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.

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 20, 2008

On Venezuela, Post and Herald Fan the Flames of Ignorance and Intolerance

Analysts agree with President Chavez’s assertion that Venezuela is well prepared to weather the global financial crisis, according to the Los Angeles Times today. “We have saved and created strategic funds that we will use in a rational manner,” Chavez said. Meanwhile, the Washington Post argues the opposite, warning that Venezuela’s state budget will “feel the pinch” of falling oil prices. Bloomberg and Reuters report that President Chavez said that oil prices of $80 to $90 per barrel will be “more than sufficient” for Venezuela to remain solvent. An emergency OPEC meeting is scheduled for this Friday, and sources report that Venezuela may advocate a cut in production in response to a contraction in global demand for oil.

Venezuela’s regional elections are now nearly a month away. A Washington Times column deems Venezuela’s president a “no-goodnik” and wrongly states that he has “gutted the economy.” Venezuela has seen steady rates of economic growth over the last decade that have outstripped those of many other countries in the hemisphere. A Washington Post opinion piece entitled “Brace Yourselves” claims that Venezuela is under “authoritarian” rule, blatantly ignoring the fact of regular free and fair elections. The Miami Herald cites poll data from a notoriously biased source and makes the erroneous assertion that so-called “anti-U.S.” rhetoric by Chavez is meant to distract citizens from domestic issues ahead of voting, when in fact, there has been a continuous and lively debate about all manner of topics that are relevant at home. Instead, moves like Chavez’s expulsion of the U.S. ambassador in solidarity with Bolivia are responses to direct attacks.

One of those attacks has been the White House “majors list” of countries deemed to be failing in the “war on drugs.” Venezuela and Bolivia were named this year by the Bush Administration, and Bolivia has been slapped with trade sanctions that will deliver massive job losses in that country. The AP reports that Bolivians believe the sanctions to be politically motivated and not reflective of the reality of anti-drug efforts there. Meanwhile, the Boston Globe repeats the U.S. allegations against Venezuela, citing U.S. estimates of suspected drug flights rather than more accurate statistics kept by the Venezuelan authorities that show progress on fighting drugs. A rise in cocaine seizures, the destruction of illicit air strips, and the arrest of five major drug kingpins are among Venezuela’s achievements in the last year alone.

Finally, a brief power outage in Venezuela made news over the weekend. The BBC linked this story to the fact of Venezuela’s recent nationalization of electricity by claiming that the outages are “symbolic” of government failures. The nationalization process is intended to increase efficiency and access throughout the country.

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