VIO News Blog

December 22, 2008

Experts Defend Venezuela’s Human Rights Record

The British magazine New Internationalist reports on a letter signed by 100 academics criticizing the most recent Human Rights Watch report on Venezuela. These experts accuse the U.S.-based NGO of “naked political bias” and “failing to do its homework.” To read the full letter on the NACLA website, click here.

Reuters reports that Venezuela may see a referendum on presidential term limits as soon as February 15th. It wrongly states, though, that voters will be asked to weigh in on term limits “for the second time in 14 months.” Last year’s referendum was on 69 diverse constitutional reforms that — in addition to ending term limits — would have lowered the voting age, changed campaign financing laws, promoted the “social economy,” prohibited monopolies, shortened the work week, extended social security, created new forms of property, and banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. There was no indication that opposition to ending term limits caused the reforms to fail.

El Nuevo Herald reports that so-called “backers” of President Chavez have been responsible for violence in recent weeks, misleading readers by failing to point out that these groups have been strongly condemned by government officials. President Chavez and others in his administration have denounced groups like “La Piedrita” and “Tupamarus” and their unlawful tactics.

In other news, sources reported over the weekend that President Chavez ordered a company to cease construction on a shopping mall in the low-income Caracas neighborhood of La Candelaria. The mall, according to the AP, was singled out for hogging space and resources in an area that badly needs social services such as hospitals and schools. Chavez has often criticized the culture of unbridled consumerism. AP reports that it is not yet known how much the government will pay the owners of the shopping mall in compensation.

A Miami Herald column by Andres Oppenheimer states that the U.S. will remain dominant and even “regain some of the ground it lost in the hemisphere” under the Obama administration. By downplaying the historic example of unity among Latin American leaders at the largest ever regional summit last week, it misses the point of increased cooperation and respect for sovereignty.

Finally, a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette column anticipates the effect of global recession on supposed U.S. foes. Venezuela is wrongly placed in this category. The piece states eerily: “If Mr. Chavez has to cut subsidies — as he must — he could be toppled in a matter of months.” The author blatantly ignores the fact that Venezuela has been a democratic country for over fifty years, longer than most countries in the hemisphere, and that President Chavez is an elected leader who is accountable to voters. To suggest that his government should be “toppled” is an insult to Venezuelan citizens, who in 2002 averted a coup backed by U.S. government agencies.


December 19, 2008

More than Four Million Venezuelan Citizens Sign Petition to Reelect Chavez

Nearly 4.8 million signatures supporting a constitutional amendment to end presidential term limits were turned over to Venezuela’s National Assembly yesterday, according to Bloomberg. This was a symbolic gesture from members of the pro-Chavez United Socialist Party of Venezuela. After a first round of debates, lawmakers gave preliminary approval to a bid to hold a national referendum on the amendment. The AP reports that one Congresswoman called this an expression of “the voice of the people.”

A second round of debates in the National Assembly is set to take place next month. The BBC reports that the issue of indefinite reelection “was rejected in a referendum last year,” however, it was not singled out in this way. The referendum was regarding a package of 69 different constitutional reforms.

A Washington Post editorial opposing an amendment makes the blatantly false claim that elections in Venezuela are not free and fair. All international observers have verified the transparency of Venezuela’s democratic elections, including the OAS, the EU, the Carter Center, the NAACP, and the National Lawyer’s Guild. The Post jettisons these official findings in favor of one unsubstantiated report from the Miami Herald last week that claimed pro-Chavez candidates tried to bribe voters with free refrigerators in a state where they lost. Contrary to what the Post writes, President Chavez conceded defeat in the last referendum on constitutional reforms quickly and calmly, with no pressure from the military. The official results of that referendum have indeed been released by the country’s independent National Electoral Council.

In economic news, Venezuela’s Central Bank announced yesterday that it seeks to cut inflation by half in 2009. The AP reports that Director Armando Leon said that there are no plans to devalue the currency, and that the country is fairly insulated from the world economic crisis, with $37 billion in international reserves. The Economist reports on alternative currencies that are used in some parts of Venezuela. Allowed under the constitution, these currencies foster increased commercial exchange in local markets.

Finally, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown echoed the sentiments of OPEC countries yesterday by emphasizing the need for oil price stability. According to the AFP, Brown said: “volatility is in no-one’s interest. Wild fluctuations in market prices harm nations all around the world, they damage producers and consumers alike.”

December 18, 2008

Venezuelan National Assembly Begins Review of Proposed Constitutional Amendment

Debates began yesterday in Venezuela’s national assembly regarding an amendment to the constitution to allow indefinite reelection. AFP reports that a “similar” proposal was struck down in a national referendum last year, however, that vote was regarding a package of 69 reforms. Citizens did not weigh in on the issue of term limits specifically, which may be why, as AFP notes, the result of this voting process remains “an open question.”

Yesterday marked the end of the Rio Group summit that brought together the leaders of 33 Latin American countries. It was the largest regional meeting ever to take place without the U.S. or Europe, according to the AP. Mexico’s President Calderon suggested the creation of a Union of Latin American Nations, and host Lula da Silva said: “Two-hundred years is a long time to wait, but it is better late than never.” Bloomberg reports that countries appealed to the U.S. and international financial institutions for debt relief, and according to Reuters, they also advocated an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

After the convivial Latin American summit, the Financial Times oddly reports that Venezuela’s effort to find allies is “running out of gas.” The Times misses the point of the “multilateralism” that President Chavez advocates, reporting instead suggesting that Chavez tries to dominate other countries through “largesse.” Aid programs such as Petrocaribe and ALBA were powerful precursors to the recent regional summit in Brazil, at which Chavez made few headlines. Venezuela’s oil assistance abroad will indeed shrink with the lowered price of crude, but poor countries will also need less assistance.

Finally, yesterday’s OPEC summit concluded with a firm decision to cut output that will see Venezuela’s oil production go down by 189,000 barrels per day, according to the AP. The AP wrongly states that there is a discrepancy between Venezuela’s official oil output and its real output. Bloomberg reports that the new production cut lowers output by about 5.9 percent. Government officials in Venezuela emphasize that they seek to stabilize oil prices.

December 17, 2008

Latin American Summit Highlights Progress in the Region

A Latin American summit is taking place in Brazil with the participation of leaders from 31 countries. Sources report that leaders pointed to the absence of the U.S. as a sign of change. “There was a time when our friend Chavez was all alone,” said Brazilian President Lula da Silva, highlighting new progressive democratic governments in Bolivia and Paraguay. The AP reports that Chavez said: “The important thing is that we are here together, without the patronage of the empire.” The Times reports that the U.S. was made a “punching bag” at the event, but the AP quotes an expert who says: “This is a healthy development and should not be seen as a rejection of the U.S.”

The 12 member countries of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) agreed to form a South American Defense Council, according to AFP. The decision was reached in Brazil yesterday just before the broader Latin American summit. The AP wrongly states that Venezuela “challenged Brazil’s idea for a regional defense council” by holding joint military exercises with Russia, but the council was in fact Chile’s initiative, and South American countries have not expressed wariness over the maneuvers. Nor did U.S. leaders — according to CBS, the head of Southern Command said: “I don’t think that Russia and Venezuela are really serious about putting together a military coalition… to oppose anybody.”

OPEC oil ministers are meeting in Algeria today, and the AFP reports that they have moved to cut output by up to up to 2.6 million barrels. This could be the largest production cut made by OPEC since its formation. “We think it should stabilize at $70, $80, $90. That would be fair,” Chavez said yesterday, according to Reuters.

December 16, 2008

A New Era Begins as Latin American Leaders Meet in Brazil

Venezuela is planning to invest more in steel production. The steel plant Sidor, recently renationalized after a decade of private ownership, is slated to undergo improvements worth $900 million. The AP reports that Venezuela is also compensating the Argentine-Italian firm Ternium S.A. for its purchase of a 60% stake in Sidor.

El Nuevo Herald reports that some student groups in Venezuela are planning an “offensive” to block a democratic vote on presidential term limits. An anti-Chavez student leader who now has a post in the Caracas municipal government claims that Venezuela’s opposition is “at a media disadvantage.” In fact, though, the majority of TV, radio, and newspapers in Venezuela are private-owned and aligned with the political opposition. Venezuela’s media is extremely critical of the government, a fact which has helped publicize the cause of student groups that oppose Chavez. El Nuevo Herald shows its own bias by referring to anti-Chavez groups as simply “students,” while calling youths who support the elected government “pro-Chavez activists.” Venezuelans have the right to hold a national referendum on constitutional amendments when there is two-thirds approval in the National Assembly or a petition by 15% of the electorate.

The AP is reporting that an economic summit that begins in Brazil today is “the first time in recent memory that top Latin American leaders have met without the presence of an outside power.” President Chavez said: “There’s no doubt that a new historic era is beginning.”

OPEC countries will meet tomorrow in Algeria. The Financial Times reports that analysts say production will likely be cut by 2 billion barrels, following calls from Venezuela and other nations to reduce the amount of supplies on the market. Bloomberg quotes an energy analyst at a private firm in Vienna who says “There is too much oil on the market right now.”

December 15, 2008

With Patience and Good Faith, US-Venezuela Relations will Improve

U.S.-Venezuela relations “are going to improve” under Obama, President Chavez said yesterday. According to AFP, Chavez said Venezuela will work with the U.S. on energy issues, “the struggle against terrorism and international crime,” as well as anti-drug efforts. Specifically on the topic of drug cooperation, he stated: “We can remake an agreement with the DEA that respects the sovereignty of Venezuela.”

Chavez stressed the need for patience and good faith in repairing U.S.-Venezuela ties, according to the AP. He also expressed approval of Senator Clinton’s new role as Secretary of State. “I feel that there are winds of change,” Chavez said.

The AP reports that Bolivia is similarly poised to repair relations with the U.S. One expert called President Morales’ recent meetings with Congressmen in Washington “pretty revolutionary.” Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that a regional summit for Latin America that begins in Brazil tomorrow will exclude lame duck President Bush, signaling reduced U.S. influence in the hemisphere. According to Bloomberg, “The summit reinforces such regional initiatives as the Union of South American Nations, which was formed in May by 12 countries to mediate conflicts such as political violence in Bolivia, bypassing the U.S.-dominated OAS.”

Much media attention surrounds a visit by Cuban President Raul Castro to Venezuela. The trip is first over-seas visit as head of state. Yesterday, Castro and Chavez (pictured at right) signed joint projects on energy and communications worth $2 billion. The AP reports that President Chavez spoke during the visit to call on Obama to recognize a long-ignored extradition request for Luis Posada Carriles, who is wanted for crimes against humanity including the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger plane that killed 73 civilians. Posada Carriles is living in Miami, where he recently avoided charges of immigration fraud.

An op-ed in Missouri’s Springfield News-Leader weighs in on a possible national referendum on ending presidential term limits. The piece portrays the measure as a power grab for Chavez, claiming he wishes to “make himself South America’s most powerful leader.” Rather than seeking to dominate the region, though, Chavez has helped bring regional leaders together in new multilateral institutions such as ALBA and UNASUR to advance social aims and defend sovereignty. At home, Chavez’s reforms have succeeded in reducing poverty by over 30%, a fact which explains his continued popularity in Venezuela. This and other progress is enumerated in another op-ed from Global Research that sees Venezuela as experiencing “a democratic effort from the bottom up.”

December 12, 2008

United Socialist Party of Venezuela Begins Presidential Referendum Process

The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) began collecting signatures yesterday in support of a national referendum on presidential term limits. It will hand the list over to the National Assembly next Thursday, according to Venezuelanalysis, when lawmakers are scheduled to begin debating the measure. The AP does not mention the PSUV, wrongly attributing the signature collection campaign to President Chavez himself. It notes that Chavez expressed in a speech that allowing him to run for election again is “a guarantee of peace.”

Sources report that Manuel Rosales, the former Zulia governor and new mayor of Maracaibo who lost to Chavez in the last presidential race, was charged with illicit enrichment by prosecutors yesterday. The AP, Reuters, and the AFP quote liberally from statements made by Rosales at a press conference after his indictment for corruption, for which he could face three to ten years in jail. Rosales called it “a terrorist trial,” and joked about being accused of assassinating JFK.

An op-ed in the Guardian by former AP Venezuela correspondent Bart Jones suggests that President Chavez “is sure to give more ammunition to his critics” during his bid for reelection. He also says, though, that unlike other politicians in Venezuela including opposition members involved in the 2002 coup, “Chávez has generally remained within the bounds of democracy.”

On the economy, the Miami Herald reports that Venezuela’s 2009 budget has been approved by the National Assembly. Spending is up by 22 percent, despite decreased oil revenues. The Herald deems the budget “optimistic.” However, finance experts in Venezuela have pointed out the country’s foreign currency reserves are high, and that by boosting official spending and reducing discretionary spending, the budget shows increased transparency.

Venezuela is upping its natural gas production with the help of foreign partners, according to Bloomberg. Firms with a minority stake in the first two natural gas plants include Chevron, Mitsubishi, Energia Argentina, and Galp of Portugal. Finally, in oil news, Reuters reports that 19 companies are bidding for contracts in Venezuela’s Orinoco Belt projects.

December 11, 2008

Venezuela to Harness the Power of Wind

Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, is beginning to invest in renewable energy. A deal was signed yesterday with the Spanish company Gamesa for the purchase of 76 wind turbines that will be Venezuela’s first experience with using wind power. Reuters reports that the turbines cost $150 million and will generate 100 megawatts from a site located in the state of Falcon.

There are about 30,000 Cuban health workers participating in the “Barrio Adentro” social mission that provides free treatments to the poor in Venezuela, according to the country’s Health Minister Jesus Mantilla. AFP reports that Mantilla said Barrio Adentro has 6,571 clinics throughout Venezuela. Cuba provides doctors in exchange for Venezuelan goods such as discounted oil.

Sources report that Cuban President Raul Castro will make his first overseas trip on Saturday to visit President Chavez in Caracas. According to the AP, Castro’s trip was planned to coincide with an ALBA summit that has now been postponed.

The Christian Science Monitor asks whether any action will come of Ingrid Betancourt’s recent tour of countries including Venezuela to drum up support for further efforts to free hostages held by the FARC. The Chavez government is not, as the Monitor suggests, “ideologically akin” to the FARC. The Venezuelan government is a democratic one that does not adhere to the Marxism of the FARC, nor does it endorse armed political struggles. Chavez said as much earlier this year when he declared: “the guerrilla war is history.”

In cultural news today, the AFP reports that the three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone is making a film he says is “about President Chavez and the South American revolution.” According to AFP, “Stone has already with met with Chavez, who is reviled by the outgoing Bush administration.” Finally, see a review of a Venezuelan music ensemble in the San Francisco Chronicle and a review of a South Florida Venezuelan restaurant in the Miami Herald.

December 10, 2008

Ingrid Betancourt Lauds Chavez’s “Peaceful Revolution”

In Caracas yesterday, Colombia’s Ingrid Betancourt called President Chavez “a great democrat… who has conducted a peaceful revolution in Venezuela.” According to El Universal, she said she always trusted Chavez and flatly rejected allegations by U.S. and Colombian leaders that he ever had “clandestine or sinful liaisons with the FARC.”

Today is the 60th anniversary of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The AP reports that three former presidents of the Czech Republic, Poland, and South Africa wrote an open letter claiming that “dissent and different thinking” are not tolerated in Venezuela. This is proven wrong by a quick glance at the main headlines in the Caracas newspaper El Universal today, which read: “Chavez demanded to stop his attempt at reelection”; “Provea accuses the government of not guaranteeing the right to life”; “Students distribute flyers against constitutional amendment.”

AFP reports that Venezuela’s National Assembly is beginning to debate a constitutional amendment on presidential term limits. It needs two-thirds approval by lawmakers before being put to a popular vote. According to AFP, anti-Chavez lawmakers contend that a vote on term limits has already been held. However, last year’s referendum differed in that it asked citizens to vote on a package of 69 different reforms, many of which were widely debated, such as the issue of banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The Washington Post reports on responses to recession in Latin America. It cites a source that says Venezuela needs oil prices of $95 per barrel to remain stable economically, which is false. Prices have already fluctuated wildly over the last decade, and were as low as $23 when high rates of social spending began in 2003. Venezuela’s 2009 budget is based on estimated oil prices of $60 per barrel. The Post claims Venezuela will “undermine” poor countries by advocating for production cuts in OPEC to increase the value of oil. However, Venezuela’s push to stabilize oil prices in OPEC is accompanied by a very thorough and effective program to reduce the burden of high energy costs in Central America and the Caribbean. The program is called Petrocaribe.

Also in regional news, a new report on poverty in Latin America was released this week by ECLAC. It places Venezuela in the category of “medium-low poverty rates” (less than 32%). IPS reports that Venezuela is also noted for having perhaps the smallest income gap between the rich and the poor, showing progress on reducing inequality in a region known for being the most unequal in the world.

December 9, 2008

Ingrid Betancourt Thanks Chavez for His Generosity and Love

“We owe the first step to President Chavez,” Ingrid Betancourt said yesterday, speaking about the release of hostages by Colombia’s FARC rebels. In a press conference that was not covered in much of the English-language media, she said she wanted to “thank [President Chavez] personally for his commitment, his generosity, his love, his care, and all that he invested in working to achieve our liberation.”

The AP reports that the former FARC captive met with President Chavez yesterday (see image at right) as the final stop on a tour of the region to thank leaders for their support and urge more action. Chavez’s humanitarian mediation in Colombia this year freed six people — including three U.S. citizens — before it was curtailed by Colombian leaders.

A Houston Chronicle report on the armed forces in Venezuela makes a number of tenuous assertions. It claims the country’s new Military Reserves and Territorial Guard are almost exclusively at the service of President Chavez, and are “designed to protect the Venezuelan leader from internal strife.” Meanwhile, it later points out that the forces answer to a national commander, not the President. The armed forces in Venezuela do not repress demonstrations, and are required under the constitution to uphold human rights. Chavez’s own opposition to the military repression he witnessed as a young serviceman during the 1989 “Caracazo” massacre helped to inspire his political project emphasizing humanism.

Finally, another ruling came in the case of Venezuelan men accused of acting as unregistered foreign agents. The AP reports that “Suitcasegate” continued yesterday with a 15-month jail sentence for the second man to be convicted by U.S. prosecutors. Many experts consider the trial a political move by the U.S. against the Venezuelan government, but this fact is often ignored by the media.

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