VIO News Blog

May 5, 2009

Thousands of Marches Celebrate May Day in Caracas

On Sunday, a Venezuelan military helicopter crashed near the border with Colombia killing a civilian and eighteen soldiers, including a brigadier general.  President Hugo Chavez announced that the Russian-made MI-17 helicopter crashed in the mountainous El Capote region while patrolling the 1400 mile border between Venezuela and Colombia. Referring to the latest State Department report on terrorism, Chavez said, “they say that we don’t patrol the border.  How many lives has Colombia’s conflict cost us Venezuelans?”

On May 1st thousands of Venezuelans marched throughout Venezuela to celebrate International Workers’ Day.  In Caracas, as has been the case for the last 8 years, two marches took place simultaneously along different routes.  The larger of the two marches was made up of pro-government unions while the smaller march was convened by the Venezuelan Workers’ Confederation, a union linked to the opposition party Accion Democratica whose past leadership supported the 2002 coup against Chavez.  A crowd of opposition marchers was confronted with tear gas by Caracas police and National Guard forces after trying to pass through a police barricade.

Also on May 1st, President Chavez strongly rejected the latest State Department report on terrorism that criticizes his government for alleged “sympathy” with the FARC rebel group in Colombia.  He also expressed skepticism regarding President Obama’s agenda of “change” for relations with Latin America, signaling that “if President Obama does not dismantle this savage blockade of the Cuban people, then it is all a lie, it will all be a great farce.”  On Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a group of foreign service officers that the Bush Administration’s attempts to isolate Venezuela and Bolivia “didn’t work” and that the new administration would engage in a more constructive approach.

An Op-ed in the Sunday Washington Post, written by Human Rights Watch Americas Director Jose Miguel Vivanco, recognizes that Venezuela has “competitive elections and independent political parties, media outlets, labor unions and civil society organizations.”   However, Vivanco also alleges that the Chavez government has implemented “authoritarian policies” that “undermined democratic institutions” which should be met with declarations of “concern” by the Obama Administration.  It should be noted that Human Rights Watch’s most recent report on Venezuela received extensive criticism from a group of US academics that questioned the report’s methodology.

Finally, a Washington Post editorial entitled “Beleaguered Mexico” falsely asserts that President Chavez backed a left-wing candidate during Mexico’s 2006 presidential election.  The Post’ editors, in keeping with their policy of extreme bias towards the Venezuelan government, reproduce a baseless claim that was first propagated by right-wing sectors of the Mexican media during the 2006 campaign.


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.

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.

November 4, 2008

President Chavez Sees Light at the End of the Tunnel in US-Venezuela Relations

As U.S. voters go to the polls today, AFP reports that President Chavez said he sees Barack Obama as “a small light on the horizon” for relations between the two countries. He predicted an Obama victory and said he looked forward to meeting him as “equals” and “with respect.” Chavez is often cast as an “anti-U.S.” figure in the media, which often passes over the context of aggression against Venezuela by the Bush administration.

Franklin Duran will appeal the guilty verdict he received yesterday from a jury in Miami, which propped up FBI allegations that Duran acted as an unregistered foreign agent. The AP reports that Duran’s lawyer contends that his client was entrapped by the FBI, and called the trial “a political circus” created by the U.S. government to discredit the Chavez government. According to the Miami Herald, Duran’s rep said, “We’re going to keep this fight up.”

If indeed the Miami trial is as politicized as some experts suggest, a Wall Street Journal editorial today provides the fruits of the FBI’s agenda. The Journal claims the trial shows President Chavez is a “danger to democracy” in the region. This is despite the fact that Venezuela has seen a democratic revival during Chavez’s two terms in office. The editorial also suggests that the Venezuelan leader funded the electoral victories of leaders in Argentina and elsewhere, an analysis that amounts to little more than a baseless conspiracy theory. Like many other new elected leaders in Latin America in recent years, Argentina’s Fernandez was legitimately popular, and would not have needed aid.

Finally, ahead of regional elections in Venezuela on November 23rd, Reuters provides a particularly flimsy report on the political scene there. Repeating  Chavez’s claim last week that he would seek to jail an opposition mayor aligned with those who staged a coup in 2002, Reuters wrongly states that campaigns for Venezuela’s ruling party revolve only around a “common enemy.” To make this suggestion, government policies are taken out of context.

October 27, 2008

Venezuela Engaged in Anti-Drug Effort with Spain

Spain’s foreign minister announced new anti-drug cooperation with Venezuela over the weekend, according to the Caracas newspaper El Universal. The initiative, proposed by Venezuela, is aimed at increasing the ability to interdict drugs being trafficked to Europe. Venezuela has made significant progress on fighting drugs — despite US criticism — even after cooperation with the DEA ended. A letter in Sunday’s Boston Globe enumerates that progress. Anti-drug policing has been stepped up on the border with Colombia, the world’s largest cocaine producer. The BBC reports though that one Colombian drug kingpin allegedly “bases himself” over the border in rural Venezuela.

Bloomberg reports on the economy, and indicates that President Chavez’s approval rating remained at 58 percent last month according to one source. A Washington Post editorial Saturday delights in the possibility that the US financial crisis could hurt so-called “rogue states.” It suggests that President Chavez is “disturbed” by lower oil prices and mocks his appeal to US leaders to “sit down and talk and come to an agreement because we need each other.” On Sunday, a similar New York Times editorial makes the erroneous claim that Venezuela “is said to be desperate for prices to go back above $100.” Reuters reports that Chavez said he supports a price band for oil that would see OPEC setting the value crude as low as $70 per barrel. The Venezuelan leader also indicated recently that the country could remain solvent at $55 per barrel, citing foreign currency reserves of about $40 billion.

Reuters and the AP report on a comment by Chavez that he would like to see Mayor Manuel Rosales of Zulia state jailed for his alleged role in coup plots. “He cannot continue in office. … He is one of those who wants to see me dead,” Chavez said. Notably, though, members of Venezuela’s opposition have not been actively discriminated against and were pardoned early this year for their roles in the 2002 coup.

Finally, press attention continues to swirl around Venezuela’s ties with Russia. The US has just sanctioned Russia’s state arms trader. The Washington Post reports though that “in an unusual move, it granted the company a partial waiver to permit the sale of nearly two dozen Russian helicopters to Iraq.”

October 24, 2008

“The Real Venezuela” Initiative Will Help Combat Media Terrorism

Venezuela’s Minister of Information and Communications, Andres Izarra, has announced a new initiative called “Venezuela de Verdad” (The Real Venezuela) to combat what he called “media terrorism,” according to the Caracas newspaper El Universal. Izarra spoke out against the “campaign of lies and manipulation” that he said prevents the country’s positive aspects from being known. Venezuela’s opposition-controlled media played an important role in the 2002 coup against Chavez.

Venezuelan officials have rejected as “interference” a resolution by the European Parliament condemning a measure that prevents hundreds of candidates, mostly from opposition parties, from running in regional elections due to pending corruption charges. The AP reports that Venezuela’s comptroller general explained, “It’s not a violation of human rights, it’s a measure against corruption.” Venezuela’s Vice Minister for Europe said that the vote was an inappropriate initiative spearheaded by Europe’s right-wing and stated: “With this resolution, the MEP’s have supported corruption.”

The “suitcasegate” trial is finishing up in Florida, according to the Washington Post and Miami Herald. Proceedings have consistently favored the prosecution, which claims Venezuelan businessman Franklin Duran operated as an unregistered foreign agent. The trial, though, has focused on allegations of corruption within the Chavez administration. “It’s shocking that a man who committed a crime in Argentina becomes a protected witness in Miami to make all kinds of accusations against the Venezuelan government,” said former Venezuelan Ambassador to the US Bernardo Alvarez.

In other international news, Russia is speaking out against US sanctions imposed yesterday on its state arms trader and other firms abroad including the Venezuelan Military Industries Company. This comes a day after US Treasury sanctions against an Iranian bank and its alleged affiliates, including a Venezuelan institution. The AP reports that the Bush administration also moved to press trade sanctions against Bolivia, alleging against all evidence that the country has failed to fight drug trafficking. Meanwhile, China has joined the Inter-American Development Bank in a move that may increase its presence in Latin America, the Los Angeles Times reports.

OPEC member states meet today and are expected to cut oil production in response to lagging demand in the US and globally. The AP reports that Venezuela supports the cut, along with Iran and other nations.

Finally, El Universal reports that President Chavez said that Venezuela would survive a drop in oil prices to $55 per barrel: “you can rest assured that Venezuela will not be affected by the economic crisis, because we can take any necessary steps to save money or to adopt austerity measures.”

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