VIO News Blog

May 5, 2009

Venezuelan Authorities Turn Guerrillas over to Colombia

The Spanish news agency EFE reports that 5 ELN guerrilla members were turned over to Colombian authorities yesterday by the Venezuelan Immigration service.  Once in Colombia, the guerrillas, that included three men and two women, were promptly arrested and charged with rebellion and other crimes. According to the Colombian intelligence agency DAS one of the arrested guerrillas is the military and finance chief of the ELN’s northern front.

The Washington Post has published an article entitled “Human Rights Activists Troubled by Administration’s Approach” in which most of the “activists” cited are former government officials. Obama’s courteous engagement of President Chavez at the Summit of the Americas is criticized by a former official named Lorne W. Craner who says “you can’t just offer hope to Castro, Chavez and Mubarak. You have to offer hope to others.”  According to the Post, Craner was assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights under George W. Bush.

Finally, Bloomberg reports that the Venezuelan government has asked local producers to sell twice as much gold to the Central Bank so that Venezuela can increase its metal reserves and decrease its dependence on US dollars. According to the new rules set by the Venezuelan Finance Ministry, 60 percent of locally produced gold must be offered to the Central Bank before other sellers. Financial analyst Philip Gotthelf suggested that these meausres might be the “first step in a regional trend” to bolster gold reserves in anticipation of a decline in the value of the U.S. dollar.

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.

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 28, 2009

Empire Still Kicking, Venezuela Still Kicking Back

The AFP reports that on Friday President Chavez said that while he and President Obama exchanged warm greetings during the Summit of the Americas, the US empire is still “alive and kicking.”

Labor leaders from Delaware left on Sunday as a delegation traveling to Venezuela to participate in meetings and dialogue with the Venezuelan government, businesses, and labor leaders, Delaware Online reports. Delaware was one of at least seven states in which discounted heating oil for those in need was delivered by the Venezuela-owned company CITGO.

On Sunday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki visited Venezuela and announced that his country would open a diplomatic mission in Venezuela. Malki and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro on Monday were set to sign a joint communique establishing diplomatic relations between Venezuela and the Palestinian Authority, AFP reports.

On Sunday, President Rafael Correa was easily re-elected, winning with 52% of the vote, and a 24% point lead against his closest rival. A Reuters article stated that this was “another victory” for the a new generation of left-leaning Latin American leaders like President Chavez who have challenged Washington’s agenda in the region.

Finally, an opinion piece in the Washington Times argues that President Obama lowered his and America’s moral standing by shaking President Chavez’s hand during the Summit of the Americas. The piece makes several baseless allegations, including the claim that the Venezuelan government supports the FARC guerilla army in Colombia.

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 17, 2009

Venezuela has the World’s Second Biggest Oil Reserves

Venezuela has the world’s second-biggest oil reserves, Bloomberg reports today. Its proven reserves increased by 14% last year to reach 172.3 billion, passing Iran and putting the country closer to the current leader, Saudi Arabia. More reserves are yet to be certified by independent analysts.

The AP reports that opposition state governors in Venezuela yesterday challenged the decision of President Chavez to bring the maintenance of highways, airports, and seaports under federal management, asking the Supreme Court to rule on whether or not it is constitutional. Meanwhile, a group of 13 elected lawmakers in the National Assembly issued a statement defending the move as a bid to ensure the efficient use of public services. They asserted that the opposition arguments were designed to “confuse the public.”

Sentencing occurred yesterday in the trial of Franklin Duran, who was given four years in jail and a $175,000 fine. Prosecutors argued that he attempted to help Venezuela cover up the “suitcase scandal,” in which cash was allegedly sent to Argentina. According to the AP, U.S. District Judge Lenard said yesterday that Duran “did not commit espionage against the U.S. or threaten its national interests,” but that “The respect of the sovereignty of the United States is paramount.” The Miami Herald reports: “Federal prosecutor Tom Mulvihill recommended more than 13 years, saying Duran might not have been a “spy” for the Chávez government but that he did ”harm” the United States.” Many commentators agree that the case was heavily politicized.

The Inter American Press Association, a Miami-based group of newspaper editors and owners, said at the close of a meeting in Paraguay on Monday that press freedom is deteriorating in the Americas. It also accused President Chavez of “humiliating the press,” and claimed his “incendiary rhetoric” is being adopted by several other leaders throughout the region. Most of Venezuela’s media is private-owned and virulently anti-government, and criticizes the Chavez administration freely and openly. Meanwhile, IAPA “applauded a drop in violence against journalists in Colombia,” where it found that last year 29 death threats were reported and five journalists went into exile.

Venezuela’s baseball team beat Puerto Rico 2-0 in Miami yesterday to move on to the World Baseball Classic semi-finals. The AP reports that some Venezuelan fans cheered especially loud for Magglio Ordonez of the Detroit Tigers due to his public support for the constitutional amendment approved by Venezuelan voters in a referendum last month.

March 11, 2009

Venezuela Destroys Drug Lab near Colombian Border

Venezuela has made more anti-drug progress, destroying clandestine cocaine labs along the border with Colombia and seizing nearly 1,000 pounds of the substance, according to the AP. National Guard troops demolished seven labs located less than a mile from the border with Colombia. EFE quotes Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami, who said the move showed “our determination and readiness to continue making progress in the head-on fight against drug trafficking.”

El Aissami also responded to the most recent U.S. State Department drug report — the last one penned by the Bush administration — which again claimed that Venezuela is not doing enough to fight drugs. “We are victims of drug trafficking because we are in between the biggest drug-producing country (Colombia) and the main drug consumer, but that report still tries to blame us. But with these results we show who is really lying,” he said.

In a rare article today, the Guardian Weekly offers the personal story of one Venezuelan woman who benefits from the government-funded social program Madres del Barrio (Mothers of the Neighborhood). At first, Yovita Vera says, It was hard to believe that I had the power to do something positive for myself and my family.” But with a small interest-free loan and training from Madres del Barrio, she opened a textile cooperative that became “a big success.” Vera says: “I feel like a door has been opened for us and we have a chance to make a success of our lives.” Madres del Barrio is one of over two dozen social missions that have helped reduce poverty in Venezuela by about half.

In economic news, the Financial Times reports that Chevron is one of several foreign private firms bidding on Orinoco Belt oil projects. A Chevron official is quoted as saying that Venezuela now needs the investment due to lowered oil prices, however, the bidding process had been planned since oil was at its peak. Private investment maintained a role, albeit a smaller one, in the Orinoco reserves when they were brought under the country’s nationalization plan in 2007.

Finally, Venezuela has made it to the second round of the World Baseball Classic. After defeating Italy yesterday after scoring four home runs in a single inning, the Venezuelan team plays the U.S. again today.

March 9, 2009

Venezuela Holds Seminars to Celebrate International Women’s Day

“I am not going to let anyone disrespect Venezuela’s sovereignty for anything in the world,” President Chavez said yesterday in response to comments by Colombia’s defense minister suggesting he would pursue so-called “terrorist” groups like the FARC beyond Colombia’s borders. The BBC reports that President Uribe “distanced himself from the defense minister’s remarks – calling them out of place and imprudent.” Meanwhile, according to AFP, Chavez spoke with Uribe “to confirm that we do not want conflicts with Colombia.”

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. IPS reported on the situation of women in Venezuela, where seminars were held to commemorate the day and raise awareness about services available to those facing domestic violence. These include the shelter known as Negra Hipolita and a 24-hour helpline set up by the National Institute for Women. IPS reports that more work is needed to enforce the 2007 Law on the Right of Women to a Life Free from Violence.

In economic news, Bloomberg reports that President Chavez may meet with the billionaire president of Empresas Polar, the beer and foodstuffs company that could face expropriation for violating price controls.

Oil prices will eventually rise again, according to Venezuelan Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez, who said the market should rebound after this year. OPEC meets this month to debate further production cuts to stabilize prices, according to Bloomberg.

March 4, 2009

Venezuelan Government Announces Cabinet and Ministry Changes

Reuters reported yesterday that President Hugo Chavez reshuffled his cabinet and merged the housing ministry and social protection ministry into other ministries, to reduce government spending in the backdrop of continued low oil prices. The Wall Street Journal posted a statement by the Venezuelan government which said that “These structural movements…are aimed at boosting the dynamics for making the state’s administration more efficient for the construction of the collective welfare and interest.”

The President of Venezuela’s state oil company, Rafael Ramirez, said that PDVSA will cut costs by 40% in order to strengthen the company’s economic position as it deals with low oil prices and the impact of the global financial crisis. AP reports that the company will renegotiate contracts with oil services firms in order to lower costs.

The Wall Street Journal falsely reports that “for years, Mr. Chávez has been battling private food manufacturers and farmers for periodic shortages of foods ranging from chickens to coffee.” However, the Venezuelan government has mainly accused food processors and distributors, not farmers, of hoarding food and averting price controls. The article also erroneously states that “last weekend, Mr. Chávez announced the Venezuelan government would take over the country’s rice mills.” President Chavez merely stated that private rice processors who flout price controls and follow through with their threat to paralyze production could face expropriation.

An article in the Toronto Globe and Mail argues that President Chavez is reversing course on resource nationalism by inviting oil companies to participate in the development of the oil-rich Orinoco. However, the Venezuelan government has been soliciting bids from foreign oil companies for the development of the Orinoco fields since the summer of 2008, when oil prices had skyrocketed. The Chavez government has always welcomed partnerships in oil exploration and production, provided that Venezuela remains a majority stakeholder and that agreements respect the country’s sovereignty.

Finally, the Latin America Herald Tribune reports on Venezuela’s reaction to a statement made by Colombia’s Minister of Defense, Juan Manuel Santos. On Sunday, Mr. Santos defended Colombia’s cross-border raid on guerrillas in Ecuador earlier last year, terming it a “right to legitimate defense.” Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry said that Santos’ statement represents “a threat to the stability and sovereignty of the countries of the region,” and that the “arrogant attitude of Minister Santos is abominable.”

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