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.

April 30, 2009

New Venezuelan Central Bank Head Appointed

Dow Jones reported yesterday that Venezuela’s National Assembly approved President Chavez’s decision to nominate Nelson Merentes to head the country’s Central Bank.  Merentes, who was Finance Minister from 2004 to 2007, was in charge of the purchasing and selling of structured notes made up of sovereign debt from other Latin American countries who sought to end their dependence on the International Monetary Fund.  The presidency of the Central Bank has been vacant since the death of its last president in December of last year.

The Washington Post has published yet another editorial encouraging the Obama Administration to adopt a harder line towards Venezuela.  According to the Post, the judicial measures taken against several government opponents facing corruption charges are evidence of a “a major new campaign against what remains of Venezuela’s democracy”.  Not mentioned in the heavily biased editorial is the fact that pro-government figures, like ex Mayor of Caracas Juan Barreto, are also being prosecuted for crimes involving corruption.

Political comment pieces in the Washington Times and the Kansas City Star include short references to President Obama’s friendly handshake with President Chavez at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad.  The Washington Times refers derisively to the “cerebral president’s” courteous attitude towards “America-hater Hugo Chavez”, despite the fact that the Venezuelan president has often stated that, while he had serious differences with the Bush Administration, he has wished to maintain the best possible relations with the people of the United States.

Finally, the Los Angeles Times has reported that a Florida pharmacy confirmed that a medication given to 21 prized polo horses from Caracas that died at the US Open polo tournament had been incorrectly prepared.   Franck’s Pharmacy of Ocala, Florida announced that “the strength of an ingredient in the medication was incorrect.”

April 28, 2009

Venezuela Evaluates Bilateral Relations with Peru

On Monday, Peru announced that it would grant Manuel Rosales, a leader of Venezuela’s political opposition, political asylum after he entered that country last week as a tourist. Venezuela in turn recalled its ambassador to Peru and announced, through its Foreign Ministry, that it would be “evaluating” bilateral relations with Lima. Rosales had been scheduled to face trial on charges of having engaged in illicit use of public funds during his term as governor of the State of Zulia. Rosales has denied the charges and accused state prosecutors of engaging in a “political lynching.” Last Friday, Interpol announced that it had sent out an international warrant for Rosales’ detention in response to a request from a Venezuelan court. Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry called Peru’s decision to grant amnesty to Rosales a “mockery of international law.”

More opinion pieces have appeared in the press commenting on President Obama’s brief but friendly exchanges with President Chavez during the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago from the 17th to the 19th of April. A Kansas City Star op-ed defends Obama’s decision to engage with the Venezuelan leader remarking that Chavez “has a movement of Venezuelans behind him; he has many powerful allies; and he has a lot of oil. We have to work with him.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Times published a piece describing the significance of Eduardo Galeano’s book “The Open Veins of Latin America” which the Venezuelan president gave to Obama on the last day of the Summit. William Hamilton, professor at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro – told the Times that Chavez’s gift to Obama was a sincere gesture rather than a publicity stunt. “Chavez as well as people everywhere are impressed with Obama.” By giving this “rite-of-passage” reading to the US Commander-in-Chief, argues Hamilton, Latin Americans are “giving us a chance to renew our deepest values and redeem our image as a nation.”

Empire Still Kicking, Venezuela Still Kicking Back

The AFP reports that on Friday President Chavez said that while he and President Obama exchanged warm greetings during the Summit of the Americas, the US empire is still “alive and kicking.”

Labor leaders from Delaware left on Sunday as a delegation traveling to Venezuela to participate in meetings and dialogue with the Venezuelan government, businesses, and labor leaders, Delaware Online reports. Delaware was one of at least seven states in which discounted heating oil for those in need was delivered by the Venezuela-owned company CITGO.

On Sunday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki visited Venezuela and announced that his country would open a diplomatic mission in Venezuela. Malki and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro on Monday were set to sign a joint communique establishing diplomatic relations between Venezuela and the Palestinian Authority, AFP reports.

On Sunday, President Rafael Correa was easily re-elected, winning with 52% of the vote, and a 24% point lead against his closest rival. A Reuters article stated that this was “another victory” for the a new generation of left-leaning Latin American leaders like President Chavez who have challenged Washington’s agenda in the region.

Finally, an opinion piece in the Washington Times argues that President Obama lowered his and America’s moral standing by shaking President Chavez’s hand during the Summit of the Americas. The piece makes several baseless allegations, including the claim that the Venezuelan government supports the FARC guerilla army in Colombia.

April 23, 2009

Venezuela Alerts Interpol in Corruption Case

On Wednesday, Republican legislators criticized Barack Obama for shaking President Chavez’s hand last weekend. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dismissed saying “I found it somewhat amusing, to be honest…why should we be afraid of shaking somebody’s hand?, Reuters reports.

Manuel Rosales,a Venezuelan opposition leader who fled to Peru seeking asylum because he believes corruption charges against him are politically motivated, has said that he will fight Chavez from Peru, the AFP reports. However, Peru’s Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde said that Rosales could not use his country as a political platform. “Peru can’t be used as a political platform for any foreigner because that would violate the very nature of the refuge or political asylum that could be granted,” he added. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the Venezuelan courts have issued an arrest warrant for Rosales and sent out alerts to Interpol after Rosales failed to appear at a preliminary hearing.

Finally, more reports are circulating regarding Venezuela’s donation of an island in the Delaware River to New Jersey. The New Jersey Star-Ledger reports that a ceremony of the transfer of Petty Island from Venezuela’s Citgo to the State of New Jersey was canceled due to miscommunication between Citgo and Governor Corzine’s office.

April 22, 2009

Sometimes a Handshake is Just a Handshake

More articles are circulating regarding the several brief meetings between Presidents Chavez and Obama this past weekend. Reuters reports that President Obama received a sharp rebuke from several Republican politicians for these meetings. Obama dismissed their concerns by mentioning that the 2008 presidential campaign proved that American voters want engagement. “The American people didn’t buy it,” Obama said, referring to the argument that U.S. engagement towards foreign leaders could be perceived as “weakness.” The two countries have already begun talks on reinstating ambassadors.

The BBC reports that Venezuelan opposition leader and Mayor of Maracaibo, Manuel Rosales failed to appear in court on the first day of his trial on alleged illicit enrichment. Reuters reports that Manuel Rosales believes the trial is politically motivated and that he escaped from hiding and is now in Peru where he will seek political asylum.

A Boston Herald editorial asserts that the Summit of the Americas has “turned into a thug-fest, a showcase for the hemisphere’s bullies to express their contempt for their big, bad neighbor to the north.” The author of the piece fails to take into account the fact that these ‘thugs’ are actually democratically elected leaders of their respective countries, or that the hemisphere’s leaders interactions with Obama were cordial, if not friendly.

Finally, a letter to the editor in the Washington Times, argues that President Obama was correct in reaching out to President Chavez, adding that “It would ill serve our president and our people if Mr. Obama were to enter the world stage with preordained hatred and contempt for the leaders of nations with which we have been at odds in the past.”

April 20, 2009

Respect and Better Relations between Venezuela and the US

On Friday and Saturday, President Chavez and President Obama exchanged warm handshakes and chatted several times during the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. Chavez gave Obama the book “The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent,” by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano. On Sunday, President Obama described his several brief meetings with President Chavez over the weekend as good steps, the Washington Times reports.

President Chavez also announced, at the end of the summit on Saturday, that he will send a new Venezuelan ambassador to the U.S. – Roy Chaderton, who is currently Venezuela’s ambassador to the Organization of American States. On Sunday, the U.S. State Department said that it would work towards sending an ambassador to Caracas, following a dialogue between President Chavez and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, AFP reports.

President Obama received sharp rebuke from several Republican politicians for his amicable meeting with Chavez, Chicago Tribune reports. Obama dismissed such concerns, saying the 2008 presidential campaign proved that American voters want engagement. “The American people didn’t buy it,” Obama said, referring to the argument that U.S. engagement towards foreign leaders could be perceived as “weakness.” He added “there’s a good reason the American people didn’t buy it, because it doesn’t make sense.”

Finally, on Sunday, President Chavez announced the creation of a new elite military unit, and the acquisition of surface-to-air missiles from Russia, AP reports. Chavez stated “We don’t want wars with anyone, but we’re obligated to equip ourselves and have a military that is increasingly dedicated to the country.”

April 17, 2009

Chavez Holds Out for Equality in the Americas

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that while no bilateral meeting between President Obama and President Chavez is scheduled during the Summit of the Americas, if Chavez were to approach the US President, it is likely he would agree to talk, CNN reports.

On Thursday, President Chavez said that Venezuela will vote against the Summit of the Americas declaration, arguing that it treats Latin America as subservient to the interests of the United States, AP reports. According to the Miami Herald, Chavez said of the declaration, that it was “as if time had not passed.”

At a meeting in Venezuela, of ALBA-member nations, President Chavez announced the creation of a new regional currency ‘Sucre,’ which he expects will enter into effect in 2010 as an electronic currency to facilitate trade between the member countries. The new regional currency will provide an alternative to the U.S. dollar frequently used for trade throughout the hemisphere. Chavez added that he hoped other nations in South and Central America would later also participate in using the currency.

An editorial in the Dallas News argues that President Obama should ignore Chavez and try to divide the alliance between Cuba and Venezuela, by opening up trade and travel to the island nation.

Finally, in regional news, Bolivian police in Santa Cruz said they foiled a plot to assassinate President Morales, and while attempting to arrest the suspects, a 30-minute gunbattle ensued, ending in the deaths of three suspects and the arrest of two others.

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.

April 7, 2009

Venezuela Hails US Initiative to Free the World from Nuclear Weapons

On Tuesday, President Chavez praised President Obama’s initiative to see the future world free of nuclear weapons, adding that he was open to cooperation with the Obama administration, AP reports. Chavez added “in the framework of respect, anything is possible: closer ties, including a possible dialogue.”

While in Japan, Chavez signed an agreement with Japan that could bring over $33 billion of additional investment to Venezuela’s oil industry. On Tuesday, Venezuela and Japan created a $4 billion investment fund, that will be part of a larger agreement on investment.

Finally, a Reuters article on recent corruption charges against opposition leaders Manuel Rosales and Raul Baduel asserts that the charges are part of a recent crackdown on the opposition.  It should be noted that, in the case of Rosales, the courts have not yet decided on whether the charges have legal merit. Meanwhile, Raul Baduel was recently arrested after having failed seven times to appear in court after having been summoned to testify about the disappearance of over $14 million during his tenure as defense minister.

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