VIO News Blog

October 29, 2008

Venezuela to Launch “Simon Bolivar” Satellite

Venezuela and China will jointly launch a telecommunications satellite today, the BBC reports. The satellite, named “Simon Bolivar” for the independence leader, is the result of a $400 million accord signed four years ago. The BBC mentions rumors that Venezuela would use the satellite for intelligence purposes. The Chavez government has said, though, that it will be shared with other Latin American countries to provide people in remote areas with TV, radio and internet access and also to expand social programs through tele-education and tele-medicine.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was in Ecuador’s Amazonian region yesterday, where Latin American leaders met to discuss the economy. Chavez advocated production cuts within OPEC to stabilize the price of oil, according to the AFP. AFP also reports that the financial crisis “hangs over” the annual Ibero-American Summit, which begins today in El Salvador. The summit focuses on youth and development.

A column by a former Bush administration official in the New York Post makes the false and damaging claim that Venezuela would make an atomic bomb. Without citing evidence, the op-ed denies that Venezuela’s nuclear energy program is meant for peaceful purposes, as has been consistently indicated by Venezuelan leaders and independent analysts. Empty threats about collaboration with Iran are trumped up, yet the op-ed blatantly ignores the fact that Venezuela plans to work with France — a world leader in the production of nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

Finally, Venezuela is helping Cuba triple its capacity to refine oil. According to Reuters, “Venezuela is revitalizing Cuba’s downstream operations and plans to use the island as a bridge to supply the Caribbean with crude and derivatives with preferential financing.” This is done through the program called “Petrocaribe.”

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October 7, 2008

The Uninformed Opine, Unhindered by Fact Checks

Venezuelan police detained three suspects yesterday in the recent murder of a student in Zulia state. The investigation “has advanced significantly,” according to Justice Minister El Aissami, the AP reports.

In economic news, the AP reports that Venezuela forecasts 6 percent economic growth in 2008. Growth is still “very robust,” according to the planning minister, even after a slight decline from last year’s rate of 8.8 percent. The Miami Herald reports that the balance sheets of Latin American states remain solid, but that the US credit crunch may affect them. In the context of the current US financial crisis, President Chavez suggested that it will be important for a new president to hold dialogue with other countries throughout the world. According to El Universal, Chavez said: “The next president of the United States must sit down and talk to the world. He has to do it.”

A Washington Times article makes the absurd assertion that Venezuelan troops were in Bolivia during a recent outbreak of opposition violence in which peasants were massacred. This assertion is based solely on rumors, and has been reported in no other respected news sources. Author Martin Arostegui has consistently written pieces about Venezuela that lack factual evidence.

Several opinion pieces today deserve notice. A Washington Post editorial wrongly characterizes Ecuador and several other Latin American governments as “satellites” of the Chavez administration. These governments, however, have all been democratically elected, have different policies, and are held accountable by citizens. By overlooking this fact, the Post does a disservice to readers. Secondly, a New York Times editorial on Bolivia advocates trade sanctions against that country that were rejected by the US Congress. Those sanctions, advocated by the Bush White House but rejected by lawmakers, were based on a politicized and inaccurate understanding of Bolivia’s role in fighting drug cultivation and trafficking. Contrary to the White House accusations, Bolivia is becoming increasingly successful in fighting drugs.

Finally, an opinion piece in the Christian Science Monitor accuses Bolivia’s Morales of destabilizing the country, when in fact the government has held talks with the opposition in a search to reach a settlement and end opposition violence. Bolivian citizens confirmed the legitimacy of the Morales administration by voting overwhelmingly in favor of his government in a recent referendum.

October 1, 2008

Latin American Leaders Unite to Condemn US “Casino” Economy

South American leaders met in Brazil yesterday. President Chavez and Brazil’s Lula da Silva held their own regular quarterly meeting, at which seven bilateral agreements were signed in the areas of iron and steel production, oil refining, agriculture, and housing. The leaders of Bolivia and Ecuador were also present, and all were critical of the US financial crisis, according to Bloomberg. Lula da Silva said: “Those that spent the last three decades telling us what to do, didn’t do what they had to do. The crisis is very serious and so profound that we don’t know how big it is.” The AP reports that President Chavez likened it to “a hundred hurricanes” and said that “the Washington consensus has collapsed.”

Other Latin American leaders have also spoken out, according to the AP; President Arias of trade-dependent Costa Rica said, “The managers of big business took huge risks out of greed.” Even the right-wing Bush ally Alvaro Uribe of Colombia complained, “The whole world has financed the United States, and I believe that they have a reciprocal debt with the planet.” A Washington Post headline reads that the US financial  crisis “deepens divisions” in South America, but the situation appears quite the opposite.

US Congressmen sent a letter to President Chavez yesterday rebuking him for having expelled two Human Rights Watch employees after their very negative evaluation on his administration, according to the AP. The report, which accused the government of curtailing political rights and free expression, was rejected by Venezuelan officials. Human Rights Watch consulted opposition leaders for their report, which painted a limited picture of human rights in Venezuela. It also came after a series of US attacks, including US Treasury Department sanctions, State Department blacklistings against Venezuela on drugs and terrorism. Venezuelan officials viewed the report as more “meddling” in internal affairs.

September 29, 2008

Venezuela Has Good Credit, Donates Laptops to Schools

President Chavez was in Portugal last Saturday, where he and Prime Minister Socrates signed deals worth $3 billion on technology, housing, and other issues. The AP reports that Venezuela purchased 1 million low-cost laptops from Portugal for use in schools.

In Russia last Friday, Chavez signed deals to create an oil and gas consortium and purchase $1 billion worth of military equipment. Sources do not report that Venezuela’s military purchases in Russia are partly the consequence of an embargo imposed by the US in 2006. Reuters reports that Russia and Venezuela may also work together on nuclear energy, according to Chavez, “for peaceful purposes, for medical purposes, for purposes of electricity generation.” Sources, however, emphasize the strategic dimensions of this issue, claiming that the move is “anti-US.” Venezuela, though, maintains stable trade relations with North America, and President Chavez has said he looks forward to improved diplomatic relations with a new US administration.

On the economy, Reuters reports that Standard & Poor’s gave Venezuela a good credit rating. According to Reuters, Venezuela has “robust external and fiscal balance sheets, which continue to improve as a result of high and increasing oil revenues.” Meanwhile, IPS reports on the expanding role of Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, in the region.

Finally, voters in Ecuador overwhelmingly approved a new constitution in a national referendum yesterday (seen at right), bolstering the mandate of President Correa. The AFP reports that exit polls showed 65-70 percent approval of the new charter. The Washington Post reports that Correa said, “Today Ecuador has decided on a new nation. The old structures are defeated… This confirms the citizens’ revolution.”

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 29, 2008

Venezuela’s Aid Abroad Not “Anti-American”

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 10:44 am
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Three years after Hurricane Katrina hit the city of New Orleans, the still struggling survivors are asking for assistance from Venezuela. The New Orleans Survivor Council is seeking $45,000 to build new homes. The AP reports that Venezuelan Congressman Francisco Torrealba has said that the Venezuelan government will seek to donate those funds.

President Chavez will visit China in two weeks to renew a fund for to finance joint development programs allowing for investment in areas including oil. Bloomberg reports that President Chavez said, “It’s very likely that we will renew the fund for another $6 billion.”

In other economic news, Venezuelan officials say they will create measures to boost the country’s banking sector after a 6.5 percent decline in bank activity during the first half of 2008. The AP reports that the measures will be announced soon. According to Bloomberg, officials also say that new reforms — such as the removal of price caps and taxes on financial transactions — are expected to reduce inflation by the end of this year.

A Wall Street Journal op-ed today claims that Russia, Iran, and Venezuela are a new “axis of evil,” drawing misguided comparisons between the countries and inaccurate parallels with earlier periods in world history. It calls Venezuela a “dictatorship,” when in fact democratic institutions, open debate, and free and fair elections have flourished under President Chavez. Colombia’s war between the military, paramilitaries, and the FARC is highly misrepresented as the fault of Venezuela, when in fact the 60-year internal conflict is fueled by U.S. military strategy in the region. The claim that Venezuela is trying to expand its power beyond its borders to become like the 1930s era Axis powers could not be more wrong; hemispheric cooperation, security, and self-determination are the values Venezuela represents.

Finally, Ecuador has asked Colombia to send troops and international observers to its border to contain its armed conflict, according to the Los Angeles Times.  “Ecuador is doing its part to impede the entry of narcos and armed irregulars and Colombia should do more to impede their departure,” the Foreign Minister said.

August 28, 2008

Oil Windfall Tax is Good News for Venezuela

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 11:48 am
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Venezuela has earned $4.3 billion in taxes on windfall oil profits so far, according to AFP. Overall, the value of Venezuela’s oil exports have risen to $48.47 billion this year — an increase of 78 percent over last year. The windfall oil tax is a “mandatory contribution” made by all oil companies operating in the country when oil prices rise above $70 or $100 per barrel. The monies are likely to directed toward state-sponsored social programs that aim to reduce poverty and promote human development and citizen empowerment. Reuters reports that President Chavez said yesterday that oil is beginning to stabilize at a fair price of around $100 per barrel, and that Venezuela will closely monitor “the stability of prices and the security of supplies.”

In international news, former London Mayor Ken Livingstone (pictured at right) will advise Venezuelan mayors on urban issues. A deal signed with Venezuela while Livingstone was in office to exchange urban planning expertise for cheap bus fuel was recently canceled. The BBC and the Guardian report that Livingstone said he is “proud and honored” to help, and that he foresees that Caracas can be vastly improved in just two decades; “I believe that Caracas will become a first-world city in 20 years. I have a very extensive network of contacts both domestically and internationally which I will be calling on to assist in this.”

Nationalizations continue to be in the news today. Mexico’s Cemex has finally struck a deal with Venezuelan officials on the handover of cement plants, after compensation talks failed earlier this month. The AP reports that President Chavez said yesterday that a settlement was reached. Meanwhile, the Argentine- and Italian-owned steelmaker, Ternium Sidor, has just reached the end of its own period for negotiations with the Venezuelan government. A compensation amount of perhaps $1.65 billion was agreed upon, Reuters reports, but the pace of the repayment appears undecided.

Finally, Venezuela is set to collaborate on oil exploration with two more Latin American countries. The state-owned oil companies of Ecuador and Chile are expected to sign agreements for joint ventures with PDVSA to explore for crude in the lucrative Orinoco Belt. A deal with Ecuador is planned for tomorrow, according to the AP.

July 16, 2008

Venezuela Extends Energy Assistance Programs in U.S. and Latin America

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 9:40 am
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After donating $100 million in cut-rate home heating oil across the U.S. last year, the Venezuelan-owned gas company Citgo is now distributing energy-efficient lightbulbs. Nearly a half a million bulbs will be placed in low- and middle-income homes in 11 different U.S. cities to help save money and the environment.

President Chavez and President Correa of Ecuador agreed yesterday to create a joint oil refinery that would be the largest on South America’s Pacific coast. According to AFP, the Venezuelan leader said he aims to provide “energy security for all the people in the continent.” AP reports that the refinery will cost $5-10 billion and produce 300,000 barrels of oil per day. In related news, Venezuela’s Petrocaribe program, which sells oil to Caribbean nations at preferential rates, continues to expand in Central America. Also according to AP, that Costa Rica was invited to join the energy assistance program at last week’s summit — Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize and Guatemala are now members.

In other energy news, AP reports that Venezuela is pursuing long-term investments in Bolivia’s oil and natural gas industries. To double oil and gas output within five years, Venezuela could spend $883 million. Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic is courting investment from Venezuela in its own oil refinery, which is the only one in the Caribbean. According to Bloomberg, Chavez discussed this possibility with the Dominican president.

Competing opinion pieces on Venezuela-U.S. relations appear in the Los Angeles Times today. Diplomat Angelo Rivero Santos gives an insider view of why Venezuela and the U.S. are at odds today, explaining that problems stemmed from the U.S.-backed coup against Chavez, the neoconservative bent of Bush’s foreign policy, and the demonstrate failure of U.S.-style neoliberalism. Meanwhile, another writer opines that the coup “did not help matters,” but attempts to discredit Venezuela’s foreign policy of non-intervention, socialist economic model, and regional integration efforts. These are dismissed despite the tremendous influence they have across Latin America.

July 15, 2008

Chavez Acts as Peacemaker in Colombia-Ecuador Rift

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 8:45 am
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President Chavez is in Ecuador today to sign oil agreements with President Correa (pictured at right) and attempt to restore ties between his country and Colombia, according to the Caracas newspaper El Universal. A deadly raid on a FARC camp in Ecuador by the Colombian air force has soured relations since March. After President Chavez met Colombia’s Uribe last week, he vowed to attempt to reunite the neighboring countries. In related news, Chavez will join Brazil’s Lula da Silva in Bolivia on Friday. El Universal reports that the leaders of the three countries will inaugurate a shared gas plant.

The Los Angeles Times offers a debate on the future of Central America and the influence of Venezuela, after the energy assistance program Petrocaribe was expanded to include Guatemala this week. One commentator posits that new elected governments in Latin America are not influential, and dismisses them as “folkloric leftist authoritarianism.” Another writer explains that the Venezuelan model is catching on after the “colossal failure of neoliberalism. He states: “In Venezuela, we are convinced that the only way to promote growth and development is through participatory democracy and by empowering our people.”

Finally, the AP reports that Venezuela has become a “powerhouse for producing musicians.” The youth orchestra program called ‘El Sistema’ is credited with providing education to children from low-income families and lifting them out of poverty. Musicians bred in El Sistema now perform all over the world, from L.A. to Berlin.

June 25, 2008

Chavez Urges Respect for Democratic Institutions

Filed under: Daily News Roundup — VenWorld @ 10:02 am
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President Chavez defended a top corruption official’s decision to bar 400 individuals from competing in local elections in November because of pending investigations. Some opposition leaders claim that the measure is meant to threaten their chances at the polls. However, the AP reports that Chavez called on all Venezuelans to respect democratic institutions — including the one conducting the corruption probe. “He makes decisions in accordance with the law and they attack him,” Chavez said of Comptroller General Clodosbaldo Russian.

Yesterday was National Armed Forces Day in Venezuela. President Chavez stressed the importance of Venezuela’s purchase of military equipment from Russia due to a U.S. embargo since 2006. Bloomberg reports that Chavez said Venezuela would otherwise have been prevented from modernizing its military. The AP takes a comment by Chavez out of context, reporting that he touted Venezuela’s “armed revolution,” when in fact, Venezuela’s political process is known to state officials and citizens alike as a “peaceful and democratic revolution.”

In regional news, Wired Magazine writes about the success of Venezuela’s youth music programs and the glowing reception they have received in the U.S. In the Andes, Colombia again avoided restoring diplomatic relations with Ecuador, a country it bombed on March 1st, killing two dozen in an unauthorized raid on a FARC camp. The AP reports that Colombia’s foreign minister said he would not restart talks with the neighboring country, although former U.S. President Carter has offered mediation. Ecuador’s foreign minister said trade restrictions will last longer than expected.

On the economy, Venezuela’s Environment Ministry will reconsider a decision to deny a mining permit to a Canadian company. That firm and others had been barred from extracting minerals in a national reserve because of concerns about the impact on the environment and Indigenous communities. Bloomberg reports that the company’s permit may simply be modified. Finally, OPEC leaders say there is no need to raise the global supply of oil, according to the AP. The New York Times reports that U.S. lawmakers have criticized OPEC, but are now exploring the role played by market speculators in driving up oil prices.

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