VIO News Blog

February 11, 2009

Reuters: Venezuela’s Chavez Improving the Lives of Millions

Efforts by the Venezuelan government to reduce poverty and improve the lives of average citizens are are the source of President Chavez’s continued popularity, Reuters reported yesterday. Among other initiatives such as an innovative cable car, Chavez is known for “investing in health clinics and projects to move families from precarious shacks.” One supporter explains: “He’s the only president who has really worked for the poor,” a fact that Reuters says is “making Venezuela’s millions of poor feel cared for.”

Reuters also reports that, ahead of Sunday’s referendum, President Chavez “has toned down his usually aggressive rhetoric toward the opposition to focus on getting his supporters out to vote.” A very different story is presented by Bloomberg and the New York Times, the latter of which calls the campaigning “ugly.” It suggests that pro-government groups go unpunished for crimes just before mentioning the arrest of the leader of one such notorious organization. The Chavez government has consistently asked for a peaceful debate on all sides.

In other campaign-related news, President Chavez responded to Venezuela’s overwhelmingly opposition-aligned media yesterday by calling its accusations of antisemitism false and damaging. The AP reports that Chavez called the accusations a “criminal attempt to try to unleash a religious war in Venezuela.” Four days remain until the national referendum.

Finally, the Boston Globe lumps Venezuela together with Iran as a supposed “anti-US regime” in an article but offers no explanation or context. Its claim is that so-called “anti-US” leaders are afraid President Obama will steal their electoral base, as though the US leader were a ballot option abroad. For his part, President Chavez has frequently said publicly that he welcomes better relations with the US under Obama.

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February 3, 2009

Venezuelans Celebrate 10 Years of Revolution

Yesterday, President Chavez again expressed hope for better relations between Venezuela and the U.S. and vowed to accept any result in the February 15th referendum, saying: “If we lose, we lose.”

The comments were made in an interview with CNN on the occasion of his tenth anniversary in elected office. Chavez welcomed talks with Obama, saying “I wish we could restore relations to the same level we had with President Clinton.” He questioned the ability of the U.S. to reduce its high levels of oil consumption,” and highlighted the dense economic ties between the U.S. and Venezuela: “We employ thousands of workers in the United States… We give aid to hundreds of thousands of poor families in the United States with our heating oil program.”

Crowds in Caracas yesterday cheered the anniversary of Chavez’s first swearing-in (see image above). AFP reports that, then years later, the leader maintains 57 percent approval ratings. Voters will decide in less than two weeks whether or not to allow Chavez chance to compete for a third term. According to the rector of the Central University of Venezuela: “There have been errors and inefficiency in these 10 years but also positive changes for the country that should not be reversed.”

Caracas also hosted a summit of the regional group ALBA yesterday. In attendance were leaders from Ecuador, Bolivia, Dominica, and Cuba. The AP reports that the countries agreed to create another joint fund  to help boost agricultural production and offset high food prices.

Finally, in economic news, Reuters reports that Venezuelan officials  have no plans to devalue the currency or raise taxes at home. Meanwhile, according to Bloomberg, Finance Minister Ali Rodriguez said yesterday that Venezuela reduced its combined foreign and domestic debt last year by $150 million to reach an amount of $43 billion. This makes the debt equal to just 13.5 percent of GDP, a very strong ratio compared Venezuela’s past figures as well as current ones in the US and UK.

December 22, 2008

Experts Defend Venezuela’s Human Rights Record

The British magazine New Internationalist reports on a letter signed by 100 academics criticizing the most recent Human Rights Watch report on Venezuela. These experts accuse the U.S.-based NGO of “naked political bias” and “failing to do its homework.” To read the full letter on the NACLA website, click here.

Reuters reports that Venezuela may see a referendum on presidential term limits as soon as February 15th. It wrongly states, though, that voters will be asked to weigh in on term limits “for the second time in 14 months.” Last year’s referendum was on 69 diverse constitutional reforms that — in addition to ending term limits — would have lowered the voting age, changed campaign financing laws, promoted the “social economy,” prohibited monopolies, shortened the work week, extended social security, created new forms of property, and banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. There was no indication that opposition to ending term limits caused the reforms to fail.

El Nuevo Herald reports that so-called “backers” of President Chavez have been responsible for violence in recent weeks, misleading readers by failing to point out that these groups have been strongly condemned by government officials. President Chavez and others in his administration have denounced groups like “La Piedrita” and “Tupamarus” and their unlawful tactics.

In other news, sources reported over the weekend that President Chavez ordered a company to cease construction on a shopping mall in the low-income Caracas neighborhood of La Candelaria. The mall, according to the AP, was singled out for hogging space and resources in an area that badly needs social services such as hospitals and schools. Chavez has often criticized the culture of unbridled consumerism. AP reports that it is not yet known how much the government will pay the owners of the shopping mall in compensation.

A Miami Herald column by Andres Oppenheimer states that the U.S. will remain dominant and even “regain some of the ground it lost in the hemisphere” under the Obama administration. By downplaying the historic example of unity among Latin American leaders at the largest ever regional summit last week, it misses the point of increased cooperation and respect for sovereignty.

Finally, a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette column anticipates the effect of global recession on supposed U.S. foes. Venezuela is wrongly placed in this category. The piece states eerily: “If Mr. Chavez has to cut subsidies — as he must — he could be toppled in a matter of months.” The author blatantly ignores the fact that Venezuela has been a democratic country for over fifty years, longer than most countries in the hemisphere, and that President Chavez is an elected leader who is accountable to voters. To suggest that his government should be “toppled” is an insult to Venezuelan citizens, who in 2002 averted a coup backed by U.S. government agencies.

November 20, 2008

Global Cooperation Abounds as Venezuela Reaches out to Africa and Asia

Reuters reported yesterday on the political scene in Venezuela ahead of Sunday’s elections. President Chavez, it states, is “still popular” with 60 percent approval and “polls show his party will likely hold onto a large majority of states even though the opposition could make some gains.” Chavez’s suggestion that he would pursue more policy changes if his PSUV political party emerges with sufficient support could mark a change from “slowed reforms” in response to the rejection of constitutional reforms by voters in a national referendum last December. One analyst said: “The stakes are high on both sides.”

World leaders are heading to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Peru this weekend. The leaders of Russia and Vietnam planned stops in Venezuela on either side of the meeting. Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet (pictured at right) discussed oil and gas ties with President Chavez yesterday, according to AFP. Dow Jones reports that PetroVietnam may invest $9 billion in oil production in Venezuela. Meanwhile, media buzz has surrounded Russian President Medvedev’s visit to Venezuela. Press accounts such as a Reuters article today deem this an attempt to “rile the U.S.” and revive Cold War-era politics, while downplaying the fact that Medvedev will also go to Brazil and Peru, and will likely meet with President Bush at the APEC meeting.

Venezuela’s expansion of relations with Africa continued yesterday with the announcement of a new cooperation deal with Zimbabwe. According to AFP, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister for Africa, Reinaldo Bolivar, emphasized the importance of “south-south cooperation.” Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s top rep in Brazil said: “Venezuela provides great assistance to our country through donations made through the World Food Program.” Agriculture has been a key area of cooperation for the countries.

Finally, in cultural news, two articles today feature the classical music conductor Gustavo Dudamel, whose origins in Venezuela’s state-funded music program led him to global fame. The Washington Times deems Dudamel “better than the hype.” The L.A. Times reports that the music program, called “el sistema,” receives $29 million from the Venezuelan government each year. It teaches “the values of self-discipline and teamwork in service of social harmony.”

November 3, 2008

VIO to Post: Enough with the Name-calling

A VIO letter to the editor published in the Washington Post today takes issue with an editorial that labeled Venezuela a “rogue” and misrepresented its economic situation in the face of the global crisis. Though booms and busts affect Venezuela, its robust credit and foreign currency reserves will allow the country to sustain social programs to benefit the poor even with lower oil prices. Venezuela seeks stable oil prices, but has weathered far more volatility than that seen in recent months. The letter also states that President Chavez is not “anti-U.S.,” but seeks dialogue with U.S. leaders in the wake of recent aggression.

This sentiment is echoed in news today about Chavez’s comment that an Obama victory in the U.S. elections could lead to improved U.S.-Venezuela relations. Chavez said “I am ready to sit down and talk … and I hope we can enter a new stage,” according to Reuters. The AP reports that Chavez said he looks forward to meeting Obama “on equal and respectful terms.” Sadly, an Obama spokesperson countered that the Venezuelan leader “does not govern democratically.” The country has seen a dozen electoral processes under Chavez, certified as free and fair by all international observers. Analysts praised the democratic comportment of the Chavez administration during December’s referendum on constitutional reforms in particular. The reforms were narrowly defeated, prompting Chavez to concede defeat and change tack.

Bloomberg reports that Chavez also commented: “A black man may become president of the U.S., and we can say that’s no small thing…. I send an overture to the black man, from us here, who are of Indigenous, black, Caribbean, South American race.” Similarly, Brazilian President Lula da Silva said the possibility of an Obama win brings “a little bit of happiness.” He said: “Just as Brazil elected a metal worker, Bolivia elected an Indian, Venezuela elected Chavez and Paraguay a bishop, I think that it would be an extraordinary thing if, in the largest economy in the world, a black were elected president of the United States.”

Jurors take a break this week in the Florida trial of Franklin Duran, in which the U.S. accuses  the Venezuelan man of acting as an unregistered foreign agent. Duran claims he was duped by the FBI. Last week, jurors could not agree on a verdict, but the judge ordered them to try again. “If he is found guilty, those that are anti-Chávez will be happy,” according to a Venezuelan journalist quoted by the New York Times.

Venezuela’s state oil company opens bidding next month on oil projects in the Orinoco River belt. The AP reports that this area has the capacity to produce 400,000 barrels of crude per day. Foreign oil companies are invited to bid on the projects. Finally, the Houston Chronicle reports that U.S. energy independence is something that is “easier said than done.” One expert called campaign promises to stop importing foreign oil “hogwash.” “It’s not doable, but it plays well with audiences,” said another.

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