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 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.

April 3, 2009

Chavez Calls for Elimination of International Monetary Fund

Late Thursday, President Chavez criticized the G-20’s approach to dealing with the global financial meltdown, stating that “it’s impossible that capitalism can regulate the monster that is the world financial system.” He called for the elimination of the International Monetary Fund and attacked the US and Britain for having promoted the financial model that led to the crisis.

Venezuelan authorities arrested Raul Baduel, a former Venezuelan defense minister on corruption charges, Reuters reports. Baduel has said that he is being persecuted politically, as he was once a close ally of Chavez and then became a vocal opponent in 2007. Prosecutors have accused Baduel of illicit enrichment, stating that during his time as minister $14.4 million went missing from the budget of the Armed Forces.

Iran and Venezuela agreed on Thursday to further strengthen ties, according to AFP. The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated that “a ten-year plan for the two countries’ ties as well as a plan to combat the global crisis will be drawn up” during President Chavez’s visit. The launch of a joint Iranian-Venezuelan development fund is scheduled to take place today.

A Dow Jones article asserts that a dip in Venezuela’s dollar reserves from $29.7 billion in February to $28.6 billion in March, represents a “weaker protection as it faces financial pressures triggered by the collapse in the price of oil” It should be noted that, aside from its significant Central Bank reserves, Venezuela still has billions of dollars of reserves in separate state funds which it can draw from if the price of oil remains low.

Finally, during a trip to China and Japan this week, Chavez said he will seek investment agreements to finance oil projects, Bloomberg reports.

April 2, 2009

Venezuela and Iran to Launch Joint Development Bank

President Chavez arrived in Iran Wednesday and is expected to meet Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today, VOA reports. The Venezuelan president will also launch a joint development bank with Iran with a starting capital of $200 million, according to the AP. Venezuela recently created similar bilateral development funds with China ($12 billion) and Russia ($4 billion), and is also involved in the creation of a multilateral fund called Bank of the South with South American countries.

During his visit to Tehran, Chavez said he had little hope of better relations with the United States under President Obama. However, he added that he hoped that “President Obama is the last president of the Yankee empire, and the first president of a truly democratic republic, the United States.”

At a summit of South American and Arab countries in Qatar earlier this week, Chavez announced that Venezuela would be prepared to receive detainees from Guantanamo. “We wouldn’t have any problem in taking in human beings,” he said. President Obama has ordered the closure of the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison camp which holds 240 inmates, by next year.

Finally, the U.S. Department of Energy reported on Wednesday that Venezuelan oil sales to the U.S. rose 14% from December, despite Venezuela’s earlier promise to OPEC to cut exports. The AP states that a spokesman for PDVSA, Venezuela’s state oil company, declined to comment. The Venezuelan government has frequently disputed U.S. Department of Energy’s estimates of Venezuelan oil production in the past.

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 12, 2009

Venezuela Makes Room for more Housing

After news last week that a Coca-Cola bottler in Caracas would be required to relocate to make room for housing for the poor, El Universal reports that President Chavez explains: “We are always looking for a friendly arrangement. But we are required to always look everywhere for available space” for housing. Government officials and representatives of Coca-Cola in Venezuela will reportedly meet today. In comments that were not reported in the U.S., Chavez said yesterday that all companies must simply respect the law, and that his policies are concerned with guaranteeing social justice and protecting the national interest.

The state oil company PDVSA will seek to cut costs by 40%, UPI reports. To do this, it plans to revise contracts with service companies that charge high prices. With regard to state spending, Chavez said that Venezuela is not unlikely to face “serious hardships” due to the world economic crisis, but that “the revolution will not fall to pieces.” Meanwhile, AFP reports that oil futures rose slightly today.

In regional news, a Guardian column argues that the credibility of the US state department’s annual human rights report is crumbling. Serious questions about the report’s accuracy, as well as the moral authority of the U.S. to rate other nations, have come from many countries including Venezuela and China. Likewise, human rights groups with strong ties to Washington, such as Human Rights Watch, have come under increased scrutiny. Scholars contested a Human Rights Watch report on Venezuela last year, saying it lacked “minimal standards of scholarship, impartiality, accuracy or credibility.”

Venezuela beat the U.S. in the World Baseball Classic last night, moving on to the second round of the tournament. Next, they play the Netherlands on Saturday.

February 26, 2009

Venezuela Condemns State Department Report

The U.S. State Department released their annual report on human rights yesterday.  As in previous years, it alleges that Venezuela has a politicized judiciary, and that the Venezuelan government harasses the political opposition and news media. Venezuela on Thursday condemned the report and categorically rejected what it says are false allegations and a clear example of political meddling in its internal affairs. Contrary to the impression given by the report, Venezuela’s opposition parties enjoy all the political freedoms that are found in other democratic countries and have in fact made significant gains in recent elections.  Meanwhile, freedom of speech is fully respected, as is demonstrated by the fact that a majority of private media outlets remain ardent and vocal critics of the government.

CIA Director Leon Panetta mentioned Ecuador, Argentina and Venezuela as countries which may be destabilized as a result of the global financial crisis, McClatchy reports. This analysis is surprising given that it is estimated that Venezuela has close to $70 billion in reserves, and many experts predict that Venezuela will be able to weather the economic storm, even if oil prices remain low for the next two years or so.

Bloomberg reports that China National Petroleum Corp. received government approval for the construction of a refinery China’s Guangdong province, which will be built to process 200,000 barrels of Venezuelan crude oil a day.

Finally, The Miami Herald reports that Costa Rican president Oscar Arias has said his country’s full entry into PetroCaribe, a Venezuelan led group of Carribbean and Central American nations which have signed a series of beneficial energy cooperation agreements, appears to be delayed due to plunging oil prices. Arias questioned how interested Venezuela was in continuing PetroCaribe, given the current economic crisis. However, on Wednesday, Venezuelan Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez reaffirmed that Venezuela will maintain the program to provide aid to ‘brother countries.’

February 19, 2009

Venezuela and China Create Strategic Alliance

The joint development fund between Venezuela and China grew by $6 billion in deals signed this week to reach a total of $12 billion, according to the AP. The BBC reports that the funds could be used in Venezuela to support education, health, infrastructure, farming, and mining. Citing common interests and a “strategic alliance,” President Chavez said Venezuela would supply China with a million more barrels of oil per day (a fourfold increase) by 2015.

Also in oil news, Venezuela will boost its oil output by 12 percent over seven years through joint ventures with foreign firms in the Orinoco oil belt. Bloomberg reports that a leaked government document cited development costs of $18.4 billion for the projects. Meanwhile, rumored oil production cuts by OPEC are now said to be aimed at raising crude prices to $70 per barrel, according to the AP. Venezuela’s oil minister said the market is oversupplied and prices should be stabilized.

Two opinion pices today weigh in on Venezuela’s recent national referendum, in which voters chose to end term limits for elected officials. A Washington Times op-ed — one of nearly half a dozen recent ones in that paper criticizing Venezuela’s referendum — accuses the president of “buying votes.” The elections were free and fair, though, and social programs that have redirected oil revenues to the poor have helped halve the poverty rate over nearly a decade. The op-ed also overlooks the fact that Venezuela has been democratic for over half a century, citing just “two decades” of democratic gains. It also ignores the fact that experts recognize a dramatic increase in popular participation in politics under President Chavez. An editorial in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times of Texas makes similar doom-and-gloom economic predictions with little basis in fact in order to claim that Venezuela is “in sorry shape.”

The only bad news on the economy in Venezuela today concerns fraud by private foreign firms. After $8 billion in fraud by Stanford International Bank was revealed and investors rapidly withdrew yesterday, Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez tried to ease concerns, saying: “The public needs to maintain confidence in Venezuelan banks. This is an immediate takeover. The problem facing Stanford is separate from the Venezuelan financial system.” Venezuela followed Panama and Colombia in taking over Stanford operations.

Reuters reports that Stanford Bank, owned by a Texas billionaire, was long “a favored investment vehicle for Latin America’s wealthy and upper class.” The New York Times describes how the bank “lured clients in provincial cities,” amassing about $2.5 billion from among 10,000 clients in Venezuela — about a third of Stanford’s business, but only 0.2 percent of total banking deposits throughout Venezuela.

February 18, 2009

US Seeks Positive Relationship with Venezuela

More news comes today about remarks by State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid, who said the US seeks a “positive relationship” with Venezuela. The AFP reports that he also called the national referendum last Sunday “a matter for the Venezuelan people.” For his part, President Chavez has made clear in recent weeks an openness to dialogue with the Obama administration, and positive relations with the United States.

An opinion piece in the Guardian sees continuity in U.S.-Latin America relations so far under the Obama administration, but urges change. Meanwhile, a Miami Herald editorial argues that a strong, united opposition in Venezuela is “the only hope of keeping democracy alive under Mr. Chávez.” The Herald fails to acknowledge the very democratic nature in which elections and referendums are held. Over 70% of eligible voters voted in Sunday’s referendum, and 54% voted in favor of the measure.

A Boston Herald op-ed accuses President Chavez of continuing to support the FARC rebel group in Colombia. However, the Chavez administration has repeatedly denied support for the group, and has even made an appeal to FARC that it must lay down its arms and join Colombian society. Furthermore, Chavez was instrumental in the release of several FARC hostages over the past year.

The Wall Street Journal reports on the financial challenges facing the Chavez administration in lieu of the continued lull in oil prices. It notes that Chavez has “weathered lean times before,” but forgets that he has vowed to continue important social programs. Bloomberg reports that Venezuelan Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez acknowledges that the global economic crisis will affect Venezuela and has said that the country will need to curtail spending and limit imports. However, he added that Venezuela would be able to withstand the crisis without too much “anguish.”

Finally, Bloomberg reports that Venezuela and China signed various economic agreements as Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping arrived in Caracas yesterday. The two countries renewed a bilateral development fund, with an additional $6 billion in joint funding. In a address to the Chinese delegation, President Chavez said: “All the oil China needs for the next 200 years, it’s here. It’s in Venezuela.” China will also increase cooperation with Venezuela in agriculture and telecommunications.

February 17, 2009

Venezuelan Referendum Hailed as Democratic by US State Department

Last Sunday’s referendum in Venezuela was “a process that was fully consistent with democratic practice,” according to President Obama’s State Department Spokesperson, Gordon Duguid. Pressed for a reaction, he said the referendum “was a matter for the Venezuelan people” and “I don’t have an opinion on the democratic practices of Venezuelans. In the United States, we have term limits, but that’s our practice.” According to the AP, this amounted to “rare praise for a U.S. antagonist after years of criticism from the Bush administration.”

The opposite approach is seen in three nearly indistinguishable editorials in the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the Dallas Morning News. They label Venezuela’s national referendum undemocratic, call President Chavez “authoritarian” and “dictatorial,” and anticipate an economic crash. None provides any facts to back up their claims. The Wall Street Journal and Dallas Morning news ask President Obama to ignore Venezuela, while the L.A. Times says he must “reengage.” The editorials do not advance either of these goals, though, by rejecting the majority decision made by the Venezuelan people and their right to make such choices.

The AP, Reuters, and AFP continue to report on reactions to the referendum. Most state that the administration of President Chavez feels its mandate has been strengthened by another solid victory at the polls, meanwhile, criticisms by the opposition have not lessened. The Los Angeles Times features these by printing an interview with Teodoro Petkoff, who was briefly a presidential challenger in 2006 and was planning minister under the neoliberal Caldera government.

Finally in economic news, the BBC news reports that Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping will soon visit Venezuela as part of a regional tour to boost trade ties. The two countries are expected to sign a long-term joint oil production agreement worth several billion dollars.

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.