VIO News Blog

April 14, 2009

US Coast Guard Respects Venezuelan Sovereignty in Drug Bust

On Friday, President Chavez said he saw “good signals” from the U.S. after Luis Posada Carriles, who is wanted for terrorism in Venezuela and Cuba, was charged in a U.S. court for lying about his involvement in the 1997 bombing of a Havana hotel. Chavez was also encouraged by the U.S. Coast Guard’s cooperation in a large cocaine bust involving a Venezuelan boat off the coast of Brazil, AP reports. The Coast Guard first called Venezuelan authorities to seek permission before boarding the boat. “Now they’re going to turn over to us the boat, the drugs, the prisoners. Those are good signals because that didn’t used to happen,” Chavez said.

On Monday, in a speech marking the seven year anniversary of a failed coup, Chavez said “sanctions must be imposed” on television networks which backed the brief overthrow and staged a media blackout. The AP quoted Ana Cristina Nunez of Globovision, saying that “The president is totally criminalizing the free exercise of freedom of expression.” However, the right to freedom of speech remains strong in Venezuela, with the majority of the country’s media in private hands – most of which remain vocally opposed to the Chavez government.

The Venezuelan government plans to issue $15.8 billion in local bonds to offset the shortfall in oil revenue. An article by Dow Jones Newswire asserts that the country’s bankers will comply in purchasing the newly issued debt, despite the fact that the government “threatens them with nationalization.” However, the government has consistently stated it has no intention of nationalizing large swathes of the banking sector.

Finally, the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra performed to a packed audience at Chicago’s Symphony Center on Friday, receiving much praise in a Chicago Tribune review.

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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 18, 2009

Venezuela Prepares for Summit of the Americas

President Chavez said yesterday that he is preparing a strong diplomatic agenda for the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, which he believes will be “very interesting,” according to the AP. The Venezuelan leader suggested metaphorically that he is “getting our artillery ready,” and “we’ll see what the pitcher throws.” The Venezuelan leader — like many others in the region, including Brazil’s president — will advocate ending the U.S. embargo against Cuba, which he called “an aggression against all the people of Latin America and the Caribbean.”

A Miami Herald article argues that recent moves to federalize control of transportation hubs in Venezuela is an attempt to “siphon” power from regional opposition leaders. The measure was approved by elected lawmakers in Venezuela’s National Assembly, many of whom pointed out that federal management of highways, airports, and seaports would boost national security and anti-drug efforts. Key transportation hubs such as seaports are under federal jurisdiction in many other nations including Canada.

In economic news, Venezuela and China have begun construction on a joint refinery in China. The AP reports that Venezuela expects to boost oil exports to  China to reach 1 million barrels a day in the coming years. Also, Venezuela and Russia have formed a joint oil company with an initial investment of $6 billion to explore and develop Venezuela’s Junin 6 oil field.

Finally, CNN reports that several Cuban experts deemed ‘creative,’ and ‘speculative’ a recent, bizarre report by Jorge Castaneda, Mexico’s ex-foreign minister linking Cuban President Raul Castro’s recent decision to oust two top Cuban officials for their plotting against the president – with the support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Even Mr. Castaneda admitted that he had no evidence, and that he was merely speculating.

March 16, 2009

Venezuela to Manage National Transportation Hubs

President Hugo Chavez dispatched the Navy to Venezuela’s seaports yesterday, after elected lawmakers in the National Assembly voted to bring the country’s transportation hubs under federal management. The AP reports that President Chavez said the move is aimed at improving Venezuela’s national security, including counter-narcotics efforts.

A Russian Air Force chief said Saturday that President Chavez offered an island off the coast of Venezuela for use as a temporary base for Russia’s strategic bombers. Yesterday, though, Chavez made clear that there would be no foreign bases on Venezuelan soil, but that he had told Russian President Medvedev that his country’s strategic aviation was welcome to “make a stop in Venezuela.” While much media attention has surrounded Russia’s improved ties with Venezuela, its diplomacy with other nations including regional heavyweight Brazil have been downplayed.

A commentary in the Guardian suggests that, for Chavez, “it was easy to score points, both at home and abroad, by bashing President Bush,” but that this tactic has proved difficult with President Obama, who is popular in Latin America. However, President Chavez does not seek an antagonistic relationship with Washington. In fact, he has frequently said that he welcomes talks with the Obama administration, and believes bilateral ties could improve. Any recent criticisms directed at Washington have consistently been about U.S. foreign policy.

In a Newsweek article by Jorge Castaneda, the author makes the absurd speculation that Cuban President Raul Castro’s decision to remove two senior Cuban politicians from office was due to their plotting to overthrow him, and that such a move was supported by President Chavez of Venezuela. No supporting evidence is provided.

Also in regional news, Mauricio Funes, the moderate leftist and FMLN candidate in El Salvador’s presidential race, won the election with 51.3% of the vote. The victory breaks a 20-year grip on power by the country’s right-wing Arena party, whose founder was associated with some of the most repressive elements in the country’s U.S.-backed civil war. Funes, whose FMLN party has been in the political arena since a 1992 peace agreement, pledged to work toward Central American integration as well as strengthen ties with the U.S.

March 13, 2009

Venezuelan Law Guarantees Essential Public Services

Another drug-related arrest was made in Venezuela yesterday, according to the AP. A U.S. man was detained in Monagas state for “cooperating in the crime of drug trafficking,” the Attorney General’s office said in a statement.

Venezuela’s National Assembly voted yesterday to modify the Law on Decentralization to allow federal jurisdiction over the maintenance and management of the country’s airports and highways. The BBC reports that, in debates on the issue, one lawmaker said the measure would “guarantee essential public services.”

The Economist wrongly reports that a Cargill rice factory in Venezuela was “seized.” This has not occurred, despite the fact that President Chavez made the suggestion last week in a speech. The Law on Food Security stipulates that a certain proportion of agricultural goods in Venezuela must be subject to the price controls that rein in the cost of basic foodstuffs, and producers that do not follow the law have come under scrutiny. The Economist does not report that government officials have been in talks with Polar and other food distributors to ensure that they comply.

In international news, sources report that Brazilian President Lula da Silva will discuss Venezuela at a meeting with President Obama in Washington tomorrow. The AP reports that da Silva said “I’m going to ask that the U.S. take a different view of Latin America. We’re a democratic, peaceful continent, and the U.S. has to look at the region in a productive, developmental way, and not just think about drug trafficking or organized crime.” In addition to U.S.-Latin American relations, other top issues on the leaders’ agenda are biofuels, the global financial crisis.

Oil futures rose to $48 per barrel yesterday ahead of an OPEC meeting this weekend. Venezuela and China will build a joint refinery this year in Guangdong province that Bloomberg says will “reinforce their energy ties.”

Finally, Venezuela and Mexico signed a cooperation agreement on music education yesterday. Mexican students will visit Venezuelan Youth and Child Orchestras in the coming months. Mexico’s education minister said “the promotion of music in Mexico is part of a plan to improve education and culture as a way to prevent crimes.”

March 6, 2009

Lula and Obama likely to Discuss Chavez in March

The Associated Press reports that President Chavez has given Brazil’s President Da Silva permission to discuss Venezuela with President Obama when the two leaders meet March 14th in Washington. “We don’t need any intermediary to speak with any government on the planet, but since it’s Lula and in good faith, I told him yes, that I gave him the green light,” Chavez stated. President Chavez has repeated his willingness to meet with Barack Obama to discuss bilateral relations and issues affecting both countries, including the global recession.

A Time Magazine article discusses how Cuban-American politicians are trying to appeal to Venezuelans residing in South Florida, stating that a majority of Miami Cubans now oppose continuing the 47-year long trade embargo against Cuba. Time quotes Republican representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart in a speech to Venezuelans living in South Florida saying, “Venezuelans are under a lot of pressure from Chávez, who is acting more like a dictator every day.” However, domestic and international electoral observers have consistently declared Venezuela’s elections free and fair.

The AP reports that Venezuela has expropriated 3,700 acres of land from an Irish businessman that produced eucalyptus for cardboard manufacturing. President Chavez stated that according to Venezuelan law, the land should be used to grow food. The state will allow agricultural cooperatives to grow corn and beans on the land.

Finally, the Petare district of Caracas reports a 20% drop in murder rates compared to figures from February 2008, according to AFP.

January 30, 2009

Venezuela Donates Home Heating Oil in Washington, DC

Venezuela’s U.S. oil subsidiary, Citgo, officially launched the fourth season of its home heating oil assistance program at an event in Washington, DC yesterday. This year, the massive charity effort undertaken with Citizen’s Energy will distribute about 45 million gallons of cut-rate oil (valued at $75 million dollars) to 200,000 families across 23 U.S. states.

Citgo President Alejandro Granado dispelled rumors that the program had ended, explaining, “there was a misunderstanding.” He also said the program is intended in part to “build bridges between the people of Venezuela and the United States.”

The St. Petersburg Times wrongly reported yesterday that President Chavez’s “popularity depends on having an adversary in the White House.” His approval ratings remain consistently high at home, but not because of disagreements with former President Bush, but because of social and economic policies that have had an impact at home. The Times also claims that the Venezuelan leader is “at a loss about how to handle the Obama phenomenon.” After a decade in elected office, Chavez is hardly disoriented. Many forget that he visited the White House shortly after being elected the first time and met President Clinton. With Obama, he has avoided jumping to conclusions about what the tone of Venezuela-U.S. relations will be, often saying he has no “illusions” but expressing desire for dialogue.

Sources report today on the ninth annual World Social Forum taking place in Brazil, an alternative summit that drew many important Latin American leaders who opted to skip the simultaneous World Economic Forum in Davos. Bloomberg reports that a top policy adviser to Lula said: “I don’t see any reason for him to be in Davos and many for him to be at the World Social Forum.”

According to the AP, “the loudest cheers were for Chavez.” One activist said: “Chavez is fighting for people like me and his presence validates our movement.” 100,000 are attending the forum.

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 23, 2009

Chavez Renews Demands for Extradition of Accused Terrorist Posada Carriles

President Chavez will step down at the end of his term in 2013 if a constitutional amendment allowing reelection of presidents, mayors and local and national assembly officials is not approved on February 15 through national referendum, reports the Associated Press.

In other news, the Venezuelan Government will soon press the Obama administration to hand over Luis Posada Carriles, wanted by the Venezuelan and Cuban governments for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner which killed 73 people. The New York Times reports that Mr. Posada lives freely in Miami, and that the Bush administration would not extradite him due to its close ties with anti-Castro Cuban hardliners in Miami. Both countries accuse the United States government of hypocrisy in its fight against terror.

Venezuela’s oil minister Rafael Ramirez denied on Thursday that there was a conflict with Brazil over a joint $4 billion refinery project. Earlier reports cited an official from Brazil’s state oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA as saying that there was a dispute in how much Brazil should pay for Venezuelan oil, and that Brazil was prepared to build the refinery on its own. According to the Associated Press, Mr. Ramirez called the comments “the opinion of a low-level official.”

The AP reports that Venezuela and Argentina signed a dozen agreements on Thursday, across a spectrum of sectors, including energy, industry, agriculture, and airlines. The two countries have also agreed to a joint development project of oil fields in eastern Venezuela.

The New York Times reports on Gustavo Dudamel, the Venezuelan music director described as a “rising star,” and a “product of El Sistema, Venezuela’s music education system.” Mr. Dudamel will be directing the prestigious Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra.

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