VIO News Blog

October 14, 2008

Venezuela Nabs Drug Kinpin, Gets Praise from Reporters Without Borders

Eight suspects were arrested yesterday in the recent murder of a student in the western state of Zulia. The Attorney General said those arrested include police officers and businessmen, according to the AP. Zulia borders Colombia and is known to be quite violent. Bloomberg reports that President Chavez recently claimed that the CIA has offices there. Buried in that article is the news that Venezuelan officials made their fifth major drug arrest this year. Eber Antonio Pulgar Chacon, a drug trafficker wanted in the U.S., was captured Saturday. No other sources report on the arrest, although the White House’s recent claim that Venezuela is failing in the fight against drugs earned intense media attention.

Similarly, Venezuela has come under fire from the White House and human rights groups for allegedly having poor press freedoms, however, no U.S. newspapers report on recent praise from Reporters Without Borders. The organization hailed the government’s vocal rejection of violence against reporters during a demonstration. Venezuela’s Justice Minister and Information Minister both strongly condemned attacks by citizens on journalists from the anti-Chavez broadcaster Globovision in the Caracas neighborhood “23 de Enero.” Reporters Without Borders also welcomed the announcement by Information Minister Andres Izarra that opposition candidates in the upcoming elections will be given air time on the main public TV channel, Venezolana de Television (VTV).

The Washington Post reports on the disqualification of some candidates from upcoming state and municipal elections. The claim is made that only those politicians that “posed a challenge” to the political party of President Chavez were disqualified. However, the hundreds barred from running for office due to corruption probes do include pro-Chavez candidates. According to the Post, a government official says that “the decisions to disqualify were made on legal grounds after long probes in which investigators did not even know the political affiliation of those they were investigating.” Of Leopoldo Lopez, the opposition mayor of Chacao accused of misuse of public funds, the official said: “He has planted the idea that it is political persecution. That is false, it is completely false.”

The AP and AFP report on the declining influence of the U.S. in global politics. AFP quotes a British philosopher who calls it “a historic geopolitical shift in which the balance of power in the world is being altered irrevocably.” This has been the theme of much of the press coverage of joint military exercises by Venezuela and Russia. A Washington Times article claims that the political career of President Chavez is based on anti-Americanism, when in fact the Venezuelan leader has good business relations with the U.S. and has only responded to attacks by the Bush administration. Chavez has also said that he looks forward to working with the next U.S. president.

Indian Country Today reports that U.S. Indigenous communities continue to rely on reduced-cost heating oil from the Venezuelan-owned company CITGO. CITGO’s donations last year alone totaled $100 million. The aid goes to low-income families in 24 U.S. states, including 223 tribal communities. Meanwhile, USA Today anticipates the end of Venezuela’s oil-funded social programs due to lowered oil prices. While some social spending has been cut back recently, this is fairly unlikely; oil prices were still several times lower when the anti-poverty programs began, and Venezuela’s economy remains in good shape.

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September 17, 2008

Bush White House Condemns Venezuela, Bolivia on Drugs

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 1:53 pm
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The Bush administration released its annual drug report yesterday, blacklisting Bolivia and Venezuela as countries that “failed to comply” with counter-narcotics efforts. This comes after Bolivia expelled its US ambassador for colluding with violent anti-government groups, and Venezuela did so, too, in solidarity. The Wall Street Journal reports that this “raises the heat” on leaders there. The report cites “inaction” on drugs by Venezuela despite clear progress such as a more than 50% rise inĀ  narcotics seizures and frequent arrests of drug kingpins. White House drug reports often serve political ends, and are used to sanction countries. Reuters reports, though, that Bush declared, “support for programs to aid Venezuela’s democratic institutions and… bilateral programs in Bolivia are vital to the national interests of the United States.” To read the report, click here.

In Bolivia, the Morales government has offered dialogue with the opposition groups responsible for massacring at least 30 peasants and seizing government buildings and gas pipelines. The AP reports that a pact signed Tuesday requires the violent factions to cease their deadly actions, while peasant groups will end peaceful “counter-demonstrations in support of Bolivia’s first indigenous president.”

Finally, the Washington Post reports on recent changes in crude prices, which skyrocketed this year before falling by about 37%. The Post claims that high oil prices “emboldened confrontational oil exporters” like President Chavez in Venezuela. The AP reports, though, that the drop in the value of oil has not ruffled the Venezuelan leader, who simply said he hopes prices will stabilize. When President Chavez was first elected in 1998, oil was around $14 per barrel — compared to $100 or more. Since then, windfall oil profits have been used to reduce poverty in Venezuela.

September 11, 2008

Venezuela Deports Drug Suspects, Greets Russian Fleet

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Venezuela is preparing to deport two suspected drug traffickers recently detained by the National Anti-Drug Agency. According to the AP, the Colombian men, Orozco Wilches and Aldo Alvarez Duran, may be extradited to the U.S. U.S. officials have criticized President Chavez on the issue of drugs, but INTERPOL praised Venezuela’s efforts to stop trafficking after the recent arrests.

Sources report today that Russian aircraft have landed in Venezuela for joint military exercises. According to the AP and Reuters, Russian officials said that the Tu-160 bombers are not carrying nuclear weapons. President Chavez called the exercises “training flights.” Also in international news, the AP reports that Venezuela is helping the small Caribbean nation of Dominica to build a new power plant to offset electricity shortages. The assistance comes through ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas), a regional cooperation agreement that now comprises six member countries.

Bolivian President Evo Morales dismissed the U.S. Ambassador yesterday on suspicion that he was acting as an advocate for opposition groups. AP reports that this occurred shortly after fascist anti-government groups in Santa Cruz attacked a gas pipeline that cut exports to Brazil by 10 percent. “We don’t want separatists, divisionists,” Morales said. Anti-government groups also stormed local agriculture and treasury offices and took over media outlets which they used to promote more violence (image at right courtesy of the L.A. Times). Many of the tactics of this “civic coup” are similar to those in used the short-lived 2002 coup staged by the opposition in Venezuela.

Finally, the Los Angeles Times reports on that city’s new youth orchestra program, which was inspired by the Venezuelan system which educated the famous conductor Gustavo Dudamel. 150 young people from low-income families now participate in Youth Orchestra L.A., which makes music an “agent of change.” Venezuela’s Dudamel will begin conducting the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra in 2009.

September 10, 2008

As in Venezuela, Bolivia’s Democracy Threatened

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 2:44 pm
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The AP reports that Venezuela’s aviation agency rejects the TSA’s decision to warn passengers that flights “may not be safe” even though airports in that country comply with all international standards. The U.S. TSA imposed its own inspection regime on countries after 9/11, a policy that Venezuela has questioned.

Venezuelan officials have detained an Italian man wanted on drug trafficking charges by France, according to the AP. Meanwhile, the drug czar for the Bush White House, John Walters, continues to issue attacks against Venezuela. The AP reports that Walters said yesterday that President Chavez’s alleged failure to curb drug trafficking “is not only threatening the safety and security of the people of Venezuela… It is a growing global threat; he is putting Europe at risk.” Walters’ claims about inaction and corruption on the part of Venezuelan officials do not stand up to scrutiny, however, for Caracas has a strong record on seizures and arrests. The statements from the Bush spokesperson correspond with the political goals of that administration, rather than reality.

OPEC leaders did the unexpected yesterday, agreeing at a summit in Vienna to lower oil output slightly. Reuters reports that Venezuela takes a “hard-line position” on oil prices, but Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez has advocated stability and a fair rate — which he currently sees as around $100 per barrel.

The Wall Street Journal reports that unions in Venezuela irk the government because they “march to their own drummers.” The Chavez administration, which supports the cause of labor and seeks in many of its policies to empower the working class, has often faced threats from unions aligned with the opposition. Powerful business federations were instrumental in organizing the coup against Chavez in 2002.

In a strikingly similar story elsewhere in the region, Bolivia is wracked by violent anti-government protests and paramilitary action in energy-rich Santa Cruz. The opposition has seized government media outlets and stormed the Ministry of Agriculture and an NGO in that city after calls from the media inspired these illegal mobilizations. The secessionist protesters claim to be pro-democratic, but reject the national referendum last August 10th in which 67% of Bolivians turned out in support of their elected president. U.S. media have been slow to cover these events and downplayed the violent role of opposition leaders, such as an opposition senator who today threatened more violence if the government moves forward with approving the new constitution.

September 5, 2008

Venezuelan Government “Dealt Blows to Drug Trafficking”

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 9:08 am
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President Chavez responded yesterday to US criticisms by saying that his government has “dealt many blows to drug trafficking.” The AP reports that the Venezuelan leader indicated that US officials ought to curb demand for drugs at home, rather than criticize other nations. The US says that the amount of cocaine passing through Venezuela has risen, while seizures have dropped, but bases this only on its estimate of suspected drug flights. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan government’s own National Anti-Drug Office cites rising seizures and arrests. Over three tons of drugs were incinerated on Wednesday.

Venezuela’s National Assembly voted yesterday to approve a bill asserting state control over wholesale gas distribution, while allowing 67 percent of the country’s gas stations to remain privately owned, AP reports. Though media outlets call this a “seizure,” private wholesalers will be compensated by the state for their assets. According to the government, state distributors will be as effective or more effective in reaching all areas of the country. BBC News reports that the measure may also help stop the cross-border smuggling of fuel between Venezuela and Colombia.

Finally, in international news, Venezuela’s navy has conducted joint exercises with the Netherlands to improve its crisis response and rescue abilities, AP reports. After this week’s agreements in oil and gas between Venezuela and South Africa, IPS reports that the countries are forging a “strategic alliance.” The accords signed Tuesday established a shared “commission for the areas of energy, mining, agriculture and other economic and social issues.”

September 4, 2008

Dominica Gets $21 Million for Development Through ALBA

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 10:48 am
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The small Caribbean nation of Dominica will soon receive $21 million in development funds through ALBA, the regional integration initiative spearheaded by Venezuela. According to the AP, Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said the aid is “testament to the strong bonds of friendship between Dominica and Venezuela within the ALBA.” Honduras joined ALBA last week, becoming its sixth member.

Bush’s White House drug czar continues to issue wild accusations against Venezuela. AP reports that the Bush rep claimed that more cocaine is leaving Venezuela and less is being seized, and also made the vague prediction that “what’s coming is mafias taking over at least sections of the country if not whole institutions of government.” The claim that Venezuela has seen more cocaine trafficking remains unsubstantiated by any reliable figures, particularly because US drug agencies track only “suspected” drug flights. Caracas officials maintain that their anti-drug efforts have increased and been complemented by far-reaching corruption purges. El Universal quotes the head of Venezuela’s National Anti-Drug Office, Nestor Reverol, who calls the US accusations “irresponsible.”

A Washington Times op-ed repeats the drug accusations against Venezuela and makes the exaggerated claim that the country is a “clear and immediate security threat.” It wrongly calls Venezuela a “dictatorship,” when in fact democratic institutions and norms have been maintained and reinforced under President Chavez. Voter turnout in regular free and fair elections, for example, has reached almost 75 percent. Open debates occur in civil society and in the media, which is still dominated by opposition voices. Finally, “terrorist” groups such as Hezbollah are not permitted to “raise funds freely” in Venezuela, nor is the Chavez administration anti-Semitic. After President Chavez met with Jewish leaders last month, the head of the Latin American Jewish Congress called the Venezuelan leader “a great friend of the Jewish community… who wants to fight anti-Semitism.”

In a speech at the RNC yesterday, Republican VP nominee Palin slammed US dependence on foreign oil. Reuters reports that Palin said, “Venezuela might shut off its oil deliveries.” This has never occurred, and most expert analysts rule out the possibility entirely. In recent months, President Chavez has in fact vowed that Venezuela’s vast reserves can supply the US market for decades to come.

September 2, 2008

Chavez in South Africa for Oil Deals

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 11:01 am
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President Chavez is in South Africa today to sign joint ventures in oil and gas, deals the government of President Mbeki (seen here) says will “provide alternative sources of energy to South Africa.” Reuters reports that Chavez expressed interest in South Africa’s gas-to-liquid technology and that South Africa’s state oil firm, PetroSA, will invest in oil exploration in Venezuela. According to the AP, both leaders indicated that the new cooperation on trade would, in Mbeki’s words, contribute to “the further empowerment of the countries of the south.”

Over the weekend, US government attacks on Venezuela’s anti-drug efforts again surfaced when officials released surveillance data on “suspected drug flights.” AP reports that the officials claim the amount of cocaine passing through Venezuela has increased 16-fold since 2002. US counter-drug operations in Venezuela ceased in 2006 when agents were found spying. However, the Chavez government has since stepped up its counter-drug policing, carrying out record drug seizures and extensive corruption purges, and purchasing new surveillance technologies — from countries other than the US, due to Washington’s arms embargo against Venezuela. Drugs have been a consistent point of criticism from the Bush camp, and the new allegations are unsurprising. A New York Times headline states that President Chavez reacted by threatening to “expel” the US ambassador, but the article indicates that it was simply a “thaw” after the two met last month and expressed willingness for cooperation.

In regional news, Ecuador’s Ambassador to the US published a letter in the New York Times critical of an editorial that glossed Andean Presidents (those of Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela) as “authoritarian-minded leaders.” The ambassador states: “This undermines a more accurate vision of a region of individual countries with unique domestic challenges and proposals.”

News reporting on the Andes, unfortunately, rarely provides an accurate vision. A Wall Street Journal article states that a member of El Salvador’s FMLN is implicated in Colombia’s claim that the FARC received arms and money from foreign governments including those of Venezuela and Ecuador. The Journal repeats the allegations without mentioning that independent bodies like the OAS have been unable to find proof.

August 25, 2008

Venezuela Invests in Petrochemicals, Sports Programs

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 10:55 am
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Venezuela has invested almost $1 billion in its petrochemicals sector to boost the production of oil derivatives and become more competitive with other countries such as Brazil. AFP reports that President Chavez explained the new investment, which comes as part of a plan initiated last year, as a means of limiting Venezuela’s dependence on imports. In other economic news, the Mexican cement company Cemex was nationalized last week after refusing to negotiate with the Venezuelan government. However, the AP reports that President Chavez said Saturday that he is still open to talks with the company and that “We want to settle this in a friendly way.”

In international news, Venezuela has been criticized again by U.S. drug officials, who accuse the country of doing to little to stop cocaine smuggling. Situated between the world’s largest cocaine producer, Colombia, an its largest importer, the U.S., Venezuela has consistently battled the flow of drugs. After a Panamanian tanker was seized leaving Venezuela with 4.6 tons of cocaine last Friday, the White House drug czar wrongly told the press that the Venezuelan government has “no willingness” to cooperate with the U.S. In fact, President Chavez has told the U.S. Ambassador on several occasions that he wishes for better relations, and particularly to work together on counter-drug operations. Foreign Relations Minister Maduro also said earlier this month that Venezuela seeks to improve anti-drug cooperation throughout the hemisphere.

The New York Times reports that the U.S. fears worsening relations with Russia, and wrongly counts Venezuela among a list of “anti-American” countries. Venezuela has a long history of good relations with the U.S., and has sought to sustain ties despite threats. Meanwhile, the AP reports that President Chavez said he would accept a Russian fleet in Venezuela if that country chooses to station itself in the region.

Finally, Venezuela’s oil company PDVSA has announced that it will begin a new social program dedicated to training athletes. Venezuela sent over 100 competitors to the Beijing Olympics, according to the AP, but came away with just one bronze medal.

June 24, 2008

Andean Nations Opt for Drug Policies Apart from US

Venezuela’s well-known youth orchestra program is not only being offered in prisons as we reported yesterday, but also it is now being implemented in some of the richest nations of the world. Reuters reports that a pilot project was launched in Scotland last year, and in October, the city of Los Angeles will begin a Venezuela-inspired youth orchestra aimed at helping disenfranchised youth. In Venezuela, the program serves about 300,000 children and has gained fame for producing some of the best musicians in the world, including conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

In regional news, a meeting of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) has been postponed due to scheduling conflicts, according to El Universal. Leaders of member countries Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Brazil will instead meet next week during a summit of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) in Argentina. Reuters reports that some Andean governments are forging news ways to combat drug trafficking. “We are not going to continue sacrificing our foreign policy for U.S. politics,” said Ecuador’s Security Minister, Gustavo Larrea. Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela have all opted to use their own policies rather than those imposed upon them (albeit with a large sum of funds) by the U.S. since, as President Correa points out, the drug war has not worked at all in Colombia.

Research by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that Venezuela will replace Chile as the country with the region’s highest GDP per capita, and that Argentina will become the region’s third-largest economy, according to the Latin Business Chronicle. Venezuela’s GDP per capita will likely reach $11,933 this year. IMF estimates show that Venezuela’s total GDP is set to reach $334.7 billion. While these numbers signal overall improvements for the economy, they do not measure key benefits received by more than half of the population through government-run social programs.

In more economic news, as the U.S. dollar rises, currencies throughout Latin America are weakening, reports Reuters. This is due to the fact that most countries’ exports are bought in dollars. Venezuela’s global bond, one of the most traded in the emerging markets field, fell this week. Analysts chalk this up to “no specific recent debt buy-back mentioned by Chavez” and some new growth measures announced that investors seem wary of.

Finally, CBS News reports on an internet ad in which Republican candidate John McCain describes his energy policy. It equates the Presidents of Venezuela and Iran and deems them “enemies” of the U.S. According to the ad, “Much of the world’s oil supply is controlled by states, regimes and a cartel for which America’s well being is not exactly a priority.” Venezuela’s continuous efforts to foster stability in the US through its oil refining, discounted heating oil program, and emergency injections of oil into the market during Hurricane Katrina are of course not mentioned.

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