VIO News Blog

June 18, 2009

Suspects Detained in Killing of Opposition Leader

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 2:22 pm
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The Spanish news agency EFE reports that six individuals suspected of involvement in the recent killing of opposition leader Jhonathan Rivas have been detained by Venezuelan authorities. Rivas, a regional leader of the Primero Justicia opposition party, was shot and killed last Saturday in a public square in the city of El Tigre. According to another opposition leader who suffered a blow to the head, the attack was perpetrated by a group of Chavez supporters. Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami did not identify the detained suspects but stated that the government had no tolerance for violence, no matter the “ideological and political orientation of those who may be affected.”

The Venezuelan foreign ministry released a statement on Tuesday firmly rejecting “the ferocious and unfounded campaign to discredit” the June 12 presidential election in Iran and demanding “the immediate end to maneuvers to intimidate and destabilize the Islamic Revolution.” Though defeated candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi and much of the international media have suggested that massive fraud took place during the election, various independent analysts and pollsters have argued that there is no proof of significant irregularities and that recent polls predicted a large victory for President Ahmadinejad. Whatever the case may be, the current media hype surrounding the Iranian elections and based largely on unsubstantiated claims of fraud and large demonstrations of primarily middle-class Iranians, bears a troubling resemblance to past media-driven electoral controversies in Venezuela.

A smaller media frenzy was generated by rumors that Venezuelan health authorities planned to quarantine a cruise ship anchored at Margarita Island due to the presence of at least three crew members diagnosed with swine flu. Though it was initially reported that the vessel would be quarantined until June 24th, in the end, Venezuelan passengers were allowed to disembark and the ship continued on to the island of Aruba.

El Universal reports on the decision of Venezuela’s Autonomous Service for Intellectual Property (SAPI) to post on its web site all “technical information” linked to patents licensed in Venezuela. The head of the institution explained that the decision was made in order to allow Venezuelan technicians “to change and improve new technologies that have already been developed.” President Chavez has also instructed the former head of SAPI and current Minister of Trade, Eduardo Saman, to recommend revisions to the country’s property rights legislation in order to ensure that “patents cannot be a restriction or a trap.” While some see this move as a threat and “unconstitutional”, there is an increasing consensus in the developing world that patent laws need to be made more flexible in order, for example, to allow for greater access to life-saving medicine for the poor.

Finally, the Miami Herald reports that Venezuelan expatriates in southern Florida are collecting funds to help opposition news channel Globovision pay a $4 million government fine. The fund-raising drive was initially organized by Venezuelan opposition student groups and is apparently now the hottest topic of conversation among Florida Venezuelans. Venezuela’s ChargĂ© d’Affaires in Washington told the Herald that due process has been respected in the case of Globovision and that “attempts to portray the station as a victim are nothing but theater.”

June 17, 2009

Prosecutors Investigate Globovision for Inciting Crime

On Tuesday, Venezuela’s telecommunications regulator CONATEL instructed prosecutors to investigate whether or not the Globovision news channel incited a crime when it aired the comments of a newspaper editor who stated that President Chavez could end up “hanging” like the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. A spokeswoman for CONATEL stated that if the investigation determined that Globovision was responsible for supporting criminal activities, it’s broadcasting license “could be revoked.”

An article posted on CNN’s web site presents a variety of quotes from individuals and organizations that are critical of this and other CONATEL investigations of Globovision. The article, however, fails to present a single contrasting point of view or critical background information regarding, for instance, the role that the news station played during the April 2002 coup against Chavez. CNN also quotes the NED-funded NGO Reporters without Borders making the false claim that Globovision is currently the only Venezuelan television station that has “kept up its criticism of the government.” In fact, as any frequent watcher of Venezuelan television knows, other private channels such as Televen and Venevision continue to frequently air criticism of the government, while the RCTV network broadcasts intensely critical views of the government on cable and satellite television.

In recent weeks, pamphlets threatening to “socially cleanse” communities of transvestites, sex workers and thieves, among others, have been distributed throughout communities in western Venezuela, according to Venezuelanalysis. Signed by a group named “Black Eagles”, believed to be a splinter group of the defunct Colombian paramilitary organization A.U.C., the pamphlets have been accompanied by violent acts, including the brutal murder of a transvestite sex worker in the state of Merida. Venezuela’s national police investigation unit has launched an investigation into the pamphlets and the murders. Meanwhile, President Chavez and the Venezuelan Minister of Interior and Justice have accused the governor of Tachira, Cesar Perez, of conspiring with paramilitary groups to mount a violent plan to secede from Venezuela.

The communications industry research group Telegeography reports that President Chavez has invited Caribbean countries to share the use of Venezuela’s new Simon Bolivar satellite which began to operate in January. Science and Technology Minister Jesse Chacon explained that the satellite would allow Venezuela to provide high speed internet and TV services to remote areas of Venezuela. He also announced that the government would soon launch a free public Wi-Fi network that will cover 50 square kilometres in the city of Barquisimeto.

The Venezuelan government announced Monday that CADIVI – the country’s foreign exchange administrator – would be allocating $2.5 billion to the national car industry to allow for more imports of motor vehicles and car parts following a plunge in car sales during the month of May. The government has limited the amount of dollars made available to the industry in order to decrease car imports and boost national production.

In other economic news, Bloomberg reports that the Venezuelan National Assembly has approved a law requiring all chemical production to be placed under the control of government-controlled joint ventures. A number of strategic industries have been nationalized since 2007, including Venezuela’s steel, cement and electrical industries.

June 12, 2009

Venezuela To Host ALBA Summit

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 2:11 pm

On Thursday President Chavez confirmed that Venezuela will be hosting an extraordinary summit of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of our America (ALBA) on June 24th at the site of the Battle of Carabobo which took place on the same day in 1821 and led to the independence of Venezuela. The summit will officialize the incorporation of Ecuador into ALBA, a group of countries that promotes regional relations based on solidarity, social development and equitable trade. The ALBA group is currently comprised of Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica, Honduras and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

A spokeswoman for Venezuela’s Coca Cola affiliate told the press that the Venezuelan government had communicated its concern over the possible health risks posed by an ingredient in the company’s new Coke Zero soft drink product. The company has begun a “process of demonstrating [to the government] that there are no health risks” the spokeswoman said. On Wednesday Health Minister Jesus Mantilla announced that distribution of the product would be halted while the government investigated its ingredients.

While many stories have appeared recently regarding Venezuela’s Globovision news network and its tense relations with the government, the alternative internet news site Upside Down World focuses on a new “counter cultural” Venezuelan television channel that has received scant attention in the U.S. press. The station, called Avila TV, has a young, progressive staff that “covers the underground culture of Caracas while trying to promote alternative lifestyles.” Created as a response to the April 2002 “media coup” and funded by the government, the station’s programming is aimed at a young audience and uses hip hop and other urban cultural forms to combat consumerism and promote socialist values.

An article published by NACLA and written by Steve Ellner, a U.S. academic based in Venezuela, takes an in-depth look at how Venezuela’s community councils function. Created by law in 2006, there are approximately 20,000 councils in Venezuela today dedicated to planning and managing neighborhood development projects. According to Ellner, they “represent not only the government’s most recent success in jump-starting popular participation, but also a radical break with the past, when these activities were undertaken by city, state, or national government.” We reproduce the first section of Ellner’s analysis here and provide a link to the complete article for those who are interested.

June 11, 2009

Coke Zero Withdrawn from Venezuelan Stores

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 1:35 pm

The Venezuelan Health Ministry announced yesterday that the new soft drink product “Coke Zero” would be withdrawn from national circulation while health authorities investigated its ingredients for potentially unsafe substances. The decision has generated a flurry of articles and television news reports that suggest that the measure is linked to a recent wave of nationalizations or sparked by “anti-U.S. motivations.” No mainstream news outlet, however, has sought to address the real health risks that may be posed by the new product despite the fact that consumer advocacy groups and medical experts have signaled that at least two of Coke Zero’s ingredients – aspartame and acesulfame potassium – are potentially carcinogenic.

President Chavez held a meeting with Jean Ping, President of the African Union, yesterday afternoon, to discuss preparations for the Summit of African and South American leaders that will take place in Caracas at the end of September. The two leaders talked about building “South-South” cooperation between both continents and discussed the implications of the global economic crisis. After the meeting, Ping told the press that he considered that President Chavez has “become a spokesperson for the nations that do not have a voice … especially in Africa.”

The Washington Post once again focuses its attention on the Venezuelan government’s alleged mistreatment of the opposition news channel Globovision in an article published today. The article cites the police search of the home of the channel’s CEO, Guillermo Zuloaga, without explaining that the measure didn’t involve Globovision and was in fact part of an investigation of suspected illicit activities related to Zuloaga’s car dealerships. Interestingly, a spokesperson for the Committee to to Protect Journalists is at first quoted in the article excoriating President Chavez for “a direct attack against freedom of expression” but later recognizes the clear “role the private media played in the [April, 2002]coup” and laments that “there are no judicial sentences against them.”

In response to the many articles in the international media on the Venezuelan government’s alleged attacks on free speech, the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) has posted a piece that suggests that the Chavez administration “has legitimate reasons for holding politically motivated news channels accountable.” The piece also considers that the foreign news media has promoted “local distortions seeking to demonize the Chavez government” rather than carefully examining the legal basis for the measures taken against Globovision.

Finally, the national soccer teams of Venezuela and Uruguay ended a World Cup qualifying match in a 2-2 draw in Puerto Ordaz last night. While Uruguay can no longer qualify as a participant in the 2010 FIFA Cup in South Africa, Venezuela is still in the running.

June 9, 2009

Venezuela Continues to Pay Debt Owed to Oil Service Providers

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 1:09 pm

The Dow Jones Newswire reports today that Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA has paid close to half of the outstanding debt owed to service providers since last year. Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez announced that the debt, which has now been reduced to $7.5 billion, will be fully paid by the end of this year. Ramirez also said that, though more oil-service providers would be taken over by PDVSA, there were no plans to nationalize drill operators as they aren’t seen as exercising a monopoly within their sector of activity.

In other energy news, Brazilian President Lula da Silva said that he was “optimistic” that a long-delayed agreement between Brazil’s state oil company Petrobras and PDVSA would be finalized within 90 days. Presidents Lula and Chavez agreed last year to joint ownership of a refinery in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco that is set to refine 200,000 b/d ofVenezuelan and Brazilian crude. However, talks broke down between the two state firms over the price that will be paid for Venezuelan crude among other issues.

Following a month-long registration drive, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has increased its membership to 6.7 million members, according to party vice-president Aristobulo Isturiz. 40% of the more than one million new members of the pro-Chavez party are under the age of 26, Isturiz told the press. Meanwhile, close to a dozen opposition parties announced the creation of a political alliance called “Democratic Unity Roundtable” that will attempt to form common strategies to address a host of political and social issues. Venezuela’s opposition movement has long been plagued by internal divisions and alliances formed between its key players have tended to unravel rapidly.

The president of Peru, Alan Garcia, has suggested that the governments of Venezuela and Bolivia have played a role in deadly clashes between indigenous protesters and police in Peru’s northern jungle. The embattled leader has provided no evidence of any sort of link between these governments and the protest movement whose demands are focused on repealing a series of decrees that will allegedly result in the exploitation of indigenous lands by logging and oil companies. The decrees were issued by Garcia in order to pave the way for the implementation of a free trade agreement with the U.S. that has been touted as a model by the Obama administration.

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