VIO News Blog

May 1, 2009

Chavez Reaffirms Neutrality Regarding Colombia’s Internal Conflict

Following the killing of 8 soldiers near Colombia’s border with Venezuela, President Chavez declared that his government would not allow FARC rebel forces to use Venezuelan territory to mount assaults inside the neighboring country.  Chavez also reaffirmed his country’s traditional policy of neutrality regarding Colombia’s internal conflict and stated that Venezuela would “not permit any type of armed incursion… wherever it comes from.”  Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro earlier announced that his government would collaborate with Colombia on efforts to capture the FARC guerrilla members responsible for the killing of the 8 soldiers.

Reuters reports that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told foreign service officers today that she did not consider that it was in the US’s interest to attempt to isolate countries like Venezuela and Bolivia, as the Bush Administration had done.  “The prior administration tried to isolate them, tried to support opposition to them, tried to turn them into international pariahs,” said Clinton. “It didn’t work.”  The Secretary of State explained that the failed policy had allowed Iran, Russia and China to make “disturbing” political and economic gains in the region over the last few years.

An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal repeats the worn out claim that the Venezuelan government promotes anti-Semitism, despite the fact that President Chavez and other officials have strongly condemned all forms of anti-Jewish behavior and have engaged with Venezuelan Jewish community groups in a manner that has drawn praise from international organizations like the Jewish Latin American Congress.  Rather than consulting representatives of Venezuela’s established Jewish organizations like the Confederation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela, the author of the piece refers to the extreme views of Pynchas Brenner, a notorious radical opponent of the Chavez government, and US rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld.  The piece also re-hashes the discredited claim that President Chavez made anti-Semitic statements in December 2004, despite the fact that Venezuela’s Jewish community representatives argued against the claim.

Finally, US Republicans have produced a new video featuring the recent handshake between Presidents Obama and Chavez at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad.  The video, that has been broadcast via the internet, suggests that Obama’s decision to have courteous exchanges with Chavez and other leaders deemed to be unfriendly to US interests, has weakened the country’s national security.

April 29, 2009

Rosales Hides Behind Right-Wing Friends

El Universal reports that the Peruvian government has sent conciliatory signals to Venezuela despite its decision to offer asylum to opposition politician Manuel Rosales who faces charges of corruption in the Venezuelan courts. While the Venezuelan foreign ministry recalled its ambassador in Lima and stated that the relationship with the Andean nation was under “evaluation”, Peru has maintained its ambassador in Caracas. Peruvian President Alan Garcia declared that his government had “a position of friendship with the Venezuelan government” but also had a policy of providing “shelter to whomever feels threatened.” German Saltron, Venezuela’s representative to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, contested the notion that Peru’s offer of asylum was based on “humanitarian reasons”, signaling President Garcia’s “political and ideological affinity” with Rosales and his alleged long-standing friendship with opposition leader Carlos Andres Perez.

On Tuesday, 17 individuals were arrested in Curacao for their alleged involvement in an international drug ring that provided financial support to the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon. According to a statement released by Dutch Authorities, the arrests were carried out thanks to a coordinated operation involving police and judicial organisms from Curacao, the Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia, Venezuela and the United States.

Also on Tuesday, ex President Jimmy Carter announced that he would be meeting with the Presidents of Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru over the coming days.

The AP reports that Iran’s defense minister has held talks with his Venezuelan counterpart in Caracas. The Iranian official told Iran’s state media that his country was developing a long-term cooperation plan with Venezuela; however, Venezuelan officials declined to make any comments regarding the ongoing talks.

In economic news, Dow Jones reports that the value of the Bolivar has strengthened against the dollar in Venezuela’s parallel market as a result PDVSA’s announcement of plans to emit several billion dollars worth of dollar-denominated debt. Meanwhile, President Chavez approved the emission of 12 billion bolivars ($4.8 billion) in treasury notes in order to cover the budgetary gap generated by lower oil prices. The National Assembly has authorized the selling of up to $15.8 billion in local treasury bonds before the year’s end.

Finally, on Tuesday Venezuela’s state oil company announced that the round of bidding on three projects to develop the heavy-oil fields in the Orinoco basin has been delayed three months. The company will announce the bidding results on August 14th rather than May 7 as had been originally announced.

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.

March 25, 2009

Venezuelan City has new Sister in Wisconsin

Tom Barrett, mayor of Milwaukee and Edgar Carracaso, mayor of Carora, signed a sister city agreement on Tuesday. It marks the first such agreement between a Venezuelan and a U.S. city in the past 10 years. Mayor Carrasco stated that “Our governments may have differences, but that doesn’t offset our countries’ abilities to know each other.” Carrasco added that Carora will be developing the Casa El Alba to promote cultural and economic ties between the two cities and offer US visitors information about the city of Carora and Venezuela.

Venezuela’s biggest mosque, located in downtown Caracas, was robbed and ransacked according to the Associated Press. No suspects have yet been identified. An administrator said it was the second time the mosque had been broken into since September of last year.  In February of this year, an important Caracas synagogue was also broken into and vandalized.  Though various news outlets presented the incident as an “anti-Semitic” attack, a police investigation indicated that the primary motive was theft.

Venezuela’s Supreme Court has decided to move the corruption trial of Maracaibo’s mayor Manuel Rosales from the state of Zulia to Caracas, as judges in Rosales’s home state were allegedly caught meeting with the opposition mayor. Four judges in Zulia have also been suspended from their duties by the Supreme Court for participating in the alleged meeting. Rosales asserted that the decision was made by the Chavez government in order to find an “obedient judge.” Zulia lawmaker Calixto Ortega, however, stated that at least one of the four sanctioned judges was in a position to exercise direct influence on the Rosales case.

In economic news, the AP reports that progress is being made in establishing the Bank of the South, a regional financial institution designed to provide an alternative to the IMF and World Bank, both of which have strong ties to the US Treasury Department. The Bank of the South is expected to launch its operations in May with $10 billion in initial capital. Its members are currently Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

Finally, McClatchy reports that CIA cybersecurity expert Steve Stigall has claimed that Venezuela’s electronic voting system is not secure and was tampered with by President Chavez during a 2004 referendum on his presidency. Without providing any evidence to back his assertions, Stigall stated that “it was my understanding that” the computer program used for the audit of the voting machines “was provided by Chavez.” Stigall’s claims, made before a hearing in Orlando, Florida, run contrary to the assessment made by independent electoral monitoring missions from the Carter Center and the OAS, that concluded that the 2004 elections had been fair and transparent.

March 24, 2009

Venezuelan Economy Adjusts to Oil Prices

After President Chavez on Saturday announced a series of economic measures to adjust for lowered oil prices, the Associated Press reports that on Monday several analysts warned that the steps would not be enough to tackle the more serious economic problems of inflation and slowed growth. Reuters quotes a Morgan Stanley analyst as saying that, after several years of record economic growth, Venezuela’s economy will likely contract by 4% this year.  However, with over $70 billion in foreign currency reserves, Venezuela is sticking to its plan to invest $20 billion in non-oil sector development projects this year.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Venezuela’s Bolivar strengthened on Monday in the parallel market after Chavez ruled out a currency devaluation.

The AFP reports that President Chavez denied rumors of a rift between Raul Castro and himself, and described such talk as “a little campaign.” The rumor of such a rift was promoted by former Mexican foreign minister, Jorge Castaneda, who later signaled that he has absolutely no evidence to back up his claim.

Honduran president Manuel Zelaya has proposed that the nation’s charter be re-drafted in order to adapt to the “substantial and significant changes” that have occurred since the adoption of the current constitution in 1982. Zelaya wants voters to decide by June 24th whether a constitutional assembly should be convoked. The move would follow in the footsteps of other countries in the region such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

In an op-ed distributed by the Jewish Telegraph Agency, Angelo Rivero Santos, the charge d’affaires of the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, responds to allegations of anti-Semitism directed at the government of Venezuela.   Rivero states that “Venezuela’s Jewish community is an integral and essential part of our country’s singularly diverse society.” Given President Chavez’s efforts to fight racism and discrimination,  accusations of anti-Semitism have been “especially painful for the government of Venezuela.”  But Rivero signals that these accusations have been made primarily by organizations based outside of Venezuela and that an organization representing Venezuelan Jews has rejected the claims and expressed disappointment at not having been consulted beforehand.

Finally in an interview by Fareed Zakaria, President Lula da Silva of Brazil was questioned about why his government does not speak out against how Hugo Chavez has “destroyed democracy in Venezuela.” Da Silva responded by stating that “…no one can say that there is no democracy in Venezuela. He (Chavez) has been through five, six elections. I’ve only had two.”  There have in fact been fourteen national elections in Venezuela since Chavez first came to power in 1998, all of which have been characterized as free and fair by independent electoral monitoring groups.

March 2, 2009

State Department’s Report on Venezuela “Plagued with Lies”

On Thursday, the Venezuelan and Bolivian governments firmly condemned the U.S. State Department’s report on Human Rights practices in their respective countries shortly after its release yesterday. Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro was quoted by AP as stating that the report’s allegations are “plagued with lies,” while Bolivia’s Vice Minister Sacha Llorenti said that the report is “a gross simplification of the national reality that is politically motivated.” He also suggested that the U.S. lacked moral authority to raise human rights concerns.

The AP reports that before dawn on Thursday, a small explosive was thrown at a Jewish community center in Caracas. Nobody was injured in the attack, but the explosion damaged the doors to the center and a nearby vehicle. The event sparked fears of rising anti-Semitism in Venezuela as it was the second attack on a Jewish center this year. Reuters reports that authorities have already begun an investigation into the incident. AP quotes an international source – Sergio Widder of Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center as stating that “This is outrageous, it’s turning into an escalation.” It should be noted that the Venezuelan government forcefully denounced the vandalizing of a Caracas synagogue earlier this year, and a police investigation revealed that the perpetrators’ principal motivation was robbery and not anti-Semitism.

Reuters reports that Argentina has summoned the U.S. Ambassador in Argentina, and has demanded an explanation regarding CIA Director Leon Panetta’s comment on Wednesday that Argentina, Ecuador, and Venezuela could be pushed into instability by the global economic crisis. Argentina’s Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana called the comments “unfounded and irresponsible, especially from an agency that has a sad history of meddling in the affairs of countries in the region.”

Bloomberg reports that Venezuela’s economy grew at its’ slowest pace since 2003 in the fourth quarter of 2008, expanding 3.2 percent amidst a plunge in the country’s oil revenues. The AP reports that Venezuela’s Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez said Thursday that Venezuela’s economic outlook for 2009 is stable despite the continued lull in oil prices.

Finally, an opinion piece in the Sun-Sentinel urges Venezuelan expatriates living in Florida to ponder the reasons why President Chavez remains so popular – with special attention given to his government’s social programs dedicated to ending poverty. The author reminds readers of the disastrous political past, which in 1993 led to riots, high inflation, two failed military coups, and the impeachment of then President Carlos Andres Perez. While the author is not a Chavez supporter, he states that “much of this dissatisfaction with Venezuela’s old political elite fueled Chávez’s rise to power.”

February 3, 2009

Venezuelans Celebrate 10 Years of Revolution

Yesterday, President Chavez again expressed hope for better relations between Venezuela and the U.S. and vowed to accept any result in the February 15th referendum, saying: “If we lose, we lose.”

The comments were made in an interview with CNN on the occasion of his tenth anniversary in elected office. Chavez welcomed talks with Obama, saying “I wish we could restore relations to the same level we had with President Clinton.” He questioned the ability of the U.S. to reduce its high levels of oil consumption,” and highlighted the dense economic ties between the U.S. and Venezuela: “We employ thousands of workers in the United States… We give aid to hundreds of thousands of poor families in the United States with our heating oil program.”

Crowds in Caracas yesterday cheered the anniversary of Chavez’s first swearing-in (see image above). AFP reports that, then years later, the leader maintains 57 percent approval ratings. Voters will decide in less than two weeks whether or not to allow Chavez chance to compete for a third term. According to the rector of the Central University of Venezuela: “There have been errors and inefficiency in these 10 years but also positive changes for the country that should not be reversed.”

Caracas also hosted a summit of the regional group ALBA yesterday. In attendance were leaders from Ecuador, Bolivia, Dominica, and Cuba. The AP reports that the countries agreed to create another joint fund  to help boost agricultural production and offset high food prices.

Finally, in economic news, Reuters reports that Venezuelan officials  have no plans to devalue the currency or raise taxes at home. Meanwhile, according to Bloomberg, Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez said yesterday that Venezuela reduced its combined foreign and domestic debt last year by $150 million to reach an amount of $43 billion. This makes the debt equal to just 13.5 percent of GDP, a very strong ratio compared Venezuela’s past figures as well as current ones in the US and UK.

January 29, 2009

Venezuelan Constitutional Amendment: “Yes” Vote Leads in Public Opinion Polls

Public opinion data in Venezuela indicate that slightly more than half of voters support a constitutional amendment allowing indefinite reelection for holders of public office. Reuters reports that the “yes” camp is leading 51.5 percent to 48.1, a significant jump since campaigns on either side kicked off this month. The AP suggests that the referendum result could hinge on voter turnout.

Reuters makes the false assertion that President Chavez “has consolidated his support in a sometimes violent campaign.” Administration officials have consistently denounced violence among both opposition groups and government supporters, and has called for a peaceful debate. In another article, Reuters writes Chavez “sent police to clash with students,” but in fact the police were asked to stop violence or public disturbance. Opposition to the government is said to be a result of Chavez’s apparent “combative style, disrespect for institutions and attacks on old elites.” No context is offered regarding the coup d’etat, oil industry sabotage, and elections boycotts carried out by the country’s still powerful opposition.

CNN and the BBC report that Israel expelled the Venezuelan ambassador in Jerusalem Tuesday. Venezuela had ended diplomatic relations with Israel in protest of its attacks on Palestine earlier this month. Foreign Minister Maduro said the decision was “just, correct, [and] aligned …with the spirit of our constitution, which mandates that we seek international peace.”

The World Social Forum is taking place this week in Brazil. IPS reports that Indigenous and environmental issues are highlighted at this year’s forum, which focuses on the Amazon. The presidents of Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay are attending the event. Its protagonists, though, are social movements and civil society groups. IPS quotes a Brazilian Indigenous leader who explains that this is because “we are the ones who were born and raised in the middle of the forest, and who lead a lifestyle that contrasts with the ambition of capitalism, which does not bring benefits to all.”

January 28, 2009

Venezuelan FM: Relationship with the Middle East is Transparent

Venezuela has a “transparent relationship” with the Middle East, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said yesterday. The AFP reports that he explained: “We have no official relations with (Hamas and Hezbollah) and if we did we would say so. …Our government totally and absolutely guarantees religious equality and nondiscrimination on religious issues.” The comments were a response to allegations in an Israeli newspaper the same day Israel expelled Venezuelan diplomats.

Maduro also said yesterday that Venezuela respects President Obama’s plan for energy independence, but that “at the same time we have been asking them to respect Venezuelan and Latin American decisions concerning the path we have taken.” According to the Financial Times, Obama plans to cut U.S. oil use by 4m barrels a day within 10 years. U.S. oil consumption has grown over the decade to reach 20.7 million barrels per day, an amount greater that of than any other nation.

The AP and Reuters report on comments by Venezuela’s foreign minister with headlines declaring that Venezuela-U.S. relations will remain on hold under Obama. The actual statements suggest a far more measured position, though; Maduro said that Venezuela will seek to restore diplomatic ties with the U.S. “in the best and most correct manner,” and that this “will probably take some time.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (seen at right) accused Iran of “subversive activity” in Latin America yesterday at a senate hearing in Washington. He claimed Iranians are opening “a lot of offices” in “a number of places.” Venezuela was mentioned as the site of a visit by the Russian navy on its tour of the region last year. Gates joked that the Russians would have had more fun had they visited Miami.

An ALBA summit will be held in Venezuela next week, according to CNN. Set to attend are the leaders of Honduras, Nicaragua, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Bolivia, as well as representatives from Ecuador and other observer nations. They will discuss common initiatives, including a shared currency. CNN mentions the upcoming referendum in Venezuela on term limits, claiming Venezuelans rejected similar legislation last year. However, that referendum concerned 69 proposals including communal property rights, recognition for Afro-Venezuelans, ending foreign funding for political campaigns, and banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

USA Today provides a very misleading account of the issue of term limits in Venezuela and other Latin American nations. It wrongly classifies democratic leaders in Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua as a new class of “strongmen.” The leaders are described as authoritarian despite the fact that they are “generally civilians instead of soldiers, and they take office via elections instead of coups… [and] are staying in office because they are so popular.” Bolivia is singled out for its new constitution, approved in a national referendum last Sunday. The charter  recognizes the rights of Indigenous and Afro-Bolivians and guarantees healthcare, education, water, and a safe environment to all citizens.

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