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 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 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 16, 2009

Venezuela Investigates Corruption, Post Finds it Threatening

Today, a Washington Post editorial asserts that Venezuela’s democracy is being threatened. The post claims that while the U.S. media has focused its attention on Cuba, Chavez has stepped up attacks against the opposition in Venezuela. It is important to note that several members of the opposition are being investigated on corruption charges, and that charges against these leaders will have to be proven in a court of law. Furthermore, the cases referred to by the Post were filed by prosecutors, not President Chavez.

Jose Pertierra, a lawyer representing the Venezuelan government, has said that the Chavez administration will soon repeat its demand for the U.S. to extradite Luis Posada Carriles, a Venezuelan citizen wanted in the 1976 bombing in Cuba, AP reports.

On Wednesday, more stories circulated on the new appointment of Jacqueline Farias as administrator of Caracas. In “Chavez’s Caracas Mayor Takes Post, Weakens Opposition,” Bloomberg appears to support opposition allegations that this is a political attack against the opposition. The article also quotes opposition-aligned Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma as stating, “This is making a mockery of the sovereign will of the people of Caracas.” He alleges that the government is trying to subordinate his authority, however 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.

Finally, Empresas Polar plans to invest $350 million in Venezuela, Bloomberg reports, despite recent government oversight at one of it’s rice plants.

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 8, 2009

Venezuelan National Assembly Moves to Appoint Caracas Administrator

On Tuesday, Venezuela’s National Assembly approved a new law which creates a federally appointed administrator of Caracas that will serve as a direct link between the federal government and the city’s opposition-aligned mayor. The AP asserts that the new law weakens the authority of the Caracas mayoralty. Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma accused the government of trying to subordinate his authority, however pro-Chavez Jose Albornoz rejected the idea that the new law is politically motivated and stated that it will help improve basic services in the city, like trash collection.

Catholic leaders in Venezuela from the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference also accused Chavez of subordinating his regional opponents. Chavez told Venezuelan state television from China, that “This group of bishops is shameless,” and siding with “crooks,” AP reports. The Bishop’s Conference has often sided with the opposition in its differences with the Chavez government.

On Monday night, the widely acclaimed Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, under the baton of the Venezuela star conductor Gustavo Dudamel performed to a sold out crowd at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall in Washington, DC. The orchestra is part of Venezuela’s world-renowned ‘El Sistema’ music program which gives poor kids in Venezuela access to musical instruments and lessons.

Finally, AFP reports that Chavez is expected to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing Wednesday afternoon. On Tuesday, Chavez said that during his meetings in Japan, he was able to obtain $33.5 billion of investments in Venezuelan oil and gas projects.

March 27, 2009

Vandals Apprehended in Caracas

For the third year in a row, many rural Alaskans will receive free heating fuel from Citgo, Venezuela’s state owned oil company, AP reports. The effort is part of a nation-wide subsidized heating oil program run by Citgo that benefits thousands of low income communities across the United States.

Venezuelan prosecutors have filed charges against 11 individuals apprehended in the break-in and vandalizing of a Caracas synagogue in January, according to AP. Venezuelan authorities have said that the intruders may have vandalized the synagogue premises in order to turn attention away from the motive of theft.

In a Washington Post op-ed by Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman of the Los Angeles based Simon Wiesenthal Center, the authors draw comparisons between Chavez and Hitler and assert that the Venezuelan government has carried out anti-semitic acts. It should be noted that, in 2004, the Wiesenthal Center directed similar accusations of anti-Semitism at Chavez, drawing a sharp rebuke from Venezuela’s main Jewish organization which stated that it rejected the accusations and lamented not having been consulted beforehand by the Center.

Earlier in the week, in an op-ed distributed by the Jewish Telegraph Agency, Angelo Rivero-Santos, the charge d’affaires of the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, responded to allegations of anti-Semitism directed at the government of Venezuela.  Rivero- Santos 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.”

In economic news, Reuters reports that trade in Venezuela’s parallel market for exchanging Bolivars for dollars has been largely paralyzed due to the freezing of a key account by US government authorities.  The authorities did not comment on the reason behind their decision.

The Venezuelan government will create several state owned companies to replace oil service contractors, the Miami Herald reports. President Chavez said that the new companies will carry out oil services such as the maintenance and operation of oil wells – not private contractors.

Finally, an article by Oxford Analytica asserts that the recent budget cuts and economic measures taken by the Venezuelan government are primarily symbolic and won’t reverse the current economic trend in Venezuela. The article states that more changes should be expected by the government. However, the Chavez administration has ruled out currency devaluation or a hike in domestic gas prices. In addition, with $20 billion being invested in non-oil sector industries, and over $70 billion in reserves, the government has a significant cushion to deal with the economic situation.

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 23, 2009

Chavez and Delahunt Meet in Caracas

United States Congressman William Delahunt (D-MA) met with President Chavez in Caracas, and told reporters that he had a “very positive and constructive conversation.” The AP states that Mr. Delahunt left the meeting expressing hopefulness about the prospect of improved relations between the United States and Venezuela.

On Thursday, Venezuelan public prosecutor Katiuska Plaza called for the arrest of Manuel Rosales, mayor of the city of Maracaibo, on charges of corruption during his previous years as governor of the state of Zulia. The Miami Herald quotes an opposition-aligned commentator who suggests that the decision is a political one by President Chavez aimed at inciting fear within the opposition. . The Herald also quotes Human Rights Watch to substantiate the claim that Chávez has “effectively neutralized the judiciary as an independent branch of government.”  The article states that the Venezuelan government accuses HRW of anti-Chavez bias.  It fails to inform readers that critics of HRW’s work on Venezuela also include an independent group of 100 academics that recently signed a letter arguing that HRW’s 2008 report on the Chavez government’s human rights record was methodologically flawed and highly biased.

The government of Venezuela is to announce measures to combat the effects of the global economic crisis Saturday. Reuters reports that the Bolivar is losing value due to economic fears, and Bloomberg reports that Goldman Sachs believes that President Chavez may announce a currency devaluation tomorrow.  President Chavez said that public officials needed to stop living “lavish lifestyles”but insisted that the government’s many popular social programs would be maintained.

Japan and Venezuela signed an oil cooperation agreement yesterday. Bloomberg reports that the deal clears the way for Japanese companies to co-develop oil reserves in the Orinoco Delta, with Venezuela’s state oil company.

President Chavez said Thursday that Venezuela will go ahead with the nationalization of Santander bank, and that negotiations regarding payments are continuing. Reuters quotes Chavez as stating “We are not retreating. Today we have returned to the subject, I announce the nationalization of Banco de Venezuela to strengthen the national public banking system.”

A letter to the editor “Misguided guilt by association” by Jacob Feinspan of Jews United for Justice in the Washington Times sends a strong rebuttal to a previous letter from Brad Botwin on Monday titled “The new face of anti-semitism.” Botwin argued that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was promoting anti-semitism and that Casa de Maryland, a community organization in the DC area, was expressing approval for antisemitism by accepting funding from Citgo, a US subsidiary of Venezuela’s national oil company. Feinspan stated that the “Jewish community also knows all too well the dangers of false and baseless accusations or conspiracy theories.”

Finally, Korea and Venezuela will face off against one another in the World Baseball Classic tomorrow.

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