, and long after they would have been required to be [naturalized] by law.” According to UN estimates, there are over 200,000 Colombian asylum seekers in Venezuela. Government programs also provide refugees with job training and low-interest loans to help stimulate economic development.

Approval ratings for President Chavez remain steady at over fifty percent, though the leader is described as “increasingly unpopular” in the U.S. media. A Washington Post editorial today makes this claim. The editorial advises President-elect Obama not to speak with Chavez, although Obama has said that he would indeed seek dialogue. It wrongly states that Chavez, who has several electoral victories under his belt and has boosted Venezuela’s ties to many nations in Latin America and the world, is “grabbing the coattails” of Obama in order to earn popularity. The Times also deems unconstitutional a law that prohibits individuals from running for public office while they face corruption investigations. This point is not addressed in the Venezuelan charter, but has been upheld by the country’s Judiciary and electoral authority.

A New York Times editorial today urges free trade with Colombia and asserts that President Chavez uses anti-U.S. rhetoric to “distract attention” from so-called “autocratic policies” at home. The claim that Chavez is “anti-U.S.” ignores his overtures to the American people and hundreds of millions of dollars in anti-poverty assistance in the U.S. As the Post points out today, he congratulated Obama on his electoral win and said he anticipates better relations with the U.S. The Chavez administration has seen 11 electoral processes, certified as free and fair by all international observers. In a recent poll by Latinobarometro, Venezuelans expressed more satisfaction with democracy than citizens in any other country in the region besides Uruguay. Venezuelans were also by far the most likely to agree that voting is the best way to influence change.

Finally, an argument in favor of taking Venezuela seriously and improving relations appears in a George Mason University publication; it states that “U.S. officials should open their minds to a new relationship with Caracas.” Two other opinion pieces consider the effects of the financial crisis in Latin America. A Washington Post op-ed finds that the region is not well isolated from the crisis, while a ZNet op-ed views Latin America as less dependent on the U.S. and therefore less vulnerable to collapse.

November 17, 2008

After G-20, Venezuela Plans Summit of Smaller Nations

After the emergency G-20 Summit in Washington last weekend, President Chavez expressed doubt that poorer countries would benefit from solutions to the global economic crisis proposed by rich countries. Reuters reports that the Venezuelan leader announced plans to host a summit of small nations, saying “One small thing together with other small things creates big things.” According to the AP, the meeting would likely include member nations of Petrocaribe and ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas).

With one week left ahead of regional elections in Venezuela, a spate of articles predict difficulty for pro-Chavez candidates and highlights opposition accusations against the government. The AP reports on the gubernatorial race in which President Chavez’s brother, Adan Chavez, is running for the top seat in their home state. Reuters articles over the weekend highlighted the issues of crime and alleged government spying. Of the latter, opposition interviewees were dismissive, saying that they were “relaxed” and that Venezuela is “not a police state.”

A Washington Times op-ed about the upcoming elections is riddled with hate-filled language and errors that undermine its claim that Caracas and Venezuela are on an “unstoppable downward slide.” Venezuela is not, as it states, under “autocratic rule”; Sunday’s elections mark 11th time that Venezuelans have been to polls since President Chavez was first elected in 1998. The op-ed attempts to suggest that President Chavez will not accept the defeat of candidates that belong to his political party, the PSUV, however, no mention is made of the fact that he quickly and calmly conceded defeat after voters narrowly rejected a package of draft constitutional reforms last December.

Finally, the AP reports that Venezuela anticipates the visit of Russian President Medvedev next week. The countries will collaborate on nuclear energy that will help “fuel the health and electricity sectors” in Venezuela. A Los Angeles Times report on the upcoming visit points out that “a U.S. embargo on arms and technology sales to Chavez has led the Venezuelan leader to shop for Russian military hardware.”

November 14, 2008

Venezuelan Planning Minister Expects Growth to Rebound by Year’s End

Venezuela’s third quarter economic growth was 4.6 percent, the country’s slowest since 2003, according to the AP today. Venezuelan Planning Minister El Troudi said he expects growth to rebound to 6 percent for the end of 2008. The dip is hardly a surprise, though; last month, in light of the world economic crisis, the World Bank scaled back its 2009 growth projections for the entire Latin American region from an estimated 4.2 percent to a more modest 2.5 to 3.5 percent growth. Last year, Venezuela’s GDP rose by 8.4 percent.

The size of Venezuela’s foreign currency reserves was wrongly reported by Oxford Analytica yesterday, which cited $40 million instead of $40 billion. The error was repeated in this roundup, but has now been corrected in the article shown below. It states: “the evidence does not seem to indicate that Venezuela’s economy is under immediate threat from declining oil prices.” In related news, Reuters reports that the price of oil will ultimately rebound after dropping by 60 percent in the last four months. An analyst said: “Whatever the low is, the price won’t stay there for very long.”

Russian President Medvedev will visit Venezuela this month, along with Brazil and Cuba, according to the AP. The IPS reports that economic relations between Russia and Venezuela have been “revved up,” and that bilateral relations have gained importance. The countries recently initiated joint explorations for offshore natural gas. Russian oil firms are also helping to produce oil in Venezuela’s Orinoco River Belt. According to an expert: “Venezuela is pursuing agreements with Russian oil firms because they have the scope, resources and capacity to make progress in the Belt.”

The Latinobarometro survey of Latin American attitudes toward democracy is released today. The Economist shows some results, which indicate that Venezuelans are the region’s second-most satisfied with the functioning of democracy in their country. More than a third of Venezuelan respondents said that inequalities have diminished.  President Chavez, whose legitimacy as a democratic leader is underscored in the survey, is nonetheless categorized as a “strongman” by the Economist.

November 13, 2008

President of Venezuelan Electoral Council Welcomes Foreign Observers to Regional Elections

Venezuela’s regional elections on November 23rd will be monitored by 130 foreign observers from groups such as the OAS, according to the Caracas newspaper El Universal. Observer missions have been invited from 34 different countries. El Universal also reports that Spain’s Secretary of State for Latin America recently said that “the election campaign is going normally.” Tibisay Lucena, President of the National Electoral Council (pictured at right), said that the observation missions will be accompanied by a program “to learn about the Venezuelan electoral system” that has inspired “confidence, curiosity and admiration” in foreign visitors.

The economy of Venezuela is in the news today, after comments made by President Chavez yesterday. Bloomberg and Reuters report that Chavez said: “The price of oil has been falling as a product of the global crisis… That’s the factor, that if it continues to extend itself for a period of time, could affect us, of course it would affect us.”

As an oil-exporting country for about a century, Venezuela is familiar with the volatility of crude prices and has become more adept at managing the highs and lows. The recently released 2009 budget is based on the conservative estimate of oil prices of $60 per barrel. Oxford Analytica explains this and many other factors that suggest Venezuela will not likely suffer an economic collapse due to the global financial crisis. It states: “Venezuela is likely to be able to continue its high public and social spending in 2009.” The country’s economy is bolstered by $40 billion in foreign currency reserves and tens of billions in development funds.

Finally, the price of oil remains in the news. The AP reports that the International Energy Association estimates that oil prices will average $80 per barrel in 2009. OPEC countries may meet later this month in Cairo to evaluate current rates of production, according to Bloomberg.

November 12, 2008

Venezuela Makes Trade Deal with Bolivia, Deports Suspected Drug Traffickers to US

Venezuelan anti-drug officials deported two Colombian cousins to the U.S. yesterday to be tried for drug trafficking charges.  The AP reports that anti-drug chief Nestor Reverol (pictured here) said Venezuelan police caught the men last month, after they were sought by the U.S. since 2001. Venezuela frequently detains traffickers (five were arrested so far in 2008), and also seizes tens of tons of illicit goods each year. Despite this, the White House has for the last four years designated the country as failing to take action against drugs.

In a continuing story, President Chavez has removed the Venezuelan consul in Houston, Texas, Mr. Antonio Padrino, after he made an administrative error with large consequences. The Houston consulate was temporarily closed last week by the U.S. State Department after switching office spaces before full permission was granted to make the move. The AP reports that President Chavez called it a mistake, but nonetheless withdrew the Houston consul in order to clear up the situation. Foreign Minister Maduro said that it had been resolved “from the administrative and diplomatic point of view,” according to El Universal.

Venezuela has signed a deal to purchase $30 million in textiles from Bolivia to boost trade with that country — the poorest in South America — after it was handed damaging trade sanctions by President Bush. El Universal reports that trade talks began Monday. In other economic news, Reuters reports that coffee is lacking in many Venezuelan supermarkets, and uses this news to predict a failure for government-backed candidates in the upcoming regional elections. The shortage is attributed to price caps set by the state, but the article ends with a list of other possible factors: “unusually heavy rains and a smaller harvest than expected and hoarding by customers.”

The Financial Times reports on high rates of crime in Caracas, a frequent concern of Venezuelan citizens and foreign critics of President Chavez alike. Police recently raided and closed an illegal bullet factory in a poor area of the city. A local authority suggested that the problem is inherited, saying “You can’t change a country in just 10 years after 40 years of misrule.” However, the Times suggests that crime will be a key issue in the regional elections on November 23rd.

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