VIO News Blog

April 15, 2009

Venezuela and Colombia make Bilateral Agreements

President Chavez yesterday called for Colombia’s FARC rebels to lay down their arms for four months as a way to revive peace talks with the Colombian government. The AP asserts that the remarks are a toughening of Chavez’s stance against the FARC, just a few days before the Summit of the Americas meeting at which both President Chavez and U.S. President Obama will be present. However, President Chavez’s remarks are not new developments – he has repeatedly called for the FARC to lay down their arms and enter into dialogue with the Colombian government.

Chavez also met with President Uribe of Colombia yesterday in Caracas. The two leaders signed various agreements aimed at boosting bilateral trade, energy supplies, and credit, Dow Jones reports.

On Tuesday, President Chavez appointed Jacqueline Farias as administrator of Caracas. The new post will serve as a direct link between the federal government and the city’s opposition-aligned mayor. The AP reports that Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma accuses the government of trying to subordinate his authority, however pro-Chavez lawmaker Jose Albornoz denied that the new law is politically motivated and stated that it will help improve basic services in the city, like trash collection.

In regional news, Bolivian President Evo Morales ended his five-day hunger strike yesterday, as Bolivian lawmakers finally passed a law allowing the president to run for re-election in December. In January, Bolivians approved a new constitution which requires fresh presidential elections.

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March 9, 2009

Venezuela Holds Seminars to Celebrate International Women’s Day

“I am not going to let anyone disrespect Venezuela’s sovereignty for anything in the world,” President Chavez said yesterday in response to comments by Colombia’s defense minister suggesting he would pursue so-called “terrorist” groups like the FARC beyond Colombia’s borders. The BBC reports that President Uribe “distanced himself from the defense minister’s remarks – calling them out of place and imprudent.” Meanwhile, according to AFP, Chavez spoke with Uribe “to confirm that we do not want conflicts with Colombia.”

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. IPS reported on the situation of women in Venezuela, where seminars were held to commemorate the day and raise awareness about services available to those facing domestic violence. These include the shelter known as Negra Hipolita and a 24-hour helpline set up by the National Institute for Women. IPS reports that more work is needed to enforce the 2007 Law on the Right of Women to a Life Free from Violence.

In economic news, Bloomberg reports that President Chavez may meet with the billionaire president of Empresas Polar, the beer and foodstuffs company that could face expropriation for violating price controls.

Oil prices will eventually rise again, according to Venezuelan Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez, who said the market should rebound after this year. OPEC meets this month to debate further production cuts to stabilize prices, according to Bloomberg.

January 26, 2009

Chavez Congratulates Bolivia on Inclusive New Constitution

President Hugo Chavez congratulated Mr. Morales, stating that the constitutions’ approval strengthens Morales’ “effort to push forward a peaceful and democratic revolution.” Bolivians made history yesterday with the passage of a new constitution which defines Bolivia as a “United Social State of Plurinational Communitarian Law.” The constitution recognizes education, healthcare, and housing as basic human rights. It gives indigenous peoples rights to ancestral land, and all 36 indigenous languages are officially recognized. Afro-Bolivians now have legal recognition as an ethnic group, for the very first time. The AP reports that President Morales praised the passage of the new constitution as the end of the ‘colonial state.’
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavezand Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe
On Saturday, President Uribe of Colombia and President Chavez met in the port town of Cartagena, agreeing that each country will contribute $100 million to a joint fund which will help create small businesses and finance infrastructure projects along the two countries’ shared border. The leaders also discussed manufacturing of primary car components locally to reduce imports. Chavez said that the two countries should aim for $10 billion in bilateral trade by 2009 and 2010, up from $7.2 billion in 2008. Amidst consistent accusations by Colombian and US officials of Chavez’s support for the FARC, the AFP quotes President Chavez stating “”I repeat it again: if I were supporting any subversive, terrorist or violent movement in Colombia, I wouldn’t be here.”

Chavez wrote in his newspaper column that his and other nations will reach toward the U.S. “full of fraternity,” but that President Obama must avoid old antagonisms. The AP makes the erroneous inference that a line out of Obama’s inaugural address which reads “those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent…the US will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” was intended for President Chavez. All international observers have confirmed that Venezuela’s elections are free and fair, and that Venezuela’s political opposition can freely dissent. Indeed, the political opposition enjoys widespread coverage in most of the privately owned media. Mr. Chavez wants to improve relations with the U.S., but noted that Washington ought to “open its fists” first.

The AP reported earlier today that a fire at an oil refinery in Western Venezuela injured seven people. Four firefighters and three refinery workers were injured. The incident did not affect oil production or exports.

October 17, 2008

Chavez to US: We Need Dialogue, We Need Each Other

“The U.S. is a great country,” President Chavez said yesterday in a speech in which he emphasized the need for dialogue between nations. Dow Jones reports that Chavez dismissed the idea of U.S. energy independence as a myth and an impossibility. “They want to free themselves of what? What we need to do is talk, we need to reach agreements. We need each other,” Chavez said.

In related news, the AP reports that U.S. presidential hopefuls have vastly overestimated the amount of money the U.S. spends on foreign oil; just $246 billion in 2007, instead of the often cited figure of $700 billion. Meanwhile, Reuters refers to Venezuela’s Chavez as a “price hawk” in OPEC, when in fact he has consistently advocated for fair and stable prices. Chavez has at times deemed the price of oil too low, and at other times said that it has become exaggerated, particularly at the expense of poor nations and communities. Venezuela sends 300,000 barrels per day of subsidized oil to needy countries in the region through programs like Petrocaribe.

The government of Venezuela is negotiating the purchase of tanks from Russia. According to AFP, the equipment is intended “to replace aging ordnance and to improve the country’s security and defense capabilities.” Venezuela’s aging U.S.-made military goods have become difficult to maintain in the years since the U.S. imposed an arms embargo preventing further purchases.

Six suspects have been detained in the October 1st murder of a student in Venezuela’s Western state of Zulia. The investigation is pending and motives remain unknown, but the AP reports that those arrested include three army intelligence agents and a police officer. Zulia, which borders Colombia, is a notoriously violent part of Venezuela. Colombia’s paramilitary violence is the subject of two articles today; the AP and Washington Post report that Human Rights Watch research shows President Uribe has blocked investigations of ties between his government and paramilitary thugs.

October 1, 2008

Latin American Leaders Unite to Condemn US “Casino” Economy

South American leaders met in Brazil yesterday. President Chavez and Brazil’s Lula da Silva held their own regular quarterly meeting, at which seven bilateral agreements were signed in the areas of iron and steel production, oil refining, agriculture, and housing. The leaders of Bolivia and Ecuador were also present, and all were critical of the US financial crisis, according to Bloomberg. Lula da Silva said: “Those that spent the last three decades telling us what to do, didn’t do what they had to do. The crisis is very serious and so profound that we don’t know how big it is.” The AP reports that President Chavez likened it to “a hundred hurricanes” and said that “the Washington consensus has collapsed.”

Other Latin American leaders have also spoken out, according to the AP; President Arias of trade-dependent Costa Rica said, “The managers of big business took huge risks out of greed.” Even the right-wing Bush ally Alvaro Uribe of Colombia complained, “The whole world has financed the United States, and I believe that they have a reciprocal debt with the planet.” A Washington Post headline reads that the US financialĀ  crisis “deepens divisions” in South America, but the situation appears quite the opposite.

US Congressmen sent a letter to President Chavez yesterday rebuking him for having expelled two Human Rights Watch employees after their very negative evaluation on his administration, according to the AP. The report, which accused the government of curtailing political rights and free expression, was rejected by Venezuelan officials. Human Rights Watch consulted opposition leaders for their report, which painted a limited picture of human rights in Venezuela. It also came after a series of US attacks, including US Treasury Department sanctions, State Department blacklistings against Venezuela on drugs and terrorism. Venezuelan officials viewed the report as more “meddling” in internal affairs.

July 14, 2008

Chavez Welcomes Uribe, Proposes Expanding Petrocaribe

President Chavez mended ties with Colombia’s Uribe last Friday in Caracas, setting aside tensions that stemmed from unproven allegations lodged by right-wing officials in the neighboring country. Chavez presented Uribe with a portrait of Simon Bolivar (pictured here). “We decided to completely turn the page. The storm has passed,” he said. The AP reports that the Venezuelan leader promised more cooperation on counter-drug efforts. After the meeting, he stated: “We will relaunch our ties, starting on a personal level and then moving on to political, social and economic relations.”

Yesterday, President Chavez proposed expanding the regional energy assistance program Petrocaribe to make it an “anti-hunger shield” for Latin America. At a meeting of Petrocaribe nations, Guatemala was welcomed was the 18th and newest member of the alliance. According to Bloomberg, countries can make 60% of oil purchases through the Venezuelan plan when crude prices exceed $100 a barrel. The AP reports that countries must pay 40% of their bill within 90 days, but the rest is due over a 25-year period at a fixed interest rate of 1%. New initiatives were also announced to boost agricultural production in the region, including a fund for farm equipment financed by Venezuela.

Controversy still surrounds a so-called “blacklist” of individuals facing corruption charges whom the Venezuela’s comptroller general has deemed ineligible to run in elections. The AP reports that an opposition march occurred yesterday. The Supreme Court, however, will rule on the constitutionality of the ban. The president of that institution said it does not “accept pressure from protests or the government.”

The issue of prison reform was raised yesterday in a public address by President Chavez, AP reports. He emphasized the need for an overhaul of the system to reduce violence and speed the review of cases. Finally, in cultural news, Venezuela took home its fifth Miss Universe title yesterday. To read more, visit VenWorld.

July 11, 2008

President Chavez Hosts Colombia’s Uribe Today in Caracas

Presidents Chavez and Uribe meet today in Caracas to discuss bilateral relations, according to the AP. Trade between the countries reached a record $6 billion last year, but ties suffered Colombia’s deadly raid on a FARC camp in Ecuador and subsequent campaign to accuse Ecuador and Venezuela of helping the rebels. The Colombian ambassador said that those accusations will not be discussed in today’s meeting. In related news, another AP story details spying by US and Colombian forces that enabled the recent rescue of hostages held by rebels.

A Washington Post op-ed cheers that rescue, but misleads readers by presenting the accusations against Venezuela and President Chavez as though they were fact. The claim that Chavez aided the FARC has not been verified by any independent source. INTERPOLĀ  could only determine that the evidence in question was not altered extensively after its alleged recovery. The claims surfaced after Uribe canceled humanitarian hostage talks by Chavez and resumed its militarized approach to the armed conflict. The Post op-ed deems the March 1st bombing it Ecuador “daring,” though it was a sneak attack that killed two dozen, including innocent Mexican students. The Post wrongly claims “we know” Chavez helped the FARC, but the origins and authenticity of the evidence offered by the Uribe government remains shrouded.

In economic news, the AP reports that Suriname and Guyana are considering Venezuela’s proposal to build a continent-wide natural gas pipeline. Suriname’s environment minister said the plan would bring financial gain, but he will consider long-term implications. The pipeline is designed to deliver energy security to the continent. The Financial Times looks at the auto industry in Venezuela and government measures to offset reliance on imports. The pro-free market paper sees too much “red tape.”

Finally, a Miami Herald column takes aim at Ecuador, wrongly stating that President Correa is “silencing” the media. Officials have seized the assets of a wealthy family that owns TV broadcasters for its $661 million in debt to the state Deposit Guarantee Agency (AGD) after an embezzling scandal. By selling the assets, the expect to recover only a fraction of that amount. Both the Miami Herald and the Economist claim that press freedoms in Ecuador and Venezuela have suffered under leftist leadership, but the government does not censor the opposition-controlled media in either country.

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