VIO News Blog

January 21, 2009

Chavez Looks Forward to New Views, Respect from Washington

“From here we salute the people of the United States,” President Chavez said Tuesday in reference to the inauguration of President Obama, according to the New York Times. The AP reports that the Venezuelan leader said he has no illusions, but that he hopes the new U.S. president “looks to Latin America with a new view, with a new focus of respect toward the democracies and the changes.”

Chavez is referred to as a “world-changer” with immense energy in an AP interview with Oliver Stone, who spent time with the Venezuelan leader in order to make a documentary. “Bolivar is back,” he said, and the winds of change are “huge” and “sweeping all over the place.”

The Washington Post reports on Obama’s interview a week ago on the Spanish-language channel Univision. The president-elect had called Chavez an obstacle to progress in the region and said he was concerned by the allegations that “Venezuela is exporting terrorist activities or supporting malicious entities like the FARC.” Chavez’s response — that Obama “cast the first stone” — was reported as a sign of emerging tensions. Time Magazine reports that last May, Obama gave a speech in which he called the Venezuelan leader a “demagogue” with a “predictable yet perilous mix of anti-American rhetoric, authoritarian government and checkbook diplomacy.” Time indicates that the Summit of the Americas in April will provide another early test of Obama’s Latin America policy.

The Washington Times reports that over the weekend President Chavez “ordered authorities to break up student protests if they turn violent.” Reuters points out that opposition marches are indeed “sometimes violent,” but then assigns blame to the government with its headline: “Venezuela opposition attacked after Chavez speech.” Much of the press today similarly misrepresents the use of tear gas by Caracas police to disperse opposition marchers, failing to mention that it was a response to public outcry when the marchers blocked freeways and paralyzed the city. Authorities did not target the opposition; an AP news photo shows  pro-Chavez demonstrators being arrested by police over the weekend.

An editorial in the Chicago Tribune claims President Chavez “squandered the proceeds” of last year’s oil boom. However, the country has $42 billion in foreign currency reserves and tens of billions more in discretionary government funds. Venezuela also reinvested over $15 billion in the oil industry in 2008. The Tribune argues that the country is desperately courting private investors because of the dive in oil prices, when in fact, firms like Chevron, BP, and Shell never left Venezuela. They began the process of bidding on Orinoco Belt oil projects last year when the value of crude was still extremely high.

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