VIO News Blog

December 3, 2008

Manuel Rosales Summoned by Venezuelan Attorney General

Manuel Rosales, the opposition candidate who lost to Hugo Chavez in the last presidential elections, has been called to a hearing by Venezuela’s Attorney General. According to the AP and Bloomberg, prosecutors will determine next Thursday whether to file criminal charges against him for the misuse of public funds.

An electoral official in Venezuela has said that a referendum to amend the constitution and end presidential term limits could occur in February, according to the AP. Voters can bring about a referendum through petitioning, as they did in 2004, but fifteen percent (about 2.5 million) will need to sign on. Reuters reports that President Chavez also mentioned the end of February as a possible referendum date. The Electoral Council has 30 days to hold a vote once a petition is complete. The Miami Herald insists that the initiative is a bid by Chavez to become “president-for-life” — an inaccurate statement given that the Venezuelan leader would simply be allowed to compete in future democratic elections, giving voters more candidates from which to choose. The Herald also puts inflation rates in Venezuela at 35 percent, which is about 5 percentage points too high, according to estimates published this month in the Caracas newspaper El Universal.

The BBC reports that Venezuela’s opposition is determined to block a referendum on presidential term limits. They say the initiative was rejected by voters a year ago, when a set of 69 constitutional reforms did not pass. According to a Dow Jones article which quotes only opposition sources, the referendum is being pushed through quickly ahead of an impending economic crash. Many experts, though, do not share Dow Jones’s picture of a “bleak economic outlook” for 2009; Venezuela’s economy has been deemed robust and able to survive lowered oil prices by analysts from CEPR and IDEAGlobal.

In other economic news, the Financial Times reports that private companies including banks have thrived under the administration of President Chavez, giving rise to new business elites. It profiles Wilmer Ruperti, who broke the PDVSA oil sabotage in 2002 and has become one of the so-called “Boligarchs.” The subtext here is that corruption permeates the Chavez administration — a claim also made in the Miami Herald and Christian Science Monitor today. According to one expert, oil booms have always produced new elites, and this “is history repeating itself.”

Finally, the Christian Science Monitor reports on crime in Venezuela and citizen concerns about security despite the fact that “extreme poverty and unemployment have been halved since Chávez took office.” It deems Caracas the “murder capital” of South America, but does not mention that murder rates in Venezuela overall are lower than those in neighboring Colombia and in El Salvador. The president, meanwhile, has not been “punished at the ballot box” for high crime rates because many understand the problem as an inherited one.

CORRECTION: yesterday’s roundup incorrectly stated that Reuters and Time Magazine articles portrayed President Chavez’s call for new legislation ending presidential term limits as “autocratic.” The word autocratic ought not to have had quotation marks around it, for it was not taken verbatim from either article.

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